When I was a child it was forbidden for me to watch children’s shows with a lot of violence. This meant, no Power Rangers, no Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, no Thunder Cats, and no Marvel or DC comic based shows…
Somehow Darkwing Duck made the cut, along with Tail Spin, Rescue Rangers, and nature shows with lions ripping zebras apart.
I was actually home schooled for the better part of my elementary school years which means I learned enough before 7th grade to make me the smartest kid in the school until I graduated high school. When I was reintroduced to America’s public school system all the kids were using cool curse words, sagging their shorts like prison inmates who needed belts, and playing Pokémon on their cool Game Boy Advances.
So to fit in, I unbuttoned the top button of my denim shorts so my pants could be in a perpetual kinetic state with my actual waist, learned how to cuss like sailor with Tourettes, and bought a used GB Pocket and a new copy of Pokémon (Red).
Pokémon was my first taste of Japanese culture outside of that one time my family went to a sushi restaurant in Kentucky and the origami I learned from watching Reading Rainbow. It was a little like a gateway drug. While I never watched the anime to go with the game I did wind up discovering afterschool anime on the Cartoon Network.
When you got home from school you could watch Dragon Ball Z, Ruroni Kenshin, Yuyu Hakusho, and one or more of the Gundum spinoffs. This was the little secret my brother and I kept from our conservative mother, who would likely have frowned upon us watching aliens beating the crap out of each other, a high school delinquent hunting demons, and a man slayer trying to atone for his murderous past by wandering aimlessly like a lost good Samaritan.
In Japan, these sorts of shows are the norm. They almost all originated as a manga (mahn gah), a Japanese comic. These shows are insanely popular overseas in N. America, S. America, Europe, and other Asian countries. I’ve read dozens of them since moving to Japan in 2008 and watched a fair share of the animated versions as well. If you’re reading this chances are you stumbled upon it because like me you are a huge huge nerd, and even though it’s 2012, no, nerds are not cool or sexy, they’re still square…
But part of growing up is over analyzing stuff, because just pure enjoyment seems too juvenile. And looking now at some of the anime/manga that I love, or loved, or is popular today I noticed cracks of insanity start to appear…
5. Pokémon – a PETA field day
This is the only one on this list that the only knowledge I have of it is from playing the game version. I have not seen any of the anime or read any of the manga.
So, let me get this straight. There are dangerous animals in the world. So in order to venture out into any place with grass, water, or caves you need your own collection of dangerous animals who are loyal to you seemingly only because a.) you own their ass, b.) they respect the merit badges c.) if you’re not pleased you can stick them in a tiny little red and white ball.
There are three points to the game, a story line that with each version of the game differs ever so slightly, like Pocahontas > Dances with Wolves > Avatar; an RPG element that revolves on you hand picking a few of your very best Pokémon to train from cute little throw pillows to marauding battle creatures the size of gorillas, and the last is as some insane sort of collector as you scour the world to fill out your pokédex.
What kind of world do we live in where cute little characters grow up into monsters? What kind of message is that?
The really insane thing is those pokéballs fail all the fucking time when you’re trying to catch wild Pokémon. (The exception of course being the master ball, that without using the surfing cheat you’ll only have one of the entire game.)
Somehow once caught it is just assumed that your Pokémon will swear allegiance to you despite the fact that 90% of the time it’s either riding around in it’s tiny unstable pokéball or uploaded as data to your computer which I imagine is either like purgatory or TRON…
So as you wander the world you encounter numerous different Pokémon. Some are as threatening as a goldfish, others are massive ferocious beasts with bodies ranging from, poison, ice, rock, magma, and dragon… I’m pretty sure every time you toss your Pokémon out as a Pokémon shield, it’s seriously contemplating turning on you and tearing you to shreds with all the nasty things you’ve taught it…
4. Anpanman – When Bread Flies
Batman is a billionaire psychopath who uses a bat motif to strike terror in he hearts of villains who are afraid of small flying rodents. Spiderman is a man who has mutant spider powers and a dry wit. Anpanman is a man made out of bean-filled bread.
Anpan is bread filled with the Japanese sweet bean paste called anko, it’s like mixing sugar into refried beans. Kids love the stuff apparently, though knowing children even celery dipped in chocolate would appeal to them.
Anpanman came into being when Jamu Ojisan (Uncle Jam) was baking and a shooting star landed in his oven… Right…
Naturally, Anpanman can fly. He has super strength. He doesn’t need to eat as he’s made of bread filled with sweet protein. He is weak against water, (what bread isn’t?) and also when he gets dirty he loses his power much like the sexually ambiguous Captain Planet. When he stumbles on a hungry person or creature he let’s them eat his head.
That’s right one of his super-duper abilities is breaking off pieces of his face to feed hungry people. Don’t worry! Because he can regenerate his visage after it’s been consumed. Wait… did I say regenerate? No, that’s not right. What happens is that old baker that baked him can bake him a new head, which can be taken to Anpanman’s headless, dirty, or water logged body to revive him.
So in the land of Anpanman there are discarded half-eaten heads of our hero just kind of scattered about like… like nothing… I can’t think of a similar analogy to a world filled with a hero’s half-eaten heads… I mean those things will rot right? They’ll mold over and animals will shred them and ants will be crawling all over the place… gross.
3. Rurouni Kenshin – Personality Disorder Hero
I love this anime, even when it deviated horribly from the original manga and featured what was possibly the silliest mixing of media ever to close out an animated series it’s still one of my top ten animes.
It follows the story of Kenshin Himura, who before he became a “rurouni” (wandering swordsman) he was a key architect of the new era in Japan. His former job was as the most feared assassin in the revolution where he earned the nickname of Battosai the Man Slayer by racking up a body count like Leonides mopping up Persians.
After the revolution, to atone for all the murdering he’d done in his past life he decided to wander around a while helping people with his sword when he could. Apparently he did pretty much all of his wandering before the first episode/chapter because, aside from day trips to the market, a quick trip to Kyoto to kill a mummy, and a pirate incident, Kenshin pretty much bases all of his operations out of Kaoru’s dojo.
Now the Japanese government doesn’t think that Kenshin hanging out as a cook for Kaoru’s dojo is a proper allocation of resources for their deadliest weapon and they spend a lot of time trying to get Kenshin to revert to his former murderous self. They’re not alone either. Other retired Samurai, a group of ninjas, and some European knights all try to convince Kenshin that he was really better the way he was back in the revolution–all for various nefarious purposes.
The thing is they succeed on more than one occasion and Kenshin goes bat-shit insane and only the fact that he uses a reverse blade sword keeps him from hacking people apart.
So this is obviously a story of a split personality serial killer. Through most of the series he’s mild mannered goofy and calm as a Zen statue. Other times he looks like a deranged maniac that’s hungry for murder.
He’s infinitely more useful in his deranged state, as initially he never really finished mastering his sword style, and instead just relied on his god-like speed combined with bloodlust. So when he’s peaceful-Kenshin he’s a sword master, but when he’s murderous Kenshin the difference between him and other samurai is like asking toddler to take down Jason Bourne.
Moral of the story, it’s good to try to pay for the wrongs you committed in life. But when it’s really necessary it’s fine to go bat shit crazy and cut up some mo fo’s…
2. Naruto – Like Mexican Cartels
Naruto started out well as a manga about ninjas. What’s more Japanese than a manga about ninjas? This story starts with the lead character failing to graduate from ninja academy, but then by foiling a traitor and saving his sensei’s life he earns the respect of the village leaders enough for them to rubber stamp his diploma.
Let’s get some gaping flaws in the whole story out of the way.
- First, for a story about ninja’s, not many of the characters spend much time trying to be ninjaish… they spend lots of time yelling out the names of their attacks while running straight for their opponents, creating large explosions, floods, fires, tempests, and littering the ground with hundreds of shurikin. For christsake the main character wears bright orange which only trails the suit full of question marks in the ridiculous ninja garb department.
- Second, one of the characters uses a 7-sword sword-style, which is just fucking stupid.
- Third, half the time they rely on massive animals to fight their battles either with or for them, which brings us back to #5 on this list.
- Fourth, the entire ninja world is at most only 100 years old… the 5th Hokage (village leader) is about 50 years old, and is the granddaughter of the 1st Hokage. She replaced the 3rd Hokage who is about the age her parents should have been and the 3rd Hokage was friends with the 1st and 2nd Hokages who it seems were about the same ages. They talk about the history of the ninja world and lost techniques and bloodline abilities, yet these things couldn’t have been missing for very long at all. Ninjas must count in dog years.
The single most disturbing fact about Naruto is the simple fact that it’s a show about children taught how to kill people. The better the child is at killing, the more highly he’s revered in the ninja world.
The title character often feels inferior to other characters who are more advanced than him, but that means he feels remorse that it’s taking him into his teens to become a feared ninja.
Naruto graduates from the ninja academy at the ripe age of 12 and starts to undertake ninja missions. We’re under the assumption that Naruto’s village is the ninja village that takes the moral high ground, though we later learn that’s all bullcrap, and most of Naruto’s early work is mundane stuff that you’d expect a child to do, like yard work, tending fields, and catching escaped pets.
In his first hazardous mission, the client lies to the town to get a cheaper rent-a-ninja-rate and Naruto and his team that consists of two other tweens, Sasuke and Sakura, and a 28 year old sensei, Kakashi, have to ward off attacks from a blood thirsty killer, Zabuza, who is accompanied by a sidekick suffering from a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome, Haku.
Haku is a boy. Yes, he cross dresses and says that his life’s purpose is to only serve the much older and emotionally empty Zabuza who treats Haku like an object to be used and discarded (his words, and Haku’s)… but let’s ignore how utterly disturbing that is and focus on how Haku is used in the story for Naruto’s development. Naruto feels competitive and chagrined that Haku is so much stronger than him and Sasuke, the same way I used to get pissed at Craig Wilson because he could hit a baseball further than me in Little League. Haku is a better assassin and 12 year old Naruto is jealous.
Haku’s part in the story ends when he intercepts Kakashi’s attempt to execute Zabuza and dies by way of fist through the heart-area of his body… he uses his dying words tell everyone how happy it makes him that he could be of some use to Zabuza…
Where else do we see this sort of child violence encouraged? Mostly in the Middle East by terrorists, African warlords, gangsters in Breaking Bad and Mexican cartels…
The villages also profit from the ninja children fighting and dying in the Chunin exams where ninja children from around the ninja world come to compete and show off their ninja abilities. If you do well you earn a promotion in ninja rank, if you don’t do well then you have to take the test over, provided you weren’t killed in any of the rounds, which does happen fairly frequently.
The final section of the exam is a set of colosseum style matches that really rake in the cash for the hosting town as hordes of violence loving fans pay for seats to watch… to watch children beating the crap out of each other.
The adults of the series are often saying how they have to trust the future to the younger generation… Screw that… if you teach a bunch of kids how to blow shit up and call on giant animals to appear out of nowhere, you better have some goddamn parental supervision! I was a teenager once, and considered very responsible by most adults, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have bottle rocket wars on the highway, or play flaming tennis, or hit golf balls off the tops of parking buildings into downtown Kansas City. And these “adult ninjas” who are so eager and ready to let Naruto and his friends take the reins of responsibility are barely into their 30’s, with the oldest main character the 50 year old 5th Hokage. Actually most of the few truly old characters in Naruto’s village are portrayed as scheming douche bags when they’re at times the only voices of reason…
Point is kids are stupid. Even smart kids are stupid, especially when faced with the crisis that is puberty. Sure you’ll get that one kid who was born an old soul and is pretty much a better human being than the rest of us, but by far and large the majority of us shouldn’t be trusted with a fruit knife much less ninja techniques that can destroy entire city blocks… middle school is hard enough…
It should be noted that in Japanese cultures, like many cultures around the world, warrior training began in early childhood, from knights and squires, to Native American Indians, to Spartans, and Roman legionaires.
Naruto is at this moment the most popular anime that romanticizes this historical fact in Japanese history, which is why it earned its place on this list. Thanks to rhaphazard for pointing that out. Who knows… maybe in a few decades or centuries Neo-Mexico will have 3D or 4D cartoons about the brave teenage cartel executioners and the strength of friendship, teamwork, and spirit!
1. DBZ – Gohan will spend a fortune in therapy
I love Dragon Ball. When Goku transformed into a Super Saiyan I think my other testicle finally descended and my voice stopped cracking. Before there was Tebowing there was definitely the raising-your-power-level pose which incidentally is also my taking an explosive #2 pose.
Dragon Ball’s central character, Son Goku is an idiot. Strongest being dead or alive, yes, but like so many central characters in Japanese stories he’s a character with extraordinary abilities often overlooked by his extraordinary stupidity. It’s like if you crossed Superman with Kung Fu Panda plus brain damage.
If there was an award for shitty parenting you might as well name that award The Goku. To be fair Goku wasn’t really sold on the whole family thing in the first place and he got married because he was too good natured and too stupid to think of a reason not to when Chichi proposed it.
His wife becomes the stereotypical house wife, who is a severe disciplinarian and task master when it comes to her child’s studies. However, for some reason Chichi can never seem to confront Goku on his unemployment status and absentee parenting style. She’s forever enamored by the spikey haired simpleton.
Goku really drops the ball with all of his children. After escaping from the exploding planet Namek, Goku does a little tour of the galaxy while his wife, son, and friends believe that he perished in the blast. Despite showing that he can use King Kai as a telepathic collect call, he doesn’t even bother to phone home to let everyone who loves and cares for him that he’s still alive. Instead, they all frantically collect the dragon balls and try to wish him back to life. The dragon tells them they’re silly and he can’t bring someone to life who’s ain’t dead yet. Surprised but overjoyed by the news they ask the dragon to bring Goku back to Earth. Apparently Goku is having too much fun on his one-man road trip and refuses to allow the dragon to instantly bring him home. Sounds pretty suspicious to me…
In his travels Goku stops off on the planet Yardrat where he picks up a teleportation technique that allows him to immediately travel to any location he wants in the galaxy as long as he can sense the energy of someone he knows at his destination. Let me repeat that, he can travel anywhere he wants instantly… this includes not only interplanetary travel, but he can also travel between the living world and “Other World” in an instant. So he could have say, popped in at home for a few days or just to say hi, and then immediately return to where he was and resume his gallivanting across the universe.
Meanwhile the rebuilt Frieza and his equally ugly father come to Earth to kill Goku and blow up the planet by way of Frieza’s little finger bomb. Goku is aware of this, but sensing Trunks’s presence he decides to just keep rocking out in his conventional space ship for another three hours. When he lands he’s wearing some clothes that look like he just got home from a gay cruise… suspicious… He tells Trunks that he could have come home at any time, but sensing that the world wasn’t really in danger he didn’t.
The next crisis for Goku is when the Earth is attacked by a robotic praying mantis crossed with a scorpion. Reciving prior warning of this by time traveling Trunks, Goku has spent the time training with Gohan. Gohan I’m sure couldn’t be happier during this period. But the magic wears off as things get serious and Goku puts Gohan into the ring against Cell in his completed form.
With the fate of the world on Gohan’s 10 year old shoulders Piccolo, who’s a much better father figure, tells Goku that matching his son against the strongest fighter in the universe was a mistake as Gohan, unlike Goku, doesn’t really like fighting, plus Gohan is a 10 year old child…
Cell, intrigued that Gohan might have hidden powers and aided by the hint from Goku that if Gohan gets mad he gets stronger, kills off the peaceful Android
17 16. This sends Gohan into a blind rage, which overpowers Cell, but instead of ending the fight and killing Cell, Gohan begins to sadistically torment the former villain, like a child bully would do. Cell, backed into a corner, blows himself up and Goku has to sacrifice himself and die (for the 2nd time) to save the Earth… Oh, and he kills King Kai, a monkey , and an oversized hornet in the process… Well live and learn right?
Six or seven years later Goku returns to Earth for a day to compete in the World Martial Arts Tournament. Apparently he knocked up Chichi right before he died, because he now has a seven-year old son named Goten.
Of course Goku’s arrival brings new disaster to the Earth with the last super villain of the Dragon Ball Z series: Majin Buu.
Goku starts to train his youngest son and Trunks who is a year older than Goten, to fuse their bodies together to increase their power. Taking a break from practice Goku sends Trunks to fetch the dragon radar while he confronts Buu and reveals that he has a new badass transformation that makes his body suck in his eyebrows and grow his hair long, which in Japanese animation, like Sampson, means a big boost in strength. He fights with Buu for a while, then decides to quit.
Upon returning Piccolo accuses Goku of not fighting seriously. Goku confirms that he didn’t go all out, but only because he is willing to bet the future of the Earth on the two children. His reasoning is that danger is always out there and while he’s around at this moment, what about the next time when he’s back to being dead? Goten is 7 and Trunks is 8 so they’re plenty old enough to learn how to be protectors of the planet, right?
Of course the kids don’t come through… Buu ends up of absorbing them and and killing nearly everyone on the planet including Chichi. In the end Goku has to borrow energy from all the creatures in the universe to incinerate the Pepto-Bismo colored monster.
After Buu, we’re left to assume, that for the next 10 years Goku lives with his family in peace, though I’m willing to bet he spent the majority of the time training by himself and wandering around killing and eating sentient dinosaurs.
Goku and company enter the World Martial Arts Tournament again because there’s a special fighter that Goku wants to spar with. Turns out Goku asked that the crazy evil Buu be reincarnated as a good soul so he could fight with him again. Apparently this asinine request was fulfilled and Buu is reincarnated as a dark-skinned human named Uub, which is the 2nd laziest thing a writer has ever done in the history of any and all written language.
So facing off against the seven year old Uub who is as timid as a virgin on prom night, Goku tries to get Uub fired-up by going to his primary teaching MO, getting the student as angry as possible. He insults Uub first, and then insults Uub’s family. Uub finally loses his temper and attacks well enough to impress Goku with his potential. Goku announces to his family that he’s going to go live with Uub to train the kid to be the Earth’s new protector, because apparently his sons just don’t impress him enough. Gohan asks his father, why he’s doing this, but Goku ignores the question entirely and says he’ll come home now and then, which if history is any indicator means never…
I love all of these (except for Anpanman) and they hold a special place in my childhood with fond memories and cool memes. For some of these it has been a long time since I read, watched, or played them, so if you notice any inaccuracies please feel free to point them out.
You can catch me on YouTube doing living in Japan sort of stuff: Gaijin Chameleon aka Superscheu