Why wouldn’t I be into shonen anime? What about a good standard shonen series wouldn’t apply to someone like me? I didn’t click with shojo girls and their mostly small problems. And from an early age I fit much more easily into the narratives of young men against the world. We discussed in an earlier post how some series can grow with you while others get lost in the dust: I wanted to talk about an anime that itself may have been outgrown by me and my current life but has one theme that still holds true to my day to day existence and has been a nearly ever-present constant in my heart: friendship.
Naruto the anime and I have an interesting relationship. I started out as a high school student loving the story of a 12 year old Naruto Uzumaki trying to make his way through Ninja School to become Hokage. But the series did ebb and flow with some high points in the narrative and others that were…well, The Curry of Life arc comes to mind. But one radical notion did always stick with Naruto and my life with that series: how much Naruto went through for his friends. Now, we aren’t going to talk about…”dedicated” Naruto is to Sasuke but we are going to talk about friendship, sacrifice and effort.
Naruto is constantly fighting for Sasuke’s friendship. He is always trying to prove to Sasuke and to the others around him that they are important and that theme is so important to the series that most of the music in Naruto centers around it even before it centers around the romantic love the series tried to push later on in its run. This theme of friendship is so important to most shonen series that it is often more compelling of a story than the one between the main male and the main female.
Sasuke and Naruto have such great chemistry( And I use chemistry platonically. I have great chemistry with people I am not trying to date but that because we’re both compelling and engaging humans.) because they are constantly trying to prove something to the other while Sakura and Hinata are just sort of existing in the world. Naruto speaks highly of friendship and is willing to do anything anything to prove his worth to Sasuke and then later to Gaara and to an extent to Shikamaru.
Friendship means collaboration, friendship means showing those you care about just how much you care but it also means regardless of where you are or what you are that hardship doesn’t simply mean that anyone will being your friend.
One of my favorite scenes from Naruto is probably towards the end of the main anime that features Sasuke and Naruto as kids. Sasuke is underwater, he’s drowning in a sea of anger and darkness and a hand sinks below the water. Naruto literally pulls his friend up and is trying to save him. That’s what Naruto is willing to do, that’s how far he’s willing to go and to me that’s beautiful. Even though their backgrounds are similar, their experience shaped how they view the world and that’s what has the potential to make them close or to break them apart.
The same can be said for most shonen main males and their antagonists like Ichigo and Uryu of Bleach or even Goku and Vegeta of Dragon Ball Z. Their narratives together are much stronger because each one of those groups of men are proving themselves to those they care about all the time. Losing a friend is probably at times a more difficult and tragic part of a shonen anime than the main character dying for the 5th time or when the villain gets the magical McGuffin device. Think back to any episode of One Piece. The issue seldom is “Hey, let’s actually find the treasure.” and is usually Luffy trying to keep his crew together. He’s far more invested in keeping Sanji, Zolo, Robin, Nami and Usopp together than his is actually doing anything? And to go back to Naruto, the series only doubles down on the pain Naruto feels having lost Sasuke’s friendship. Shippuden is a giant road trip to find a lost friend and then the sequel Boruto (a show following everyone’s kids for some reason) continues to echo that sentiment. Everyone is still looking for Sasuke. Everyone still wants their lost friend back. 20 some odd years later and we’re all still held hostage while we look for one angsty raven-haired man in the woods.
Let’s get back to the real world before I fall off this soapbox.
I’m fortunate to have some of the best friends in the world. Why do you think I talk about them so much? They’re my family when mine has been less than ideal and I spoil them the best that I can as you’ve seen in several blog posts now. But fundamentally, friendship has always been something to work for and towards. While we all have something in common, we have differing opinions. We have different schedules: some of us live in different parts of the globe. We agree, we disagree. We have varying ideas about how cute a main character is or whether Batman’s a bad guy or a hero.
But it’s also about understanding when not to press an issue. Being of the older generation of the Internet, I’m very aware of the fact that my friends may not be on the same level as I am. They may not want to hear about me trying to figure out a Kousuke Oshiba costume and I don’t always want to hear about Street Fighter. But them being my friend means supporting them.
Remember that A-Kon I spent mostly bored as the boys played their fighting game? Sure, I complained and I regret that now. But seeing my boys on stage made me so proud that by the second round when they both advanced to the main stage, I was on the ground taking photos. They’re my friends: I celebrate their success. And then immediately after the tournament they supported me as I courted one of my biggest panel audiences ever. I ride the wave of my friend’s success and their passion motivates me: even if it’s in something I may not typically enjoy myself.
Carlos and I have had passionate one-sided conversations while I rant over military uniforms in Japanese anime. And I lovingly will sit and listen to him talk about the game mechanics of Persona 5. And we double down on the things we do have in common like comic books and YuGiOh and misanthropy.
Friendship is struggle, sacrifice and understanding. Friendship is empathy and love and making time even when you don’t want to. Friendship is coming home early, staying up late and listening regardless of how difficult your day was. Friendship is understanding hype levels, lovingly arguing and being there if and when you need a shoulder to cry on or a stiff drink. Working towards friendship is important and being willing to go above and beyond for those that matter to you is vital.
The lyrics that this is titled from is part of the Naruto Shippuden closing theme Distance and it’s about as shonen of an ending as shonen can be. It’s strange little song but I think it’s a good place to wrap up with a few of the lyrics.
You are my friend
You are my dream
So I’ll go the Distance