“I will never give up. Believe it.”
When Naruto Uzumaki, lead character in the Anime series Naruto, utters these words with a really inspiring music playing in the background, something similar to a current of confidence runs down my spine, my eyes light up, the hair on the back of my neck stand up in excitement and my heart beats against my chest in full vigour. And this feeling of confidence lingers within me even after the half hour episode gets over. Such is the influence anime has on me. Whenever I feel down and out, I seek shelter, direction even, from these fictitious characters with pointed noses and spiked hair. What power they hold over me I cannot express, mostly because I, myself, have not been able to understand it fully. Maybe you can help me out. Let me guide you through a journey down my memory lane so that you can tell me when and how I fell in love with cartoons and anime.
If my memory serves me right, the first ever animated series I ever saw was an anime. Here, I must properly differentiate between anime and other forms of animation. Anime is the name given to a special class of animated series developed in Japan. They are usually inspired from a Manga (comic book) series or from some book, though some anime exist which have no such roots in literature. Back to where we left, I had told you that the very first animated series I ever saw was an anime. Most people do not realise that the cartoon series Jungle Book which used to be aired on Doordarshan in Hindi was actually dubbed from the Japanese anime Shonen Mowgli. I didn’t know either, when I was a kid. All that mattered to me then, was the beautifully simple opening song “jungle jungle baat chali hai…” and the episode that followed. I remember watching the episodes, getting lost in them and never coming out. After the half hour show, I would run about acting as Mowgli (the child lost in the jungle and brought up by a pack of wolves) and treating my house as the jungle. I remember having tried many a time to carve out a boomerang from cardboard, so that I may hunt like Mowgli did. Obviously, none of my boomerangs were effective; they would not stay up in air for more than three seconds. But I did not lose hope; I knew that would go against the teachings of Baloo (the bear) and Baghira (the Black Panther). I particularly enjoyed Shere Khan’s (the wounded Tiger) entry music; it was simply captivating. And who can forget how Nana Patekar’s voice made Shere Khan look so familiarly villainous!
In the evenings, I would again get glued to Sony Entertainment Channel’s Disney Hour. Right from Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy to the various other Disney characters, all of them would take me into their world. The effect wasn’t as captivating as the Jungle Book’s, but was pretty close. I can say I never pictured myself as Mickey or Donald or Goofy, though I occasionally turned into Scrooge McDuck (the miserly millionaire duck) from Duck Tales, and Kit (the orphan young bear, who was navigator to the pilot Baloo) from Talespin. Around the same time came many Disney series like the Goof Troop, Aladdin, Rescue Rangers, etc. but none would leave me mystified. I must mention, it was a time in my life when I was unaware of the Cartoon Network. My parents had meticulously kept the channel out of the bandwidth of the cable antenna. Not until I was ten years old till I got the first glimpse of this sea of cartoons.
Ten years old, I unearthed the forbidden knowledge of tuning the frequencies of various channels to the cable antenna of the television. I had heard of the famed Cartoon Network from my friends and was determined to tune the channel in. With great difficulty was I able to find the particular frequency, but the joy was inexpressible. For days I kept the channel a secret from my parents; my elder brother knew, of course. I would only switch onto this channel when my parents were out to work at the University. Right before they came back, I would carefully change to the Discovery Channel. Now that I think of it, I feel that they knew about all this, but they chose to play along. In any case, now, my exposure to the world of cartoons had increased many folds. From the two hours per day it had increased to over six hours. I was now acting like the Sky Commanders, the Centurions and the Swat Kats. My brother and I particularly loved the Ninja Robots, an anime.
The following year Cartoon Network aired one of my all-time favourite anime, Dragonball Z. This anime was like none other I had come across. Now, I became Goku (the Saiyan from planet Vegeta who was brought up on earth to be Earth’s saviour), meditating as he used to, running around and shooting imaginary power waves from my palms. I even tried to do push-ups; it was an utter failure owing to the disproportionate size of my hands compared to the belly. Even today, I face the same problem. But let’s not stray from our path. For over five years, I was a Saiyan, though for some time in between, I assumed the role of lead characters from Cardcaptor Sakura, Beyblade, Yu Gi Oh, Detective School Q, Inu Yasha, Pokemon etc. By the time I was sixteen, I had been many people, had possessed many supernatural powers, saved a million lives a million times over, but I had not lost the enthusiasm. I was still as receptive to anime as I was when just ten years old. At this point, Naruto came to my life.
Naruto Uzumaki has been my alter ego for the past three years. Today, even at the age of nineteen, I act just like a child, trying to be like Naruto. For the first time, I fell so deeply in love with an anime that I do not know if I would, ever, rank any other anime higher than Naruto. Yet this time round, I was not just fascinated by the concept of Chakra and Jutsus but also how beautifully they depicted human values of friendship and comradeship. They so effortlessly brought out the most complex of emotions and made me aware of the many wrongs that I have committed in the past, ranging from mistrust to hurting my best friends. Best of all, it continuously emphasises on the ideal: never quit, never give up, no matter what. I remember a line from Kakashi Hatake (Naruto’s teacher and himself one of the highest ranking ninjas) which goes like this, “Those who do not follow rules are scum, but those who forget about their friends are worse than scum.” This line is so close to my heart, today, that it is easily one of the ideals I cherish and follow.
As Naruto continues to be aired every Thursday in Japan, I sit down and download it from one of the various sites which indulge in video piracy. The same goes for many other anime series like Full Metal Alchemist, One Piece, Death Note, etc. Thus, my tryst with anime has continued for more than fifteen years now and I think it will continue for ten more years. As the years progress, the quality of anime increases in two different fields: one, in the level of sophistication of the animation and two, in the simplicity with which they bring out all that is good. These characteristics make anime one of the most desirable media of instilling in children the values that will guide them through their lives. With the charm of television series like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Arabian Nights fading, children are continuously attracted to this new medium of entertainment, which sugar-coats ideals with the supernatural attractions of power waves and super-strength.
For my part, I am a little apprehensive, though. As the anime market grows, many new series spring up which are far inferior in quality compared to Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist and for that matter Jungle Book. Such non-productive shows dilute the overall richness that the true anime strive to maintain. They act as nothing more than invisible handcuffs on the minds of the growing children. Instead of opening new dimensions of imagination and creativity, these tend to close down the existing ones. Under such conditions, I can only hope that channels like Cartoon Network, Pogo, Animax choose responsibly which shows to air.
Originally published in an earlier blog of mine on July 7, 2010