Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 15 years, you’ve probably heard of Masashi Kishimoto’s manga Naruto in some form or another. The serialisation started in Shonen Jump Magazine in 1999 (how old to you feel right now?) and ended last week – 700 issues.
Let’s stop and think about that for a second. I’ve never drawn manga. Hell I can barely draw stick figures. My only education in the world of manga and comics as a whole comes from the manga Bakuman, which I wrote about extensively on the blog before. But I am a writer – and I know exactly what you have to go through to get your work out there. It’s not easy.
Many people make the wrong assumption that money is the main currency of life – in reality it’s time. But then again we are raised in a consumer based society so we naturally tend to lean towards something we can count, pocket and spend materialistically. I don’t mean to lecture. But I bring this point up because that is especially true for writers – nay, artists, of all sorts. We value any project on how much time will it take to produce and how much time will it take to sell and then add up the money we expect this to generate and then proceed accordingly. It’s not as clean as that but follow the logic here: Naruto has 700 issues. That’s weekly. That means that every week, this guy had to present a 20 page chapter to the magazine and have it run.
Now I don’t know about you, but it takes me more than a week to finish a piece of work. Yes 20 pages doesn’t seem like a lot, but let me assure you that these people (and their small army of assistants) are usually so pressed for time it’s amazing they get any sleep at all. Imagine being on a deadline every week and every tick of the clock as if whispering “one less, one less.” No wonder mangakas like Yoshihiro Togashi take hiatuses to be with their families (or in Togashi’s case to play Dragon Age).
Now as far as I can tell Naruto never went on hiatus. That’s 700 straight weeks that this guy delivered, under a deadline, one of the top 3 mangas (tied with Tite Kubo’s Bleach and Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece) for 15 years!
The equivalent to that would be a writer of serialised fiction to release a new episode each week or for a novelist to release the next book every 2-3 months. That’s the kind of dedication this man brought – regardless of whether you liked the comic or not.
But marvelling aside, and fanboying aside, let’s talk about community. I’ve often quoted Joanna Penn in saying that writers have no need to compete against each other but rather cooperate with each other and help boost one another. Other than being altruistic, this also has a business strategy behind it. Goodwill goes a long way nowadays and it’s always smart to make allies out of your peers. Writing is not a Zero-Sum game. But what does that have to do with Naruto?
The Japanese have many faults, beginning with their twisted view of masculinity and lack of women’s empowerment, the sheer influx of perverts and tentacle porn – a conversation on the latter brought you the Lurking Voice podcast.
But the Japanese culture is one that demands and rewards hard work. They even have a work for it: “Otsukaresama” – which literally means ” thank you for your hard work.” I like that phrase. We already live in a culture that highlights the negative, so why not embrace and recognise when someone busted their balls (600 words without swearing, that’s some kind of record for me).
When Naruto ended I came across these two articles that illustrate just the kind of community Western writers should aspire to. And it shouldn’t be just as a farewell. I think that perhaps writers need to acknowledge one another on their platforms. The more successful and business-savvy ones certainly do.
Okay so let’s talk about something else: legacy. No not my books, the Legacy Series, although funny how that nice little prompt just appeared there huh?
I’m talking about what does it mean when a series that touched lives the way Naruto (and many other – remember FRIENDS or Buffy?) did, suddenly ends. Sure a story must have a beginning, a middle, and by that premise, an end – but is that all a story is?
Because I think Naruto brought the ninja culture and certain elements of Shinto and Japanese mythology to light. I think it spoke of values and friendship and not giving up when everyone says to and protecting those who are weak and finding family even in the non traditional sense. I think it spoke about a generation of kids trying to find themselves, trying to define themselves, outside the box – particularly to a culture as rigid as the Japanese. Isn’t that kinda the same way Buffy gave women a voice and a kick ass attitude to a generation of women still struggling to get their voice heard?
This is art and therefore this is legacy. That’s why art exists, people – to give a voice, to express an idea, to show a different way or the same way in a better way. The truth of the matter is, no writer sets out to change the world. At best they want to change their world, but then the stumble onto something that speaks to them in a way that nothing else did and their work becomes better because of it. I’m not saying Naruto is life changing – but I am saying it belongs to a category of works that have shaped my life, and that is the first step to becoming a true artist.
A lot of things that have once shaped me into the person I am today are ending (Bleach is on it’s last few chapters too folks, and Avatar: the Legend of Korra has only a few more weeks before the last season is over). This year has been a year of ends.
Actually scratch that – this has been a year of change. In order to change you must first stop doing something and start something else. The dichotomy of change is that it rests in the cusp between life and death: the end of something to start something.
Old stories are coming to an end – but the good news is, new stories are rising from their ashes. I am happy to be one of those writers, the contributors to the next wave of awesome, inspiring stories. And when my time comes to hit THE END, I will gladly pass on the torch to the next generation of awesome storytellers.
So I look a this as a farewell and as a challenge: for my work (and that of any other) to rise to the level of awesome that Naruto has risen to, and inspire and entertain in the same way.
Peace out folks,