Otaku In The Mist
Today we're going to discuss an issue of growing concern.
What is a Naru-tard? Simply speaking, it's someone who likes the Japanese television show Naruto to the point that they begin to display a characteristic set of behaviors. Some people would call anyone who enjoys the show a Naru-tard, but in my book only the most over-the-top fans garner the designation. Even with my stricter definition, there are plenty to go around. Believe it.
Their numbers at local anime and gaming conventions are growing rapidly. Since its translation and release to the American market the show has gathered new fans in droves, and they are encroaching on other species' territories at a rapid rate. Their numbers will soon will begin to rival established species such as the Sailor-suited Bishoujo and the Vinyl/Furry Pseudo-Goth. We have to learn to understand them so we can find a way to peacefully co-exist.
Over the years I've collected a body of knowledge and designed a set of tactics with the hopes of, one day, communicating with them on their level. Here are some of my findings:
- Dressing up: Obsessive "costuming" is not only tolerated, but encouraged by their brethren. For the hardcore, any event is an excuse to dig out their ill-fitting and ill-sewn orange sweat suit with the duct-tape boji boots colored with a blue Sharpie. Here's a field guide to the three varieties you're most likely to encounter in the wild:
Name of character they're trying for: Naruto Uzumaki
Distinguishing Marks: Konoha's Number One Hyperactive Ninja! Believe it! Our titular character has blonde hair styled straight up in big chunky spikes, with his forehead protector worn bound around his forehead to show his team spirit. No one's too sure what he might be protecting with it – his behavior would indicate it's mostly bluster in there. His outfit is a complicated orange workout suit in the show, but it's usually faked with orange sweatpants cut off so they're high-waters and then topped off with various half-mangled sweat jackets.
Name of character they're trying for: Sasuke Uchiha
Distinguishing Marks: He's a sulky/emo kid with a troubled past and spiked black hair carefully styled by running a weed-whacker up the back. In the show he wears khaki cargo shorts and a blue tunic with his family crest on it. Usually faked by a blue t-shirt with a potato-printed smear on the back that looks like a stylized ice-cream bar.
Name of character they're trying for: Kakashi Hakate
Distinguishing Marks: He's the leader/teacher of this merry band. He has white hair sticking straight up. You'd be gray too if you had to deal with this bunch all the time. He wears his forehead protector pulled low diagonally over his left eye and a navy-blue fabric mask that covers his face from the bridge of his nose down. The mask and the green protective vest he wears are rather hard to duplicate so most of the younger set trying for this costume content themselves with wearing a green or blue sweatshirt with big red circular patches sewn on the shoulders and back.
- The headband: Oh, excuse me! I mean "forehead protector." This earns a mention on it's own due to sheer ubiquity. Much like a football jersey from your favorite team, which forehead protector you choose to wear says a lot about you. The heroes of the show are all sporting a spiraling stylized leaf. The bad guys all sport a musical note. There are several other cryptic variations for those who don't like to get into the forefront of the dispute.
And like those elf-ear headbands that were all the rage the year Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring came out, the forehead protector will often show up as a solo item. You'll be walking through the crowd and see what appears to be a perfectly normal person and breathe a small, inner sigh of relief. But then they'll turn around a flash you a tinny Leaf emblem. I give extra points if it's home-made, or for their own "custom" village.
Note to the wise: don't ever agree to read their fan-fiction story that explains it.
- Acting the Part: Even the more casual fans will display this one when in groups of their own kind. Many will shout Naruto's signature phase "Believe it!" in prepubescent tones that would bend metal. Others content themselves with the constant use of the word "loser" in sarcastic tones like Sasuke. Naru-tards who are way too into it also have a habit of randomly shrieking some polysyllabic name they've assigned to their next left turn at the top of their lungs.
- Viewing Habits: They don't just watch the show; they absorb it into their life. The most annoying elitist fan behavior is just the beginning. Here are a few signs that distinguish a mere "fan" of the show from a Naru-tard.
- Do they insist on watching it in Japanese?
- Do they know the names/bands for the opening closing credits songs? Do they sing the songs?
- Do they know which episode number it is just by a description of the plot?
- Do they collect and bring up their own imagined plot inconsistencies if the topic is even brushed lightly with an elbow?
- Online Behavior: In any fan following, there's always that one charter member of the Please Please Pleese Get a Life Club. In the case of Naru-tards, they're in the majority. They're the ones who argue endlessly online over mysterious points like Naruto's parentage and who is the leader of the evil group Akatsuki. Both those facts were recently revealed in the manga. Don't bother telling them that, though. It won't shut them up.
- Monkey, Dog, Rat: When they really get into it, they'll start making these weird gestures. They're not flipping you off, and that isn't ASL. Each ninja's special powers/attacks in the show is triggered by a specific set of hand-signs named after animals. It's worst when they don't do them properly. If you're going to look like that much of a dork, show some pride in your work and dork out correctly!
This is the researcher's Holy Grail. Attempts to communicate with them in a meaningful fashion can be a challenge, but it's one we must undertake if we are ever to understand them.
You can try to just talk to a Naru-tard you've encountered, but sometimes there is no way to get through. At Halloween they'll be all sugared-up from trick-or-treating, and at the conventions they're all heavily caffeinated. If they're really wound up, your mileage may vary as to whether or not you're going to be able to negotiate a common language.
When it works, it can be very rewarding. For example, I was volunteering at a church Halloween party last year. I was assigned to help clear a room so we could start setting up for another activity. I ran into a group who they were firmly convinced they were in the right place and attempts using normal communications couldn't convince them otherwise.
They were led by a classic Naru-tard in an orange jumpsuit that looked like it had been repurposed from the janitor's closet, and he was backed up by one of each of the other varieties. It was a little alarming because he came with a set of rubber kunai knives in a makeshift duct-tape holster on his leg and looked like he thought he knew what to do with them.
Like the intrepid Diane Fossey who had to hike up that misty mountain and brave the jungles to get close to her beloved gorillas, I hunkered down in the nest with them, groomed their fur a bit, and tried to communicate in their native tongue.
He started his spiel about some sort of important mission. I struck an imperious pose and I answered with, "I am Koriko Kusukabe, Obabakage of the Village Across the Water, master of the Senility Technique. I don't know about your mission, genin, but mine is to clear this area so we can set up. You guys better go find your sensei."
The whole room was silent for a moment. They just looked at me. Then one of them giggled. The leader gave me a Cub Scout salute and they all headed off out the door.
What I said was not in any way canon to the show. I was trying to move up above them in their hierarchy by pulling rank, but doing it outside of the story so their fertile little imaginations couldn't readily come up with an in-character response that involved throwing rubber knives. I still feel a sense of accomplishment that I reached them, and have used that technique on other occasions to great effect.
But be forewarned. Direct communication can be tricky. I don't recommend you try it without some study. It always carries a risk of encouraging them.
At a local convention I was volunteering at I lost my temper with one flapping little twit who insisted on punctuating every sentence with a series of badly-done hand signs.
I told him, "Come on! You only have one simple hand sign to set off your favorite jutsu. The rest of us have to do so many our enemies don't know whether to take damage or steal third base. Left hand in the two-fingered salute position but straight up and down, right hand in same shape but perpendicular. Match up the knuckles, right hand behind the left. Do the sign precisely and sharply. Otherwise, it's just the Clueless Loser Jutsu."
After a few practice runs with me demonstrating the proper technique he straightened up. But he also switched to that one sign exclusively. That turned out to be even more annoying than his previous behavior.
And you never know. I would swear sometimes that kid pulled off the Multi-Shadow Clone Jutsu after all. Just last month I walked out to the main area at of a local convention and was confronted about 20 of the little orange-clad punks running around. I realized their numbers were overwhelming. They were beyond my reach.
There wasn't much I could do but adjust my own forehead protector so my custom Village Across the Water symbol was properly centered, make sure my kunai holster was on straight, and head out into the mist.