I never watched Naruto. If it ever aired in Australia during the early 2000s, I couldn’t tell you. I know I skipped Dragon Ball Z in favour of the likes of Cardcaptor Sakura, Sailor Moon, and Zoids, but I never recall switching the channel away from Naruto. And I missed Shippuden, because when it was starting, I was living in places that it definitely didn’t air. I remember during my brief stay in the USA, while waiting for an Angolan visa, flicking on Toonami and seeing an advert for Shippuden, but that was the extent of my Naruto exposure.
Since getting into the swing of watching seasonal anime, and appreciating anime as a medium more than the cool “Japanese cartoons” that aired in and around stuff like The Jackie Chan Adventures, I have developed passing knowledge regarding Naruto. I still don’t really know which one is Sasuke, but I do know that Naruto was shunned by society and then eventually became the seventh or eighth Hokage and has a kid named Boruto. Boruto, in turn, has an anime series that has well-outstripped the manga, and I know I have studiously avoided both. After all, it’s hundreds of episodes long, and according to totally reliable internet wisdom, Naruto represents the standard battle shounen and is not renowned for its characterisation. Nothing on the level of the likes of Hunter x Hunter, at least.
I was pretty content to never ever watch Naruto for the rest of my life until an internet friend, Ed, mentioned the existence of ninja ostriches. Now, I’ve seen ostriches on safari. I’ve eaten ostriches (deliciously and surprisingly spicy meat). So on the whole, I was pretty damn intrigued by the prospect of a ninja ostrich. Ostriches have a powerful kick and notorious running speed (not unlike our dear Naruto). I was enthused by this Afro-Japanese cultural fusion. It seemed a clever complementary mix. I considered that my sneering shunning of Naruto was even more precarious than one’s complacency generally is when smugly judging a book by its cover (or an anime by its preview image).
As I waited for Ed to bring proof of this ninja ostrich, my imagination ran wild with the prospect of an ostrich in ninja garb. I imagined the black feathers wrapped in a black gi and with the stereotypical headband. Of shuriken suddenly appearing ‘neath giant wings. I grew impatient as the minutes ticked on. So I Googled it myself. Lo! There was the Narutopedia with an image of Condor, the Ninja Ostrich.
And I have to say, on the basis of this ninja ostrich design, Naruto has already immeasurably disappointed me with its singular lack of inspiration. It’s a bird with two red bow ties. That’d be fine for a James Bond-style counterintelligence officer ostrich in Naruto: Super Spy, but in a universe where Kakashi (thanks internet!) is wearing a face mask and everyone has bandanas with metal plated symbols on them (still not sure what they mean), two bow ties on a long-necked regular ostrich is a terribly flat look. Like it just stepped away from another overly-long sequence of Family Guy. Hell, Peter the Panda from Phineas and Ferb would be less incongruous than Condor the Ostrich’s inane simple modernity.
But, I’m in this deep, and Ed has given me an episode name where Condor features, so I now feel obliged to set aside my pre-emptive disdain, pull up Crunchyroll, then recapitulate and review episode 185, “The Animal District”:
The first surprise, on starting the episode, is that Condor has a third bow tie! Really didn’t expect that. The Wikia image kept it hidden. I’m not sure whether the third bow tie is mind-numbing banality or pushes the look into bizarre avant garde-ness, but whatever distinctiveness this grumpy bird’s bow tie triplicate gives him, it’s immediately superseded by the remainder being a boring ostrich. Also, the chicks to whom Condor is speaking don’t have bow ties, so perhaps the bow tie is an emblem of adulthood and authority in the ostrich herd? Or maybe ninja skills? Naruto has apparently been his rival for a long time, so the extra bow tie will definitely turn the tide in this long-standing brinkmanship. Is “bow tie” starting to lose all semblance of meaning for you too? Let’s move on.
Okay, so without any context, this ostrich seems to know a great deal about the comings and goings of village history. I get the distinct impression that Condor may well be the fulcrum about which the village turns. There was a point where Condor had a single bow tie, lending credence to my theory on bow ties being earnt with age and skill. Moreover, he’s a self-taught ninja ostrich and now Condor has my admiration and respect in all other respects other than fashion. Shame the same can’t be said for Naruto, who is very dismissive about being sent to find Condor. One would think that a ninja-in-training would be curious to see how an ostrich learnt ninjitsu, but not our Naruto.
Despite Naruto’s reticence, the Hokage commits several children to explore a region that has been off-limits to the entire village and unexplored for decades. I know that somebody has to be a pioneer at the frontier of untamed land at some point, and that these kids likely have super ninja powers, but it does seem woefully negligent. This is especially the case when a flashback-inside-the-flashback story reveals that Naruto once tied up Condor with a thick rope to lead him somewhere. Condor’s resentment probably manifested through the hours of rope burn and neck chafing. I’m just saying that it’s probably not the greatest idea to send the one guy Condor dislikes as the first person in ages to entreaty with the wild animal kingdom. But you know what? I only made it to green and white belt in Jujitsu, so as you will it, Hokage!
I’ve been informed this is filler and it very much explains why Naruto is accompanied by characters even I can tell aren’t the regular crew. But life is full of detours and sojourns that, while appearing to be hindrances to a self-imposed goal that defines personal success, often are the pauses that result in the greatest edification and growth. And I have a feeling that Condor recounting this experience is his way of reflecting on it. Bring on the filler!
Getting back to our intrepid ninja group, I’m quite excited for Bowl-Cut-Big-Eyes-kun to kick some animal arse. However, I don’t know how much control he actually has, and he seems pretty liable to decapitate Naruto with his roundhouse kicks. That would be a twist! Tangentially, Sunglasses-Headband-san, who genuinely looks like he’s just come away from an outdoor rave in cold weather (hence the buttoned-up trenchcoat) seems somewhat irritated that Bowl-Cut took up all of the allocated character introduction time. He is now my favourite Naruto character. Pour one out for Kotetsu as well, who was made team captain and given the mission because he was around. That sometimes happens in real life, but again, this is a wild forest nobody has visited for years with dangerous ninja animals, so a bit of support for Kotetsu’s intrinsic qualities would be nice, Hokage!
The opening theme song has made me check the clock and I’m only 4 minutes in! Oh dear. This opening though reminds me of the fact that Kana-Boon sang “Silhouette” as the sixteenth Naruto opening, and also “Fighter” for Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans. They’re an all-round great band and I should buy more of their music. I digress. This opening is good too.
Bowl-Cut-Big-Eyes-kun is called Lee and Sunglasses-Headband-Trenchcoat-Rave-san is Shino. Lee and Shino are now having a dispute about who should be rear guard and I’m siding with Shino because I’m pretty sure he does actually have eyes on the back of his head despite explicitly denying this fact to Lee, who is an idiot and believes him. Honestly, why the hell did they bring a guy with poor motor control and spatial awareness along if he’s also a moron? I wonder how often Shino has to put up with Lee? I bet it’s a lot of the time. I don’t really know what powers Naruto ninjas have, but this better be like Hiei’s third eye from Yu Yu Hakusho and I will disappointed if Chekov’s Rear Eyes are not invoked. I don’t care if you have compound eye vision via insects Shino! Eyes on the back of the head or bust! Naruto is also flummoxed by Shino’s lack of Rear Eyes and getting stroppy about not being made lieutenant. Meanwhile, Shino is quietly internalising the cries of an irritating brat while Lee is just practising kicking in the background. Shino is everyone who has ever struggled in a dysfunctional group project. Shino would be justified in betraying the group and joining Condor in his crusade against Naruto. I know I would.
No thanks to Naruto’s whining, and all thanks to Shino, they find Condor really easily. Who scoffs at them. Can’t blame him. Naruto attempts a lame insult about Condor’s dad having a distended belly button. Shino explains that ostriches come from eggs so they don’t have belly buttons, so it’s no wonder that Condor thinks Naruto is a fool. Three things are apparent here: Shino has had enough of Naruto after maybe four minutes of screen time working together; Naruto is basically a primary school-level bully; and apparently anatomy and biological reproduction are not part of the standard ninja curriculum. Maybe Naruto just didn’t pay attention. That’s probably it. Future Shino must be so aggravated by the fact that Naruto becomes Hokage.
Immediately after tracking Condor, Shino’s insects are killed by surprise Venus flytaps! Shino is the sort of sensitive soul who names all of his insect friends and mourns their passing. Nobody else gives a damn and they all ditch him.
It turns out that they brought Lee here for his super-speed (hypocritically, I’m going to point out that Naruto can only quietly compliment Lee when simultaneously calling him Bushy Brow as a degrading nickname under his breath). But suddenly there’s a boxing kangaroo that stops Lee! In an inspired move, the kangaroo has added a glove to her tail and is summarily roughing up the endlessly confident kid with a barrage of gloves.
Meanwhile, Condor backtracks to give Naruto the thrashing he deserves! Condor has clearly been preparing his epic takedown speech for the bullying Naruto every day in the shower. What vindication Condor must feel as he forces all the scared ninjas into retreat. A tactically-sound ninja and an orator as well, Condor doesn’t give them respite, instead now laying into them verbally. Despite having just received a thorough smackdown, which should, in the world of a battle shounen, really garner respect for the enemy as an equal, Naruto instead even denies Condor his name. This despicable denial of sentience and free will for an intelligent anthropomorphic ostrich ninja is symptomatic of the systemic socio-political stratification of the ninja hierarchy. No doubt it’s a common refrain for Naruto and his fellow ninjas in order to create social bulwark against change. The status quo is good for Naruto and who cares if one nameless roped up ostrich is sacrificed to maintain it?
Condor is having none of this, however, eloquently segueing from Naruto’s own moral turpitude into a brief treatise on the vile baseness of Man against Animal, and the pursuit of freedom in structured society. We’re veering pretty close to a discussion of the State of Nature and I think Condor is probably a Hobbes ostrich, though he might agree with Rousseau’s thoughts on exercising freedom and the general will under authority of the State as part of a social contract. As long as the State is represented by the almighty “Four Animal Ninja Warriors”! We’ve only met two so far. My anticipation grows.
In a twist worthy of a better episode, I am now facing a dilemma as the viewer. Do I see Shino’s attempt to surreptitiously have his insects overwhelm the Animal Ninja Warriors as an underhanded move? Or do I lament the mass consumption of said insects at the hands of a strategically placed anteater ninja, knowing the pain it is causing Shino? Really, the Currently-Three Animal Ninja Warriors have a justified right to self-defence, that much is clear, but could this be an excessive use of force by murdering so many insects? I’m kidding, the threshold isn’t going to met for killing insects. Sorry Shino. I definitely botched law there for the sake of a joke and so my misery is compounded like the eyes of dead insects. But all’s fair in love and war! (It’s not, rules of engagement are numerous and complex. And some jurisdictions do have crimes of passion, but this is a battle shounen, so everything is passionate.)
Seriously though, Naruto has a problem with calling people by their names. He callously tells Lee, “Let’s go, Bushy Brow!” and I guess Lee—idiot that he is—is stunned by the assignment of a nickname out of nowhere, so he follows the order unchallenged. I still have eight minutes of this episode left, and I’m not sure I can stomach much more of Naruto’s dehumanising onslaught. Oh, the trials and tribulations of being an anime fan.
Naruto and Condor are now going head to head in a Clone Jutsu projection showdown, and while Condor expertly camouflages himself in a herd of regular-looking ostriches, Naruto looks stupid. Kotetsu is suitably in awe, and now I learn that Condor can create Shadow Clones, which paradoxically seems to giving the clones material form to decimate Naruto’s clones (no, genuinely, they only take out like a tenth of them). But maybe they have actually cloned themselves, which would be quite impressive, but honestly I don’t care enough to find out. But the important thing is that Naruto thinks they’re real and is very close to being gored by their talons. This episode has become surprisingly satisfying.
And it is now incredibly satisfying! Not only does Condor have Kunai dagger, but Lee’s taken out by a one-two combo of a boxing kangaroo and a boxing joey resting in its mother’s pouch! This is glorious. So far, Lee’s fights against the kangaroos have been the most fluidly animated, so it’s a proper blood-spurting wallop as well.
However, the best is yet to come: Kotetsu summons a giant ancient club that is a clam on a rod, which really feels like cheating in an honourable fist-talon fight. This is only going to exacerbate Condor’s mistrust of humans. Condor, having evidently played Pokémon games before, uses Substitute…replacing himself with a log of wood. Kotetsu is momentarily bamboozled by the cellulose and lignen composite, long enough for Condor to sneak behind. Kotetsu turns and realises that he’s about to be hit by a furious talon frenzy, and then just flinches until he’s sent packing. Condor could probably win the Pokémon Videogame World Championships Masters Division with a Shuckle and a Volbeat.
I’ve avoided talking about this so far because it was tangential to Condor’s triumph and Naruto’s churlishness, but as Kotetsu awaits his demise, he once again has a highly homoerotic flashback to words of encouragement from his brother-in-blood/life partner/ninja lover Izumo. Well, it’s now relevant, because Izumo is here! What a shocking turn of events! It is only by the sound of Izumo’s voice that Kotetsu avoids Condor’s “Meteor Bash”. Meteor Bash is close enough to the Pokémon move “Meteor Blast” for the Arceus Lv. X card. So I’m just going to say that Condor is the Arceus analogue of the Naruto world, and is “The Original One”. Condor is a god and it’s shameful how Naruto has treated him. Anything short of divine worship is sacrilege and will be met by the wrath of the Condor. Love Condor.
This pinnacle of ostrich-ninja achievement is swiftly undone, however, by the sly hands of human reinforcements and being outnumbered. It’s quite a gut punch watching Condor’s spirit shatter as the sounds of Naruto’s gloating echo across the plains. Here is a noble creature being suppressed, once again, under the yoke of tyranny. And he has to watch his animal brethren be tied by their tongue around a tree or hop away wounded. Surely this is convenient human propaganda, because Shino and Lee have somehow bested their adversaries offscreen, despite being pummelled to the ground like chumps the last time we saw them. What a joke, Naruto Shippuden. I knew you weren’t bold in any way. Of course you would wrap this story up as neatly as those boring pink bow ties around Condor’s neck with a human ninja victory. The Four Animal Ninja Warriors deserve better than what you can offer them. Ed says that Condor appears in three episodes, and now I am hoping one of those episodes involves anime Robert Redford as a lowly scribe ninja trying to survive while figuring out who killed all the other ninjas in the ninja village. I hope it’s the Four Animal Ninja Warriors who destroy them in retribution for a lifetime of injustice. And it appears that Condor feels the same way, attempting to strangle Naruto in vain desperation with his long neck after being teased (again)!
Back in the present, Condor finishes his tale for the baby chicks, tacitly paving their path towards being the next generation of birds’ rights activists pursuing freedom. A freedom that Condor will spend his lifetime unwaveringly protecting from the cursed Naruto and his interference. Indeed, Condor has just broken out of the confines of the ninja village again! So they will do this dance forever.
I find myself finishing the episode in a mildly contemplative mood. “The Animal District” thematically suggests that emancipation of a repressed group does sometimes require force and violence to achieve those ends, and history does present us with examples of this, although we as a society tend to look more kindly on pacifist movements, with their effects more enduring, or at least more recognised at large. The ultimately unsuccessful endeavour by the Four Animal Ninja Warriors bears this out.
The episode also examines the place of figureheads working alone. Had it not been just four sentient animals and their rhetoric, secluding themselves in an animal haven alone, Naruto and company may not have been able to impose the existing dominant power of human ninjas and all the attendant benefits upon them. Despite their individual power, the Four Animal Ninja Warriors were kowtowed by the system. Condor seems to have begun rectifying this by educating young minds. One day, the animals may have the groundswell to effect real change. Finally, Condor acknowledges the incremental nature of that change, and by vowing to continue his fight, despite knowing that Naruto will “Always interfere with his freedom,” it’s a fairly inspiring message of staying undaunted in the face of long-term adversity.
Naruto’s attitude is also instructive: his comfortable position in society grants him the benefit of unexamined biases towards the sentient animals. He sees the animals as lesser to the end, despite Condor demonstrably having the same abilities as him. All is well for him, and thus he is able to denigrate not just the animals, but also Lee, without malice. He does not recognise the advantage the reinforcements brought to the fight—unlike Kotetsu—so it just reinforces his prejudices of superiority. Due to the condescending lack of worth in his eyes, Naruto will always feel that he is righteous towards—even helping—Condor by returning him to the known confines of the ninja village. Without that recognition of Condor’s inherent value, Naruto will always be complicit in upholding the existing conditions of society as they are. There is irony there given that he faced significant discrimination in youth, but often those who were suppressed and attain a modicum of status then seek to not lose their own position and ensure that the status quo remains. He will not be a naturally empathetic ally in Condor’s drive for equality and freedom. But he has time to grow.
Have I grown by watching this episode? Not even remotely. If anything, I’ve learnt that my instincts are solid and I was totally justified in prematurely dismissing this anime series. The episode has removed any trace of compunction I might have had towards watching the adventures of erstwhile trainee and taunting coward Naruto.
However, I am down for roughly 150 episodes of Condor the Ninja Ostrich on his journey to become…well anything really. The sky’s the limit for this flightless bird, except for the actual sky. Most of all, I hope he attains his liberty as a revolutionary. And that maybe someday I’ll find out why he’s called Condor. In the meantime, I hope he metaphorically soars like one.
Still, can somebody please buy Condor a complementary tux for his bow ties? This majestic ostrich ninja warrior deserves better clothes.
Happy 20th Anniversary Naruto, and congratulations Masashi Kishimoto on its success! I’m glad your clans of ninja fans get to celebrate the storied history of this manga and anime, even though I am not amongst them.
Who else do you think was hard done by in Naruto and deserved better? Feel free to tell me in the comments below and we can commiserate together.
Thank you to TheMamaLuigi for kindly going through this essay. Sincerely appreciate it.
And thanks to Ed, for introducing me to the finest ninja ostrich in the universe.
If you liked this comedic piece, you can get in touch with me on Twitter at “@fringence”. If you hated it, don’t bother, and please instead direct all complaints to the internet void.