November 6, 2012

(American) Ninja Warrior!

So I was Minding my own business and watching American Ninja Warrior, as the title of this post would justly imply. I was very excited, you know, because it has "Ninja Warrior" in the title. It's right there! See! In the title! How could it be any less than sheer kick-ass awesome!? 
It's less than sheer kick-ass awesome. 

Well, it's complicated. See, when I think of Ninja Warrior, it brings me back to college. Back when I was living with the ever-awesome Beth Ennis of marrying-TKD fame we would watch this show all the time! It was one of the few shows that we both TRULY enjoyed. (That and 24, because BAUER.) Long story vaguely shorter, thanks to G4 Beth and I always had something to watch and bond over. Much like the Golden Girls had cheesecake. 

Like this, but with Ninjas.
And then when I started being friends with Jamie (whom I eventually lived with, along with others. More on the most epic year of my life later) we watched a lot of terrible horror movies (super cheesy bad, so bad they're good.... maybe) and a shit-ton of Ninja Warrior. Watching those men (and some women) brave the Sasuke and invariably* fall prey to the muddy waters under the jump hang, or the deadly log roll was oft the highlight of a dull evening. So they have a lot to live up to.
*By "invariably" I mean literally EVERYONE, hundreds of contestants over 20? Sasuke except for the AMAZING NW Allstars.

The Ninja Warrior Allstars
AKA 1 of the 3 reasons to watch television at all, consist of the few elite men who actually completed the challenge and owned Mount Midoriyama* like the little bitch she is. You know, if you have a ridiculously strong bod, iron-clad will, and just enough pride to try but humble enough to yield to the gods of the Mountain and recognise your own shortcomings. Oh, and it helps if you do nothing but TRAIN for the whole year.  
*I totally spelled that right on the first try. 
You too, can conquer this.
There's Akiyama, who was the first to defeat Mt. Midoriyama but then competed in 16 more Sasuke and only managed to get to stage 2 one time before yielding to the course.
The Japanese love of my life, Makoto Nagano, the lowly fisherman who rose to the challenge and defeated the Mount, and winning our hearts. Seriously, check out this video of his winning run: Makoto Nagano's Total Victory in Sasuke 17 Don't you just love him?
And the only man to achieve total victory twice, Urushihara. He's pretty badass. Especially when you consider he only competed in seven Sasuke. Ever. 
And there's always Yamada, or Mr. Ninja Warrior, once thought to be the most likely man to achieve total victory, has yet to do just that. Keep going, Yamada, I believe in you.
There are other Allstars, but the above are my favs.
This wasn't even a photo shoot, this was just a tuesday for Nagano.
Nowhere-near-potable Water
Do the Germans have a word for taking enjoyment in watching someone's life dreams come to a crashing halt into a large pool of -best case- muddy water, but still feel bad for them because you really really wanted them to make it? Because Schadenfreude doesn't quite cut it. Reason 2 is, you guessed it! feeling bad about others' failure. Hilarious, hilarious failure. 
It isn't even funny that one lost, or how bad they loose, or how hyped that particular competitor was that lost on the log roll or the quadruple step, it's how they flail themselves into the water. And then are immediately asked by a hot Japanese woman how they felt about their failure while two men narrate with subtitles that are either translated wrong or are that bat shit hilarious. Seriously, watch that video I linked to... or search for more. There are far funnier ones, they don't make fun of the all stars as much as the everyday competitors and the interviews/commentary when they lose is the funniest.
Whack! aaand... Splash!
This is from Nagano's run (check the link)
No, he's not. But Reason 3 why this show is absolutely the shit, he might actually make it!!! I mean, really, this one guy might totally make it! You watch the Sasuke and you genuinely want every competitor to make it to the end and hit that shiny red button. It's sad when they don't, mediated only by the hilariousness with which they are disqualified. But that's not really it either, unlike ANY and EVERY American show ever, the competitors are rooting for each other. Their faces are shown when a crowd favourite hits the water, and they're cringing. They want the other guys to make it too. I don't know what it is about American culture (cough, Teddy Roosevelt, cough) but we want to succeed at the expense of others; and I know it's not JUST America, but it sure feels like it, doesn't it? I mean, it's ok if I don't win, as long as that other guy doesn't win equally as hard. 

Ohmahgad! He's gonna make it!
Ninja Warrior is a break from that. These men go from training for 6 months to actually competing in the game that holds their destiny, to inevitable loss and then instead of whining about it, they actively root for the other guys. It's an aspect of a culture that is completely foreign to me, and I really like it.

Is why American Ninja Warrior blows. 
Honestly. We don't have Allstars, no hot fisherman turned kick-ass ninja turned adorable-dad. 
Seriously, how adorable?
They try to make the favourites out like allstars, like the guy who had to go to physical rehab, and then his PT, and her husband, the diabetic guy... whatev. You're not a gas station attendant just trying to make ends meet or a sushi chef in a sumo wrestler outfit who ALWAYS fails but keeps getting allowed back on, or the guy doing magic at the entrance and missing the go buzzer. American Ninja Warrior will always be lamer than Ninja Warrior. Sorry. 
The water the Americans fall into is clean, blue and probably heated and filtered. When they fall, there are no smiles, no, "I made it here and I tried." no bowing to the crowd in an acceptance of defeat or, "I must train harder, I was unprepared for the jump hang." (And let's face it, the jump hang will OWN your ass.) In the American version, they're all pissy about it. It's the game's fault. I need to train harder, I'll come back and defeat Mt. Midoriyama. ... yadda yadda yadda. 
No, you're not. 
I made it all the way to Vegas then lost! : (
Sorry, I'm not your mom here to coddle you from the mean world. It's too competitive, trial by fire. The structure of the show isn't the top 100, it's "let's narrow it down!" for ever. They go through each section of the country and accept a certain number of contestants from each section, regardless of whether they completed the first round or not. It's a time trial. 

How to fix it
If only they were required to actually defeat the first round to go on to the next level, it would seem less competitive somehow. Maybe it would make it more of a quest, one man against the course; not man competing over man to get the best time.
And, I admit, I was totally rooting for the masked guy. But seriously? I don't know. They played it up to much maybe, it started to irk me. it's not that you can train harder and get stronger to win; you need to yield to the forces that are stronger and admit your honest defeat of the course. 
So, I watched American Ninja Warrior, and I will continue to do so. Because it's still Ninja Warrior and if Nagano says it's ok, then it's ok. but even as I watch, I long for Ninja Warrior. And subtitles, and true camaraderie. And, I suppose, a time in my life that was. 
My favourite picture from when I lived with Beth. Also, Church.

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