Knowing when to give up, Part II
17 April 2007 1 Comment
One of my secret pleasures is manga, or Japanese comics. In many of the stories, there is almost always a character who never gives up, sometimes with comic consequences, at other times with tragic ones. Invariably, these characters bear the brunt of personal hardship — loss of loved ones, abandonment, ostracism, loneliness — and never give up on trying to better themselves, usually for the sake of others. This is certainly true of the eponymous Naruto, currently possibly the most popular manga series outside of Japan.
*Early Naruto spoilers to follow — one never knows who might be reading this …
As a protagonist, however, Naruto is a loveable buffoon; he is liked for his exuberance and admired for his tenacity; he is not known for his intelligence. Creating a likeable yet flawed character allows the author to explore the various supporting characters in ways that give them more depth than they would ordinarily get in supporting roles. In the series, one of Naruto’s classmates, Shikamaru, is a genius with an IQ of 200 whose favourite past-time is to lie back and watch the clouds go by. By all known standards of the work ethic, it is a waste of his talent.
During an important ninja exam in which the candidates have to fight each other, Shikamaru wins a tough battle against his opponent but concedes the fight ten seconds before his energy runs out, having mentally calculated over 200 possible manoeuvres and deciding that none was suitable. His classmates think he’s crazy, or lazy, or both. The examiners, however, pass him. He is, in fact, the sole candidate to graduate, over and above all the others who broke bones and shed blood to win their fights. The examiners conclude that since the candidates were tested for leadership abilities, knowing when to call off the mission, when to give up, was just as important as fighting well. There was no point in completing the mission if everyone on your team died. Or put differently, there is no success in a mission if no one returns to celebrate it.
(What a long preamble to my story. I’m giving up on it for now. Will continue shortly.)