Kung Fu Panda’s Adoption Narrative

There are few satisfactory adoption narratives that I know of, and most of them deal with adoption in a way that is secondary to the main story rather than really delving deep into what it feels like to not look the same as your parents or find this group of individuals that have the same skin color as you (or in the case of Kung Fu Panda, are also pandas).

The few I do know of and really enjoy are Twinsters (a documentary about two Koreans who were separated at birth, one adopted by a New Jersey family and one adopted by a French family) and All You Can Ever Know (a memoir about a second generation Korean-American who was adopted by a family in Oregon). I love both of these, and I connected greatly with both of these, but they are autobiographical. I want fiction.

That’s when Kung Fu Panda 2 stepped in. (Lotta spoilers to come for all three movies, so read further with caution.)

When I watched Kung Fu Panda 1, I was A. Annoyed that there were so many white characters voicing these clearly Chinese- and Asian-inspired characters, and 2. Struck by the visuals and very heartwarming story of a panda who felt he had no skills and no dreams—just a love of kung fu. Kung Fu Panda 1 doesn’t at all delve into main character Po or his very clearly adoptive father Ping’s relationship. They’re close—Ping is never explicitly said to have married or been in any relationship—and Po seems to confide in his father for everything, but he also knows that something is missing.

It’s with Po’s rejection of his father and reaction to wanting to distance himself in Kung Fu Panda 2 that got me particularly frustrated. The movie’s plot of Po fighting against the peacock Shen and achieving inner peace is, as the first movie, very good.

But when the movie finally delves into Po’s relationship to Ping, it felt overly forced. He realizes that he is a panda, and Ping is a goose. He rejects his father and goes off to fight Shen with his friends, or his found family and the family in which he feels comfortable in confiding at this moment. I have no idea how Po didn’t realize that geese could not have panda kids from the get go, and this is where this plotline in the movie lost me.

I don’t want to discount anyone who had this experience, and maybe this kind of story might resonate more with someone who was adopted by parents of the same race as them (it’s much harder to catch that you’re adopted when you have, at the very least, the same skin color, which vibes with Po not realizing his own adoption). But it didn’t work for me. From a young age, even though I don’t remember it, I’ve heard stories of me asking why I looked different from my parents. I remember particular experiences with racism and microaggressions, though I didn’t recognize them as such at the time.

I wonder what the story of Po growing up is. Did everyone in their village of pigs and rabbits and other non-pandas look upon this relationship with confusion or curious stares? Did anyone question Po’s body type because it was different from what they expected out of their own species?

I remember being asked why my nose was so flat once, and I came back to the kid with a bad sarcastic remark. My dad was there at the time, and asked if I always just shrug it off. I don’t remember anything else from this interaction, but these are the sorts of things that were so obvious to me that I was being othered that I didn’t have any language to call out as racist. And I wonder if Po experienced any of it.

I wonder if Ping have the language, knowledge, or courage to stand up against it, if it did.

In the context of a kids movie, it is maybe the most imperative to show that those kinds of comments are wrong. And to provide kids, and their parents watching, with the language necessary to respond to those situations. Kung Fu Panda is never about Po’s upbringing explicitly, but these are the kinds of questions and situations I want them to deal with.

Instead, Po lives in an animal utopia where his panda-ness is never questioned until he brings it up himself.

It is in Kung Fu Panda 3 when Po’s adoption narrative, and his journey toward an actualization of a panda self, is fully realized. He meets his dad. He goes to a panda village. He learns about panda culture. A little thing like using his hands to stuff bao in his face instead of chopsticks to feed himself one at a time is revelatory to him, as something like eating soondubu or jjigae with a long spoon was for me.

I didn’t eat much Asian food when I was a kid, and when I did, it was usually American Chinese food. The few very authentic things I had were pho and spring rolls, due to my dad’s proximity to Vietnamese and Laotian folks at his work and Iowa’s sizeable (for Iowa) southeast Asian community. So when I came to visit LA, it was a revelation to be able to experience my culture through food.

Food is so important to a lot of Asians as a way to experience their own culture, often a culture that their white classmates rejected in some fashion, and something they want to get closer to in adulthood. Eating and experiencing Korean food has been a gateway to my own culture in that way, despite not knowing that much about Korea or its food still. Po and everyone in the world of Kung Fu Panda is in some version of China, but Po still experiences that food culture through something as simple as a difference in eating.

Po wasn’t eating up to his full potential, because he never had these moments where another panda could tell him this and that about how pandas eat. I never had the experience where someone said long spoons are useful to eat very hot soup with. I never had an opportunity to eat Korean food. Until I went to LA, until Po went to the panda village, these things weren’t even available to us as adoptees.

The food, though, isn’t the focus of Po meeting his father or this panda village. It’s simply being around other pandas. I remember walking to Japantown or Koreatown in LA, and thinking that this is probably the most Asians I’ve seen in a single area in my entire life. Just being around others of your race is an incredibly powerful experience if you’ve never had it before in your life. When you are always looked at or feel like you’re the other, it is honestly strange and wonderful to suddenly be one among many.

Kung Fu Panda 3, which is surprisingly deftly given Kung Fu Panda 2, deals with Ping and his newfound feelings of abandonment as his son discovers his heritage. Ping, like all fathers and parents, just wants his son to be happy. And he’s happy that Po is able to visit this panda village, but physically leaving (probably heightened by his leaving in 2) puts him in a position where he doesn’t know if his son will even want to return to his goose father.

The movie succeeds both through the comedy and heart of the two fathers, collectively realizing that it is in the best interest of their son to be collaborative rather than confrontational. And with Po, realizing that the dad that raised him is just as important as the dad that birthed him.

I love Kung Fu Panda 3 maybe the most out of the franchise because of all these moments of very genuine heart. The main story—of the bull Kai who wields chi and transforms all of Po’s friends and masters into jade and has them fight against Po and the band of pandas he trained in the village—is maybe the least interesting out of the three, but the addition of chi as some sort of tangible panda thing that Po had to master, and thus an extension of him learning more about being a panda, was good synergy with the adoption story.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with the franchise as much as I did, and the presence of 3 certainly helped. Honestly if this was only 1 and 2, I would have a much lower opinion of the franchise. But 3 really brought up everything with its heart, and especially Po’s dads. Because both of them are his dads, and he really does need them both to be his best panda self.

12 Days of Anime: Eijun Sawamura v. Yu Darvish

I was listening to Effectively Wild recently, and they brought up that Yu Darvish has 10(!!) pitches in his arsenal that he can reasonably throw at a major league level. Brooks Baseball lists eight pitches that he’s thrown this year: four seam, sinker, cutter, curveball, slider, slow curve, changeup, and splitter. I don’t know what the ninth pitch is on a quick Google search, but his 10th is a knuckle curve that he apparently heard about from Craig Kimbrel, tooled with it for a week, then deployed it in a game.

He’s also thrown an eephus before, which is highly enjoyable to watch.

All this to say that Yu Darvish has an exceptional amount of pitches that he can throw at a major league level, and that is very good.

The point of this, if the title is any giveaway, is to say that Yu Darvish may be the best comp, albeit a right handed one, to Eijun Sawamura, the protagonist in Ace of Diamond.

In the most recent episode, his captain and main team catcher Kazuya Miyuki said that he has at least 11 pitches that he’s considering deploying in a game. They call them “Numbers” because each pitch is assigned a number. It’s a very simple system because, as a shonen sports protagonist, Sawamura is a relatively simple person.

Sawamura runs with the following repertoire, according to the Ace of Diamond wiki: four seam, two seam (or shuuto), changeup, cutter, cutter kai, splitter(?), zero seam, vulcan grip changeup(?!), and palmball. A lot of these aren’t traditionally categorized, because we get so much from the pitcher-catcher point of view. They’re categorized on how Sawamura holds the ball. But their categorization is also based on how they move, and especially how the movement differs.

The best pitchers usually have three to five pitches. Some can get by with two, especially relievers. But Sawamura has worked hard to get up to this point, and he can work even harder to get to Darvish’s level. He has that ability. Furuya…may not. There’s a reason why Furuya was able to be so shut down for so long, and there’s a reason why Sawamura could relatively easily surpass him in the next few episodes.

I don’t really have a ultimate purpose for this, besides to show that Sawamura has the potential to be a great pitcher, as has been known since the very beginning. But the guy who once didn’t even know how to properly grip a baseball on a per pitch basis now knows 11 different pitches. He’s grown a lot through the series. But thank you for reading my rambling paragraphs on baseball. I only used 13 tabs for research!

12 Days of Anime: Gurazeni: A Tale of Salaries, and How It Compares to WAR

I talk a lot about baseball in the random paragraph-long musings on my podcast’s website, but I rarely delve full bore into the subject as a whole. But a show caught my eye since before it was an anime because it seemed to be exactly the kind of inside baseball thing I want to watch in any medium. That anime is Gurazeni.

(As an aside, there’s probably going to be a lot of talk about somewhat inside baseball terms that I’m not going to spend too much time explaining. The larger minutiae, like what WAR is, I’ll give a little primer, but beyond that, you’re on your own.)

Gurazeni, which started in April 2018 with much fanfare (at least in my bubble), is about a middle reliever named Bonda Natsunosuke who plays for the Jingu Spiders of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), a fake to the real Tokyo Yakult Swallows. From the first episode, he’s obsessed with his ¥18 million salary because the life of a baseball player is short and he needs to be able to pay for a large chunk of the rest of his life on the salary of, at most, 25 years. Realistically, something more like 10 or so years. But he’s also obsessed because salary is a good catch-all statistic he can point to that says “I am a better pitcher than you are a batter, you ¥5 million earning batter.”

In the early parts of the series, Bonda struggles against players in the ¥19–99 million range because those are players that are demonstrably better than him by virtue of their higher salary. But once it gets over ¥100 million, the bullpen coach posits that it’s just such a high number that Bonda is unable to really fathom that in his head. Against players making less than ¥18 million and over ¥100 million, Bonda is one of the best relievers in the game. And he studies player salaries as if they’re part of the scouting report.

Bonda’s obsession with salary was fascinating to me, because there’s so many advanced metrics to judge pitchers and hitters by (ERA-, xFIP, wOBA, OPS+, and so on) that it’s weird that he chose salary of all things as a metric. But, perhaps at the time or still now or maybe just for the players, Salary is WAR.

Or at least Bonda is essentially using salary as a replacement for WAR. Bonda’s salary of ¥18 million probably translates to about a 1 or 2 WAR player. (I make this judgment based on his role on the team, his performance in that role, his age and relative salary escalator, and the salary he’s actually making. All of this without really any context of where salaries “should” be based on player performance, though there is a great comp article from @GraveyardBall that digs into it.)

WAR itself is a calculation that tries to be a catch-all statistic representing how good a player is, where 0.0 WAR is a “league average” player. Here’s the WAR numbers-to-what-player-they-would-be, according to Fangraphs:

Scrub 0-1 WAR
Role Player 1-2 WAR
Solid Starter 2-3 WAR
Good Player 3-4 WAR
All-Star 4-5 WAR
Superstar 5-6 WAR

If I were to comp Bonda to the Dodgers, he would probably be someone like Pedro Baez (0.8 WAR, 1st arb year $1.5 million salary in 2018) or Kenta Maeda (2.4 WAR, $3 million salary in 2018, who was a starter but converted to a reliever after the Dodgers had too many starters). Also these are comps to a general MLB player, but relievers’ expected WAR is going to be slightly lower. Like, the highest WARs for any reliever last season were Blake Trienen (3.6 WAR, 1st arb year $2.15 million salary) and Edwin Diaz (3.5 WAR, $570,800 salary at the rookie pay scale).

Anyway, I’ve loved Gurazeni as a whole sports anime. It captures that competitive spirit and relative scrappiness of a main character without it having to be some talented athlete with barely any knowledge of the sport or something. And Bonda is an interesting main character that appeals to the sabermetric baseball fan inside of me.

But what really caught my eye was the last two episodes of the series, where Bonda and his fellow Spiders players were expected to represent themselves in negotiating next season’s salary. This being MLB’s offseason, I got extremely excited to watch anime Moneyball happen before my eyes.

The show presented a probably-accurate-but-dramatized view of NPB’s salary negotiation process. It’s probably very similar to the MLB arbitration process, including how it can potentially ruin a player’s relationship with their own team (though MLB players have agents that do the negotiating).

But back to WAR…Bonda outperformed his current ¥18 million salary, as would be the hope of a player of his age and caliber, and wants a raise. He probably played commiserate in the 2-3 WAR range, leaning toward 2. Played being the key word, because he got injured in the middle of the season. (A NPB season is 146 games, and a middle reliever like Bonda should make about 70 or so, at least according to him.)

If I were to make a comp to a MLB player in terms of salary escalation, then Kelvin Herrera, then of the Royals, comes to mind. He went from $522,500 to $1.6 million (his first year in arbitration, after which he had 1.4 WAR) to $2.55 million (his second arb year, 1.8 WAR). Herrera, like Bonda, was a high-leverage middle reliever. Herrera played in 72 games in both of those seasons, which are 18 games longer than NPB, and gives him about the same amount of appearances as Bonda should have in a full season.

So Bonda, based on Herrera, should get a raise of about ¥6 million, or a third higher than his current salary given Herrera’s raise of about two-thirds minus for time Bonda spent injured. Lo, the team wanted to offer him ¥24 million, but Bonda pushed for more.

You’ll have to watch the show (and by that I do mean the whole show, because that’s literally the last two episodes’ content) to find out what happens, but I’m just tickled by watching these behind-the-scenes contract negotiations happening on screen. It’s really what I love the most about Gurazeni, and I would absolutely watch an entire show about a front office.

For now, I’ll make do with Bonda, his salary obsession, and immaculate fashion.

Anime Secret Santa 2018: Alien 9, Azumanga Daioh, and Key the Metal Idol

Hello from the Taiiku Podcast, here on the Awko Tako blog where we talk about manga or comics or whatever!

As you may have heard, the hosting for the Taiiku Podcast website is going down, and we’ve got to find a new home. Since that didn’t happen in the few days between when I learned it and Christmas Day, here I am on my other blog talking about Taiiku things.

Anyway, since I don’t have a home for the Taiiku Podcast episodes, here is a direct link to audio for the Anime Secret Santa episode we recorded on Alien 9, Azumanga Daioh, and Key the Metal Idol. Once we get all of the website things figured out, it’ll be in your regular podcast feeds. But until then, it will lie here in obscurity.

Thanks, as always, to the Reverse Thieves for running this every year, and to Vinnie for reminded me to sign up via random tweets. The only way to live.

Until next year!

12 Days of Mango: On Adoption, Abandonment, and Naruto

I’ve been thinking a lot about Naruto. I’ve been thinking a lot about Naruto because Naruto, like me, was adopted. Well, sort of.

Naruto’s parents died saving the village from the nine-tailed demon fox, Kurama, and he was left parentless. Various adults throughout the village looked after him and raised him after that. The Third Hokage, Iruka-sensei, Kakashi, and Jiraiya all served in this role in one way or another.

But that’s not the same. They can love him as much. They can show him the right way to go about things. Naruto can even love them. But Iruka-sensei, Kakashi, Jiriya…they aren’t his parents. Paraphrasing a part of Nicole Chung’s brilliant memoir, All You Can Ever Know, the first memories Naruto knows are of being abandoned. It’s the first memories of all adoptees. For one reason or another, we were abandoned.

Then Naruto was ignored. And shunned. Extra baggage that he has, and I won’t get too much into for this.

I really liked Naruto when I first watched the anime, and I started reading the manga when Shippuden got to be too much filler for me to handle. I read Naruto for a lot of years, but since it ended *Googles Naruto* jeez four years ago, I hadn’t thought about it much beyond how much I liked those early episodes.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about adoption, because I was adopted. It’s not really something I try to hide—I’m a Korean that has a Polish last name—but it’s also not something that’s easily put out there in a normal conversation. I’ve been thinking about adoption because I’ve been reading a lot of articles about other adoptees’ experience growing up being adopted. Especially after reading the aforementioned Nicole Chung book.

I’ve been thinking about Naruto, and all those other anime and manga protagonists that were abandoned for one reason or another, because it feels like it’s similar to my own experiences with adoption. And it’s a theme throughout a lot of manga. Sometimes out of convenience, sometimes out of contrivance, and sometimes because it truly adds to the story.

In the early parts of Naruto, it is not just about his quest to become the Hokage or to become a better ninja. Naruto has a chip on his shoulder because he’s been shunned for so long. He’s something to be feared because of the nine-tailed fox inside of him. But no longer. He’s a genin now, and he has something else to prove. He’s not just the container for the nine-tailed fox. He’s not just some abandoned kid. He’s Naruto Uzumaki, and he’s going to be Hokage someday. Believe it.

See, the earliest parts of Naruto resonate the most with me. Not because they were just the best written without growing arguably too large in scope to keep everything together, but because Naruto was just like me in those chapters. At first, I thought it was because he was a teen, and I was once a teen. I knew the feelings of being shunned for being weird, being a nerd, liking nerdy things. Naruto had similar interactions with his peers to me, just sadder!

But it goes deeper than that. Naruto was a character that didn’t have parents, only parental figures. And I am constantly enamored with the the idea of the family you make yourself rather than the family you’re born into.

I find myself equally enamored with the relations Naruto makes to Iruka-sensei and Kakashi and Jiraiya and the Third Hokage and Neji and Sasuke and all the other characters. I find myself enamored with the family Naruto makes for himself out of similarly shunned characters like Neji, and to similarly abandoned characters like Iruka and Sasuke.

He finds a friend, rival, and confidant in Sasuke, another character who was abandoned by a close relative, albeit in a much different circumstance, at least from Sasuke’s point of view. It doesn’t matter that Sasuke already had a brother, because his brother killed their whole clan. It matters that Naruto saw in Sasuke a brother he was never able to have, and Sasuke sees in Naruto someone who’s pushing too much into a family he doesn’t want to create because the family Sasuke had is something he still remembers.

He finds someone else shunned for who they are in Neji. Someone who can understand being looked upon and not really understanding why. And when they’re finally old enough to understand, they can’t remove the emotional scars from being looked upon like they don’t belong. Like they hold within them the nine-tailed demon fox. Like they’re not within the main family, and thus lesser. Like they’re a Korean child walking around with two white parents.

Naruto had a great impact on me, not just because it was a highly entertaining shonen anime that helped me get further into anime, and thus into a close-knit community of weird Twitter denizens. Naruto—perhaps only subconsciously then, or maybe it’s only in hindsight, or it could be that I’m just looking too far into things—helped me realize that these narratives mean more for me. Naruto helped me realize that I have a family around me, and always have, and that family is also those who I choose as my own.

Naruto helped me realize that even someone like me, someone who was tossed aside for one reason or another, can become something.

Superman Fights More Than Super Villains

I came into this blog knowing I wouldn’t have much time for it. I was, however, hoping I’d write more than zero posts by this time, but no comic has struck me as “I have to write about this right now.”

Well that ended. I saw this comic in a tumblr post actually, because where else am I gonna see some random snippet of Superman in my life (Twitter, but anyway).

I also realize I introduced this blog as “manga musings” because alliteration, but I’m obviously breaking that promise right here, right now, at Awko Tako Comics…Colloquialisms? That’s not even a synonym.


I want to begin by saying I’ve never really read Superman. My exposure has been the weird sort of rebooted Superman Returns movie from 2006, the Supergirl TV show from formerly CBS and currently CW, and now this comic. Superman isn’t exactly my favorite superhero for all the stereotypical reasons one doesn’t like Superman.

He has only a few vulnerabilities. Kryptonite, for one. You throw the rock at him or shoot him with some crazy Kryptonite laser. Or kidnap Lois Lane, I guess.

But this comic asks the question, “Must There Be a Superman?” It’s an immediately interesting question that Clark Kent writes himself. It’s a question that he’s going through right now, because he’s gotten out of touch of the very people he protects.

Superman: Grounded pulls back the layers of Superman. And his weaknesses are much more than just Kryptonite and Lois Lane. His vulnerabilities number in the millions, or billions, because they include every single person on Earth.

What does Superman do when faced with the idea that he might not be in touch with the very people he’s sworn to protect? What does Superman do when he doesn’t remember what he’s fighting for? When he doesn’t know who he’s fighting for? He walks. He walks from the East coast to the West coast, reconnecting himself with the people. He becomes the people’s Superman once again, though he never really stopped being one.

These are not only the best Superman stories I’ve ever read (well…by default because I’ve read no other Superman stories, but they’re also better than the movies I’ve seen too), they are among the best human stories I’ve read.

These issues deal with domestic violence, depression, suicide, and of course Superman’s own insecurities. The most poignant moments are when Superman just flies in the air in silence for an entire day while a woman on the verge of suicide sits and thinks on the edge of a building. Or when he hears a kid whimpering and hoping that his idol – that Superman – will show up because he doesn’t want to see his mom hurt by his dad anymore.

Superman is at his best when he’s vulnerable. Yet he is the man of steel, faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive. But when faced straight at the people he protects, he’s human again. He’s just as human as them, and has the same insecurities.


The only stumbling point of the Grounded storyline is its ending. Superman can’t hang up the cape forever. Superman has to go back out and protect the world on a much grander scale than small towns in Ohio, Iowa, and Idaho. He has to realize that the world does need a Superman. And the execution of that idea is sort of…rushed and ham handed. It’s just dissatisfying after such a strong series of issues immediately prior to.

Does it the world need Superman? Maybe the world needs the Superman that walks around the world, day by day. It’s not as if he can’t spring to action when he’s needed.

Welcome to Awko Tako Manga Musings!

Hello fellow denizens of the internet!

With Panels shutting down and my focus at the Fandom Post being mostly review material, I wanted an outlet for writing about manga. Here’s where the blog comes in, Awko Tako, because I’ve had a tako as my avatar on Twitter for forever and I am awkward.

I haven’t had a blog of my own since my ill-fated blogspot blog, but I’ve wanted to change that. I wanted to start over with the bare minimum of work in doing so. I’ve, naturally, spent hours agonizing over what to name my anime blog and not actually doing any work in creating it, much less thinking of what my first post should be, aside from an introductory one.

I do know what I want to do with this blog, though. I want this to be what I would usually write at Panels, but on my own timeline. I’ll read the manga I love and write about it when I have time or have the inspiration to do so. If I also feel like writing about anime, I’ll do that as well. This is simply an outlet to put all of my thoughts on the creative works I love so much onto the internet, to live forever.

I also wanted a place to organize all the posts I’ve done at the Fandom Post without having to sift through the not-so-useful methods, which I’ve placed to the top right of the blog.

I might put some real work into this once I hit the ground running with posts, but I’m not quite that motivated yet.

With that, enjoy my first post when I write it eventually.