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.

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