Thursday, May 31, 2007

When They Aren't Blowing Up Our Professional Wrestlers with Explosives, The Japanese are Really Quite Alright

Now, let this be said off the front: I'm not one of those kids that's obsessed with the Far East. I'm not obsessed with it, but I must give it its due for its obsession with my childhood. Growing up, and actually still now, I loved jungle gyms. They were fun. All of the climbing, frolicking. I always wished that I could play on jungle gyms forever. While I learned about other things that I could do with my time other than running on jungle gyms (Madden Football Video Games I think substituted. Those and cooking), I also became glad that I decided to abandon the love of jungle gyms after watching Viking and Ninja Warrior.

Viking and Ninja Warrior are two Japanese game shows that have modified the traditional jungle gym, the one of our youth, and replaced it with a sadistically difficult obstacle course. Facts on Viking are a little hard to come by in English, and as I don't do well with Japanese, I have to go on what I know from memory about it. Viking bills itself as the ultimate obstacle course, and it's not actually lying like most self-advertising. It consists of three parts: a marine stage, an adventure stage, and a fantasy stage. If you are awesome enough (awesome is really the only word here) to get past these three stages, you think you're finished right? TOTALLY WRONG! You still have to go through another stage and prove that you are the absolute, unadulterated, unquestionable shit. Only one guy has gotten far enough to even prove his worthiness, and he fell five feet short. As you can figure, this show has a lot of casualties of war. And it is beautiful when people crash and burn on this show. Dudes are flying into the water. People are bouncing off of walls. Bitches are having the thrill of victory snatched away by the cruel hands of Father Time. Viking comes on ESPN2, but I haven't seen it in a while, so I couldn't tell you when to watch it. But, as it looks from Wikipedia, Viking is only a mere child to the grandfather of obstacle course programming in Japan: Sasuke a/k/a Ninja Warrior.

Existing since 1997, Ninja Warrior has a format that is very similar to Viking. There are three stages with increasing difficulty. But, unlike Viking, Ninja Warrior is a cultural event. Japan shuts down and watches with rapt attention as the days-long tournament is compacted into three and a half hours. Contestants carry the expectations of families and towns on their backs as they attempt to clear the stages. Additionally, the contestants become national celebrities through being successful on the show (How else can a gas station attendant become a national icon?). The difficulty of stages between Ninja Warrior and Viking is debatable, but let's be clear here: both shows are fucking hard. They are not casual strolls through the park. As the history goes now, no one has finished Viking while only two people have finished Ninja Warrior. A fun fact: the only one who got to the final stage of Viking is one of the two men who have finished the final stage of Ninja Warrior.

This man is Makoto Nagano. Nagano is a 35 year old captain of a fishing boat. He's pretty short, but he's strong as an ox. They always show footage of him working out on the boat and doing a lot of crazy training. Anyway, he is one of the most consistent competitors, always making it out of the first stage and usually through the second stage. Sometimes, he would get caught up on some of the simpler items, but he usually strove through. The following video is of Nagano during the 17th tournament, i.e. the one he finished. Through this video, I hope that you will understand how old the original version was.

Note that I said old. After two people had accomplished the full course, they decided to make the show even harder. The third stage is ridiculous, but a lot of people have spectacular falls on stage two, so that is the one that I have decided to show from the most recent tournament in the spring of 2007.

The Japanese have a lot of strange things that I might not necessarily want picked up on by Americas, but this is one that I could get fully behind. Hopefully, now that you know about it, you'll get into it as well. Viking comes on ESPN2 and Ninja Warrior comes on G4, the computer and gaming channel. Yea, I know, but I'm as displeased as you are about it.