American Ninja Warrior’s Pretty Cool

Back when I was doing my weekly TV column for Maxim.com, I remember reading about a show called American Ninja Warrior. I did a little research and found out it was this obstacle course originally built in Japan for a show called Sasuke that only a couple of people had ever actually completed. American Ninja Warrior has an open call in Venice, California that anyone can try their hand at a version of the course. From there, the top 15 move on to a boot camp where they get to train while also competing in reality show-like competitions and then the final 10 get sent to Japan to compete. So far, no American has ever conquered the final stage of Sasuke called Mount Midoriyama. The show airs on G4, a network we don’t have, so after reading and writing about it, I forgot about the show altogether.

Then, yesterday, I caught several episodes thanks to a marathon on Syfy and I enjoyed the show, especially for it’s variety. The first section, where contestants go through a series of heats in Venice is like a more serious version of Wipeout. Then, the middle section of the season is more of a reality show competition in the vein of History Channel’s Top Shot (another show I had fun watching), then the final bit is a really intense version of the first part over in Japan. The only problem I had was that I can’t imagine watching ANW on a weekly basis, especially the first section. Seeing lots of people succeed or fail on the exact same course and then moving on to a similar but different course isn’t the most thrilling television in the world. It would be like if the first few episodes of American Idol only had people singing “Sweet Emotion” or something but without the judging. Some would do really well and others would suck, but after a while, you just want to see what happens next. It makes me understand why the Wipeout folks gloss over most of the first round.

The appeal of the show is two fold as it progresses: you want to see if anyone will be able to beat all four courses in Japan, but you also want to see all the crazy obstacles these guys have to attempt. For instance, the third stage in Japan required them to use regular looking doorknobs suspended several yards over a pool of water like monkey bars. Oh, the knobs also turned. And this was the second obstacle on the course. Pure insanity. The people that can do these things are amazing and should be hired into some kind of elite fighting force ala S.H.I.E.L.D. or G.I. Joe. Maybe this is where Seal Team 6 got it’s members?

So, while I can’t imagine myself watching American Ninja Warrior week in and week out, I do look forward to the new season (which starts soon on G4) winding up on Syfy several months from now. I should also note for people who haven’t seen the show, ANW doesn’t actually contain any fighting, but tests contestants on their strength, speed, durability and stamina. Think of the training scenes from Kill Bill if they were being administered by whoever built those traps Batman always found himself in in the old comics.

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