I started this series by looking at a childhood favorite of mines that got me into anime. So I figured I would end it with looking at another childhood favorite that furthered by journey into this thing called anime, Naruto. Words alone can’t describe how huge the series is. It’s popularity is matched or surpassed by both One Piece and Dragon Ball, and its influence runs deep in the shonen world. Series like My Hero Academia and Black Clover would not exist if it wasn’t for the adventures of this orange jumpsuit-wearing knuckleheaded ninja. It wasn’t just a hit in Japan, it was a hit all across the world, especially here in the United States. Naruto is the creation of Masashi Kishimoto and it was serialized in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump from 1999 all the way to 2014 in a total of 72 volumes. It got two anime adaptations based on both parts of the series: the original Naruto and Naruto Shippuden. We’ll be talking about both series, plus the spinoff series Boruto: Naruto Next Generations briefly. I will be doing a lot of summarizing because it’s a LONG series, so let’s get started. This is Naruto.
The original Naruto ran from 2002 to 2007 and it’s based on Part I of the manga, which was 27 volumes long. Naruto Uzumaki is a 12 year old ninja from the Hidden Leaf Village who aspires to be the Hokage, the village’s leader. My introduction to Naruto was actually not through anime, but through manga. I remember in middle school, one of my English teachers had a collection of books for the class to read and one of the books that caught my attention was a chapter of Naruto that took place during the Chunin Exams and I was hooked by the action scenes. I was also reading it the wrong way. You’re supposed to read manga from the back to the front and from right to left. My dumb American self read it from front to back and from left to right. Thanks to the internet, I learned how to read manga and I became more engaged in the story. Then I learned that Cartoon Network was airing dubbed episodes of Naruto at the time, so I tuned in. Of course, the dub was dogshit and there was clear censorship going on, with a lot of gore and blood toned down or removed. Enough with my history with the series. What about Naruto itself? Like I said when I last talked about the series on this blog, Naruto is the ultimate underdog story. We have this kid, who’s pretty much a loser. He’s not the smartest or the most skilled ninja and he’s constantly scrutinized by nearly everyone. Not making things better is the Nine-Tailed Fox that’s sealed within him, a demonic force of chakra that wreaked havoc upon the Hidden Leaf Village. But through hard work and determination, Naruto pushes his way in the world and gains acknowledgement from his peers and teachers.
Like all ninja, Naruto is put into a team, called Team 7, with two other young ninja, Sasuke Uchiha, Naruto’s competent, more popular rival, and Sakura Haruno, who Naruto has a crush on. These three are led by their sensei, Kakashi Hatake, who’s one of the coolest characters in the series and who has one of the saddest backstories of the entire series (which is saying a lot since many characters have tragic backstories). Sasuke and Sakura both have dedicated hatedoms as much as they have fandoms for different reasons. In the case of Sasuke, detractors view him as an emo edgelord with no personality while Sakura haters view her as annoying and useless, which persists to this day. I’m not gonna lie, I was with the Sakura haters initially. She came off like the third wheel of Team 7 while the boys pulled their weight. After an major escort mission to the Land Of Waves, Team 7 are enrolled into the Chunin Exams in the hopes of taking on more high-ranking missions. This is easily one of the best arcs of the entire series and what made me love the Naruto series in general. It’s a tournament arc, which is one of the common tropes of shonen stories, but it’s common for a reason. It introduces new characters and potential rivals for the protagonists, it furthers development and shows reasoning for their actions, and we get to see what these characters are capable of. This explains why some of the most beloved story arcs in anime and manga are tournament arcs and that’s no different here. The first part of the exams is a written test that’s more psychological in nature. The second part is a survival exam where all of the genin are thrown into the Forest Of Death and this is where shit gets real. This is where we’re introduced to one of the major villains of the series, Orochimaru, who’s disguised as one of the genin. Let me tell you, Orochimaru was one of the creepiest dudes in the series. His serpentine appearance and thirst for power made him a serious threat, especially when he went up against Sasuke.
We get to the preliminaries, where individual matches are held to see who makes it to the finals. We see Shino get one of his only few moments of badassery, Sakura vs Ino, Naruto vs Kiba, where Naruto wins by a fart (seriously), Shikamaru being a tactical genius, a family feud between Hinata and Neji Hyuga, and of course, the best fight in the part of the series, Rock Lee vs Gaara.
For fans, this is Naruto at its peak. On one side, you have Rock Lee, who can’t use ninjutsu, but is exceptional at taijutsu. On the other side, you have Gaara of the Hidden Sand Village, whose sand protects him from every attack coming his way. Lee is severely outmatched here, yet he keeps going. And when he removed those weights from his ankles, shit got real. Yeah, Lee lost the fight, but he won our hearts. I wish we got more of these moments with the side characters through the series. And while we’re on the subject, I enjoy nearly all the fights in the series. They utilize strategy and technique so well. Outsmarting the opponent is more important than just overwhelming them with force. And then there’s the music. Naruto has one of the best soundtracks out of any anime series. Every opening and ending song is a hit and the score always hits the best emotional notes, whether it’d be a cool action sequence or when things get dark or something more somber. There’s a track for every mood. My only issue with the fights is that they can be LONG. In between the action are stretches of dialogue where the characters talk about their strategy and/or explanations on their techniques. I know it’s a common shonen trope, but it really bugs me since it would affect the pacing of these scenes. Skipping ahead, more characters are introduced like Jiraiya, a perverted old sensei who takes Naruto under his apprenticeship, and Tsunade, a busty medical kunoichi who becomes the next Hokage after the previous one’s death.
In this time period, a rogue ninja group named the Akatsuki infiltrate the Hidden Leaf in the hopes of capturing the Nine-Tailed Fox. One of the Akatsuki members is Sasuke’s older brother Itachi Uchiha, who wiped out the entire Uchiha clan, including their parents. When Sasuke learns that Itachi is in town, he hauls ass and is ready to kill him, but as you can see with the famously-memed image above, it doesn’t go well. This defeat motivates Sasuke to leave the Hidden Leaf and seek out Orochimaru. This leads into the retrieval arc where Naruto, along with help from others, head out to bring Sasuke back. The big fight between Naruto and Sasuke is one for the legends, even though these two were just kids. One wants to bring a friend back while the other wants power and is willing to throw everything away for it. The battle ends with a big power clash and Naruto failing to bring Sasuke back. Now let’s talk about a subject that I previously addressed in my Bleach review, filler. Naruto is notoriously famous for its filler episodes. There’s a bunch of filler episodes and arcs before the conclusion of this series and while some of them are fairly entertaining (my favorite filler involves Team 7 trying to see what Kakashi looks like without his mask), a lot of them are pretty padded and don’t mean much in the bigger picture. So the anime concludes proper with Naruto leaving the Hidden Leaf with Jiraiya to train and we move to…
The story of Naruto continues in the sequel series Naruto Shippuden, which ran from 2007 all the way to 2017 and is based on Part II, which covers the last 45 volumes. Two and a half years later, Naruto, now a teenager, has returned to the Hidden Leaf Village from training with Jiraiya. At the same time, the Akatsuki are making a move in capturing the Tailed Beast hosts, including Naruto himself. This time around, Naruto is older and (somewhat) more mature than in the original series and the threats to the ninja world are much bigger and more serious. The missions this time around involves saving Gaara (who’s become the Kazekage of the Hidden Sand) from the Akatsuki and looking for Sasuke, who’s been training under Orochimaru in the hopes of avenging his clan. Speaking of, we finally see Sasuke go up against Itachi and finally get his revenge in an epic fight. This is also where we get the truth about Itachi, that he massacred the Uchiha clan because he was ordered to by the elders of the Hidden Leaf to prevent a coup from happening while sparing his own little brother. At that point, Sasuke goes full villain and joins the Akatsuki in the hopes to destroy the Hidden Leaf Village.
In the meanwhile, Jiraiya heads off to the Hidden Rain Village to investigate the Akatsuki where he’s confronted and killed by their leader Pain, who’s actually six corpses controlled by a man named Nagato. Pain makes a move against the Hidden Leaf where he’s confronted by Naruto in a fight that’s considered one of the best out of the entire series. See, a great villain is not just someone who presents a physical challenge to the hero, but it’s also someone who’ll present a mental and philosophical challenge and that’s what Nagato/Pain is for Naruto. Nagato/Pain grew up in a war-torn country, so he has witnessed atrocities committed by the Hidden Leaf and other villages and has lost people close to him. So he commits himself to create a world of peace through fear and terror. His philosophy makes Naruto think about how to deal with the cycle of hatred in the ninja world. In this same fight, we see how far Naruto has progressed as a fighter, him going berzerk thanks to the Nine-Tailed Fox, and a revelation of his lineage that’s linked to the Hokage. Him defeating Pain was one of the most satisfying moments in the whole series. Seeing what Naruto has been through, being ostracized and underestimated, and he pulls through and becomes a hero for the Hidden Leaf. If the series ended there, I would say that was a good conclusion. But there’s more story to tell. Shippuden is an example of a good-but-not-great sequel. It has all of the parts of the original Naruto that made it great, but it also has the same flaws in terms of pacing, filler, and side character development. The series also has another big issue, the world-building. I’m all for good world-building. That’s something One Piece excels at. With Naruto Shippuden, there’s so much focus on world-building, especially with the use fo flashbacks, that the series loses focus. This is especially true after Naruto defeats Pain and especially the Fourth Great Ninja where the series just becomes a slogging mess. The War Arc was where I tuned out for a while. Then they brought in the ultimate bad guy of the series, Madara Uchiha. Like Fire Lord Ozai in Avatar: The Last Airbender, Shippuden has been teasing Madara for a good while and when he finally pops up in the Fourth Great Ninja War, he did not disappoint.
Bro, he tore through an entire army like it was nothing. Throughout his screen time, Madara was just flexing and showing everyone he was built for that life. The power, the confidence, the backstory, he had all the ingredients for a good villain. I just wished he was the final boss of the series. Instead, Kishimoto made him too OP to a point where he rode himself into a corner and replaced Madara with another villain, Kaguya Otsutsuki, who’s this ancient alien ninja who’s supposedly the godmother of the entire ninja world. The Kaguya fight was wack. The character isn’t that interesting and she goes out in a punk way. And that’s not even the final fight. Kishimoto stated that he wanted the end the series with a final confrontation between Naruto and Sasuke, who have come extremely far and have gained the power of gods. They fight at the same place they fought when they were kids, both lose an arm, and Sasuke admits defeat. Like Ichigo vs Aizen, this fight was epic, though it’s not worth getting through the marathon of filler and flashbacks.
BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS
Boruto: Naruto Next Generations is a spinoff sequel to the Naruto series and it follows Boruto Uzumaki, the son of Naruto and Hinata, as he carves his own ninja way in the shadow of his father, who’s become the Seventh Hokage, along with his teammates Sarada Uchiha, the daughter of Sasuke and Sakura, and Mitsuki, the “son” of Orochimaru. This character made his first appearance in the final chapter of the Naruto manga before getting his own movie (Boruto: Naruto The Movie), a manga series written by Ukyo Kodachi with art by Mikio Ikemoto, and an anime adaptation from Studio Pierrot. The movie was alright and the manga wasn’t off to a good start thanks to lackluster art and the first story arc being an adaptation of the movie. Thankfully, it got better thanks to improvements to the art and story. A month ago, Kodachi stepped down as writer with Kishimoto taking over the series. Now what about the anime? Well, I’ll be blunt: Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, the anime, is straight up…
Look, I tried. I’ve sat through a lot of this show and it started off with some potential. Hell, let me give some positives first. While the idea of a next generation sequel/spinoff isn’t new, it can lead to some pretty cool legacy stories when done right. I like that Boruto isn’t just a copy-paste of his father in terms of personality, even if he did start off as bratty and spoiled. There’s two arcs that are worth watching: the first spans from episodes 19 to 23 and it’s an adaptation of a manga following Sarada meeting Sasuke after he’s been away from the Hidden Leaf for years. The second arc is an adaptation of the movie spanning from episodes 51 to 66 that expands upon the events that transpired and it’s so much better than the movie. It has not just the best fight of the entire anime, but one of the best fights in the Naruto series period.
Despite all of that, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something didn’t feel right with this anime and I figured out why. Most of the series is anime-original stories they’re either retreads of previous story arcs from Naruto or empty filler. Every time I watch an episode, I get bored by what’s going on. I don’t know if it’s the writing or execution, but nothing leaves that much of an impact. There’s actually an arc in this series where Boruto and Sasuke go back in time to save kid Naruto from an enemy and it gave me Rise Of Skywalker vibes in that it’s cheap nostalgia bait. Yeah, that’s the perfect description for this anime, cheap nostalgia bait, containing references to the original Naruto, but having none of the staying power or impact. I want this anime to be good, but my patience with it has worn thin to the point where I ultimately stopped watching. I’m sticking to the manga in the meanwhile.
And that was the Naruto series. Is it perfect? Far from it. It has major pacing issues, inconsistent animation, a tendency of beating you over the head with filler and flashbacks, and poor development for the majority of its side characters. But Naruto definitely delivers in the action, emotions, character development when done right, and one kickass soundtrack that still bangs after all these years. It will always be one of my favorite anime series in spite of its flaws, but we all have a series like that. If you have the time and patience, I think it’s worth checking out if you want to get into it. It’s available on most streaming platforms out there. Next week, I’ll be releasing my Worst Songs of 2020 list. You don’t wanna miss out on that.