Naruto (ナルト) is a shōnen, martial arts, fantasy adventure anime adaptation of the original manga written by Masashi Kishimoto. In its most basic form, the series revolves around a young orphan boy named Naruto who harbours a dangerous spiritual entity within his body unbeknownst to him, which causes him to be terribly ostracised from the rest of the village. Even though he is faced with great loneliness and a severe lack of nurturing relationships in his life, he maintains a free-spirited attitude and has the ambitious goal of becoming a Hokage one day—the strongest ninja warrior and village chief—just like his father was before him. The series (separately from Naruto: Shippuden, which is the sequel series) was produced by Studio Pierrot with 220 episodes and direction by Hayato Date. It covers the first half of the manga.
Naruto is considered to be one of the Big Three in the anime industry and is also one of the most popular serials in the world. My personal experience with this franchise began with the manga back in 2011-2012. I read through approximately fifty volumes and then put it on hold since it wasn’t finished. Honestly, I never intended to watch the anime as I’m not someone who cares for fillers and the total number of episodes were intimidating to me. Yet, I absolutely love shōnen manga and anime, and after finishing Hunter X Hunter (2011), which has 145+ episodes, my feelings towards watching Naruto began to thaw. At the time Shippuden was still airing, so I figured I could wait until that was finished and then start the whole entire monstrosity when it was all completed. Then Boruto: The Next Generations started, and I fell into that pit of intimidation. It wasn’t until my cousin contacted me tell me that he was going to re-watch the series with his kids (their first time) before they go off to college that I decided it was time to get off my arse and tackle it with them.
Since Naruto is such a giant show, I decided that I’ll review it, or at the very least share my musings on it, arc by arc. I have an outline with all of the episodes within each specified arc that I expect shall become the longest anime outline I’ve ever done. Doing episodic reviews for this would become exhausting and probably make me burnout fairly quickly and I want to avoid that as much as possible. I did start to re-read the manga a few months ago, which I will continue to do while I watch it. Thus far, doing both has created a rather immersive and surprisingly enjoyable atmosphere for me. Along the way of this watching/reading journey, if I’m inspired to write other articles on it based on various topics, I will gladly do that as well. Currently, I have one in the works (from the manga specifically) that I’m quite passionate about and looking forward to sharing soon! I know there are a plethora of films for the entire franchise as well, and I may review them individually if I have anything that I feel like discussing.
First Impressions (Prologue: Episodes 1 to 5)
The very first thing that I noticed about Naruto is how dated the animation is! It began airing in Fall 2002 and I was a bit mind-blown by that. When I say the year 2002 out loud it doesn’t feel like it’s that old, but when I really think about it, 2002 was seventeen years ago. That’s about half of my current lifespan, making me feel ridiculously old for the moment. However, as I continued watching the first few episodes, I became acclimated to this sort of retro animation and my heart filled with a great sense of nostalgia for other older serials. Honestly speaking, I love old anime. There is something about them that is so comfortable and homey to me. With Naruto, this was one of the most charming traits. Although, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t laugh and make fun of it a tiny bit here and there.
The first episode introduces us to Naruto Uzumaki, the protagonist, and we get the basic rundown of who he is and how isolated and alone he is. Everyone seems to hate him and look down on him and because of that he acts out quite a bit. The boy craves attention as he never gets any. He doesn’t have any friends, and most adults believe he’ll never amount to anything. Seeing this made me understand why so many kids could relate to Naruto and why he’s such a favourite, especially for folks who come from similar backgrounds of being ostracised and/or always feeling like an outsider. I mean, it’s cliché, but it’s a great classic trope, particularly for hero narratives. There is a reason that it’s still used today across all mediums and doesn’t get too stale over the decades. It’s also a decidedly must-have theme for most, if not all, shōnen stories.
The second episode consisted of Naruto meeting a younger boy who also has a kinship with Naruto’s sense of isolation and not belonging due to his particular identity. This episode felt random when compared to the pilot and then the ones following it. It was quite a bit more childish in nature and overtly comedic in an obtuse sort of way, which can be off-putting to first-time watchers who know absolutely nothing about Naruto, or people who are fresh to shōnen serials. The second half was more bearable because it fits that cheesy motif excellently and sends off with a message of “being the best you can be is the way to accomplish your goals.”
The following segments finally introduce us to the characters who shall eventually become a part of Naruto’s team, known famously as Team 7, and the smut-reading sensei who shall mentor them (I fricking love him). I remember reading about Kakashi and the Pass/Fail test in the manga and adoring it. It explains the basic strategies of all three types of ninja techniques very well—this shall be expounded upon later in the series when the big bad villains start making an appearance and it also highlights Naruto’s intuitive intelligence, which is buried beneath piles and piles of obnoxious and bratty behaviour—while portraying the excellent chemistry that the characters have. Naruto and Kakashi, especially, have terrific chemistry. I mean, they’re both idiots in their own right, so it makes sense that they’d work well together.
I’m having a lot of fun watching Naruto. My first impressions of the series overall are vastly positive as the characters that have been introduced so far are all unique in their own way and not too eccentric or irritating. Naruto can be a pain in the arse, however, that’s pretty common for youngsters and he does eventually outgrow it. Knowing that gives me a great sense of relief for sticking it out until the end. Even though the messages are supremely formulaic and old-school sappy, with all the negativity I’ve been feeling lately in my personal life, it’s kind of a welcome change from the more contemporary titles I’ve been watching. Besides, I’m old and I’m allowed to like ridiculously mushy things.
I also know that a large part of my pleasure stems from my familiarity with the series thanks to the manga. One of the things that I look forward to (and may dread later) is to see how the anime veers away from the original source material. But as it stands, it has everything that I greatly appreciate about shōnen narratives. We have the loner dude who everyone thinks is a waste of space, and this gives him the motivation to prove them wrong. We have a group of people who hate each other yet are brought together via different circumstances and shall eventually formulate meaningful friendships. There are cheesy-as-fuck mentors who like to say cheesy-as-fuck inspirational things. The villains are complex and probably the most fascinating additions to the series (have only encountered one thus far, but he was basic as basic can be and doesn’t count). Plus, there’s a shite ton of fighting, which makes me miss my days of agonisingly partaking in martial arts training.
I’m going to stay optimistic about this commitment-inducing journey of watching all of Naruto and shall keep an open-mind with it. It’s really the best way to go into it. Plus, this is my very first adventure with one of the Big Three. I’ve always wanted to conquer one of them and it should be interesting to see how this experience shall fair.
You can watch Naruto and all of its sequels over on CrunchyRoll.