Genre(s): Shonen, Adventure, Action, Comedy
Age-Appropriateness: 11+ (mild language, crude humor, kinda a lot of blood and dying for kids though)
Platforms: Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimation, (practically everywhere)
TheAwersome Rating: 6.7 / 10 (So much filler)
Premise: The Village Hidden in the Leaves is home to the stealthiest ninja. But twelve years earlier, a fearsome Nine-tailed Fox terrorized the village before it was subdued and its spirit sealed within the body of a baby boy, Naruto. Now, Naruto is a hyperactive and knuckle-headed ninja still living in the Hidden Leaf Village. Shunned because of the demon fox inside him, Naruto struggles to find his place in the village, while his burning desire to become the leader, or Hokage, of the Village leads him not only to some great new friends, but also some deadly foes.
TheAwersome’s Thoughts: That’s a dang high episode count, so I naturally have a lot of words to deliver about this show. I’ll be splitting them up into sections based on season groupings below but let me give you some generals here first. Naruto is quintessentially shonen. Young boys are the definite demographic and it shows, what with all the goofy potty humor antics that Naruto gets up to. It’s also quintessentially shonen anime in the dragged-out fight scenes, the abuse of flashbacks, ridiculous monologuing by the villains as they have to explain their entire back story, etc. etc. It is nice to have on kind of in the background though. If you don’t necessarily want to binge another show for the risk of hyper saturating yourself with it, it’s nice to have around.
There are some moments and stories that will get you genuinely invested. There are times when you will be hit with the feels. There are, unfortunately, many more times that you will be rolling your eyes and groaning.
TLDR: Culturally important with iconic moments, but it drags a lot.
This show is very culturally prevalent in the anime, internet, and at large, millenial community, so there is at least a “being cultured” value to watching it. This would definitely NOT hold up if it aired today, but I could definitely see getting into it back in the early 2000s when it did; there wasn’t a lot of easily accessible anime, and so only a few titles gained traction enough to be easily pirated everywhere. When there are only three or four anime that people are talking about at all, (and it’s the same shows for 5+ years) you don’t have a constant overarching “I could be watching a lot of things that are better than this” hanging over you like I did going through this. The incessant tropes and lackluster artwork and animation pale in comparison to anime standards from today, or even ten years ago.
As such, I won’t be taking on Shippuden until I get back up to having a back-log of close to 30 reviews ready for you. I currently have like, 12 reviews already done at the time of writing this (May) so once that gets pumped back up and I can start Naruto Shippuden, the 500 episode continuation series, without worrying that there won’t be any reviews for y’all. Basically, I plan on starting Shippuden July 2021, so if it’s as bad as ye olde Naruto you can expect a review in like, April of 2023. If it’s better, sooner.
Something about Naruto that I’m still ambivalent on is the setting/time period. It’s very much feudal Japan socially with warlords, village governments, and also technologically for a good part. People use swords, knives, arrows, and other weapons ripe for being used in a tabletop RPG and communicate via hand delivered (or hawk delivered) letters. But then like, there’s also electricity, air conditioning, refrigerators, cameras, cup noodles, radios, computers, and advanced medical equipment. It’s a somewhat similar disjoint to the state of technology used in the Harry Potter world. On one hand it speeds up storytelling to not have to make and explore “jutsu” copies for every technology, and there are everyday life things that we recognize and can relate to. Not having technology everywhere though gives it that feudal Japan vibe that the show channels (especially in the music), but then when the technology does show up it breaks the verisimilitude and gets you looking for plot holes. Jury’s still out on if it’s a good or bad thing for the series.
I feel that something this show does very well is show why/how a villainous, evil, definite bad guy can have a lot of devout followers. No, it’s not just because they all have a similar beef with the heroes, share the same ideals, or that he’s paying them a lot. No, our main villain uses specific, real-life predatory grooming tactics and that makes him all the creepier and more sinister. The way Orochimaru finds vulnerable, outcast kids and sets himself up as a savior, mentor, father, and caretaker, but then always makes his disposition “their fault” and their doing. Getting them all to think “If only I was stronger, he wouldn’t [beat me, kidnap more people, break his promises, etc.]” Like, this is straight up How to Recognize an Abuser/Pedophile 101 class right here, so props for that.
We talk a lot about filler, so here’s a basic rundown of the what and why. Often, an anime will get ‘caught up’ to the source material, leaving them with a few options. One is to completely cancel the show until the manga (or light novel) releases more volumes that give enough material to continue the story. This obviously will cause huge problems if everybody knows that “Such and such show is every Thursday at 8PM” to then have that be not the case for a few years. Another option is to just write the ending yourself, and this usually does not go well (see most famously, Game of Thrones, and Fullmetal Alchemist, which is why an entirely new series was released once the manga ended). So, the other option is “filler,” meaning episodes that don’t progress the plot or character development at all so they don’t risk having to retcon it later to match the manga. Frequently just a few more episodes are needed to fill out a 12 or 13 episode ‘cour’, so they’ll do a recap episode, a beach episode, or focus on some side character, etc.
Naruto caught up with the manga by the end of Season 5, but wanted to keep running the show until there was enough Shippuden content to start that series up I guess? The result was four whole seasons of pure filler. Four whole seasons without any real developments. That’s in addition to the handful of normal filler episodes within the first five seasons. Just because it’s a filler episode, doesn’t mean it’s worthless, but one’s patience can only wear so thin.
Since you can’t have a show with this many episodes and maintain a constant vibe, here are a few hot takes for seasonal groupings.
This is quintessentially shonen. Flashbacks, Tragic Backstories™, villain monologues, excessive cliffhangers, and endless death fake-outs with “substitution Jutsu,” which is arguably the worst mechanic for a cheap deus ex machina whenever you want to make the audience think someone’s dead when they aren’t. It’s effortless, un-imaginative cheating, especially since there aren’t even rules about what’s needed to perform them. It feels like playing cops and robbers and your older brother just keeps saying “no, you missed.”
Until friggin Rock vs. Gaara in season two. Maybe it’s because I’d watched like, three or four episodes alone that day, but that sucked me in and before I knew it, I was emotionally invested a lot more than I should have been. I blame Stockholm Syndrome or the fact that I was wanting so desperately to connect to anything but couldn’t, so the second there was something that wasn’t awful I poured all my stored up emotional investment into it? Either way I was crying by the end of it and was super pissed at myself for getting involved because the next three episodes were back to the normal “Lol Naruto is such a funny kid who disrespects teachers, gaHYUK! *fart noises*” that it was that much more offensive. I’m all for a switcheroo surprise of “Now this is serious” a la Madoka and what not, but to then go right back to being cliche shonen with little to no easing you in was upsetting and cowardly.
These had some decent moments, good development, but man was it slow. I’m talking the whole “Four fights are going on right now, and with how much we have to recap the last tidbit of each fight each time we cut to it, we can get away with dragging them out across over eight episodes” kind of drag. Because of this, buildup and tension suffer greatly, and you can’t invest like we were able to in that glorious Rock V. Gaara fight.
Season 4 :
Arguably my favorite because Naruto had little to do with it. As an arc goes it was interesting to see Tsunade’s character and struggles, overcoming some of her grief, and the whole learning of the “Wandering ninja Jiraya” folk tale, slug, snake, toad thing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiraiya Basically, there’s an IRL ancient folktale of a ninja named Jiraiya who could turn into a frog, who falls in love with a woman, Tsunade, who has mastered slug magic. His arch-enemy was his previous follower and friend, Yashagoro, later known as Orochimaru, a master of serpent magic. It’s the basis of a sort of Rock-Paper-Scissors relationship in which the frog beats the slug, which beats the snake, which beats the frog. This is referenced in other anime, namely Monogatari. Props for authentic cultural references.
Last canon season, so the fights are interesting enough albeit slightly repetitive/predictable and in a dragged-out format. The best animation this show has seen is in the final confrontation fight and was quite fun to watch.
Nothing but filler. It’s not entirely bad because it’s nice to see some “Slice of ninja life” and see the other teams and Naruto’s dynamics with them. For about one’s season’s worth it was neat, but you can tell nobody’s heart was in it for most of it, both writing and animation. Notable filler arcs include the following (mostly in order).
-Finding a bug: we get to see some good development for Hinata here.
-Star Village: while tropey, it has some good emotional feels to it.
-Creepy painter genjutsu chick: Some solid spooks and heebie jeebies here, quite tasty.
-Menma lost his memory: for solid sad boi times.
I guess my final thoughts are that Shippuden better be a whole lot better. There was a handful of genuinely good moments, some interesting characters, and decent fights, but it just didn’t age well. There’s a lot of stuff that’s better, but there’s something to be said for knowing solid roots of the medium.