Πέτρος's Reviews > Naruto, Vol. 01: The Tests of the Ninja

Naruto, Vol. 01 by Masashi Kishimoto
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Dec 14, 11


(just for the record, this is a slight alteration of my anime review)

Despite being one of the most famous shonen titles around, eventually Naruto doesn’t escape the pitfalls of its genre but it definitely does a better job than most in terms of complexity.

The artwork is definitely original in a way, as most areas, especially the ninja villages, are very cool looking in their design. Yet, it is full of anachronisms and irrelevant details. For instance, why are there ninjas in a world where everyone can simply use computers or machineguns? Or how can ninjas really be stealthy when most of them wear bright colored cloths and have tattoos that make them stand out in the crowd? Or head guards that identify their hidden village? Oh, sure, the characters all look cool, trendy macho kids that easily attract the eye. Yet, they are supposed to be ninjas; and the last time I checked, ninjas were nothing like them. They don’t look as such, nor do they behave that stealthy or serious. So, looking cool is good but looking like immature trendy nerds is not. Especially when they seem to have only one set of cloths. It wasn’t that weird to have such bizarre stuff in a series like Dragonball Z. But that series had no motif in its world, while Naruto is based on ninjas.

One would of course say this is fiction and that it is logical not to expect realism. One could easily say that in this world ninjas use illusions and body exchanges instead of stealth. Ok, let’s go with that. Those awesome hand seals and funky jutsus and amazing special effects gave a unique identity to the show by providing signature moves for every character. Yet, that made the series far less realistic than what it wanted to appear being. Everything was possible as long as you could make a copy or an illusion of yourself. I mean, how can you believe that the characters use strategy in battle, if they keep exchanging places with a log when they are hit or make water appear out of nowhere? It takes away any feeling of strategy if everything is just transformations to whatever you like. Plus, professionals would never be tricked by techniques they are using themselves for so many years yet in the series they are constantly fooled. So believe it or not, the Naruto ninjas are far less interesting than the classical ones in terms of warfare.

I understand that it is supposed to be eye-catchy for the younger audience but there are simply no connecting points of reference amongst everything you see. In fact, it feels like random ideas in random applications after awhile. Here is a computer, next to a ninja dog summoned with some hand seals. Sounds like the setting is blending technology and magic with absolutely no excuse. It looks eye catchy at first but quickly becomes so random that loses interest.

The story at first felt quite epic and mysterious but it quickly became lukewarm and clichéd. I give some credit for providing a feeling of progress in learning new techniques and explaining the way everything works with the chakras. But even that was just standard rpg fad and gave a terribly misleading image of what the 7 Hindu body chakra or the ninzitsu concentration hand seals really were. Half of the plot is about side stories or battles between secondary characters who don’t really affect the story. They do give a feeling of progress but in reality they could easily be left out without damaging the story at all. For you see, the story revolves around 10 people, while there are about 100 more, which don’t really do anything of importance. The name of the series alone means that it will focus on the protagonist and a few others, who will always survive and win in every situation. Makes it all too predictable.

The protagonist is Naruto, who is a complete idiot that yells “I will become the best in the world-dattebaiyo” every 5 minutes. When someone is in trouble, he changes his quote to “I will save him/her”. His motives are the most typical of most shonen leads. It was interesting at first when he was the unsecured little orphan nobody liked. He was striving for acceptance and thus everybody could identify with that. Later on he shifted his entire mission to just save his ex-rival Sasuke. That was no longer a personal drama to be fond of. Even later we find out he is the son of a very powerful man and that he is even the Chosen One to save the world. Ok, I officially don’t care about him after all this crappy turnaround. Everybody liked him when he was just a weak boy trying to be the leader of his village. Now he is an emo killing machine wasting his life trying to save an uncaring asshole, full of broken powers and constant Deus Ex Machina events that continually save him and make him nothing but a generic saviour stereotype.

The main rival is Sasuke, the grumpy emo who wants to revenge against his big brother. How original is that? Big brothers are always villains in shounen. He spends all his life trying to be strong just so he can kill people. And when he succeeds, he is not satisfied and kills some more. And then more. It was ok the first time but now he is just a hateful prick; his life has no meaning at all. At first most female fans of the show liked him for playing it hard to get but now he is nothing but a cold bastard working with thugs, and planning to commit genocide just because he has no idea what he is doing. Impossible to relate with.

How about Kakashi, whose only feature is his hidden face? What else did he offer to the story? Or maybe Sakura who just does nothing other than acting like a useless fan-girl most of the time? And to think that THESE are the main cast that affects the story; all the rest are there mostly for show. I won’t deny the fact that Orochimaru was an awesome villain or Shikamaru was a strategic mastermind or Hinata was the most moe thing ever. Still, all these characters were just dressing for the series. With the exception of Shikamaru none of these hundreds evolved as characters nor did they offer anything to the story.

A major problem with most shonen series is that they throw in a huge number of characters and then have no time (or talent) to develop them. They do a fine job colorizing them with personal tragedies and unique jutsus but they don’t really mature them in any real way. Just check the Soul Eater anime for example. It had far less secondary characters and thus far more time to develop them, without dragging the story with unimportant side stories, as Naruto did.

I do understand that most of the appeal the characters have is aesthetic and not actually about personalities. Naruto is the typical insecure boy who wants recognition from his peers. He ain’t smart of handsome, yet does his best to make a difference. He also likes a girl who ignores him and rivals a silent type pretty boy, who gets all the chicks for being a cold bastard. Plus there is a huge number of characters, each one with his or her own quirks just so anyone can pick their personal favourites. All these make a nice basic teen story that can appeal to most in the target group. But at the same time, the show does little with it. It even shifts its focus towards something far less interesting later on and wastes its quality away with a lot on funky battles and character quirks instead of actual character development.

There wouldn’t be dozens of millions of Narutards world-wide if it wasn’t famous. Still, you will skip a lot of stuff if you ever read it again. Too much blah, blah and flashbacks where nothing happens. It is good for a shounen series and does break the mold from time to time but it still remains pretty freaking clichéd, something that becomes more and more evident as the story goes on. And to be honest, most its good points are nothing but a rehash of Hunter X Hunter, a shonen show with much better strategy and character development (the story sucks though).

Despite the sheer stupidity of the series, I admit that it was very attention-absorbing. I really digged those funky jutsus and semi-serious strategies in battle and almost forgot to think how idiotic it all was. My enjoyment was high, up until Sasuke left the village. Afterwards entire arcs felt like there was nothing of importance going on.

Here is a brief look on all the current arcs of the show so far and what I think of them.

1) Wave Country arc. We got to know all the basic heroes. It was also the arc to tell us the basic use of the ninja villages and how cruel the powerful can be to the weak. It also featured two interesting villains who did NOT become allies or recurring opponents, thus becoming a major twist. It had drama, tension, comedy, all the good stuff. It was also dragging at a few points but nothing major. Overall, a very good arc. Mark: 8

2) Chuunin arc. We got to know all the secondary heroes. It was also the arc to show us all the secondary ninja villages and the frail truce amongst them which is maintained through the pleasing of the authorities of each major country through contests. There was also a major conspiracy which threatened the village and further revelation of past events which led to the present state. This part was full of skirmishes, most of which were irrelevant to the main story but still kinda worked as an introduction to the secondary cast. There was a tournament, which was based on cunningness and got out of control in the end, resulting to the death of a major character. That was some twist as well. It was overall another good arc. Mark: 8

3) Sasuke Retrieval arc. We got to know the past of the Uchiha clan and how its destruction turned Sasuke into a renegade in his quest of revenge. It also provides more info and background with the introduction of big shots like the Sannin and the Akatsuki. Unfortunately, it is still a half-interesting arc as the new information provided was hardly enough to excuse such a long duration. Besides the introduction of some interesting characters, most of it was a dragged out battle with lots of flashbacks which had little importance in overall. The new major adversaries, the Akatsuki, were only mentioned but never dealt with, while the minor ones, the Five Sounds, were barely interesting. Thus, not such a good arc. Mark: 6

4) Gaara Retrieval arc. We are re-introduced to the characters, now that they are older. Then they head to save a past opponent-turned-ally and face Akatsuki members. This part did flesh out a bit the past of the Sand village, but again the plot drags unnecessary. There wasn’t much new info keep you interested either and the main objective was almost the same as the one in the previous arc. Mark: 6

5) Azuma Avenge arc. We see Naruto getting even stronger and a rather important character dying and having to be avenged. The fleshing out of Shikamaru, a secondary character, was a very touchy point. Mark: 7

6) Itachi hunt arc. Sasuke goes on a killing spree, taking out various major villains and seemingly finally avenging the death of his family. Also we are presented with the past and life purpose of Jiraya and of his final battle. This was a rather interesting arc because of the major death toll. Mark: 7

7) Pein arc. The leader of the Akatsuki invades and pretty much kills most heroes. Naruto arrives and after a lame friendship speech, the villain resurrects everybody. Plus, he is no longer a simple boy who wants to become Hokage but the Chosen One and his father is Ninja Chuck Norris! What a pile of BS! They ruined all the drama with this nonsense. If they remained dead and kept Naruto as he was, this would be a great finale. Mark: 4

8) Danzo arc. Sasuke learns that there are more people responsible for the death of his family, thus he invades even the meeting of the five ninja leaders and keeps killing stuff. And that is pretty much all of it. Mark: 3

9) Ninja War arc. Apparently the final arc where everybody takes part in a major war. Including the dead who are resurrected just for the sake of selling more. At this point everything became random mambo jumbo regarding people we don’t care about and powers that work or are disabled any way the scriptwriter feels like at the moment. Mark: 3

After that I know from the manga that there is a war going on but it is completely retarded as there is absolutely no tension about it. The enemies are just resurrected villains and the heroes win all the time with zero casualties. Yeah, just like in the so-called Bleach war.

Bottom line, the show got ruined by turning to a ridiculous dragged out random pile of clichés.
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