When my kids were little, we would all watch Naruto as a family. Recently, they have all moved out and are successfully adulting. (A verb I made up) Maybe out of nostalgia or empty nest coping, I have been binge watching the original Naruto. It is an exceptional show with terrific story. Some of the things I appreciate the most:
This is the thing I like most in any show. I want to see characters change and evolve based on the plot. Naruto is one of the best on this score. Each story arc not only adds “powers” to the main characters, but also adds depth to the relationships and individual histories. Naruto does this for almost all characters, even minor ones. Each character gets his or her moment in the sun with extended backstories.
One of the characters I admire most is Rock Lee. He becomes a splendid Ninja despite having no innate powers and a devastating injury. His “power” is hard work and grit. He just trains and trains non-stop. Rock Lee is all of us born without magical abilities. He is the true hero of the show (in my opinion). I love working with people like Rock Lee. Perseverance is golden.
The amount of characters, countries, factions, and powers are just overwhelming. George R.R. Martin or Tolkien could not have done better themselves. There is a long rich history of the world that unfolds slowly. The creativity around what powers one can wield is impressive to say the least. It rivals the MCU for depth and breadth. More importantly, they all seem plausible. Each power makes sense. Caveat: there is substantial power creep as the show evolves.
Real risk of death
This is a weird one, but often in superhero stories, there is no real chance the heroes lose or die. Death is not really a thing that happens. In Naruto, characters die, never to be seen again. The death of Hiruzen Sarutobi and later his son Asuma was tragic, but the death of Jiraiya shook us as a family. We were stunned. Some other characters from the past were brought back to life temporarily through a resurrection jistu, but usually for brief periods of time. I think this got out of hand by the end, but the first deaths were terrific writing and gave real risk to the action.
Evil originates from trauma
Not every single bad guy in the show received this treatment, but many have extended flashbacks to their childhood where usually they were subjected to the horrible trauma of loss and war. The author, Masashi Kishimoto, loves to explore the origins of an evil character. In some cases, like Gaara, he even redeems them through interaction with Naruto to become a better person and leader. I love this type of dynamic. It denies the trope that evil is born evil and can not grow. I believe this in today’s society as well. Bad people are forged through their experiences, education, and personal trauma. Also, people who were once awful could work hard to become productive members of society.
Many shows often get this wrong. This is especially true in movies where it feels like one big chase scene. Naruto takes time to breath and mourn the loss of comrades. As I am binge watching on Hulu, I will skip all filler episodes and flashbacks or recaps that I don’t need. However, I will often watch the training episodes or just the quiet times when they eat together. These feel as satisfying as any victory.
Shippuden Time Skip
This was a huge risk for the show. They basically skipped 3 years in Naruto time and then showed us the characters aged. This was perfect for us as a family because my kids were growing up at the same time. Somehow they nailed it. Everyone matured just enough to seem rational, but didn’t lose their core identities. It allowed new dynamics between characters and new plot lines. I have never seen another show pull this off as successfully as Naruto Shippuden.
Speaking of the flashbacks, Naruto really overdoes this. A flashback to explain a backstory makes sense. But Naruto will often flashback to two episodes ago to say “Remember when that happened?! And now it’s happening again?! Wow!” They will even have flashbacks INSIDE their flashbacks, like some crazy Inception scene. Thank goodness I have the remote to skip them. Much better than when we first had them.
But… the final arc
Naruto has one big problem. The 4th Great Shinobi War lasted 3 days from October 8th-10th in the series calendar. However, in real time, the anime lasted FOREVER. Literally months and dozens and dozens of episodes. It was insane. We couldn’t understand how they milked this one arc for a nearly endless set of plot lines.
Also the power creep became ridiculous in this arc. Nothing made sense anymore and it was clear that they wanted to wrap things up. I wish they would have either simplified the ending. Too many reveals, too much information to absorb. It nearly ruined the show for us.
A new series started after a new time skip, where Naruto has children. This series has many problems and is still trying to find it’s voice. One clear problem is the name. The name Boruto was idiotic. Why would he name his child something so similar? Maybe George Foreman liked it.
Imagine Superman had a son and called him Buperman. It is that dumb. It has zero creativity.
Also, Boruto is basically an exact replica of Naruto as a character. He is a bratty kid with the same powers. I would have been much happier seeing a kid that was more like his mother or even just a new personality. Maybe he could have been more like Rock Lee with no powers at all. I have been reading he manga, but I should check out the anime.
If you have young children, between 6 and 10, Naruto is a great show to watch as a family. There were times we watched with original Japanese voice-overs and read the English subtitles out loud. It helped the kids learn to read. I know a woman who actually watched the show over and over to help her learn Japanese.
The show has action, drama, humor, family values, and a great creative world. I recommend it strongly.