Naruto Is Surprisingly Sophisticated

(coming up with post ideas can be such a drag…)

It’s perhaps indicative of my most recent obsession that I’ve mentioned the anime Naruto in the last three posts, and now I’m writing a post all about it, but I’ve really been enjoying the English dub of the Naruto anime, and let me tell you to shut up right now if you’re one of those people that insists that a subbed anime is the best anime, or that a manga must be read for the anime to be fully appreciated.

The series focuses on Naruto, the titular twelve-year-old who dreams of becoming the Hokage, the strongest ninja, and political leader, of his hometown, the Village Hidden in the Leaves. The show is hardly a Game of Thrones or Battlestar, but the society created in the show is complex: political power – the position of Hokage – is determined through military power, because it is only through being a strong, and deadly, ninja, that one becomes the Hokage.

Similarly, there are a series of nations around the Land of Fire, the nation the Village Hidden in the Leaves is the capital of, each with their own leaders and agendas, and their own individuals striving for power within them – the antagonist Orochimaru basically invents the Land of Sound to give him a base of followers to enact his schemes, and the Land of Fire is betrayed by an ally seeking greater autonomy after the signing of a treaty of alliance.

And the motivations of individual characters are equally diverse: Naruto is inspired both by his dream to become Hokage, and a desire to protect his friends; Rock Lee is driven to succeed because he can only use taijutsu (the least sophisticated of three types of ninja techniques, along with ninjutsu and genjutsu) and wants to prove everyone wrong who said ninjas need to master all three; Sasuke is motivated by a desire for revenge on his brother, but also to compete with his fellow ninja – as these two motivations lead to wildly different outcomes, and become seemingly mutually exclusive, he’s left with a choice that most thirteen-year-olds in TV shows don’t have to make.

Of course, the show is primarily an action series, and most episodes consist of wildly extravagant ninja battles, which are fun to watch (I’ve never seen a Giant Ninja Toad, a Giant Ninja Snake, and a Giant Ninja Slug be ridden by three Ninja and have a Ninja Battle). However, the difference between the battles and the depth of character often weakens the show, as characters are constantly flashing back to experiences from their childhood, or even the previous episode, in mid-battle, to really hammer home the origin and importance of their motivations and memories to them.

In truth, the cause of the greatest problem with the show – its slow pace and over-abundance of filler material – is probably over-ambition, that the creators wanted to make characters that were so complex (for a children’s series) that crap-loads of reminders of what happened ten episodes ago are required to ensure it all makes sense.

But when you compare this to the characters and plots of series like Yu-Gi-Oh!, where there is a clearly-defined main character, and the supporting cast serve little more purpose than to provide context for that main character’s strength/suffering/ultimate success, Naruto has more detailed characters, and more interesting story-lines. All this while being a kid’s show, and so lacking the brutality of a Game of Thrones, which makes it easy and enjoyable to watch 116 episodes in four days.

Yup, 116 episodes in four days. What university education?

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