September 28, 2015

MANGA MONDAYS | Re: Naruto

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By MICHAEL MAUER

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Photo Courtesy of Studio Pierrot

Before you ask, that title was a lame attempt at referencing Naruto’s 8th opening song, “Re: member,” by Flow. It’s an awesome song by an awesome band, so if you haven’t heard the song, listen now. If you have heard the song, listen anyways. It’s just that good, and you know it. Back to the point.

It might not have been totally clear from the couple of minor references I made earlier in the semester, so I’m going to come clean right now. I watched Naruto over summer vacation (the original, not Shippuden – more on that later). To any readers that are new here this semester, this might not seem very crazy. I mean, who hasn’t seen Naruto, right? It’s super popular. However, those who have been reading this blog from the start will know that shounen isn’t exactly my favorite genre. Nevertheless, I realized that I’d hate to be the guy that criticizes an anime without having seen it. Nobody likes that guy. So I took the better part of July, retreated into a dark cave (my bedroom) and binge watched Naruto just to see what all the fuss is about.

And you know what? I liked it. I still don’t like shounen as a whole. I also don’t think that Naruto is particularly good from a critical perspective. But I don’t regret watching the show by any means. It’s got so many strong points (oh God, this is starting to sound like a review, but don’t worry, it’s going somewhere). The action is superb – my favorite fight by far is Rock Lee vs Gaara.

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Courtesy of Studio Pierrot

Also, most of the characters (I say most because, well, Sakura) are surprisingly interesting and well developed, which is not something I expected at all. Yet, somehow, I actually really care about them. Especially my favorite ships – I now have more Naruto x Hinata and Sikamaru x Temari pictures than I know what to do with.

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Courtesy of Studio Pierrot

Despite all of these good points, I feel like the show could have been much, much better. For instance, with 24 minute episodes, after factoring out intro song, credits and recap, most had something like 15 minutes of actual content. Perhaps this isn’t standard among shounen, but I suspect that it might be. If you have counterexamples, please send them my way.

Another issue is filler story arcs in general. I know that these can be unavoidable especially if an anime catches up to the manga and runs out of new material. That doesn’t make the changes any more jarring. For instance, all of season three is nonstop action and multiple numerous fights – in particular, Naruto vs Sasuke. However, the next two seasons (yes, two full seasons!) are nothing but filler with no actual relevance to the central plot and almost no continuity between story arcs. I can understand a few episodes, but 88 is a bit much.

Side note: in regard to filler, check out this site. It lists Naruto at something like 41 percent filler. Most shounen seem to hover closer to 15 or 20 percent, but this is still a lot of non-canon material, especially when shorter shows outside of the genre have consistently no filler at all.

The essential problem is that Naruto has a ton of awesome qualities, but it seems so focused on padding out run time that I never got to experience all of these things together properly. Allow me to give some perspective on this since it may not be clear to people who are caught up and watching episodes weekly. I’ve heard that 8 gates Maito Gai vs Sage of Six Paths Madara is an awesome fight. I really, really want to see it. But I’d need to catch up on Shippuden, since that fight was quite recent. That’s over 400 episodes. Now consider the fact that I had to watch Naruto for a month (in the summer, when I actually have time) in order to cover the first 220 episodes. The time commitment is absurd, especially when I still have to catch up on this absurdly good summer lineup. Oh, right, also prelims. I should study for those.

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