At the tail end of 2014, one of the great three shonen manga/anime series finally ends after 15 years in publication. Although they’ve still got a movie in the works and I’m sure Kishimoto wouldn’t be against making spin offs of these incredibly popular characters, I’m glad they’ve closed the book on the orange clad ninja.
I’ve always been a One Piece guy myself as Bleach was hit and miss for most of it’s run, (until the Bount arc and then it was just miss) but Naruto had a strong retention on my interest. The anachronistic setting was fascinating, the characters were colorful, and the story (at least during the first two arcs) were quite profound. Discussing what it meant to be a ninja; a human weapon or fighting to protect friends, registered as a deep philosophical question to my angsty teenage brain. And that is what hooked me onto the show.
Even when they veered off this message and started developing the side characters like Konoha 11, the jonin teachers, and the sand siblings it was still an incredibly entertaining show. By then we had grown to care for Team 7 despite Sasuke’s moodiness, Sakura’s uselessness, and Naruto being an overactive pre-teen. So when the chunin exams came up, I was personally worried about most of them. I understood that this was the ninja version of standardised tests (I can relate to the stresses of that) but that failure could mean their death. When Bleach pulled away from it’s monster of the week Hollow encounters and focussed on Rukia’s rescue from the Soul Society, I started to turn off because of the change in format. With Naruto it seemed more natural so I accepted it.
The first anime series was a blast to watch. I loved how a lot of the lore and backstory were hinted at, but not explicitly explained making whole world appearing more grander than what we were viewing. It also kept things very light hearted using bright colors and jokes to off set when things got too serious. It didn’t take itself too seriously like One Piece. As the series started to end with Sasuke leaving the village, the tone shifted to dark and desperate to reflect Sasuke’s decision. It was great to see how much the main characters had progressed since we saw them in the exams.
However the second series Shippuden did not sit well with me. I watched most of the first arc but constant 1 hour block specials and the first major fight against an Akatsuki member dragged on too long. It could be that the show outgrew me (is that possible), the characters were older and the stakes were higher meaning the show had a more serious tone. Gone were the Ramen breaks and instead it was strategic meetings in the Hokage’s office. I still picked at it from time to time by browsing the naruto wikia or Japanator until it ended two months ago.
I inherently watch the anime rather than read the manga so I come across some killer tracks in the opening and closing themes. Haruka Kanata for example was the first track I heard by Asian Kung Fu Generation and they later became my favourite band. The third opening exemplifies the great themes explored throughout Naruto. Loneliness, abandonment, responsibility, and friendship and how the characters are effected by these. It worked fantastically with the arc at the time, drawing parallels between Naruto and the antagonist Gaara.
Naruto was a series that garnered a huge following in the west and was arguably the most popular of the big three. It played a large part in my life too. It helped me through those troubling teenage years, influenced the music I played as part of a band, and introduced me to some life long friends. Even though I didn’t go the distance to see Naruto through to the bitter end, I’m glad it ended before it was ridiculed for overstaying it’s welcome.