Naruto Deserves its Popularity

This post contains huge spoilers for Naruto. Read at your own peril.

This week signifies a monumental moment in the Anime world. After 15 years and 720 episodes of ups and downs, the animation budget of a see-saw and more filler episodes than you could encounter in the most terrible of nightmares, the Naruto Anime adaptation has finally come to an end.

Some are deeply saddened by the news that another seemingly endless Shounen action flick is now gone, while others are jumping for joy as they scatter the ashes of a series they feel ran for far too long. Then there’s people like me, who don’t particularly mind one way or the other because they experienced the end of the series in 2014 when the Manga ended.

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Sorry…

Naruto was once a juggernaut of a series. In the early 2000’s, alongside One Piece and Bleach, the series was one of the most popular and well received Anime series of its time. Naruto was a phenomenon, particularly for us western viewers in the sense that it was one of a small handful of shows that spawned an entire new generation of Anime fans. Myself and a large chunk of Anime fans in my age group were properly welcomed into this medium by Naruto, and I can at least speak for myself when I say that I’m honestly not sure if I would even be an Anime fan today were it not for the time when I accidentally tuned in to an episode of the series when I was on vacation in America.

But of course, as you’d expect of such an influential and monumental series in the Anime world, as the years went by, Naruto began to lose its popularity and started getting a lot of flack as the series progressed, with its reputation getting increasingly worse with each passing year.

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There are countless arguments for this, be it the increasingly mediocre production values, the inconceivable amount of “inconsistencies” and “plotholes” and the humongous quantity of universally despised filler arcs that were both poorly paced and just plain boring.

In today’s Anime landscape, Naruto is a shadow of its former self and has lost much of, if not all of, its former glory.

But you see, despite its status as an incredibly mediocre series that doesn’t deserve its popular status, I feel Naruto gets a lot of unnecessary hate. The series has its fair share of problems, I won’t deny that, but it’s really not so bad. In fact, I’m here to make the bold claim that Naruto is good.

That’s right. Naruto is a good Anime. And it completely deserves its status as a worldwide phenomenon.

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Naruto is a perfect example of a Shounen underdog story done right. It focuses on a goofy, ostracized, kid ninja, who wants to become the leader of his village to prove to everyone that he’s worth something and to have them accept him for who he is. And while that in itself seems like a fairly standard underdog Shounen plot, what makes it interesting is that it sets a goal from the very beginning.

You see, at the beginning of Naruto, the end goal was immediately made clear. Unlike the likes of Bleach or Dragon Ball Z where there is no real goal aside from overcoming whatever major conflict is the focus of the current story arc, Naruto has a continuous and consistent overarching focus that remains true for the entirety of the series. Naruto is set on becoming the best and proving to the world that he’s more than just a talentless knucklehead. And sure, the series may stray from this path at times as the story shifts the primary focus to much less personal plots and a certain characters revenge story, but the point of Naruto as a series, the overall goal of the show, never really changes. It has a clear ending planned out from the beginning, something that’s surprisingly rare in the Anime medium where we often wind up with incomplete series or rushed, “we totally planned this all along” endings.

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Noooooo!!!

I’m not saying the storyline of Naruto is perfect. There’s a lot of rocky parts throughout the show. Some arcs are far too long for their own good. Others are boring and serve very little relevance to the plot. And despite liking Sasuke Uchiha as a character, the kid gets far too much screen time to the point I honestly felt they should have renamed the show “Sasuke” at some points.

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*crickets chirping*

The middle of Naruto, particularly Shippuden, was a very bumpy ride. The plot became more convoluted and the battles began to feel more and more dragged out. It no longer felt like the same series at times, and it was incredibly disheartening to many. Even I felt this way for a while, particularly during some extended segments of the Great Shinobi War arc where parts just felt unnecessarily dragged out for no real reason other than to prolong the story for as long as possible.

However, before, after and in between all of those bumps, is a story worth telling. The beginning of the series is incredibly solid, with the Land of Waves and Chunin Exam arcs being some of the finest things to ever come out of Shonen Jump. Many will attribute this early success to Hunter x Hunter, a series that Mangaka Masashi Kishimoto was directly influenced by, but he took those inspiring elements and spun them into something unique of his own.

The Land of Waves arc set up the incredibly complex and well crafted world of Naruto by introducing all of the series’ core concepts in a way that was more than a basic infodump. On top of that, it had some of the most engaging action sequences to ever come from Shounen. The strategic battle between Zabuza and Team 7 was incredible, and Naruto and Sasuke vs. Haku was one of the most engaging fights around at the time. These were monumental moments that made Anime history. They defined the modern day Shounen experience and ushered in a new era for Anime as a medium.

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And who could forget the emotionally crushing finale to that first arc, where Zabuza and Haku, the villains of the arc, both die together, side by side in a surprisingly emotional scene that still shakes me to the core today. Over a decade later. Say what you will, but Zabuza’s death is one of the most emotionally charged scenes to ever come from the Anime medium and is a perfect example of how to present the death of a character in the most resonating way possible. Zabuza was a bad guy. He was a cruel, evil monster of a man. Yet, we all cried when he passed away and broke down as his partner sacrificed his life in vain to save him. We forgot he was a villain and we sympathized with him. I can barely count the number of shows that achieved that same feeling on both of my hands.

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Meanwhile, the ending is emotionally satisfying with one of the most fantastic pay-offs in Anime history. Many long running series tend to have a disappointing ending that fails to live up to the promises that were established early on. But Naruto ended in the way that just about everyone wanted it to. Naruto earns his title as Hokage and we finally get to see the results of his struggles. In that final moment, we see all of the hard work, effort and dedication throughout the entire series pay off in a moment of pure, absolute pathos and it was glorious. It felt earned. It felt deserved. It was great.

As for what happened in between, it was a bumpy ride, sure, but there were many moments of genuine brilliance scattered along that uneven road. From the depressing and long-awaited, revenge-driven conflict between Sasuke and Itachi, to the revelation of Kakashi’s believed to be dead friend, Obito Uchiha being the one of the grand masterminds behind everything, all the way to the explosive final confrontation between Naruto and Sasuke, there are just as many moments of incredible storytelling and genuine emotion as there are moments of cringe and fail.

That last one in particular, the final battle, being one of the most incredible fights to ever come from the Shounen demographic. The fight tells the final chapter of a long winded rivalry between two incredibly complex and well developed characters that stretches across the entire series. And during this fight we catch glimpses of everything they’ve learned throughout each of their separate journeys. Every special technique learned, every hand sign, each and every subtle movement all hark back to each and every event that both Naruto and Sasuke have been through. It’s a celebratory battle sequence that looks back on everything that the series managed to achieve through both of these characters, both good and bad, and it’s brimming with raw energy and emotion the likes of which are nigh unparalleled. Just look at this stuff and tell me you can’t feel the desire driving these two characters towards their goals.

Speaking of these two characters, they’re both incredibly well written characters, like them or not. Naruto is one of the most well developed underdog protagonists in all of Anime starting out as a snot nosed kid who can’t even perform the most basic of ninjutsu to the greatest ninja in his village. The best part? He earns it and we see him progress in a believable way over the course of the series. Sure, there’s a timeskip and it turns out he’s actually the son of an incredibly talented prodigy, but while those are some awfully convenient issues, they don’t detract from the genuine amount of effort and dedication that Naruto puts into his training throughout the series. He earns that Hokage hat and it’s bloody satisfying when he does.

Sasuke on the other hand is completely undeserving of the hate that is frequently directed towards his character. Yes, he’s whiny. Sure, he’s an immature brat who makes stupid decisions. However, he’s also an incredibly complex and well developed character with an emotionally engaging character arc that is genuinely compelling. Sasuke’s story is one of revenge and is cripplingly depressing. As his story progressed his perception of the world and the events of his childhood that fueled his quest for vengeance were completely shattered and no longer having a true reason to live, he had to find a new purpose in life, a purpose that resulted in a string of terrible decisions that were both fascinating and realistic, especially considering his circumstances. Sasuke was unhinged. He was on the verge of breaking down entirely at every given point, a character arc I and many others can strongly relate to. The whining was annoying and his consistently silly decisions were sometimes frustrating, but Sasuke was an interesting character who stood out and was genuinely entertaining to follow.

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Then there’s the side characters, and while I can agree that many of them were completely useless and served little relevance to the overall plot, the show did have its fair share of enjoyable and entertaining ones as well. Hinata, Gaara and Rock Lee, among others, are all iconic characters with their own self contained arcs that integrated themselves brilliantly within the main story.

Then we get to the production values. It’s no secret that as the series went on the animation got progressively worse. Character designs became off model more than usual, many fight scenes had less fluidity to them and the overall directing and presentation just became sloppy in a lot of places, particularly once Shippuden started.

But the series still has its fair share of well directed sequences. The Kakashi and Obito fight scene is one of the best directed Anime moments from 2016, with both incredible animation and a beautifully unique blend of splicing footage between the past and present day versions of the two fighting one another.

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Naruto is far from a perfect looking series, but it could look absolutely stunning when Pierrot wanted it to, and all of the shows major fight scenes, the final one in particular, were always fantastic. Can we really complain?

I don’t think I need to say anything about that rocking soundtrack. Give it a listen. It’s fantastic.

Perhaps it’s out of nostalgia or maybe I’m just a weirdo who, as always, feels the need to be contrarian and disagree with the consensus, but I don’t think Naruto is a bad series. It’s not perfect and it stumbles a hell of a lot during its 720 episode journey, but that doesn’t make it “terrible” or anything of the sort.

Naruto’s biggest strength is in its ability to tell an exceptionally cathartic narrative where emotions clash and dreams are achieved in a world of all powerful magic Shounen ninjas and it’s awesome.

It’s been over a decade since I first started watching Naruto and even today, after engaging with so many other Anime series, I still look back on it with a smile. Because despite its failings and occasional stumbles, I had a good time. I enjoyed myself. And I will for many years to come.

You inspired and created a whole generation of Anime fans, Naruto. And for that, you deserve your status as one of the most popular and best-selling Anime franchises of all time.

Farewell Naruto. I’ll never forget you.

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13 thoughts on “Naruto Deserves its Popularity

  1. Because of the enormous amount of episodes I have never started on this Anime. If I ever have more time, I might give it a go sometime in the future. I have seen a couple of episodes to just get a feel for the show, and I have to admit that I enjoyed a lot. Reading through this post made me even more curious, so great job doing that!. But then again, as I said previously, you are on a roll 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d definitely say it’s worth watching solely for the shows historical importance and impact, but it can be a very time consuming and often frustrating experience.

      If you were ever to watch it, I’d recommend looking up an arc guide to skip the filler arcs, since they’re very boring, slow and take up a lot of time. Skipping them makes the show much more enjoyable!

      But yeah, Naruto is a good watch and lots of fun!

      And thanks a lot for reading and your comments as always! Really appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wasn’t a fan of Naruto because I’d started Bleach right before someone asked me to try an episode of Naruto. As a result, given I liked Rukia and Ichigo more as characters than Naruto I stuck with Bleach and let Naruto slide. That said, I never saw any reason to dislike it. I just wasn’t willing to commit to two ridiculously long running series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Since I had more or less just gotten into Anime at the time, I ended up watching both Naruto and Bleach at the same time.

      They both gave me similar but very different experiences, but unfortunately I never got round to finishing either of them and ended up reading the Manga instead.

      I’ve yet to finish Bleach or Naruto Shippuden, but I’ve seen enough of the later scenes (and read the Manga) to know how I’d feel about them, which has kind of taken away my desire to go and do so.

      It’s definitely worth watching Naruto, but unfortunately, it’s a very time consuming experience. Although it’ll never quite be as bad as One Piece.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t say I can buy into your argument here, but as a Naruto fan I enjoyed reading it nonetheless 🙂

    I’m not sure if your just looking at the beginning of Naruto with rose-tinted-glasses or something, but the beginning of the series was pretty rocky. For instance the land of waves arc introduced a lot of the main concepts of the world of Naruto by just dumping it. We find out about the village of the mist graduation exam (where everyone murders each other, which caused Zabuza to become so twisted) in the middle of the battle, when they just stop fighting each other to have a little chat (common throughout the early episodes of Naruto, a pretty big shonen jump in general as well). We learn how Konoha distributes its missions to everyone and runs the place when the Third Hokage tries to explain to Naruto how everything works (in pretty deep detail). We learn about the different nations and their villages when Kakashi just decides to lecture everyone on the subject (because Sakura apparently didn’t know anything about the outside world). During each of these examples it cuts away from the scene at hand to just give the audience a bunch of information about the world of Naruto and how it operates, which if you ask me would be the very definition of an info dump. (it happens later in the series too such as during the chunin exams when the fight between Hinata and Neji is put on hold so they can explain chakra points, and the fight between Gaara and Rock Lee is paused to explain the inner gates)

    Also these early fights were really, really bare bones. You hardly ever get to see much fluid action as characters trade blows or block and counter attacks. The fights mostly show a static image of one of the characters, while another character moves around or does something.You really don’t get any fluid fight scenes until the chunin exam arc when you have Hinata vs. Neji, where the two really go head to head and the animation shows them attacking, blocking and counterattacking each others moves. Gaara vs. Rock Lee has some moments of nice looking action, but again most of that fight consists of Gaara just standing still as blurry images of Rock Lee are flashed on the screen. During Rock Lees execution of the primary and hidden lotus techniques the fight becomes a lot more dynamic, but still nothing like the Naruto vs. Sasuke fights (all of them) or the fights we get in Shippuden. Even if we are just talking about comparing them to other shonen we had at the time and how impactful they were, these early fights were not as monumental as you seem to remember them. DBZ and FMA had both aired (in america at least) before Naruto had gotten up to this point, and had much more engaging fights.

    As for the rest of the post I more or less agreed with some points and not so much with others. As for the stance that Naruto is in fact a “good” series, the way I see it Naruto is like the junk food of the anime world. It may not have the best quality, best characters or best anything really, but its about freaking ninjas with super-powers clashing with each other in (somtimes) cool battles. Its just good fun all around. I wouldn’t put Naruto on my “best made anime” list or anything, but if I just made a list of anime that I just really liked watching it would probably be near the top. I’d probably look like a huge hypocrite otherwise honestly lol. I’m someone who followed the manga throughout its entire run (and owns it) and still loves playing the various games that come out for the franchise over the years, so it is only natural that I still love Naruto for all of its good elements.

    I almost forgot to mention good job on the post 😛 I have been enjoying your recent blogs as of late.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      While I do understand where you’re coming from, I don’t necessarily find any of those points to be “info dumps” specifically. At least, not in a bad sense. Aside from the Chakra points one you mentioned, all of them are explained within relevance to the actual plot, as opposed to just having some random narration that has little place other than to explain something. I mean, that’s WHY these scenes are here, but I personally felt it was done in a way that tied it in nicely with the situation that made it feel less of an info dump and more of a “characters explaining things when they become relevant”.

      But of course, later on this becomes far less true, particularly in later parts of Shippuden.

      As for the fights being bare bones, I can’t say I agree with that either. The scene where Team 7 get ambushed by Mist Ninja and Sasuke takes charge and does that incredible reaction to the ambush was ridiculously well animated for its time. The same can be said of the battle between Haku and One-Tailed Naruto which was similarly animated.

      I see where you’re coming from with the comparison to other Shounen, but those fights were definitely monumental to a large number of Anime fans. Naruto was just as influential and Dragon Ball Z was in creating a generation of fans, and this early material was the reason for that. That’s undeniable. FMA shares a similar place, but it’s no more influential than Naruto was. Especially on a worldwide basis where shows like FMA never even aired on TV (my country being a specific example of this).

      Of course this is just how I see it 😛 I don’t expect everyone to see things the way I do! I enjoyed reading your perspective 🙂

      I agree with your stance on the show. It isn’t the best at anything it does, but it’s a fun time and it’s a show I have some very fond and positive memories of. It made me into the Anime fan I am today and I guess it deserves my thanks for that. I followed the Manga as it ran too, and it was a blast reading it every week. Same with the video games too, although I’ve yet to try Storm 4 yet. They’re a good time.

      I’m glad you’ve been enjoying my recent posts. Thanks a lot for reading! 🙂

      Like

  4. I’m really not a fan of Naruto (I probably didn’t even get to episode 100 or so before giving up), but it still has a special place in my heart as the anime that got me into anime and manga in the first place. A few volumes still sit proudly on my shelf as the first manga I ever bought. Regardless of whether or not you liked it, you can’t deny that Naruto’s had a massive impact on everyone in the anime community for the last 15+ years.

    It’s just kind of weird that this neverending giant from my childhood is sort of…gone.

    Liked by 1 person

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