Out of all the long-running Shounen series that are out there, to me, one stands above the rest. Even though I only watched this anime recently, it holds a special place in my heart as my favorite long-running action anime that I have ever seen, and for good reason.
One of the main problem’s that plagues a lot of long-running Shounen’s is their ability to keep an interesting narrative throughout the entire run time of the show. They make it interesting by having the show made up of many different arc’s that each have their own stories, characters and problem’s that the characters must face. A lot of these arcs are self-contained stories that don’t do much for the plot, despite the quality of some arcs. Naruto, doesn’t really do that. While each arc does have their own problems that the characters face the overarching story and the reason these events are happening tie in to the constant narrative that plays throughout the whole show. The plot is always advancing and not once is it ever boring to watch since the characters are always growing and learning different things about their friends and the world that they live in. Normally, if I would ever review any long-running Shounen’s in the future, this would be the section where I do mini reviews of every main arc in the series, but considering the whole show plays out like one big narrative, it’s almost impossible for me to do that.
The main story itself is compelling enough that it doesn’t feel like reason just to get cool characters to fight it out (Which is the vibe I’m getting from Bleach from my experience of watching it so far. The story in Naruto is always expanding, new characters get introduced, new villains emerge and while a lot of the events in this series are set up for what’s to come in Shippuden (Especially in the Sasuke Retrieval Arc) it’s still worth watching to see where the characters grow and mold into the people they are later in the story (I say this because it seems quite a few people skip this series and start with Shippuden).
Not everything is flawless in this department, however. Naruto is notorious for having insane amounts of filler episodes and this show is one of the biggest offenders of this problem. It starts off harmless enough by having a recap episode, then a hot spring episode, a fun episode about Kakashi’s face and a five-episode arc about a race which would be fine if that was all it was. Instead of ending the show at the Sasuke Retrieval Arc, the show continues into 85 episodes of filler! Even for a long-running show like this one, 85 is an insane amount of filler episodes to have in a row. They even start the filler, right when the story was about to make it to the time-skip. While it was done to wait up for the manga, they could have just ended the original series and waited until they had enough material to start making Shippuden. Instead we got 85 episodes of low-quality random ninja missions that are close to unbearable to watch. I made it through the first few episodes of the first filler arc when I decided to stop and skip to the final episode. Even though this problem can be avoided now since you can just skip these episodes, it only really bugs me when I think of how long fans had to wait until the filler ended back when these episodes were airing. It may not be a problem now but it gets annoying when it still plagues Shippuden. But as I said before, you can just skip them now (Which is the most recommended option). So, in terms of the story department, Naruto does an excellent job considering all the filler is skippable.
For long-running Shounen battle series, it is important to have cool, likable characters that make up the cast. No matter how cool the battles are, they won’t matter if you don’t care about who is fighting. Luckily, this is where Naruto shines the most. Naruto, as the protagonist of the story, does a great job to make the viewers root for him. Being the ultimate underdog, Naruto aims big in this series and is where the main emotion comes from throughout the show. He’s a boy that has nothing, that aims for everything. His relationship with the other main characters, his rival and best friend Sasuke, his love interest Sakura and his teacher Kakashi is what really drives this show and is what made this show so popular in the first place. As Naruto bonds with these characters you see him grow from being the village loser to their strongest ninja by doing nothing but making friends and working hard to get stronger. His struggles are relatable and his goals make sense for a person like him. At first, he causes trouble because he’s alone and he thinks that everybody hates him. But by meeting his new squad and bonding with other ninja, he becomes aware of how special friendship is and how you need bonds if you’re going to be Hokage (which is the head of the village).
Apart from Naruto, the cast is made up of the coolest and craziest character’s I’ve seen in any anime. I already mentioned Sasuke, Sakura and Kakashi but some of the best characters come in the form of rival ninja teams or the crazy villains that the heroes face. Among my favourites are Rock Lee (the lovable goofball), Shikamaru (the lazy genius), Hinata (the very shy, true love interest), Neji (the vengeful prodigy turned ally), Temari (this one is biased since she is my favourite female character) and Gaara (the frightening villain turned greatest ally). Even characters that I didn’t like at first like Ino, Choji, Kiba, Kankuro and Orochimaru turned out to be some of my favourite heroes and villains. But the best character (apart from Naruto himself) is Naruto’s perverted teacher, Jiraiya. Jiraiya is probably one of the most important characters in the series, mostly because of the impact he has on Naruto. While his squad leader Kakashi is training Sasuke, Naruto heads to Jiraiya who teaches him the Rasengan which becomes Naruto’s signature move and becomes Naruto’s father figure throughout the rest of the series. He’s motivation for Naruto to not give up and to continue moving forward with his dreams and ambitions. While I could continue with characters like Tsunade, Kabuto and Itachi, I’ll end this segment here by saying that out of all the other categories, Characters is what Naruto excels at the most.
The soundtrack is amazing. The songs are a nice mix of traditional Japanese music mixed in with badass guitar. The Main Theme of the series is one of the most memorable, iconic and beautiful pieces of music to anybody that’s seen this show. If you haven’t heard it, you owe it to yourself to listen to it since it’s probably the most amazing song in the whole soundtrack. In terms of Openings and Endings, Naruto proves once again that just because it’s a long-running Shounen, it doesn’t need to half-ass it’s theme songs. Every Opening is a memorable J-Rock tune and not one of them is bad. It’s hard to pick a favorite from these songs which is why mine is a three-way tie between Haruka Kanata (OP 2), GO!!! (OP 4) and No Boy, No Cry (OP 6). The ED’s, while not as good as the OP’s, are still good and get the job done as Ending songs. Wind (ED 1), Viva Rock (ED 3) and Ima made Nando mo (ED 5) are my favorites while the others are still good, but not the most memorable.
While I haven’t heard the Japanese voice acting since I watched the Dub, I can still judge the Dub and my god, is this a damn good Dub. Every voice actor hits the mark with every character they play. Maile Flanagan does an amazing job as Naruto and Yuri Lowenthal (who is one of my favourite voice actors) does one of my favourite performances from the show, as Sasuke who is one of the most iconic characters from the show. Tara Platt also does an amazing job as Temari considering that her performance is one of the main reasons that I like Temari so much. Other notable performances are Steven Blum as Zabuza and Orochimaru, Steve Stayley as Neji, Stephanie Sheh as Hinata, David Lodge as Jiraiya and Liam O’Brien as Gaara. Every other performance of the other main characters was also great but those were some of the best ones that were worth mentioning. If you couldn’t tell, Naruto also does a great job in the Sound department.
Now to some of Naruto’s low points. The best way to describe this show is by saying that you’re basically watching an animated manga with a few great examples of amazing fight animation. While this isn’t Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters levels of barely animated, it’s noticeable considering there are a great number of shots that either linger or are completely still. Despite that, every fight in the show (and there are quite a lot) is always interesting to watch and is never boring to watch. The lack of animation during the dialogue sections of the show is made up for by the great animation for a lot of the fight scenes. Battles like Neji vs. Hinata, Rock Lee vs. Gaara, Naruto vs. Gaara, Naruto and Jiraiya and Tsunade vs. Orochimaru and Kabuto, Rock Lee vs. Kimimaro and Naruto vs. Sasuke are all excellent examples of fight animation in long-running Shounen battle series.
The animation takes a turn for the worse, however, when you start getting into the filler episodes. They start off fine until the big 85 episodes of filler begins and you see how cheaply the episodes are made and how ugly everything looks. Speaking of things that look ugly, sometimes the character models will look strange and distorted which can come off as very weird and half-assed. I think this might be a problem in the manga as well but some of the off looking characters can be vary jarring when you see them for the first time. This happens very rarely so it’s not too much of a problem. Apart from that, the background art looks amazing and is highly detailed. Even if a shot is barely animated the backgrounds are always interesting to look at and is proof of the crazy amount of work that Masashi Kishimoto put into when he first published each chapter. The show can look extremely beautiful at times but still looks kind of blurry at times (which is a problem shared with Bleach which means that it’s more down to what Studio Pierrot was doing). Naruto does a great gob in the Animation department).
Overall, if you are going to pick one of the Big 3 (Naruto, Bleach and One Piece) to watch, Naruto is your best bet. It’s fun, easy to get into and has a satisfying story where you see every character grow with every decision that they make in the show. It might be the only one worth watching in the end, since it hasn’t fallen apart like Bleach did and it might end unlike One Piece. Even though the show is 50% filler, you can still skip it which will make the experience shorter than what you may think. As it stands this first season of Naruto defined a whole new generation of anime fans when it premiered all the way back in 2002. A generation of Fighting Dreamers.