Anime Spotlight: Naruto (Updated)

Naruto is based on a shonen manga series written and illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto. The anime series is split into two sections: Naruto and Naruto Shippuden. The first section ran for 220 episodes; the first 135 episodes were adapted from the first 27 volumes of the manga, while the remaining 80 episodes are original stories that are “filler material.” Naruto Shippuden is set about three years after the first series and adapts volumes 28 through 72 of the manga. Between the content adapted from the manga and the “filler” that was added, there were a total of 500 episodes for Naruto Shippuden.

Anime films are also a part of the Naruto franchise. Three films were produced for the first series, and eight films have been produced for Naruto Shippuden.

Naruto and Naruto Shippuden are produced by Studio Pierrot and are directed by Hayato Date. Naruto began airing on Japanese television on October 3, 2002, and Naruto Shippuden began airing on Japanese television on February 15, 2007. The final episode of Naruto Shippuden aired on Japanese television on March 23, 2017. The franchise now has a spin-off series called Boruto, which focuses on Naruto’s son and the next generation of shinobi. As of this writing, VIZ Media holds the North American rights for Naruto, Naruto Shippuden, and Boruto.

Naruto Uzumaki is the main character of the series. When he was a baby, the Fourth Hokage sealed a fox demon into him that was attacking the Hidden Leaf Village in order to save the village. The Hokage died shortly after, and he had hoped the villagers would see Naruto as a hero; instead, the adults of the village have shunned him. After the death of the Fourth Hokage, the Third Hokage returned to the position of leader as the village, and he decreed that disclosure of Naruto’s secret is strictly forbidden under severe penalty. Naruto’s peers don’t know his secret, but many of them have picked up their parents’ animosity toward Naruto and perpetuate it.

Since Naruto is an orphan that is being shunned by his village, he decides that he will force others to pay attention to him by pulling pranks. Naruto has also made it his goal to become the Hokage of the village one day and make people acknowledge him. Unfortunately, Naruto isn’t one of the best students at the ninja academy, which doesn’t help his situation.

At the beginning of the series, Naruto is tricked by one of academy instructors to steal a sacred scroll. Naruto learns a cloning technique from the scroll, which becomes his signature jutsu in the series. When the traitorous instructor tries to take the scroll, Naruto is saved by his instructor, Iruka Umino.

Naruto manages to graduate from the ninja academy and is placed in Squad 7 alongside Sakura Haruno and Sasuke Uchiha. Naruto has a crush on Sakura, but she only sees Naruto as a goof and she has a crush on Sasuke. Sasuke, however, is rather aloof and doesn’t seem to notice Sakura’s feelings for him. Naruto views Sasuke as a rival. They are assigned a new teacher: Kakashi Hatake. After the three students pass a test that Kakashi puts them through, the squad begins doing missions together.

After Squad 7 is established and the three of them participate in the Chunin Exam, it’s revealed that the main antagonist of the series is Orochimaru, a criminal who was once a respected ninja from the Hidden Leaf Village. It’s later established that there’s a criminal organization called the Akatsuki that play an important role as antagonists in Naruto Shippuden.

As the series progresses, the Naruto universe expands from a small group of characters into a whole world of characters with intricate and interesting backstories.

I remember first hearing about Naruto when my kids would see promos for the series when they were watching Cartoon Network. The main impression the promos left me with was that Naruto was the show airing on Toonami with the loud ninja boy that wears an orange jumpsuit.

About a year or so later, I began writing about anime for BellaOnline.com. I realized rather early on during my time writing for the site that since Naruto was such a popular title, that I would have to give it coverage at BellaOnline. I found the first episode of the series on YouTube and watched it. I thought it looked promising, so I looked to see if my local library system had DVDs of the series. When I discovered that I could get DVD sets through the library, I placed holds for the sets.

When I began watching the Naruto sets, I enjoyed the early episodes that established Naruto as a character and showed how Squad 7 formed. And then I hit the Land of Waves arc. I admit that at the time I first saw the Land of Waves arc, I thought it went on for too long and I found myself wondering how Naruto had become such a big hit. I’ve since been able to see the Land of Waves arc again after watching the Dragon Ball Z anime series, and I’ve come to realize that the Land of Waves arc was nowhere near as long and stretched out as I had originally thought.

Even though I originally wasn’t impressed with the Land of Waves arc, I decided to keep going with the series in order to continue covering it for BellaOnline. I’m glad I made that decision, because I was rewarded with the Chunin Exam arc. After getting through the written exam portion of the arc, the viewer gets to meet a lot of new characters and receives backstory for several of these new characters.

The Chunin Exam is what ultimately sold me on the Naruto franchise. By the time I finished that arc, I continued placing holds on the DVD box sets at the library because I was genuinely interested in where the story was headed; I was no longer watching the series simply to do a job. What kept me interested in this franchise is how much Kishimoto developed both his characters and the world that they inhabit.

Kishimoto has done a fantastic job of “world building” by creating a cast of characters that viewers can identify with, and he has also worked at building an overarching story that’s very compelling. Probably one of the most obvious examples of identifiable characters is Naruto himself, due to how he’s been treated by his village over the years. I know that there have been times in my life where I’ve felt like I was alone and not understood by others, and I think a lot of people have had times like that, too. It’s really no wonder why the Naruto franchise has been very popular with a teenage audience.

As of this writing, I only have the final 28 episodes of the series, as well as two films, to watch in order to finish the main Naruto franchise. At this point, I can say that I really like the first Naruto series and most of Naruto Shippuden. However, I have found that during the final arc, it’s becoming readily apparent that the producers of the anime were doing everything in their power to get Naruto Shippuden to the 500-episode mark. The battle with Madara went on for way too long, thanks in large part to all the flashbacks and filler being inserted into the battle. And now that we have reached “the final boss battle,” it’s going much quicker, even with the sheer amount of episodes devoted to backstory that could just have easily been communicated through a few lines of dialogue. Even though I’m a little disappointed by how the ending is shaping up, I’m going to see this series through to the end since I’ve already dedicated a little over a decade to it.

Do I regret devoting all this time to Naruto? Absolutely not. What I enjoy about this series far outweighs the slight disappointment I’m feeling now that I’ve almost reached the end of the journey.

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