Anime 101: Naruto

Ben's back with another look at one of the most popular (and long-running) anime series going - Naruto.

Everyone who’s too busy/sensible to watch anime has certain preconceptions about it.

1) That series go on for hundreds of episodes.

2) To save money on animation, characters spend most episodes standing off against each other, and the recap from the previous episode takes up half of the new one.

3) Fights take about 30 episodes and involve characters going “Hahaha, you can never defeat me” and then releasing their super-secret move, only for their opponent to release a super duper secret move in a sort of daft haduken ping pong.

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Better break this to you gently: all of these clichés are true of Naruto. It’s a long running series (Mmore than 380 manga chapters and 250 TV episodes and counting) in which characters spend ages talking about how undefeatable they are, mwahaha, where’ve my arms gone, etc etc. But for some impenetrable reason, this is what makes it so addictive.

As with so many of the best things in life, Naruto is about ninjas. Here the twist is that they aren’t just capable of throwing shuriken stars accurately: ninjas use chakra to pull off magical techniques from creating carbon copies of themselves to summoning giant samurai frogs (awesome). It sounds like Pokémon, I know, but despite the child-friendly first couple of episodes, it gets much, much darker.

Naruto is a lonely trainee (and I know that makes him sound as if he works in Blockbuster) ninja of the Leaf Village shunned by his peers, for the perhaps understandable reason that he has a slightly mental and violent giant demon fox sealed up inside him. As he starts taking on missions he finds he has more friends than he counted on, but many more enemies too.

Coy maybe, but Naruto stands out for taking themes of friendship/honour and weaving them into an absolutely sprawling story filled with characters with intertwining backgrounds. It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that the intense rivalry between bumbling Naruto and talented-team-mate-with-serious-chip-on-shoulder Sasuke (whose whole family was slaughtered by his brother for shits and giggles) leads to something very dark indeed, but this is only part of the epic narrative.

Minor characters come to the fore, each with a well-fleshed out story (Old master Jiraiya, who Naruto names “Perverted Hermit”, being the best of them). The bad guys are always inventive, and you start to wonder what creator Masashi Kishimoto must have been taking the day he came up with some of them. Like Lord Voldemort crossed with Julian Clary, body-swapping Orochimaru is one of the creepiest villains in manga, though he’s not the only one in this vast universe.

But what’s the payoff for watching something so bloody long? It doesn’t cure cancer, but it’s as stylish as anime comes – the animation, voice acting and music are perfect, and it’s rare for something so long running to have a consistent, complex plot. And it only takes a few weeks to get up to date on it, honest. You’ll either thank or hate me for it.

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Last time on Anime 101, Ben brought us up to date on Fist of the North Star. Find it here.