In Defense of Naruto

Naruto is a shounen manga like so many others, yet it still holds a special place in my spiritual pantheon of anime that I’ve watched heart, and out of the more modern fare it still remains my overall favorite shounen manga. It can be very easy to dismiss the entirety of Naruto on some lackluster parts, but the other day I was reminded about why I liked Naruto in the first place.

I was taking the bus home, and I began to think back to when I was more of a Naruto fan, when I kept up with it fairly religiously, when I looked at the forums to see what people thought of the latest chapter/episode. Naturally, there are scenes in Naruto which stuck out in my mind, and chief among them was the battle between Naruto and Gaara during the invasion of Konoha. And as I thought about it, I felt myself almost moved to tears by the themes of that encounter, by the sheer emotion of it all built upon the past histories of their two characters.

During the fight, Naruto looks into Gaara’s eyes, but where all others see only murder and insanity, Naruto sees past the surface and comes to the realization that Gaara’s eyes are those of crippling loneliness. More importantly, those eyes were an all too familiar sight to Naruto, who saw them in the mirror every day while growing up. In this one moment, Naruto displays an incredible sense of empathy, and his mission, his purpose changes, from simply defeating Gaara to save the village, to defeating him in order to prove that a solitary life ridden by overwhelming loneliness can only get you so far. Gaara was no longer simply an enemy, but rather the person who understood Naruto the most.

Naruto is an easy character to criticize with all of his hollering and frequent displays of incompetence. I can find myelf doing it sometimes too, but then I think back to the core of his character, that of the boy shunned by everyone around him for reasons out of his control, who desired above all else to be noticed and to be respected. While things have come a long way and Naruto has become a valued member of his own village, it’s still easy to see how this struggle still informs his character.

8 thoughts on “In Defense of Naruto

  1. Naruto would have been great if they truncated the thing a bit….

    oh, and more shikimaru (the main problem with naruto is naruto: why is he the main character considering the rest of the cast?) /runs

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  2. Among everyone I know who once watched or still watches the series, it is universally agreed that the reason to watch Naruto is all the various other supporting characters. Naruto himself is the biggest liability of the series.

    Perhaps it’s because he so masterfully embodies the default neo-shonen (spread the word and tell your friends!) protagonist template: he’s not very smart, he’s incredibly brash and arrogant despite not being very smart, and the manner in which he wins fights effectively boils down to the fact that he has the most hit points. Think of all the Naruto fights in which he just gets beaten down relentlessly by characters much more awesome than he is only to come back and land one single hit that makes him automatically win just because.

    The truly compelling heroes in Naruto are the guys like Rock Lee and Shikamaru who have to actually EARN their victories.

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  3. I remember finding the actual fight with Gaara a slight let-down, but it was a well judged piece of character opposition – which makes a change from cool shonen fights which just seem vaguely pointless. The bit where he drags himself along on his chin is a great example of a guy earning our admiration through crazily excessive stubbornness. The things which make him a hero are part of a coherent personality – which puts him ahead of many of his genre counterparts. A lack of nuances doesn’t make Naruto rubbish. Whatever problems there are in the series, it can be extremely good.

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  4. I might be alone on this, but I really do enjoy watching the filler episodes. They’re hilarious!! They also give the side characters some of the limelight too!

    I believe that, along with Bleach, Naruto is this decade’s DBZ: everybody has at least heard about it and the series is stupidly long. I also think that pretty much all really long anime have the awesome side characters that everyone roots for.

    When I watch long anime, I root for Rock Lee and Might Guy (Naruto), Ryoga and the Principal (Ranma 1/2), Uryū and Rukia (Bleach), etc. Sure, those guys might be considered “main characters”, but they’re always in the shadows of the title character.

    TheAndySan
    http://www.theandysan.com

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  5. I’ll agree that there are times where Naruto really does shine (the end of the Gaara vs Naruto fight is one of those moments as it was masterfully composed, and had a thematic climax of the similarties between the two characters. The Rock Lee subplot does it for me too, I really do like how that guy fights against adversity.). The problem is that Naruto is filled with so much pure bullshit, and wastes so much time with Shonen anime time wasters that the few scenes of value aren’t worth it.

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  6. I have watched the anime since the begining, I toughed it out through the filler arc and have enjoyed the new series, though I feel the quality and intensity of the combat scenes has diminished over time. That being said I have one thing to get of my chest.

    If I hear one more blathering melodramatic Naruto soliloquy about loneliness and friendship I may just leap through the screen and strangle the whiney little turd. Christ, they’ve beat that dead horse so much that by now I’m certain all that’s left is a fine paste.

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  7. Pingback: Rediscovering the Ninja Spirit – Boruto: Naruto the Movie | OGIUE MANIAX

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