Rediscovering the Ninja Spirit – Boruto: Naruto the Movie

This review is part of Ogiue Maniax’s New York Comic Con 2015 coverage. Major spoilers for the Naruto anime/manga and minor spoilers for Boruto: Naruto the Movie are included.

Once upon a time, I was a huge fan of Naruto. Having both read the manga and seen the anime from the very beginning, I can still remember what got me hooked onto the series in the first place. The rich world of competing ninja villages provided the space for elaborate and creative battles. The fact that every character, hero or villain or somewhere in between, had their own stories and their own pasts that shaped who they are made it so that Naruto could be so many things to so many people. I wanted explore their society, to imagine what powers and characters would appear next. I have many fond memories of Naruto that can be best summed up by the fact that, even if he was never among my favorite characters, Uzumaki Naruto himself embodied not only a sense of tragedy but also the drive and empathy to move forward and help those who are similarly lost.

At some point, however, I fell off the Naruto fan wagon. Sure, I still enjoyed it to an extent, and I more or less kept track of what was going on, but I found that the continuously escalating power creep of shounen manga and the ever-growing and unwieldy cast just made Naruto feel as if it had lost focus. I don’t mean that it didn’t know where it was going, but rather that when the series became chapter after chapter of gigantic, virtually city-sized attacks, those humble beginnings of Naruto and his companions trying to navigate their world got lost in the shuffle.

This is why I actually enjoyed Boruto: Naruto the Movie so much. It felt like a return to the foundations of what made Naruto great, yet also does not deny all of the artistic and narrative development that happened since then, power levels and all. It encapsulates Naruto and eternal friend/enemy/rival Uchiha Sasuke’s growth by showing how they pass their experience on to the next generation.

At the start of the Boruto, it’s been many years since Naruto saved the world. Naruto’s son is Boruto, whose mother is Hyuuga Hinata (who is my favorite Naruto character). Unlike Naruto, who was an orphan and shunned by his community due to housing the fox spirit, Boruto must deal with the fact that his father is the world’s greatest celebrity. Naruto, who has since fulfilled his dream of being Hokage, is so busy that this leaves little time for Naruto to be a father, and Boruto lashes out against that. Understanding between father and son, as well as the value of hard work, are ultimately the main themes of the film.

When I say that Boruto feels like a return to the Naruto of old without shunning what it became, what I mean is that it really captures a sense of the inner struggles of its characters within their elaborate world of ninja fantasy, while also communicating the passage of time perhaps better than the manga itself ever did. For the younger generation, it gives a strong sense of what motivates each and every character, while remaining sharp and complete as a story. For the older generation, one can feel the developments, through their interactions and especially through the fighting, that brought these familiar faces to where they are now. Rather than being in the haze of hundreds of chapters or episodes, the movie conveys just how much these characters have grown over the years, both within their universe and as characters in a work of fiction. When Naruto harnesses his ultimate powers, what jumps out is the sense of hard work, pain, and joy that led him to this point.

While Naruto has always been a story of generations, particularly the young both surpassing and learning from the old, a story dedicated to exploring the relationship between father and son is something new to the series. Sure, there was the arc where Naruto finally meets his father, among other examples, but for the most part Naruto is generally a manga and anime where parents’ legacies are more important than the parents themselves, who are either dead or in the background. Naruto was an orphan, Sasuke’s parents were murdered by his own brother, Sakura’s folks were still alive but hardly relevant. Now, not only is it Naruto and Hinata with children of their own, but most of the rest of the characters as well, and it’s a joy to see the direct connection between generations play out in greater detail.

I watched Boruto as part of the 2015 New York Comic Con, which, much to the delight of Naruto fans, invited Naruto creator Kishimoto Masashi and Naruto voice actress Takeuchi Junko as guests. During his first interview of two, Kishimoto mentioned that he had remained true to his vision for the ending (which he came up with back in 2009), one where Naruto ultimately saves Sasuke from himself. Looking back, it made me realize just what Kishimoto had been going for at a point when Naruto as a story seemed to be getting crushed by the perils of long serialization (Naruto ran for 18 years). There was a point in the manga when it seemed to transform into the Sasuke Show, that it was it turn doomed to a fate of meandering and directional changes. Now, I realize that it was meant to show Sasuke’s descent into darkness so that Naruto could be the light that guides him out of it, but again, within that long weekly shounen struggle it’s all too easy to lose sight of the overall context.

In contrast, Boruto suffers no such issues, and that helps it stand out in a significant way. The movie keeps at a fine pace in spite of the gigantic cast of characters. It would be all too easy to falter by showing too many characters doing too many things, but this is really Boruto’s story in the end, and it’s a satisfying and heartfelt one.

The last thing I want to say is that, at certain points in the movie, I was on the verge of tears. Thinking back, I recall the same thing happening upon seeing the tragic story of Zabuza and Haku, Naruto’s first real antagonists, play out beautifully. It was at that point all those years ago when I realized that Naruto was something special, and Boruto feels very similar. A part of me, the part that remembers what it was like to first discover Naruto and to be fascinated by its world, would like the story of Uzumaki Boruto to go on, but overall I would be fine if this ends up being Naruto‘s swan song.

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4 thoughts on “Rediscovering the Ninja Spirit – Boruto: Naruto the Movie

  1. Well said, Ogiue!!

    I used to follow the Naruto manga religiously in Shonen Jump back in the day, but lost track of it some time ago due to the same reasons you did: the power creep and meandering. Wondering what the next big shonen epic will be since both Naruto and Bleach are done?

    Like

    • Shounen Jump would love to know, that’s for sure!

      I’m a bit sad that the Jump internal competition between series is so merciless. So many good series were cut short because they didn’t get that immediate support.

      Like

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