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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Naruto (2002 - 2007). 220 episodes

Overall verdict: 5/10

The Good: original premise, likable characters, decent development of main cast

The Bad: relies too much on "tried and tested" narrative, over the top acting, gets convoluted with too many supporting characters, mediocre animation that often dips below par.

Current Availability Status: On DVD locally from "Blue Max Pte Ltd"


So much promise, all wasted when a production team gets cold feet and decide to "play it safe".

Adapted from the long running shonen jump manga of the same name, Naruto presented a rather original premise, a potential for a great story and tons of action. In a fantasy world where magically powered ninjas rule, one boy strives to an ambitious young boy named Naruto Uzumaki dreams of becoming the next Hokage (the head ninja who rules the village). What he lacks in talent and brains, he makes up with his stubborn determination and optimistic enthusiasm despite being shunned as a social outcast for the most of his childhood. Now Along with his friends, the stoic Sasuke Uchiha, the hot headed Sakura Haruno and their eccentric teacher Kakashi, Naruto is dead set on the road to greatness. Many difficult trials await this unlikely quartet including the criminal organisation "Akatsuki", the evil rival village leader "Orochimaru" and numerous new characters they meet on their journeys. All the while they must train for their ninja exams and learn to be more than just a team. But young Naruto himself holds a dark secret for sealed within his form is the ancient power of the nine-tailed demon fox that ravaged the village many years ago.

Definitely fascinating, but where Naruto fails it is in its execution of the story premise.
Instead of banking on originality, the creative team decided to go with what has worked in the past. In other words, do not be surprised when you end up saying to yourself "hey this is exactly like *insert name of another show here*".

Whatever "originality" there was went flying out the window. One can easily compare Naruto-"I wanna be the Hokage"-Uzumaki to so many typical kid anime characters like Ash Ketchum, Goku(from the original Dragonball), Monkey D-"Gonna be the king of the pirates"-Luffy and the list just goes on. The Further we get into the show, the more typical anime staples get thrown into the mix. .
All The other characters are not original concepts either. They all fall into typical anime stereotypes than one can find in any "guide to making your own anime characters" book. By the end of everything, the only thing original left is the bizarre world in which this story takes place.

Now "originality" is a very debatable subject. After all, if the audience are used to what they like, giving them what they like all the time would guarantee a stable viewership as opposed to risking viewer ratings by trying new things. The problem with Naruto is that it handles its narrative aspects very clumsily. The writers' excuse for "character development" is to merely slap on some tragic back-story in order to make the audience "feel" for a character. As the number of new characters grow and swell, the writers must have discovered that characters with tragic pasts are more well liked by the audience and as a result soon every other character is given some form of tragic childhood or some old grudge or worse.
Such things devalue the concept of drama making sad scenes look like they were put in place to milk a cheap tear from the audience.

To Naruto's credit, this anime sees a few of the main characters grow both mentally and physically as well as learn a couple of life lessons along the way. It also boasts a good mix of dark and lighthearted elements, drama, tragedy, comedy, adventure etc. Too bad the director handled the mix of genre so badly. The comedy is misplaced, more silly than funny, coming in at the most inappropriate of moments and The drama feels forced at times. Not helping matters is the way the seiyuus(japanese voice actors) ham it up like they're at some high school stage play. Almost every role is over-acted; when they are supposed to sob, they bawl a big boo-hoo river. When they're supposed to talk loudly, they scream. Emoting is essential but when it is overly done to such extremes in Naruto, it just makes the supposedly emotionally charged scenes come across as unrealistic. Naruto and Sasuke are horribly miscast; Naruto's female seiyuu never tries to add that boyish gruff to her voice leading Naruto to sound more feminine than other female characters and sasuke sounds exactly like a forty year old man. The english and chinese voice acting fares no better choosing to mimic the over the top nature of the japanese voices.

Animation is standard TV series fare with many short cuts and budget saving techniques. Once in a while there is the "better than usual" fight scene but those instances are few and far in between. Overall, the show has an unimpressive and inconsistent look.

Kids love junk food and Naruto is to anime what the calorie loaded, pimple causing double cheeseburger is to food. This is your typical everyday garden variety shonen adventure/action series wrapped in a new skin but with slightly better character development. Whether one adores the main character's sense of optimism and "never say die" attitude or hates his obnoxious outlook on life and stubborn demeanor, it boils down to personal preference. Too bad for its less-than-mediocre animation, over-reliance on "sob stories" and the usual shonen action anime staples like long draggy fights and constant "powering up".

Inconsistent from start to finish, Naruto recieves a lot more fanfare and praise than it really deserves but it is slightly enjoyable no less and will keep the more juvanile ones happy for the time being.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you like the typical fun action/adventure style shonen series, flaws and all.
Avoid it: if you want to spend your time watching better stuff since Naruto has 220 episodes which is going to take a long time to get through.

Entertainment: B
Story: B-
Characters: C
Animation: C-
Art: C-
Voice work (japanese): B
Voice work (english USA): B-
Voice work (chinese): C
Replay Value: C+
"Brains": C-

Naruto prepares to drop a poop bomb
Meet the team. Sakura, Sasuke, Naruto and Master Kakashi

I've got my eye on you.......
Scary looking Kakashi stare


The true meaning behind the phrase "up yours"
The show's lack of art detail(notice the lastily sketched trees) is apalling

"Balls to that!"

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