Naruto, Vol. 01: The Tests of the Ninja by Masashi Kishimoto
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Naruto is probably one of the most popular manga/anime that has enjoyed success, and it is very easy to see why. In the character of Naruto we have someone who refuses to give up on his dreams. Someone who is not a genius, but rather a normal person that comes to be a genius through hard work. Naruto, throughout this story, grits his teeth and never give up.
In the face of fellow Ninja, such as Sasuke or Neji, you know, actual genius's, Naruto is able to hold his own.
However, there is a fundamental issue with this little cliche. See, fantasy of any type is usually pretty cookie-cutter. Saving the world from an evil wizard with a magic sword that the farm boy inherited from his long lost relative is pretty standard stuff. Everyone knows at least one book of the sort. This alone does not mean that Naruto is bad. If you can put an interesting spin or have a unique vision then any cliche can become a classic.
The problem with Naruto is not what makes it like other things, it is what the author uses to try to set it apart.
In both Naruto and it's squeal manga we are often presented with issues of killing, or hate, of pain, and of belonging. Some of these issues are handled decently. In fact, I'd say that the parallel but separate paths that Sasuke and Naruto follow are interesting and handled very well.
However, Naruto early on declares that he will not kill. This isn't a huge issue, though it is strange as you would think that, due to the fact he lives in a society where his chosen profession dictates that killing is necessary, he would have been raised and come to understand that to kill is necessary and, perhaps, honorable. Still, if that was not the way the world was created then fine, I suppose it is vague enough to be up for speculation. The real issue, however, is that, unlike Trigun where there is a psychology and reason behind the characters inability to kill, Naruto seems to decide against such a thing simply because he his a child and does not understand.
This would be fine if they treated the decisions that Naruto and Co made as child-like. But no, they treat them as if they are law. Naruto is not progressing and maturing, but rather shaping the world to fit his philosophy. In some ways that is the point. The protagonist is supposed to try and shape the world, however, for the world to not really affect them or change them, well, that's another issue.
On top of that, Naruto's ban on killing does not seem to really ever be an issue. There are times when a hero must face things that are unpleasant and transgress what they believe is right. It is in those times the mettle of the hero is tested and they are changed and shaped. To put it simply, the journey should change the hero by the end, if it does not then you have done something wrong.
Further, Naruto lacks maturity as a manga. Characters die but it does not feel as though the death is significant. For a specific instance there is the death of Neji toward the end. When he dies it does not hold impact. This is due to an issue of character development that plagues the story. Not one character is three-dimensional throughout the entirety of the manga and that is a big problem.
Now, to put this in perspective, a manga like Dragonball Z, which I enjoy, is much better, Yes, the story is just basically people fighting and the themes are not always deep or meaningful. However, the comedy works well and it does not bother bogging itself down with pseudo-philosophy. Instead we focus on the actions of our characters.
Whereas in Dragonball Z we have the character of Vegeta, prideful, arrogant, and often times a total dick, we see that he can rise above these traits. And we do SEE them. When Trunks is nearly killed we see Vegeta react, not talk about reacting. When Vegeta realizes that he loves his wife and child and wishes to protect the earth and his home, he puts aside his pride and blows himself up in an act of redemption.
Vegeta, in the story of Dragonball Z, is a constantly changing character. One who has many sides and evolves because the events of the story shape him, not the other way around.
On the Naruto side we have Sasuke, a character that is very similar. Sasuke, however, only goes further and further into the darkness, embracing his inner emo. Sasuke is defined by his pride and hatred and little else, making him flat and tiring.
Overall, Naruto can be fun, I suppose, but as far as its popularity and the love it gets from fans, well, all I can say is that Naruto is offensive in terms of its plotting and characterization and, aside from the action, which can be fun, there is little that really makes this an enjoyable experience, but at least it's over.
View all my reviews or you can buy Naruto here: Naruto, Vol. 1: Uzumaki Naruto
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