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Given the voracity of the backlash against the "not-so-bad" rating that Naruto received upon initial viewing by a fellow reviewer, I am certain that many readers eagerly anticipate a reviewer that, upon broader viewing (or even being of dissimilar gender from the original critic), will vindicate their pristine opinion of this title. Unfortunately you, the reader, are stuck with me. While I don't think poorly of this title by any stretch of the imagination, the buzz pervading Naruto is plainly more hype than substance.
So where does the hype begin you ask? Right off the bat. From the very beginning of episode one this title more or less pronounces itself to be of the cookie-cutter Shonen Jump variety, and only a somewhat above average one at that. The character for which the show is named, Naruto, is quickly introduced, and even before the end of the first episode the viewer is completely aware of the ultimate direction of the plot: Naruto will someday become the strongest ninja of his village and receive the highly coveted title of Hokage. But knowing the end of the plotline isn't as much of a killjoy as one would expect. It is the ride that counts after all. However, in the case of Naruto the ride is tantamount to that of an old, wooden roller coaster: sometimes thrilling and often nostalgic, yet still quite a bit rickety and easily outdone in terms of excitement and quality.
The characters, like the plot, are mostly OK while being admittedly cliched. Uzumaki Naruto, our primary character, is much like the leads of many of the most popular fight-styled anime. Like Goku (of Dragon Ball fame), Naruto is headstrong, motivated (mostly to become stronger), and cares deeply about his comrades. Like Yuusuke (of Yu Yu Hakusho fame), Naruto is rambunctious, brash, and a bit of a slacker. Despite his being particularly formulaic, Naruto at least combines the finer qualities of his predecessors. Such can not be said of his archrival Sasuke, a figure for whom blandness knows no depth. In fact, many of the characters fall somewhere in-between Sasuke's blandness and Naruto's charisma and coolness. You will come to care for the cast of Naruto for sure, just not at any deep or meaningful level.
The animation, much like the characterization and plotting, is spotty. At times great while at other times shoddy, the quality of the animation here lacks any real consistency. During the arcs in which the animation is still on the minds of the animators, the viewer is treated to a fluid frame-rate and artistic renderings that leave little to be desired on the part of fans of the manga. Nevertheless, when the animation is bad it is painful. At these times the once faithful renderings degrade to craptastic levels. It is as if you can feel the framerates slipping before your very eyes. Like most aspects thus far examined, the animation of Naruto is a mixed bag indeed.
It is perhaps a bit unfair though to judge a fight/action anime based upon factors such as characterization and plotting. True to its genre, it is in fight/action scenes that Naruto receives is highest accolades, though that isn't saying a whole hell of a lot. Despite very wide employment, the fight scenes manage to remain remarkably fresh. With such a large extended cast, invigorating and unique fighting styles/techniques manage to continuously infuse action sets with life. Additionally, the background music manages to add some tension to these scenes quite effectively. There are some negative aspects to the action sets however. One is the overemployment of certain special techniques, particularly Naruto's Shadow Clone technique, a move in which he creates multiple clones of himself. When a character uses the same move over and over and over and . . . well, things get bland and repetitive. Another detriment is that the sheer number of fights impedes the potency of plotting. Still, the combat stages are pretty intense and there are plenty of scenes for action fans to get pumped about.
How one feels about Naruto probably depends, in good part, on their anime viewing mileage. As a person that has been watching anime for a decade and a half, there isn't too much here that I haven't seen done better elsewhere. However, it has managed to get better as it progresses. Although uneven in most aspects, this show is a good introductory title that will likely bring many newcomers into the fold of anime fandom.
In closing, Naruto, while being better than worse without a doubt, doesn't quite succeed in being as mind-blowing as the hype-machine would have you believe.
This anime volleys between a two-star and a four-star feature depending upon your anime viewing mileage and how easily you can stomach an anime so action laden. If you are relatively new to anime and a fan of DragonBall Z and YuYu Hakusho, it is a four-star feature. Otherwise, this is a three-star series at best. — Derrick L Tucker
Recommended Audience: Preteens and up, due to some occasionally graphic violence (toned down from the manga), nongraphic nudity played for laughs, and occasional potty humor.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Partial (72/220)
Naruto © 2002 Kishimoto Masashi / Scott / Shueisha / TV Tokyo / Studio Pierrot
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