Finally! After 15 long years, we come to the end of Naruto. Actually, it’s been over a month, I just didn’t have the time to read it until now. Sorry… Well, In the early 2000s, if you were an otaku, you could not escape this manga. It was huge, it was the new Dragon Ball, it was going to be the greatest example to be copied by every single Shonen Manga to come in the decades to follow it. In the end, though, should we still keep any good memory of the “Blond ninja in an orange jumpsuit”?
To be fair, I think we should. There is so much hate for this story that talking good stuff about it feels like a dangerous place to be. I mean, the series still has a lot of fans, but in the past few years, Naruto was about to become the Twilight of the manga world, if Bleach didn’t get there first, and to be honest, looking the manga as whole, it has a lot of bad for what good it kept to the end.But in it’s early arcs, Naruto was actually a great Shonen. I would say one of the best examples of a shonen manga ever. I had stopped reading it for almost two years and wanted to remember why I still liked the series to get momentum and go all the way. Reading the good parts again was so much fun! I mean, everything was so well placed.The manga tells the tale of Uzumaki Naruto, a boy who dreams about becoming the greatest ninja of his village. But his life is not a happy one. He is hated by almost everyone in the country and the first chapter shows us that he is an orphan, who tries really hard to get people to notice him. It is easy to empathise with the protagonist because he is a flawed kid, but we can understand his flaws going through his sad start.And the best of it is that he is not a boy who lets himself down. He takes that sadness to heart and tries really hard to overcome it. What makes this protagonist so good is the fact that he gets so much character development. Naruto starts as a kid who can’t do anything but annoy others for attention. He is super weak. Everybody mocks him all the time, still he never gives in and always finds a way to do what he needs. The scene that defines Naruto the best for me is not his super powerfull jutsus, is a talk he has with his opponent after a centain fight:Neji says, after being defeated by Naruto in a fight that no one ever considered he could lose, that his mistake was forgeting about the bunshins Naruto uses. It is his signature move, after all. Naruto then remember us that this was actually his worst jutsu. He failed the ninja exam with this jutsu twice. We see him using a more powerful version of it all the time, so we forget that when he learned the shadow clone jutsu, he still sucked at it. He didn’t beat all his opponents just because of his big amount of energy, he actually does learn how to use it better, with new and creative ways as the series goes. And that is the strogest part of this manga in my opinion. Naruto has a ton of character development, not only on the way he goes from the sad and ignored kid to the villages’ savior. Everybody jokes about the “new look for rasengan”, I do it too, but there aren’t that many series that show the protagonist trainning and learning as many new stuff as the story goes.And a lot of characters have good arcs in this manga. The main issue is that not all characters evolved in a good way. Yes, it is time to talk about the big elephant in the room. Sasuke, the rival and “best friend” of Naruto ended up being one of the most hated manga characters of all time. And I am no exception on that hate. But again, I think he wasn’t bad at the beginning. At all.
Yes, I think that even Sasuke was a very cool character. SASUKE!! He is the downfall of the series, and he was cool! A cocky character, yes, arrogant even, but he was well written, with interesting elements and some very good moments. He starts as a lone wolf who doesn’t give a crap for who this Naruto is. He evolves to someone who sees him as colleague. Then as a friend and as a rival. After that… yeah, there was a very bad twist in the character’s story. Kishimoto should have done Sasuke much like Miyata from Hajime no Ippo.For those who don’t know Hajime no Ippo, Miyata starts seeing the protagonist, Ippo, as a nuisance. When they become rivals, he wants to fight on equal grounds. Then, he sees Ippo as even superior than himself. He doesn’t whine at all. He swallows his pride and goes all the way to Thailand to practice on a hard enviroment, with no fanbase support, so he can face his rival as an equal again in the future. Sasuke, runs from his village because he gets an easy power upgrade promise after seeing the new powers of Naruto. I wonder why so many people disliked him after all…Basically, when he got his own group and arc, everything that had anything to do with him, became way worse. Sasuke ended up as a horrible character. When he tries to go back at the end, it is too little too late and he just ends up like an ass who got out too easy with the stuff he did.Believe it or not, Sasuke is not the main reason why I got so tired of the series. I think Kishimoto did him very badly, but the real issue I had was the fact that I don’t think the author is very good at handling female characters. Don’t get me wrong, he creates good ones, but they get so little development as the series advances, and most of them end up being just the girl who likes someone. If you don’t have a penis, chances are you are not going to get too far in this ninja business.In a series that I believe the development of the characters, as far as shonen battle mangas go, is the best asset, the most female characters get one or two good moments. Sakura is probably the worst case, since she is the one with more stage time. She should have a very good set up: Naruto was the energetic raw power, Sasuke the polished well balanced star and Sakura would be the smart girl. She should be a weaker fighter who made for it with brains and strategy. Soon she became the girl who cuts her hair to save the friends. Shikamaru literally stole the smart one position from her and Sakura is remembered ever since as the annoying girl nobody likes… Kishimoto tries to make her strong later, but it was so lame to make her super strong that I kinda ignored the effort.In the end, the truth is that it became very hard to keep being a Naruto fan. I still hold the before-shipuuden arcs as some of the best examples of how to do a shonen battle manga I’ve ever seen. Strong willed protagonist, good main group with diferent roles, flawed characters with lots of space and potencial to grow and develop to become stronger. Do I question the critics it gets? No! I even agree with most of it. But I hear a lot of people talking as if there was nothing to like in this manga, and in my opinion Naruto just ended up being an inconsistent series, the goods were very good and the bads were awful. I would not recomend the entire 15 years worth of reading, but the start of the series was so good that it saddens me to see the difference between what I expected and what I got. I would say, read the first few books and, if you like it enough, try going from there.