I rarely ever talk about anime that isn’t Konosuba and even that is usually just mentioned, and yes I realize I’ve talked about Dragon Ball Super before, but on Thursday Japan and CrunchyRoll aired the last episode of Naruto Shippuden, and therefore the last episode of the Naruto series in general. If I were ever to really talk about Naruto, I think the first thing I’d say is that I don’t consider myself a large Naruto fan, but it was still a major part of my life when I was just getting into anime. And hey kids, before I get further into this article, I might as well usher a warning. This is an article about Naruto. It’s about to get real nerdy and if this isn’t your jam, you should probably leave…or at least make a drinking game out of how many times you read the word, Naruto.
So back when I was twelve or eleven, Toonami started to air Naruto, and, to me, an anime about ninja was amazing. I remember sitting around with a few friends and watching the first episode, hearing the American opening for the anime (which is actually better than the first Japanese OP).
Looking at this OP again, wow it spoiled a ton of stuff. Anyways, at first I was a bit iffy on it and didn’t really like it much. Naruto seemed too over animated and hyper, I didn’t quite like that they never showed Naruto’s full eyes during the start of the series (because they were trying to draw parallels between him and being foxlike), and it didn’t really get all that action oriented. But then the Zabuza arc started. I liked it more. Action became a thing (in the earlier episodes it was more comedy oriented and translating Japanese humor to American wasn’t that great, and I hadn’t really watched much anime yet, so I didn’t have a taste for Japanese humor yet.). Naruto video games were released. I played way too much Naruto: Clash of Ninja, my friends and I would spend our weekends playing. I was on a steady pace with it. I started watching other anime, and understood that Dragon Ball Z, Pokémon, Digimon, Yu Yu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin, Sailor Moon, Beyblade, Yu-Gi-Oh, and other series I had been watching were anime.
Sidenote: Though all of those series are anime, it didn’t have the feel that other anime I would later watch had. And it’s probably due to the appeal to Americans and the point that it was integrated into so many people’s lives at a young age that it never felt foreign to me or others my age. We simply saw them as cartoons. Only as I got older and ventured into non-mainstream anime did I start to feel a dichotomy.
So for a while I had watched Naruto and the Zabuza arc started to hook me in, but it wasn’t until the Chunin Exam arc that I started to consider myself a fan of Naruto and of really anime itself. I mean the opening for that arc, though it aired in America, was in Japanese. It was Asian Kung Fu Generation’s “Haruka Kanata”. I learned how to sing it, and a good eleven years later I still remember some of the lyrics (which while writing this line the only thing I feel is shame, but when I was twelve or so I didn’t understand the stigma of being an American anime fan).
This was my shift from “Nerd that could be converted back to a normal person” to “Forever Shame. You Are Super Nerd. There is no going back.” I mean to say that Naruto was my Saturday ritual was an understatement. I would sit down in my living room (I slept in my living room even though I had a room. I just liked my living room more.), I’d eat dinner, I’d sing the Naruto opening with the TV, and just react to the episode. “Barrage” became a part of my vocabulary during that arc because our two central characters, Naruto and Sasuke, used techniques that ended with the word, “barrage” (Lion’s Barrage and Naruto Uzumaki Barrage). I wanted to get Naruto ninja headbands. I asked my parents for manga and started understanding that I was playing and wanted to continue playing JRPGs. I started making references to Naruto and other anime, and for a moment when going about school work I’d compare myself to some of the cast. Um… an embarrassing example of cast comparison would be during seventh grade. In middle school I was a smart kid, straight A’s, but there was a test I got a B on—it was for an English class. And of course I felt some type of way about that, and kept saying that I was like Sasuke and I’d get my revenge by getting a higher grade next time. Thinking back to that moment sometimes makes me want to grab a time machine and stop myself from watching Pokémon in kindergarten. Anyways…I learned about anime conventions and started to expand my taste in anime (though it was really shit taste). It was a shift for me, not only in my own aesthetic but in the way my parents understood me.
For some reason I’ve noticed that with parents who have anime fan children, unless they too enjoyed anime when they were younger, there’s a larger gap of difficulty in understanding their children’s interests. For some reason anime is just too much of an obstacle for parents. Other things like playing video games or being a general dumbass was easier for my parents and friends’ parents to understand because it was it could simply be pinned to an upgrade in technology and kids being kids, but anime was different. It was a cultural shift. And in a way as I, maybe this was just me, got deeper into anime, I felt more alienated from my parents—and it started to be the same way with “normal” kids. Though this is really just a tangential observation and not at all part of my goodbye to Naruto.
Anyways I kept watching Naruto up until the end of the Sasuke Retrival Arc, which I’m not gonna lie. It’s a really good arc. My friends from middle school and I watched it and yelled and we all sided with Naruto during the Naruto versus Sasuke battle.
But when I got into high school, I became friends with more anime fans, and they had more expansive tastes. They didn’t really like Naruto all that much—likened it to trash after the Zabuza arc. So for a while I stayed away from the sequel anime Naruto Shippuden. I would sometimes check up on the manga and read if a really dope arc was happening, but other than that I didn’t really touch Naruto during high school. I think I wanted to not be seen as a kid with shit taste (even though I was and still am and you are too).
So let’s fast forward to college when I went back to having basic friends with basic anime palates. I still wasn’t touching the anime, but I was fine with playing the video games and reading the manga, though I still felt shame from it. I noticed when reading the manga, I would call it trash, but still read it. When anyone saw me reading the manga, I’d give excuses and say that I just felt an obligation to read and deny any connection to die hard Naruto fans (Narutards). But in a way, this became a shift for me. Before acknowledging that the manga (and therefore the show) wasn’t the greatest and realizing its flaws, I could only allow favoritism to carry all the points rather than taking an critique into account, but this was my chance to both like something and know that it was deeply flawed. And yes, Naruto is deeply flawed. As a twelve year old I couldn’t notice it, but as a nineteen through (now) twenty three year old, I could realize how problematic the series was in its plot and character development and Sasuke’s plot was good and then very nonsensical from a character standpoint and side characters essentially were cast off after like four arcs of Shippuden (this is also quite evident in Naruto games too). But now I’m at a point where I won’t deny my love for the series. If anything it was my jump off to other anime.
But back to the topic on hand, on Thursday Japan aired the last episode of the Naruto Shippuden series and therefore the entire Naruto series itself. And while watching the last episode, which was different from the last chapter of the manga, I couldn’t help to feel some emotions. I enjoyed that the anime decided to be cyclical in nature.
Though the series turns into an epic ninja battle anime focused upon a strained, and quite dangerous, friendship between Naruto and Sasuke, the series starts with a boy wanting to be accepted by society and receiving that acceptance from his teacher. In the last episode, though our protagonist is now a hero and beloved by everyone, we return to that moment to that same sentiment of our once alienated protagonist receiving that acceptance from his teacher (the teacher agrees to be Naruto’s father at his wedding). And for a moment I yelled out, “I’m not crying. You’re crying!” even though I indeed was. And though I’d call my relationship with the series Naruto complicated at best, it was sad to see it go, because during childhood I once resonated with that alienated boy. Anyways…I leave you with the second most badass fight of the series. Later days.