[Manga review] Sayonara, Naruto.

[This post is done as part of GaCoWriMo, my own personal twist to NaNoWriMo.]

This past week, the long-running, mega-popular Naruto manga series finally came to an end.

True, the anime has some ways to go, and there’s going to be a movie coming out set after the manga‘s ending, with a short new manga series next year featuring the next generation of characters, but this is the finish line for the main original manga series. And what a race it’s been.

My first bite of the fishcake

I first hopped on the Naruto bandwagon about the time the Shippuden anime series started. Before then, I had subsisted on a diet of Prince of Tennis (which was ending) and Bleach. Wanting more, I had decided to try on this plucky little ninja story everyone raved to me about. After all, what was not to love about ninja with powers?

Starting with the anime, I quickly devoured the series, switching over to the manga when the infamous 100-plus-episode filler “arc” kicked in. Before long, it became my favourite series and I spent many a week eagerly awaiting the new release of each chapter.

Naruto manga: the Review

Of course, trying to review such a long series is a pretty daunting, if not downright impossible, task. An S-rank mission, if you would. Spanning several years and hundreds of chapters, the series has had, of course, both ups and downs. Still, some things remain consistent throughout (or as consistent as I can see with my rose-tinted glasses from this end).

The characters are great, both in terms of diversity and how well they are fleshed out. The incredible numbers of characters that appear (and who do so frequently) throughout the series, replete with all sorts of different character traits and personality quirks, means that pretty much everyone would have a favourite. Of course, there’s also the fact that each character comes with their own power, often unique and interesting.

Plus, thanks to different storylines and situations letting characters show different sides of themselves, they’re more multi-dimensional, relatable (well, as relatable as ninja warriors in a semi-feudal Japan can be), and affable than, say, the flat Bleach pantheon or the utterly replaceable, inexplicably identical-looking cast of Fairy Tail.

Character growth, too, is done well. Naruto, for example, faces several defeats and often wins at first through sheer tenacity, luck or through the help of his friends. It’s only as the series progresses and he undergoes training then does he get a lot better on his own. Even then, plenty of other characters are still involved in his victories. This is in stark contrast to Bleach’s Ichigo who always saves the day by randomly acquiring a whole new level of power seemingly out of nowhere.

Pacing is done well too, both in terms of individual stories and in the general overarching series. Chapters often feature a mix of serious drama/fights, deftly peppered humour at just the right time. Each arc gets more epic than the previous, with the series ramping up to the fourth Shinobi World War, a fittingly grand and explosive end to the manga. This is in stark contrast to Fairy Tail’s non stop barrage of equally “epic” arcs, so much so that after a while they lose their oomph (half the time I can’t even remember what the premise of that arc is).

That’s not to say the series was perfect, of course. Some scenes and fights tend to drag on too long and the characters are prone to an incredible amount of mind-numbing philosophical preamble, even in the midst of supposedly fierce battles. The conclusion to the final arc, for example, went on for several more chapters than it needed to (although I guess this is pretty mild compared to the anime‘s ability to stretch the smallest of events up to what feels like half a decade).

Reviewing the last lap

While the arc as a whole was my favourite, there were several problematic portions. (SPOILER ALERT AHEAD! DON’T READ UNLESS YOU’VE FINISHED THE SERIES!)

The pacing of the final stretch was odd. The fight with Obito/Madara dragged on for so long but the fight with Kaguya, supposedly the most powerful warrior ever, ended so quickly. The final fight between Naruto and Sasuke, too, was disappointing – alternating between them spouting rhetoric and then lobbing their strongest attacks repeatedly at each other. Plus, I think it kind of irksome that Obito and Sasuke both got off so easily for their war crimes, especially the former who basically started the entire shebang and killed off like 80% of the population. All it took was an “eh, sorry” and some help rendered to absolve them of committing massacres?

The final final chapter (with a very Deathly Hallows, “decades in the future look” at the characters) was also a mixed ball. It’s nice to see that Masashi Kishimoto shipped NaruHina as much as apparently the entire fandom did but the Sasuke-Sakura pairing felt so contrived, since he spent pretty much the entire series (even in the final fight) rebuffing her. I mean, just because he came back to “the good side” doesn’t mean that he would automatically suddenly fall for her right? It felt like fanfiction, or Kishimoto’s fanservice thank you, more than anything else.

Conclusion

Despite my lengthy diatribe above, however, there were still many redeeming points to the final arc. There were many, many great fights (I especially loved the battles against the former Kage) and a grander feel than many other series’ endings I’ve come across.

At the end of the day, nitpicks aside, the quality of the series is overwhelmingly high (and I’m not just saying that because of nostalgia or to commemorate the end – I definitely won’t be saying the same things for Fairy Tail, for example).

Naruto has been a part of my life for the past decade and it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to all the characters I’ve come to know and love, even if I do think that the series is going out at the right time and with a big bang. Thank you for all the great times, Naruto. Until then (then being the upcoming movie, I guess), sayonara.

ps. Although I have already said too much a lot about the series in this one post, I’ll be doing several posts in the coming week to commemorate the manga. Keep your eyes peeled for my favourite Naruto characters, my favourite Naruto powers, and a (hopefully shorter) discussion on the manga vs. the anime!

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