Reviewed by: Anonymous

February 07, 2008

Rating: four-point-five

The Japanese anime Naruto relates the story of an outcast young boy named Naruto Uzumaki dwelling in the Hidden Leaf Village. In the earliest episodes of the anime we are only given to understand that Naruto is much-despised by his fellow villagers, although much of his past is shrouded in uncertainty. He studies, as do many of the village children, at the ninja academy. Initially introduced to viewers under the tutelage of Iruka Umino, Naruto is something of a misfit and a prankster, although Iruka sensei is one of the few people to actually care for and about Naruto.

As the story progresses it is revealed that some years in the past, the Hidden Leaf Village was attacked by a Nine-Tailed Demon Fox that was able to wreak havoc with the forces of nature. The village leader, the Fourth Hokage was able subdue the Demon Fox at great personal cost. He did so by sealing the spirit of the Demon Fox into the body of a baby boy - the eponymous Naruto - and in the process he lost his own life. The Hidden Leaf Villagers are aware of the sacrifice that their leader has made, and what he has done with the spirit of the Demon Fox. However, instead of respecting that which the Fourth Hokage had done and his wishes that they ultimately treat the child Naruto as a hero, the villagers despise and resent Naruto. Thus the focus of many of the early episodes of the anime is Naruto's desire to gain love and attention.

Failing that for much of his early life, Naruto focuses on the goal of becoming Hokage, leader of the Hidden Leaf Village. After failing the final examination at the ninja academy on multiple occasions, he is finally able to secure a passing grade and move on to more advanced levels of training. He is then assigned to study with Kakashi Hatake on a ninja team with Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno. As the series progresses, a rivalry emerges between Naruto and Sasuke with Sasuke having the upper hand at first, as a member of the powerful Uchiha clan.

The overarching story line for the Naruto series relates to a renegade ninja by the name of Orochimaru who desires to destroy the Hidden Leaf Village. Orochimaru was once a pupil of the Third Hokage, and along with two other ninja (Jiraiya and Tsunade) a member of the legendary San-nin (three ninja). Orochimaru is known for his ruthlessness of character, his strong affinity for snakes, and his single-minded pursuit of power. His original position as a student of the Third Hokage and his prodigious talents made him an obvious candidate to succeed the Third Hokage as leader of the Hidden Leaf Village. However, when it came to light that he had been kidnapping other villagers and experimenting on them to further his own ends of accruing more power and accumulating more jutsu, he was eliminated from consideration.

Unfortunately the Third Hokage could not bring himself to eliminate his student, and Orochimaru escaped to become a future threat. Ultimately the twin goals of Orochimaru are power and immortality, and through his use of forbidden jutsu (techniques) he is able to achieve immortality of a sort by moving from one host body to another every few years. He sets his sights on Sasuke Uchiha as an eminently suitable host although this pursuit ultimately backfires upon him as Sasuke is able to turn Orochimaru's efforts back upon him.

Overall, the Naruto anime succeeds in delivering an interesting series of storylines although the variety of jutsu can be overwhelming at times since there always seem to be new villages with new primary powers just over the horizon. There are plenty of characters with varied motivations and complexity of depth to render the series unsuitable for younger audiences as most of the material will exceed their understanding.

Where the series falls short however is in an area that most Japanese exports suffer, namely that even the most complex of characters have very simplistic motivations. For example, Orochimaru wants power and will stop at nothing to get it. In this, there is nothing novel and one need look no further than Tolkien or George Lucas to find an equivalent.

However, most characters in Naruto seem motivated solely by strength and power of an external nature. They all fall short of the quintessence of Japanese martial arts, which was and is the need to perfect the self - not necessarily through constant conflict.

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