Hey, Geeks! Welcome to Your Favorite Thing Sucks, where I get to talk about all the worst parts of your favorite things. Even if you’re not an anime fan, chances are you recognize a certain spiky-haired boy wearing a bright orange jumpsuit.
And I’m almost certain at least a tiny part of you hates him. We’re talking about Naruto (the anime, not the manga).
Naruto is Basically JUST Filler
Even die-hard Naruto fans (yes, I am aware of their rather derogatory designation in the fandom community. No, I will not be using it at all in this article) are aware that this is a huge issue. Naruto has too many filler episodes. I lost count of how many times I heard “it gets really good again after you get through that part!” And that is kind of true. The show does get good again. But only if you can slog your way through the 46th side-arc about people you’ll probably never see again. Make it through that and the show usually does improve for a span of ten or twelve episodes as it remembers there’s supposed to be a storyline.
If you haven’t seen the show, you might think I’m joking. I’m not. I’ve been handed entire lists of episodes that I can “safely skip” so as not to get bored. And that’s ridiculous.
I’m sorry. If I need a list of “skippable” moments that ultimately add up to more than a third of the entire series, then this show is not a good show. It is a crapshoot with a lot of bad moments, a few acceptable moments, and maybe one or two great moments that you want to convince me will overshadow everything else. And I’m not buying it. Because anything that “I’ll start to enjoy if I stick around long enough” is not entertainment — it’s Stockholm Syndrome.
There Are an Insane Number of Characters…
Naruto actually starts off with a pretty cool premise. It’s kids learning to be ninjas. How awesome is that? How many of us haven’t daydreamed about that at least a million times throughout our childhood (and adulthoods, if we’re being honest)? So, of course, I want to watch a group of hopefuls develop those skills and look awesome doing it. But that’s not really what we get. Instead, the show almost immediately devolves into a bunch of prepubescent wizards that happen to have kunai.
I’m not kidding. Every single one of these mopey, two-dimensional (but don’t worry you’ll get 80 episodes of backstory for each one of them eventually) brats has a unique spellslo — I mean jujitsu. Which, honestly, would be neat if it was just a handful of warriors wherein you can truly appreciate their powers. But instead of awesome skillful ninjas, you essentially get an entire army of low-level wizards that can each cast one specific spell that varies in power and degree depending on the episode and how important their deus-ex-machina is to that episode’s plot.
Instead of making each person seem more unique and powerful in their own right, it actually makes it harder to care about any one person because there’s a dozen more clamoring for your attention.
The series does try to make you care a bit more about certain secondary characters by giving them additional storyarcs — but again, that really just results in more filler and the chance to forget about the people you were forced to learn about 200 episodes ago.
…And I Hate Them All.
Really, the only people that we should be focused on caring about in Naruto are the main characters. Yeah, it’s awesome to get a secondary or even a tertiary character that we’ve developed some empathy or compassion for — but they should still be behind the main protagonists in basically every department.
But I literally never felt like that happened in the show. I never learned to give a shit about Naruto, the pervy little cock-sure jumpsuit of incompetence and fart jokes. I was always vaguely annoyed by Sakura, the pink-haired walking stereotype always pining after Sasuke or being useless. And I always loathed Sasuke and his brooding, condescending attitude and stupid hair. And while I know — I KNOW — you’re about to tell me that they were all like that so that there was room for character development — don’t. Because if I want to see a characteristic develop, I need to at least have some reason to care in the first place, and it sure as hell shouldn’t take 600 episodes for me to begin to see the positive change you swear is coming.
The Plot is Thin When it’s There
If we’re being completely honest, Naruto doesn’t bring anything to the table that other anime can’t offer with more concise storytelling and stronger characters. There’s a lot of potential in these potential ninjas and their journey to greatness and self-discovery — but they don’t offer anything that you can’t find somewhere else in a third of the time. Children learning to be warriors. People saving a fallen friend who’s lost himself in revenge. Protagonists learning about their own past in order to discover their destiny. Tortured souls learning to harness their (in this case, literal) demons.
It’s been done before and it will be done again. And while Naruto does have a unique telling on a few of these themes — you simply have to dig through too much to make it worthwhile. And I’ll never accept someone wasting my time. It’s my ninja way.
Tahani Nelson is a “Geek of All Trades.” She’s dabbled in pretty much everything, but holds a special place in her heart (and schedule) for video and tabletop games. Other interests include attending Renaissance Faires and Cons in full dress, practicing calligraphy, writing fantasy novels, discussing comparative philosophy and morality, and apparently listening with a blank smile on her face anytime someone tries to convince her that Magic: The Gathering is as much fun as D&D.