BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS has just wrapped up its first major arc after two months of weekly ninja escapades. Given the immense popularity of NARUTO and NARUTO SHIPPUDEN, there is an insane bar to clear for any sequels. While just a few months can hardly top a decades long series, there are plenty of great things to be said about BORUTO. Interestingly enough, the anime has grown in a way quite similar to its main character, Boruto. Just like NARUTO, BORUTO promotes a message of perseverance and love for one’s friends. This message now comes across in a much more slice-of-life fashion. Not only is this somewhat atypical for any shonen anime, but it’s something that solidifies its identity as a unique series and not just some NARUTO spin-off.

Spoilers for NARUTO SHIPPUDEN plot details and BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS up to and including “The Path that Boruto Can See” follow.

The state of the Hidden Leaf Village is peaceful and developing fast. Tall skyscrapers and electronic billboards have joined traditional wooden houses. As those who watched NARUTO SHIPPUDEN remember, the period before BORUTO was the Fourth Shinobi World War. A whole horde of villains collaborated to prepare the Infinite Tsukuyomi, which would’ve put the entire world into a Matrix-esque coma had it not been stopped. This ninja war was followed by incredible peace, meaning Boruto’s childhood is entirely different from his father’s.

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The World in Peace

During Naruto’s tenure as Hokage, there are virtually no large scale threats. During the Fourth Shinobi World War, the threat of global destruction had brought every nation together. Because there was a single enemy to defeat, the usual friction between nations was all but negligible, and post war activity was marked by that cooperation. All five leaders of the major villages fought side by side and thousands of ninjas came together in battle.

Fast forward 14 years, and that cooperation shows in Boruto’s day-to-day life. This new lack of constant conflict modifies the way the village works, with jobs like delivering mail and water filtration becoming just as vital to village growth as ninjas were. The heavy administrative expansions mean the comical stack of papers Naruto has to go through each day only grows. Because of this, most of the former main characters are either behind desks all day or otherwise occupied.

Image: Crunchyroll
Naruto and his ever-expanding workplace responsibilities.

Unlike Naruto, Boruto was born with extraordinary talent in a time where there aren’t people trying to enslave humanity. Both his parents are alive and the entire village adores rather than ostracizes him. All of this invalidates the usual style of character development we see in animes like this. There’s always a great danger, hidden power, or childhood catastrophe that pushes the protagonist. The characters of BORUTO don’t all have complex backstories. These kids want to be different from their parents, and the series gives them room for character development this way rather than through battle.

A Lighter Take

More explicitly than anything else, BORUTO is a very fun show. In the very first episode, we saw a beautifully animated parkour sequence through the village. Everyone almost bounces from place to place and the camera follows movements from multiple angles. In NARUTO, most of the longer movement sequences were ninjas jumping forward from tree to tree. Those scenes were only important if characters were talking, but BORUTO takes it a step further. Now, we see things like villagers reacting and dynamic obstacles to dash past. All the while, bright music resonates with a well shaded village coating the backdrop.

Image: Crunchyroll
Boruto, Sarada, and Mitsuki dash through a brightly shaded village.

The tone is rather happy and exhilarating in a special way. It isn’t the type of edge of your seat excitement that comes from a fight, but a style that make me want to hop through my screen and run alongside these kids, jumping over buildings and spinning over trains to make it to school on time. On top of that, the series opening is filled with light colors, a higher pitched song, and even more great shots of characters. Other shonen anime usually use a more intense, bass heavy track with deeper lyrics. And any action scenes in the opening are usually pulled straight from one of the episodes. With BORUTO, we get just a taste of most characters’ abilities as a way to showcase the characters themselves, not the fights they might participate in. The plot comes later, and even that is light and quick.

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Family Ties

There is no reason for any child in BORUTO to ever be involved in a dangerous mission. Not only are there fewer missions to begin with, but there are plenty of adults who can complete them. Naruto Uzumaki alone is powerful enough to sneeze and defeat most villains. He can make thousands of clones of himself and attack with enough force to shatter mountains. This trouble with power scaling is something I was certain would doom BORUTO. How does a ninja academy student like Boruto maintain access to danger?

What this anime has done quite well is create new issues that are accessible for fledging ninjas. The few fights the characters get into are meaningful and important to their development. Boruto has the genes of his incredibly strong parents and was trained by them too. On top of that, Naruto is more of a father and leader than a fighter in this series. But rather than a loud teen, we see an overworked father desperately trying to connect with his son. Because the relationship between Boruto and Naruto is somewhat distant, there’s less room for someone like Naruto to prevent Boruto from being reckless.

But even so, it’s Boruto’s special eye and closeness to the villagers that keeps him active. There aren’t any adults actively trivializing what Boruto and his friends do either. In fact, higher level ninjas like Shino encourage them to take action. BORUTO has fewer active adult characters, which gives the show more time to showcase the kids. Most of them, not just Boruto, lack battle experience and are just discovering who they want to be as people. So rather than having weeks of backstory for someone who has already gone through most of their formative experiences, the show gives us characters who are just starting their lives.

Fresh Personality

Image: Crunchyroll
Boruto holds his own against his Aunt in combat.

Because there isn’t a huge physical focus, the only option left is to develop these characters emotionally. This is where a lot of that relatable slice of life comes in. The initial worry I had about this series was that it would produce carbon copies of the parents. But in a sense, that’s exactly what it did, and it works out great.  The show takes a favorable trait from one parent and enhances it with a trait from the other. Seriousness from one parent is buffered by a bright personality, impulsiveness spun with care for others, or laziness mixed with spunk are some examples of this. Adding this little dash of realistic emotion to fantasy adds to the slice of life feel. It also allows the show to totally shift tone without totally abandoning the NARUTO universe.

Each child has phenomenal room for growth, and BORUTO explores that as a route for development, not just for plot. One character becoming a better person might have little to do with a given story line, but it gets attention anyway. In social interactions, the kids lend one another positive qualities and even out negative ones. Shikadai might think through a situation and stop Boruto from being impulsive, but Boruto inspires others to help with that same impulsiveness. For those who watched NARUTO SHIPPUDEN, those traits will seem familiar. But for new watchers, there’s an even fresher experience to be had when watching friends work together to break through individual shortcomings.

Echoes of War

The primary variable that greatly separates the upbringing of Boruto’s class and their parents goes beyond basic combat. While I was incredibly intrigued to see an adult Naruto sip alcohol and muse about parenting, it’s not easy to forget all that he’s gone through. This isn’t something that comes up often in the show, and perhaps that’s for good reason. Naruto and his comrades watched friends die and fought for humanity’s survival before most of them had turned 18. This type of experience is not one they want their children to share. Naruto goes as far as telling his son that directly, though, Boruto ignores the warning immediately. He’s usually angry with Naruto for not being a good parent to begin with, but this advice is probably the most fatherly and protective thing Naruto has ever said to his son.

Image: Crunchyroll
Naruto warns his son to stop investigating the Ghost after a victim is hospitalized.

In a sense, Boruto and his friends feel a lot to me like millennials. In an era where all of their problems seem minuscule compared to those of their parents, they seek recognition. Even if it means butting into serious matters, they want to use their skills to solve problems. Their parents inevitably seek to protect them from the world and shelter them a bit. As a result, they all have strong values but little experience acting on them. This is why the first conflict of the series is small and simple. Villains older and stronger than them would force the hands of the adults. Kids shine best when they help other kids after all. For viewers, especially younger ones, this is a known feeling. For older viewers, the classic anime drive to ‘do what’s right and help my friends’ is there in full swing.

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The Ghost and Its Master

This same focus on parents and one’s obligations to them is the overall crux of the series’ first villain, Sumire. From a basic standpoint, she reminds me a lot of Pain (Nagato Uzumaki). As an orphan who lost her family due to war and conflict, she feels the need to survive in the way that best preserves her father’s memory. She wields the technique that controls a chakra-stealing Ghost and commands the huge beast. Despite her immense power and the threat she poses to the village, it is only someone like Boruto who can stop her.

While he may be the only person who can see the Ghost, there’s more to it than that. Sumire and Boruto have been friends at the academy from the beginning, and that connection helps him save her. The only way to ‘defeat’ a bomb armed with hate is to disarm that hate with compassion and empathy. That fight couldn’t have been won with brute strength alone. The sort of emotional strength the academy students acquire is directly in tune with the problems they face.

Sumire is weak enough to be a threat the kids can handle on their own. It’s very jarring for a sweet character like her to have such a dark past. It’s perhaps even more jarring to have her casually discuss her plans to destroy an entire village. By catching viewers somewhat off guard like this, BORUTO can reveal complex origins to conventional-seeming characters.

Struggles from Within

In the original series, the pattern for a villain’s backstory was pretty standard. They started as a good guy, or at least a somewhat neutral character. They would always have some virtue they lived by, for example love, protecting one’s family, or maintaining peace. But traumatic experiences warp their virtue, forcing them to pursue it at the expense of others for years. For Sumire, the revenge she sought was not her own. Moreover, she hadn’t done enough to become a complete criminal. If she had traveled outside the village and spent years stealing chakra from random ninjas, then perhaps she would be past the point of ever being ‘good’ again.

Image: Crunchyroll
Sumire finds new hope after abandoning her father’s revenge.

I didn’t expect to like this less action-packed style, but I’ve grown to enjoy it. The sort of tangential exploration of a single event is something usually reserved for filler, but this doesn’t feel like it. Having villains act from within the village informs a lot about the villains themselves. If BORUTO continues this pattern of hiding enemies among friends, it’ll add a neat layer of mystery to the show. Because everything links back to interpersonal relations, even side events would have meaning.

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Hope for the Future

This has been an excellent start to the series. The very beginning of the first episode informed us of a future that is dangerous and bleak. Immediately afterward, we learned about the students at the academy and watched them have fun while getting to know each other. This sudden shift from in media res to a lighthearted childhood kept me hooked, but it also leaves a resounding question. How does this colorful village and its inhabitants turn to rubble in just a few years? That shift sets context for the story line and lets us know that this happiness is only temporary.

BORUTO is an anime that fights emotional battles atop the scars of the ninjas before them. For the series to have any sort of longevity, this new generation of ninja needs to remain significant lest their role become quickly dwarfed by modern conveniences and a rapidly expanding village economy. Future episodes will almost certainly cover the events of the BORUTO movie and recent manga chapters. Given the movie’s plot, the emotional development of these characters will continue as they grow. Even once stronger villains begin to appear, BORUTO shows promise to maintain this lighter style storytelling and maintain its place as one of the best anime of 2017.

Featured image from Madman Entertainment.

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