I just love watching Naruto and I'm almost a bit embarrassed to mention it. I think it was just something embedded in my psyche from when I was a kid and watching old shounen cartoons on tv like Voltron or Thundercats, or even the American equivalents like Gi-Joe. Whereas the whole boy's cartoon genre had its hey day in the US in the 80's, it pretty much started to die out over time and from what I can see of the festering pile of putrid vomit they throw on tv nowadays, it's a pale of shadow of what it used to be. This is probably why any guy in their 30's will, even now, reminisce fondly about 80's cartoons because there has really been no adequate replacement for them. In Japan however, the entire boy's cartoon genre has continued to bloom and flourish, shaped by the forces of natural selection until it whittles itself down to a chewy center of pure awesome. Everything about shounen anime sends a clarion call right to the very soul of any person with a Y chromosome. Well, okay, maybe there are some more evolved males out there who have outgrown it but safe in my bubble of Toys 'R Us brand immaturity, I still hear the it.
The plucky boy hero and his band of friends. The never give up attitude and hard work which allows him to overcome adversity and develop new powers. The way he clashes with evil and you know that no matter how overwhelming the danger or real the peril, that the shining beacon inside him will eventually overcome the darkness. It just about brings a tear to my eye.
Yes, I'm not completely stupid. I know on some level that it's trite and hackneyed. I know that these same plots have often been rehashed over and over and the main hero is often just one of an infinite number of clones of one another. I also know that the writing is often weak and all too often the hero will develop some new ridiculous power just in time to save himself and his friends from imminent destruction at the very last moment. I don't care. You can pick it apart and know that parts of it are just stupid and immature, but it still calls to something inside me. It's like when everyone you knew was making fun of Michael Bolton songs but you just couldn't help liking them whenever you heard them on the radio.
So there it is. I <3 Naruto. I know there are hoards of teenage wannabes out there all sporting ninja forehead protectors and playing the CCG or cosplaying like Naruto. I know all of that and yet I can't help feeling that rush of excitement when a new manga chapter comes out or when they finally get around to animating a story arc I particularly love. I often find myself watching old Naruto episodes, making my own little 'best of' arc as I skip around to all of my favorite scenes. Hell, I think I must've watched the Invasion of Pain arc at least a dozen times by now if not more. That's almost certainly more times then I've watched any anime series with the possible exception of Love Hina and that's only because I began watching that around a decade ago. Even after all this time, I always feel a little thrill when Naruto shows up rockin' his badass longcoat with Sennin Mode going.
About the only thing I cannot stand about the show (other than the ridiculous number of crappy filler episodes) is Uchiha Sasuke. This is probably a case of cultural dissonance more than anything else. It's hard to find a single Naruto fan from the US, other than a small minority of whacked out fangirls, who don't loathe the character. Even before his over the top Kick the Dog actions, everything about his personality generally inclined you to hate him. Emo and arrogance do not make an attractive combination of personality traits as far as I'm concerned. Despite that, from everything I read he seems to have quite a fanbase in Japan. Maybe with its stronger emphasis on family ties, the viewers over there are willing to cut him more slack given the trauma he suffered in the past. All I know is The Sauce seems to have rubbed every American, myself included, the wrong way almost from the start. You thought he would end up being a redemption character who thaws over time but he just became more and more of an unbearable asshole. It's bad enough I can't even figure out why the other characters would want to 'save him from himself'. He's obviously more than happy being evil and like a rabid dog, someone should put him down. It gets harder and harder to justify Naruto's actions when it comes to Sauce Gay and you can't help but wonder if he's developed a very specific form of localized brain damage.
Frankly, I've been overjoyed that The Sauce hasn't shown up in the manga in months now other than a quick cameo scene. It seems that he brings nothing but inexplicable angst while what I want to see is ninjas whooping ass. The current Shinobi World War arc has been pretty spiffy and I can't wait to see it animated. I think I've mentioned this before, but I have a hard time seeing 'action scenes' in my head from reading manga. Maybe I just never developed that knack during some critical period in my early teens that most others got by reading comic books. Half the time, I can't figure out exactly what's supposed to be happening as far as body movements go and it only makes sense once the anime catches up and animates the scene. That's obviously a liability when you're reading shounen action manga. Still, even if I don't get everything out of it that I should, the story is still enough to hook me and I always look forward to every tuesday when a new manga chapter comes out and every thursday when a new anime episode appears.