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IN BRIEF: Uzumaki Naruto has been ostracized his whole life, and while he can be a bit of a twerp, that doesn't explain the universal dislike from before an age when he could talk. No, rather, he finds out on his attempted graduation from the Konoha ninja academy that he's a vessel containing the Kyuubi, a being that ravaged the village right before his birth. Undaunted, he decides to press forward in a ninja career; however, it's likely that he's just as unprepared for the reality of ninja life as his teammates, brainy fangirl Sakura and standoffish quasi-celebrity Sasuke, are. Can their jounin sensei Kakashi keep them alive and provide them with the training they need to advance as ninja?
MY THOUGHTS: Oh boy, it was rough coming up with a summary that minimized plot spoilers. While most anime fans are familiar with "Naruto" already, this review is also for those who aren't, after all.
At its heart, "Naruto" seems to be about the coming of age of the titular character: how he moves past his childhood isolation and learns to be confident about his nindo, or ninja belief system. He encounters setbacks, losses, and events that challenge his hope for a world without unnecessary conflict (he's not a pacifist, mind you - being raised on ninja indoctrination would make that almost impossible. Instead, Naruto dislikes political motivations for conflict and/or people being manipulated by the behavior of others into fighting; he would prefer friendly spars, and often he fights to change someone's mind about something), not least of all the decision of a friend to desert from the village and work for an enemy who has promised him assistance with a personal mission of vengeance.
Here's where "Naruto" starts going off the previously clear plot rails. Naruto fixates on recovering said friend, and loses track of his other promises and motivations in doing so. The anime gets plagued with almost 100 episodes of filler in a row, before jumping into the manga's time skip in "Naruto Shippuden". The narrative morphs from a coming of age story into a battle manga, and then metastasizes into an international ninja conflict, and then further devolves into a fight to save the entire planet. At a certain point, you sit back and wonder how the ninja villages even make sense anymore as a setting - there's certainly no ninja-like behavior in any of them, as stealth is nonexistent and flashy destructive techniques are the norm.
Naturally, there are other common shounen issues in "Naruto" as it doesn't deviate much from tried-and-true methods. For example, the female characters are consistently undervalued, sidelined, and unable to defeat any male in a one-on-one fight (I could count exceptions on one hand and have fingers left over). If I include Shippuden in this review, then the ending did almost all the Konoha characters dirty, and the sequel "Boruto" compounds the problem. Nevertheless, the plot derailment seems to me to be the biggest drawback to "Naruto". With that in mind, I can cautiously recommend the episodes up to the friend leaving (around the 130s), and the remainder can be skipped; if you need to know what happens next, go straight to Shippuden... and don't be surprised when you end up with a much different story than you started with.
Clarifying my rating system: Obviously I am constrained by the reality that the typical SIMKL user doesn't rate below 8 if they liked the show. My number key below is an attempt to parse the small differences between 7 and 8, 8 and 9, & 9 and 10. When I rate, I consider my own enjoyment, the characterization, the plot, the appearance of the animation and occasionally the soundtrack - in roughly that order. A show will lose at least 1 point for presence of deal-breaker tropes (for example, comedic pedophilia), and more if the trope(s) ruined my enjoyment. On the other hand, it will gain at least 1 point for artistry in animation or sound.
1-6: I would never rewatch/finish watching, or recommend. Further clarification: 1-3 is pure excrement, and I would rather be getting un-anesthetized surgery for the entire running time. 4-6 is the kind of thing where I would sincerely rather be doing chores, but could survive sitting through it if a friend begged me to. Differences within those ranges relate to non-plot details (ex. beauty of animation) or presence of specific deal-breaker tropes rather than general badness.
7: There are two types of 7s. 7A: I watched at least part of it, and may have stopped due to not liking the plot twists, character derailment, etc. In this case, it started out with a higher score and slipped over time. 7B: I watched the whole show, but recognize deal-breaker tropes in it, and I'm unlikely to rewatch. It just wasn't enjoyable enough to forgive its flaws. For both 7s, there would be huge caveats to any recommendation.
8: There are two types of 8s. 8A: Not my thing, but usually I at least respect it. Generally, I didn't like it enough to think I would rewatch it, but also didn't see huge problems in the plot, characterizations, etc. and thought it was worth finishing. 8B: I had a good time watching it, but it didn't move me the way a 9 or a 10 does; it's possible that over time I would upgrade it to a 9 if I liked it more on reflection. I'd consider it mostly harmless to view, with the occasional caveat. For both 8s, I would recommend the show to the right audience.
9: I enjoyed very much. It may have had one or two issues, but not enough to diminish enjoyment. It's possible that over time I would downgrade it to an 8 (changing tastes) or upgrade to a 10 (realize it's never left my mind). I'm likely to rewatch, and likely to buy the DVDs. I'd recommend it to most audiences.
10: Virtually flawless. I'd definitely rewatch, and definitely want to buy DVDs. I would shill to anyone.
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