“The Age of the Shinobi is over.”
The first episode of Boruto has hit the mainstream, and, my goodness, am I one relieved basket of happiness! At the same time, well, I have reservations.
Full disclosure: I am a devout and oppressive Naruto enthusiast, with a bias so forward I feel the need to bring it up right away so I don’t seem dishonest. At the same time, I have historically proven myself to be as objective as possible when critically analyzing things I love, for your sake as well as my own. Devout fan I may be, but not ignorant to flaws. It is with this mindset I move forward.
And because I’m basically obligated to add a jab to “Boruto-Is-A-Stupid-Name Mountain,” here’s me adding that jab. “Boruto” is an unappealing name, yes. In terms of what it means within the culture and narrative of the series, it’s great, but it’s gross to say and there’s no dodging the fact. However, I’m not going to dock the series any merit, because we’ve been around that block before, and thankfully the art of telling a good story is not negated by the name of the protagonist, otherwise Tales of Symphonia would have crashed and burned. (C’mon, what grand, world-saving adventure has a main character named Lloyd? Or Kip, for that matter? *glares at the Lightbringer novels*)
Boruto, as a series, stands an honest chance of being good, in spite of its hero’s name.
In the opening scene, we are treated to a glimpse of the future. Konohagakure has been abjectly decimated by some unknown means, and Boruto stands facing a mysterious man we know only as Kamaki. In two bold and staggering statements, Kamaki announces that he “Killed Naruto” and that “The Age of the Shinobi is over.”
These are each ominous statements unto themselves and wrought with questions that we, as the audience (especially those who have completed Naruto–which should be everyone watching this series), know we’re going to be holding onto for a long time, since there’s no way this opening scene is going to answer them.
Boruto valiantly defends that, no, the Age of Shinobi is not over, because he is a living representation of Shinobi. Boruto puts on a scarred Konoha headband, draws his blade, and activates what look like deviations of Sage Mode and the Byakugan (which is particularly interesting, for reasons I will discuss later). The two begin the fight and our narrator flings us backwards in time by “several years.”
I’m current on the Boruto manga. In my opinion, it does not hold up to the original Naruto in almost any way, and it shouldn’t, since Masashi Kishimoto (the author) is not the writer. He gives feedback, but only as a tertiary editor figure. Kishi is largely hands-off, similarly to how Akira Toriyama was technically a part of Dragon Ball GT, but not really. Because of that, the Boruto manga suffers from inconsistencies, cringe-inducing plot developments, and an art style which emulates Kishimoto’s without going the full nine yards, and thus comes across as the product of a Kishimoto-junkie’s fanfic.
However, the anime suffers from none of these things. At least, not within the first episode. I’m relieved, because judging from this pilot alone, the anime seems to be veering in a different direction from the manga. The opening scene is the same, but many major details have been altered. For example, the majority of the first episode does not even exist in the manga.
At the start of the present timeline, we are treated to a simple, yet cleanly executed, exhibition of ninja parkour as Boruto and Shikamaru’s son, Shikanai, make a playground of Konoha. Tomorrow is the first day of Ninja Academy, and Boruto has reservations about attending. They spend some time aboard a train which encircles the village, a vehicle which Boruto finds fascinating, before he goes and interrupts the wayward attempts of some bullies to pick on a kid named Denki. Denki is a completely new character to the series, not even showing up in the manga, and he’s the weakling son of the man who owns the train corporation Boruto is so intrigued by. Boruto kicks some bully butt, makes a new friend, and encourages Denki to stand up to his father about certain plot-related details I will not unravel for you here.
The only other narrative-related element I can safely mention is the relationship Boruto has with his family. It is evidenced in both word and action how deeply he loves his mother, Hinata, and even more so his sister, Himawari. Yet, he has an aversion to his father, Naruto. Here comes my greatest skeptical remark of not only this episode, but also of the premise of Boruto in general. Save for the ending of the titular film, the two are never shown to have a good relationship, as Naruto is apparently a man who prioritizes his work life over his responsibilities as a father–a priority which, if you’re familiar with the boy from the original series, is illogical and absurd. With his history and character profile, it is counter-intuitive to believe Naruto would be anything but the most family-oriented and committed man among all of his peers, even as Hokage.
While there are traits of this problem lingering in the anime, it doesn’t seem to be following the same flow as the manga. Perhaps it just hasn’t been explored enough, but in the manga there are visible reasons to believe Naruto is shirking his fatherhood (sending a clone to his daughter’s birthday party rather than going himself), whereas in the anime series it’s just taken at Boruto’s word. At this point, Naruto’s neglectfulness is less factual and more of the boy’s perception, which is subject to change once he learns more information. That being said, Naruto does still seem really busy with his work, even though HE COULD TOTALLY MAKE CLONES DO ALL OF THE PAPERWORK…!
…But I digress.
Let’s start looking at some aesthetics. Konoha (a.k.a. fantasy-forest Tokyo) has never looked better. The architecture has integrated more technology than seen in previous iterations of the village, if that wasn’t already apparent by the mention of trains. In terms of conveyance, the painted backgrounds are crisp, bright, and help push the sense that this is a place acclimated to peace. There are a few different sequences, such as when Boruto is walking along the edge of a rooftop, when the backdrop is computer-generated, but it looks just as good as the traditional animation because of how simple it is kept. Character models move fluidly, with low-frame rates only used when characters are talking (the only time they should be used in a production of this stature). The action is pithy, fun, and animated well, even if it lacks any particular creative inspiration (this is definitely a Studio Pierrot production, not Gainax or Trigger). There’s also a neat first-person POV for about twenty seconds as Boruto wakes up and rushes to the academy. I appreciate little deviations like these. They keep the watching experience from growing stagnant.
The opening sequence is the lowest threshold of quality which can be tolerated from such an esteemed franchise. In other words: it’s okay. The OP is memorable only in that it is oddly shoujo-esque. To the layman, shoujo is a Japanese-exclusive genre which, in simple terms, means it’s catered to a younger female audience (think Sailor Moon or Fruits Basket). So there’s a lot of bubbly colors, burst effects, insane amounts of pretty lighting, and a general warmth which seems out of place since this isn’t a shoujo series.
There are new symbols everywhere, and I don’t know what they mean. As an aforementioned Naruto savant, this is exciting. What is the mark on the back of Boruto’s jacket? It’s not a clan symbol, at least not for any preexisting families. Many other emblems like this exist throughout the village, and I can’t wait to learn the meaning behind them all.
Some character designs have been blatantly altered for the anime adaptation, and all of them for the better in my opinion. Most notable among these is Hinata Hyuga (er, Uzumaki, I suppose). If not for her Byakugan, the manga version only gives the most vague impression of being Hinata. The anime corrects this and makes her look believably grown-up, emulating the Hinata we see in the manga’s finale.
Let’s talk about the Byakugan for a second. Twice we see a special eye activation in Boruto’s right eye during this episode, once on purpose at the beginning, and a second time later on when he doesn’t seem to be aware of the change. Logically, we can assume that because he has Hyuga blood through his mother, this is a Byakugan (and it’s drawn as such in the manga). But it doesn’t look like one, at least not entirely, in the anime. The iris is the same ghostly lavender color, but the sclera (the white of the eye) becomes dark, and the bulging-vein characteristic is absent. I am curious to see if this deviancy hints at never-before-seen powers or if it’s just an animation quirk.
We are introduced to several of Boruto’s classmates in this episode, though they don’t get much face-time. Shikadai is the only one who says much of anything, and true to form he takes after his father in nearly every way. It’s also worth noting that Sarada Uchiha makes an appearance. I wonder if the mini-series involving her search for her origins will remain canon in the Boruto anime. Since the writing staff is different, I’m going to assume the answer is “no.”
Lastly, the soundtrack: Yasuharu Takanashi is the composer, the same man who worked on most of the Naruto: Shippuuden soundtrack. Not much has changed. Most of the tracks are new, but they follow the same formula as previous Naruto songs so they come across a little redundant, despite being part of an otherwise competent musical score.
Spiritual Content: There is a sort of “possession” cast upon one character, which over-exaggerates a single motivation within the host to the point of promoting destructive actions. It does not seem to last very long, nor do we have any details about it besides the fact it exists. There’s a spirit-like visage which assimilates with the host, but we know from Naruto‘s power curriculum that this could just be a jutsu and not an actual spirit. At the same time, the latter is completely possible. We simply don’t have enough information, yet.
Violence: Mild violence, including fist-fighting, small spatters of blood, and an exploding train. A strict and nonconforming father strikes his son across the face once.
Language/Crude Humor: None present. This isn’t bound to last unless my translation (Crunchyroll) decided to axe profanities.
Sexual Content: None present. I was genuinely surprised the Sexy Jutsu didn’t make an appearance, but I’m relieved it did not. It is both a derogatory feature and pragmatically useless in almost any serious situation.
Drug/Alcohol Use: None present. Probably not going to last as the episodes continue.
Other Negative Themes: Boruto accidentally (though, not apologetically) vandalizes Naruto’s Hokage monument. Boruto doesn’t only harbor a public loathing and rebellious attitude towards his father, but also encourages another character to be similarly defiant.
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