Chances have been given, benefit of the doubt granted, and plenty of excuses taken at their best. BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS is an anime that had high expectations, sure, but it also had so much to build off of. Whether it be the meme-worthy running with arms flung backwards or the iconic hand signs and elemental techniques, even non-anime watchers can recognize the NARUTO franchise. It created a cast of unique characters with detailed and often tragic backstories. In the beginning, BORUTO had new characters and a clear story. I expected it to bring that same excitement I got watching NARUTO’s early episodes, but it’s never even approached that level.
Unfortunately, those great memories are becoming exclusive to the earlier series, and almost entirely lacking within BORUTO. While its predecessor certainly had its flaws, there was ample opportunity to correct those flaws in a new series. I’ll be covering the basic problems with BORUTO’s current story line, some issues with the characters themselves, and explaining why the anime is quickly trending toward a plot with no stakes and no draw, even for long-time NARUTO fans.
Plot spoilers ahead for NARUTO and BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS
Fans got an early taste of the spin-off series with the release of BORUTO: NARUTO THE MOVIE. That film introduced a whole new cast of characters. Some are the children of now-adult ninjas from NARUTO, some are mysterious and powerful villains from an alternate dimension, and some are from the village’s growing modernized sections. As with other critiques of long standing anime, I do want to emphasize that I by no means want BORUTO to end as a series. I think there are promising portions of the show worth saving, and hopefully it gets better as time goes on. As things are now, however, it seems unlikely that this particular show is going to recover without major changes.
An Opening Light-years Away
The opening scene of BORUTO displayed a scene that excited everyone watching. An adult Boruto faces off with an enemy, drawing a sword, and activating some badass ocular technique. It foreshadows a level of action matching the epic final battle in NARUTO, creating a smooth transition into the new series. Here’s the issue with that kind of strategy. This foreboding scene contextualizes everything in BORUTO. Because the movie takes place a year or so after the beginning of the BORUTO and the opening scene of said anime takes place many years after that, viewers are locked in. Rather than focus on the issues of the first story arc, there’s a draw toward this intense, incredible-looking opening, but we never get anywhere near it.
This is pretty damning for the series as it more or less removes all stakes from the early episodes. The movie concerns Boruto’s time as a genin after graduating from the ninja academy. Since most have seem him at that point in his life, time at the academy seems insignificant. In the film, Boruto fixes most of the flaws in his personality, meaning there’s no logical way for him to improve his attitude in the anime. BORUTO takes place during peacetime in the ninja world, so there isn’t much need for a constant army. On top of that, it’s hard to feel concern for basic problems like misplacing some mail when the opening scene was an apocalyptic wasteland.
Earlier in the anime, I had high hopes for the development of individual characters. BORUTO had a unique opportunity to do amazing exposition. Given that the movie introduced fans to a lot of the main characters of the anime, the show itself could’ve put in a lot of work lending stories and arcs that contextualized why people act the way they do in the film. Boruto’s tendency to cheat and go for the easy way out, talk his way out of trouble, and escape danger unscathed are shown in the film. In fact, the entire message of the movie was that his vanity and laziness aren’t the mark of a true ninja. Boruto had to work hard for the first time in his life in the film to achieve measurable success. The anime could have easily showed Boruto’s progress.
Presumably, the anime, taking place before the movie, would capitalize on the chronology of the series. If we could see aspects of Boruto’s training or effortless talent, the smugness would make sense. Instead, we see very little of anyone doing any real training. An interesting aspect of new BORUTO characters was that they had the abilities of both parents from the original series. For parents who didn’t have much screen time originally, this was a chance to diversify the kinds of people fans see in the ninja world. Unfortunately, these kids turned out to either be copies of their parents or have little personality to even comment on.
Very little investment seems to be done in cultivating any of these characters, so it feels difficult to care very much about what happens to them. The first arc, with Boruto tracking down a mysterious ghost-like creature, felt detached from the general goal of becoming a ninja. No one seems concerned about graduating from the academy. That first arc might have some connection to the apocalypse shown in the opening, but it ends up feeling like vague foreshadowing at best.
The second major arc involved a full fledged coup in the Land of Water. But despite being so young, Boruto and friends consistently overpower their enemies. Even though he’s never faced real combat, Boruto is somehow able to fend off older, super-powered, sword-wielding ninja. When a gaggle of 12-year olds are able to stop a coup, how can it possibly be that big of a deal?
Poor Filler and Power Scaling
NARUTO and plenty of other anime run into these sorts of problems. Early on, a protagonist isn’t always strong enough to handle every foe. What most anime do in that case is have a teacher or mentor handle the tougher opponents. Everyone else has a smaller scale, but equally important fight with the comparatively weak foes. But there’s no adult that is active enough to act as the ‘guide’ or ‘mentor’ in BORUTO and take on stronger opponents. Because of that, enemies either need to be super weak or the kids made to appear super strong.
The only good episodes are devoid of any truly new content. This incongruity between random episodes, actual arc, and things adapted from a NARUTO manga special makes it hard to know what viewers should be paying the most attention to. An episode about finding a single bag of candy feels as important as a supposed life-and-death fight. There’s never any excitement to either. The movie didn’t have a lot of these problems. Ironically enough, the most likable parts of BORUTO are parts that came out before the anime even started.
Every anime inevitably has filler. It’s something that frustrates many, though fans inevitably accept. In order to have higher quality important episodes, a little filler is fine. But this is always predicated on the promise of high quality content once the filler ends. Seemingly useless content followed by equally formless content happens time and time against with BORUTO. I know as much about each character as from the start, and that wasn’t much to begin with.
Hope for a Revival
Overall, any one of these issues would not ruin an anime. No show is perfect, but too many flaws interacting can produce something that is almost too irritating to watch. I seldom understand where BORUTO’s plot is going. Even when an arc is clear, I don’t see the broad importance in the series. If nothing else, decent characters would make this all worth it, but there isn’t enough character development for Boruto’s classmates. I could accept if this series had problems similar to NARUTO, like a propensity for terrible filler. But on top of those old problems, there are tons of new ones like a lack of narrative direction. It feels like I could skip weeks of episodes and not be behind in the series at all.
Despite this, I keep watching each week because I remember doing the same for NARUTO. As someone who has spent hundreds of dollars on NARUTO games, trading cards, movies, anime, and manga, I have seen the best permutations of this series. BORUTO needs to build off of the hype from its movie and opening scene to forge a clear path. I want to have an idea of where it’s going, but not enough that it’s obvious. I want layers of mystery and action that glue me to my seat. The seeds are in BORUTO, and peace allows for more exploration of the world outside the five nations. There’s a lot of ground available for BORUTO. Hopefully the series will open its eyes to those bright, new paths and finally charge forward.
Featured Image via Crunchyroll.