Don’t fall for this low effort attempt to reel fans back in. If you followed NARUTO or are a current BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS watcher, you likely saw last week’s episode. I myself was quite surprised at how amazing the episode was. This was especially relevant since the current arc of the anime has already come out in movie form. But, the anime made subtle changes to the plot, animation, and action scenes. BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS shifted the movie’s arc slightly in order to accommodate some rather unique plot elements from the anime. This in and of itself was a pretty good move. The new version of the movie’s most iconic fight had crisp animation and amazing action.
But episode 65, and the best parts within it are not truly credible to BORUTO. What the anime is trying to become is something that intentionally forces its way out of its predecessor’s shadow. This is why Boruto the character fights in low scale combat. If every enemy were of NARUTO SHIPPUDEN class, the adult ninja of the series would be the de facto first line of defense. But, this is precisely the case in the current arc. Naruto and Sasuke are the only ninja capable of going toe to toe with the villain Momoshiki. Every other Kage loses almost instantly, but anime’s favorite overpowered duo more than holds their own.
The fights and cooperation of Naruto and Sasuke activate a sort of nostalgic feeling in fans. We yearn for the amazing part of NARUTO SHIPPUDEN. So, when we see bits of them in BORUTO, we get excited. But, many fans are falsely ascribing that nostalgia to BORUTO as a “good” thing. So no, BORUTO has not “finally become amazing.” It just decided to be NARUTO SHIPPUDEN for a week.
Boruto is Still an Awful Character
Yes, let’s not forget how terrible Burrito (yes, that was intentional) is as a character. And I’ll even set the bar reeeaaaalllly low because lord knows most shonen characters out there are half-assed in terms of development anyway. Back in NARUTO, in the very beginning, we had a rambunctious and misunderstood protagonist. He struggled to make connections due to legitimate isolation and built strong morals about bonds as a result. After all, if you’ve been denied companionship your entire life, you treasure it a lot more once you get it. This isn’t the deepest setup for development in the world, but seeing Naruto being forced to reconcile his morals with real-world threats is compelling.
Boruto lacks that. Even if we cease to compare him using NARUTO as a baseline, his character is underwhelming. He despises his dad for working too much and never being around. And to be fair, Naruto isn’t quite as present as one would expect someone who can make thousands of clones to be. But Boruto’s obsession with becoming better than his father is poorly executed. At best, it comes off as an angsty drive toward individuality. At worst, and most often, it simply feels childish. Boruto is never conscious of the weight of the Hokage title, or of Naruto’s story.
While this creates some interesting potential, Boruto never properly engages in ways that develop it. It’s been nearly a year. But, BORUTO: NARUTO THE MOVIE placed itself chronologically as the point where Boruto begins to really change as a person. As a result, we have over 50 episodes of scarce character development.
And, on top of that, he is insanely overpowered given his character. To frontline this, I want to acknowledge that yes, overpowered characters are all too common in NARUTO. By the end of the series, just about everyone on screen is God tier. But, they became overpowered toward the end of the series or in ways that made sense according to the general arc of the series. It makes sense for Naruto’s Sage Power to scale upward with time, or for Sasuke’s eyes to progress from Sharingan to Rinnegan.
Boruto basically accidentally gets everything he needs to be powerful by accident. After seeing Mistuki use Wind Style, Boruto uses it by accident. He then goes on to master a wind style-technique and uses it with the same proficiency as Mitsuki in days. He just “figured out” how to not only enhance his blades with chakra but do so with lightning style chakra. Keep in mind that a prodigy like Sasuke wasn’t able to consistently do this until SHIPPUDEN.
Despite being well known for never training seriously, he’s capable of bodying chunin and jonin class ninja before he even earned the rank of genin. And, if all of that weren’t enough, he masters an elemental version of the Rasengan, something his grandfather Minato couldn’t do in literal years and something Naruto needed to spend weeks and thousands of shadow clones to even partially master after already knowing the Rasengan. Boruto is consistently able to become overpowered in ways that are ridiculous even by NARUTO SHIPPUDEN’s standards.
And the way he gets stronger isn’t even consistent. At this point in BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS, it’s unclear what the canon storyline even is. The manga begins immediately following the move and lacks engagement with the strange ocular jutsu Boruto possesses in the anime. The differences are so stark that the manga forces itself to include characters like Sumire somewhere as a way of justifying their overall absence. And, because the anime modified the movie’s plot, the two storylines are progressing from separate footholds. That is to say, if the Chunin Exam arc in the BORUTO manga and anime are different, it stands to reason that the following arcs will change as well.
This isn’t necessarily an issue for the manga, as it comes out first and isn’t quite as egregious as the anime. But BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS now has two terrible options. Either they continue with the manga storyline and erratically insert the underdeveloped parts of the anime into it, or they scrap it. Changing things likely means even more inconsistency. The anime was trying its best to salvage what was essentially a year of disappointment.
Now, changes are becoming strange and even arbitrary. In the movie, Boruto uses Wind Style to make his Vanishing Rasengan disappear before striking an opponent. In the anime, this becomes Lightning Style, which neither makes sense nor seems important. This is the standard for half the changes we see.
A Struggling Concept
But BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS was bound to have growing pains from the beginning. The anime lacks the crucial sources of conflict that NARUTO had. Everything exists in a world of relative peace. Gone are the regional conflicts that keep the Akatsuki employed. No longer are nations constantly spying and warring with one another. As a result, BORUTO struggles to create sources for the plot. The one place where I’ll give the series credit is in the inventive ways they’ve attempted to circumvent this. The struggle between old ninja methods and new scientific ones reminds me of the actual struggles between Samurai culture and more advanced warfare in actual Japan. That concept is interesting for the series.
But so far, it feels forced. In the NARUTO novels that occurred shortly after the end of SHIPPUDEN, we saw the world undergo tension before peace. Since a ninja’s role in society is only necessitated by conflict, a lot felt lost. After all, what do you do if the entire purpose of your life suddenly vanishes? Sasuke had to travel and reconcile old beef involving the Uchiha. Even Shikamaru found himself involved in those sorts of conflicts. BORUTO wants to achieve the level of thematic intrigue that the novels did. But the anime is attempting to do so in a way that simultaneously sits in NARUTO’s shadow and tries to dispose of it; much like Boruto himself, the BORUTO anime is trying to carve out a niche with a concept that will likely never outdo its predecessor.
Can BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS Become Good?
The short answer? Yes, it’s possible. If the BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS manga and anime both hold true to a solid story and really flesh out new characters and villains, everything could work. The current BORUTO manga, without spoiling anything, is approaching an interesting point. But, both the anime and manga made one fatal error that makes it difficult to maintain faith. The opening scene between an adult Boruto and the new Kawaki set an unbelievably high bar. The anime set itself up to consistently fall below that bar. This manufactures the constant appearance of failure even in the brief moments where failure isn’t there. Unfortunately, not only is the failure there, it sours amidst BORUTO overhyping itself from the jump.
When I think of the beginning of most shonen anime, there’s always a moment where I know I’m hooked. I am usually somewhat aware of many people’s backstories, and development is widespread. By episode 63 of NARUTO, we had only just met the rest of the genin beyond Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura. Despite that, I felt like I understood the characters. And, the story was exciting. BORUTO lacks not only the appeal of NARUTO but any appeal in general. I, probably like many of the people reading this, watch week after week hoping for better. I want the series to either live up to its own hype or manufacture new exciting venues.
But, ultimately, things like Episode 65 merely fling our memories of episodes past forward like a facade. The episode wasn’t enjoyable because “BORUTO got better.” It was enjoyable because Boruto was barely in it. BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS isn’t just “not as good” as NARUTO. It’s not good at all.
Featured image from Crunchyroll.