BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS – First Impressions

So apparently this series should be written fully capitalized, fair enough. BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS is the latest entry in the Naruto franchise, following Uzumaki Naruto’s son, Boruto, as he becomes a ninja and goes on adventures with his friends at school. I didn’t expect to find myself watching the series in the first place as I wasn’t exactly someone who enjoyed the original Naruto or Naruto Shippuden much. But then I hit Crunchyroll’s “random anime” button and it gave me this, so I figured why not give it a chance?

Unlike most of my first impressions posts I actually watched more than one episode this time around, as two episodes were out by the time I found myself watching the series. So I suppose this will be a slightly more defined opinion than I’d otherwise share. My verdict on the series thus far? It’s alright. I feel that’s the best way to sum it up, it’s simply alright. Not bad, but not particularly good, a very middle-of-the-road but still reasonably enjoyable watch.

One of the strengths of the series so far comes from Boruto himself being a far more fun character than Naruto was in the early days of his series. Boruto shares a lot of traits with his dad’s younger days for sure, but there are some key elements that make him different. First off, Boruto is surprisingly cheerful and positive about both himself and the events around him. He seemingly makes friends rather easily and while his reputation is still shaped from past events he wasn’t in control of, it’s from a different angle.

The kids at the ninja academy view Boruto as someone riding on his father’s coattails, getting by easily and not having to put in work. But while this is the view Boruto wants to disprove, it’s not treated the same way Naruto’s rather depressing life as an outsider that nobody wanted to interact with was. Boruto gets in trouble and initially have his classmates avoid him as a result, but it’s more a spur-of-the-moment reaction that is dealt with and solved directly than the nature of the series’ first arc.

This more positive tone leads to the series also having a more laid back feel. At the start of the series we see Boruto eat hamburgers with his friend Shikadai after parkouring their way through Leaf Village to ride on top of a train. It’s a visually appealing sequence that manages to both show Boruto’s skills before attending the ninja academy as well as his carefree nature. In fact, it’s such a solid sequence that I kind of wish they hadn’t introduced the first episode with an event taking place several years in the future before flashing back to present day.

I suppose I should talk a little bit about how BORUTO relates to the manga written by Kodachi Ukyou. Unlike the Naruto anime series, this is not a straight adaptation of the original manga. Instead it serves as an anime original prequel, complete with new characters created specifically for the anime. It’s likely this decision was made because of how recent the manga is and the staff hoping for BORUTO to be another long-running success like its predecessor. After all, Naruto was never afraid to push filler for the sake of giving the manga time to develop further.

Speaking of development. One of the stranger things about BORUTO is how heavily the setting has changed. After a mere ten years of peace Leaf Village has become a nearly contemporary city with trains, skyscrapers, computers and all sorts of modern things. I was waiting for an explanation about just how they basically spring centuries ahead in infrastructure and digital technology in such a short amount of time, but the anime just said it happened thanks to the peaceful times. It’s a little jarring and it’s hard to not have it rub your suspension of disbelief, but it does make for a more interesting setting.

You might have noticed that I’ve not talked about any character except the titular Boruto himself. That’s because the anime, so far, does not care at all about the rest of the cast. While the first episode gives us a focus on the tech-savvy Denki and the second episode features the class’ bully Iwabe, they’re both anime original and don’t leave much of an impression. Meanwhile, Sarado, who’s the daughter of Sakura and Sasuke from the original series, is supposed to be a main character and the second lead of the series. Yet she’s yet to say more than maybe five sentences in total.

That’s honestly the biggest problem with BORUTO so far. It wants to sell Boruto as a fun protagonist and does a decent job at it while shoving everyone and everything else to the side. The result is a series with a large cast that I know nothing about and care nothing for with events that only matter because Boruto initiates them. It feels less like I’m experiencing Boruto’s story of becoming a ninja and more like I’m just experiencing Boruto’s ego praising himself, if that makes sense.

The visuals are an issue as well, as every impressive looking sequence is answered with three or four awkward looking cuts that feel like they came from a different production altogether. Like Naruto Shippuden before it, BORUTO relies on a lot of flat colours with little to no shading which also makes everything look undetailed and sometimes even straight up unfinished. It’s a shame, since sequences like the parkour shots and some of the fighting in both episodes are genuinely superb and shows that the series can indeed look much better.

In the director’s chair we see Naruto Shippuden veteran Yamashita Hiroyuki stepping up from directing opening and ending sequences, as well as a handful of episodes, to being the series director as well as episode director and storyboarder on the pilot. He’s also joined by Abe Noriyuki who’ve had minor interactions with Naruto in the past but did direct and storyboard one of its main competitors at the time, Bleach. Hopefully having two seasoned shounen action directors in charge will help the series be popular with fans of the genre going forward.

On the music side of things, I was pleasantly surprised by KANA-BOON‘s Baton Road as the series first opening theme. It’s catchy and nails the upbeat fun that the series seems to be going for. The ending theme, Dreamy Johnny by The Pebbles, is quite the song as well. Naruto has had a pretty solid track record with songs for me, even when I’ve not enjoyed the series I’ve found myself listening to the tunes quite a bit. The soundtrack for BORUTO is composed by the great Takanashi Yasuharu who composed for Naruto Shippuden as well. While his work has not stood out to me as much in BORUTO as in other series so far, I trust that to change going forward.

As positive as I may come across regarding BORUTO as a whole, I’m honestly more lukewarm than excited about the series going forward. The first two episodes were better than I had expected following Naruto Shippuden, but that wasn’t exactly a high bar to pass. I don’t know if I’ll follow the series for long and I can’t say if I see it improving or taking a turn for the worse in the next few episodes. It’s an alright series, but nothing more than that at the moment. And in a season with series much stronger than BORUTO, it’s going to have to step up above just being alright if I am to keep watching.

With that said, if you stopped watching Naruto because you didn’t enjoy Naruto as a main character, then I think BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS might be worth giving a shot. I was never a fan of the original series myself, as I mentioned, and I was still able to enjoy this series just fine so far.

BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS is licensed by TV TOKYO and is currently being streamed on Crunchyroll.
Click here for more Spring Season 2017 impressions!


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