By Dan Avola
“My dream is to be the greatest Hokage! That way, people will stop disrespecting me and start treating me like I’m somebody. Someone important!” – Naruto Uzumaki
When talking about The Big Three of Anime, you would be remiss if you did not mention Naruto. In today’s pop culture, even those who do not watch anime probably have an idea what you are talking about when you make fun of the kid “naruto running” in gym class, but hey, we don’t judge. I would be lying if I said Naruto was my first anime, like any other nerd growing up in the late 90s/early 2000s, I watched my fair share of Pokemon and Yugioh, but to this day neither of them tell stories that tear at my heartstrings like the ones in Naruto.
I do not want to wander too far into spoiler territory and risk ruining this show for you, but I want to talk just a little bit about the background of the show. Naruto takes place in its own world that does not follow our world’s rules for technology. Electricity exists, but guns do not. Do not think too hard about it. Each nation in this world is protected by a military power made up of Ninja, or Shinobi. And No, I do not mean the sneaky kind. Ninjas in Naruto are more akin to wizards who also know martial arts than someone who wears an all-black jumpsuit and sneaks around. Our hero, Naruto Uzumaki, lives in one of these military towns called The Village Hidden in the Leaves, which translates to Konohakagure, or Konoha for short. At the ripe old age of 12, kids can enroll in the ninja academy…or military school…to begin training to become one of their nation’s ninja. Gotta start ‘em young! It is Naruto’s dream to become the greatest ninja in his village, also known as the Hokage, however, for some mysterious reason, everyone in the village cannot seem to stand our main character.
At its surface, you might think Naruto looks like your standard Shonen story about an outcast main character who wants to be the very best like no one ever was….and you would be right. However, the real strength of the show/manga does not lie in just the main story arc alone, but rather in the arcs of its side characters. Sure, just like in your typical coming of age story, the main character goes through hell in order to achieve their goal and become accepted by society. In this story, however, you also watch society change as a whole in order to become a welcoming place FOR the main character. All of the side characters have their own interactions with Naruto and have their perspective changed, not just because Naruto becomes hella OP, but because they see that the way they initially treated him was actually wrong. There is not only one big arc to follow but a series of little arcs that constantly push the main narrative forward. Each character has their own interactions with Naruto that help make him a stronger ninja, and Naruto helps make each character a better person. Everyone who looked down on Naruto eventually ends up looking up to him and rooting for him. Honestly, I think the viewer also plays the role of one of the town villagers when watching the series. At first Naruto is rash, loud, and annoying, but after enough time watching him grow and overcome every challenge put before him, you cannot help but root for the yellow-haired loudmouth knuckleheaded ninja. You sort of have to admire how little he changes as a person to get those around him to like him.
So, if you are looking to crash through the gate of anime, I can honestly think of no better place to start than with Naruto. It has comedy, flashy fights, compelling characters, and overall just an awesome story. It has its fair share of filler material, and that can easily be avoided due to the internet, but it has been released in its entirety, and for those of you like me, who enjoy watching their TV rather than reading it, has also been fully dubbed. So strap on that headband, learn those hand signs, and grab your shuriken because the Shinobi world awaits!