Grade: A+ through ep 135; B- for fillers through 220
Genre: Comedy, Fight, Fantasy
Epsiodes: 220+ (continuing series)
Notes: Think Harry Potter in ninja school but with even more action and comedy.
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12 years ago, from the current timeline, a nine-tail demon fox attacked the Hidden Leaf Village. All the powerful shinobi (ninjas) were unable to defeat the demon until the Fourth Hokage, leader of the village, sacrificed his life to seal the demon fox into a newborn baby, the title character, Naruto. He is an orphan who grows up to be a mischievous prankster and a poor student who fails to graduate from the shinobi academy. In the first episode, one of his teachers, Mizuki, suggests stealing the scroll of forbidden techniques in order to prove his ability and be allowed to graduate. But it turns out Mizuki wants the scroll for himself! His other teacher, Iruka, saves Naruto, thereby acknowledging him as a worthwhile person. Naruto learns his trademark technique (shadow clone) from the scroll and is able to defeat Mizuki. Iruka allows him to graduate and his adventures as a shinobi in training begin.
Animation is sometimes very good, especially the action sequences, but sometimes noticeably mediocre . The character designs are great - everyone looks different, not just the hair. Characters with advanced bloodlines all have crazy looking eyes. There's also a good sense of landscape of the different countries - the greenness of Leaf Village, destitution of Wave Country, and the winds of the Sand Village. The houses in these various country also have different architecture. Of the various opening and ending themes, you will find one that will be a favorite anime song. Particularly good is the first ending theme "Wind." The overall score is also very good, with some exciting percussions and pipes. The voices are excellent and distinctive, especially fan favorite Kakashi.
Series mostly follows a progression in story. There are several arcs as this is a long running continuing series. The first few episodes is for getting to know all the main characters and then they embark on a mission which lasts for a number of episodes. Upon their return, the next arc is the chuunin (next ninja level) exams. After that there are a few filler episodes before going back to the chuunin finals, during which war breaks out.
All the main and minor characters are well defined and each is given a background with a life defining moment. It is easy to find a favorite and nearly all characters are likeable to a certain extent. One of the most popular characters is Kakashi, Naruto's sensei (teacher). Sure, he's supercool, but a bit goofy, and his deadpan, off-the-cuff humor is more hilarious than the usual anime juvenile humor. (visit our Kakashi shrine!) Another great character is Shikamaru, a lazy sarcastic genius who likes to complain about everything. Naruto may come off as a bit stupid and annoying at first, but he has a number of good qualities that redeem him. His rival and teammate is Sasuke whose arrogance masks a tragic family past. Naruto's crush and other teammate is Sakura, booksmart but weak. Her inner Sakura thoughts are hilarious! Who doesn't say one thing and mean another? The only weak point of the plethora of wonderful characters, is that the female characters suffer in comparison to the male characters. There are a fewer of them, and they're weaker, with less interesting techniques.
As an action-fight anime, this is one of the best, with exciting moves, "magic" as performed by ninjas, and real strategies. As a comedy, it also excels with hilarious, not just silly, characters. As a drama, there are scenes that will have you in tears and scenes that question life and the ultimate function of a shinobi. Overall, it's an excellent mix of comedy, action and drama, with lots and lots of wonderful characters each with his own strengths and weaknesses.
Recommended for all ages. But there is blood and some intense painful fight scenes, which might disturb children under 6. Even if you don't normally like fight animes, check this out. You'll be hooked by the 10th episode!