In 2002, Naruto and its follow-up sequel, Naruto Shippuden, captured the attention and admiration of the anime world with its flashy ninja techniques, intense fight scenes and heart-warming — and sometimes heart-breaking — stories. To this day, it’s revered as one of the largest contributions to anime, standing alongside series such as Bleach and One Piece, with over 250 million copies of its manga reaching bookshelves worldwide and an average sales per volume of 3.47 million.
The next chapter, Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, follows the story of an aged Naruto, who holds the role of the Seventh Hokage and, more importantly, his son Boruto. Excitement quickly arose about the idea of another story blossoming, with the series continuing and introducing the next generation of Uzumaki ninjas into the fold. Unfortunately, the reception was critical at best, as fans of the main series quickly soured over many aspects of the series and its shortcomings in living up to its predecessor. Whether it’s the artistic integrity being questioned or a general lack of direction in storytelling, why has the Naruto franchise been hit so hard by its fandom?
New Characters, Similar Qualities
In Episode 1 of Naruto, “Enter: Naruto Uzumaki!,” the audience meets Naruto in a tragic fashion — a child with no parents, an outcast to his peers and someone seeking any form of attention for the sake of being recognized or noticed. When Boruto entered his own story, fans were puzzled by a similar character who has a disdain for his father. His parents were active in his life, yet as Seventh Hokage, Naruto plays a neglectful parent to Boruto, creating a wedge in their father-son relationship due to the active role he must play to protect their village. Whether it’s to direct a narrative of a troubling child with a chip on his shoulder or a decision to create more drama between family members, the audience didn’t appreciate the carbon copy of Naruto Uzumaki, nor were they interested in Naruto’s parenting choices.
The problem reaches other core characters like Sarada, the child of Sakura and Sasuke, who has a hard time deciding whether she wishes to stay on the sidelines and analyze a situation like her mother would or if she is the confident warrior who rushes into battle with swagger like her father. Metal Lee is a slightly shyer version of Rock Lee, right down to his bushy eyebrows and dated hairstyle. Chocho is the food-loving warrior who provides some comedic relief, much like her father Choji did before her, only she comes off as prouder and louder than the past generation. It makes sense for characters to be representations of their parents, but the characters feel like past characters to the point where it feels like a cheap reunion tour with people who are less interesting than their original counterparts.
Sequels Always Loom in a Shadow
Perhaps it was tough right out the gate for Boruto and his friends to capture the same attention as the original Naruto series. Historically, sequels tend to fail to live up to the original run due to nostalgia and, more often than not, are compared to an idea that was unique only during its release. Despite having aired two decades ago, people are still putting their hands together and forming their jutsu in tribute to Naruto. The magic it captured is almost unmatched to this day, and maybe it’s slightly unfair to place these expectations on the shoulders of Boruto.
Another hindrance is the fact that the manga is a monthly release, which made it possible for the anime to be sourced directly from the manga, unlike Dragon Ball Super, which adapts the manga from the anime while maintaining a weekly, long-running anime. For this reason, Pierrot Company, Ltd. had to make do with what they had and build a high volume of filler episodes and sometimes childish and cartoonish arcs to fill in the gaps. This problem had Boruto and friends fighting gods in one arc and directly following it up with the gang going on a hunt to find a cat.
As the audience watched, the looming thought process hit like a ton of bricks: this isn’t like Naruto, yet it feels the same. The characters everyone once fell in love with were either disregarded entirely or used as plot-driving pieces, some of whom are killed unceremoniously. For some, one of the best moments in Boruto‘s five-year run is a battle between Naruto and Sasuke, which speaks volumes about the show’s main cast and storytelling. Boruto: Naruto Next Generations may be the latest sequel to the Naruto series, but for some, it ended after Naruto Shippuden, and everything that comes after it is scoffed at to the same level Dragon Ball GT once was.