As a child, watching Naruto was an emotional journey. Coming from a single-parent family, I appreciated seeing someone my age struggling to come to terms with loss and family. Naruto is, on the surface, simple-minded and outspoken. But like most of the youth in the series - who reflect the show’s young teen demographic - there’s more to his character than first meets the eye.
Naruto is forthright but yearns for others’ affection. As an orphan with the nine-tailed beast that devastated his village sealed inside him, he’s been outcast by society. The original Naruto is about his character finding a place to belong, and for others to learn to accept him for who he is. Naruto Shippuden is, seemingly to reflect the growing age of its audience into young adults, maturer in tone and content; stressing the importance of friends and family and connections to others. The relationships Naruto develops in Part One of the series are - in Part Two - endangered by an impending threat; the Akatsuki, Sasuke’s revenge and finally, Madara.
Naruto’s character development begins from his paternal relationship with Iruka (an instructor at the Ninja Academy). Iruka is always there for Naruto, even during his worst times. Despite disappearing in the background in the Shippuden series, his interactions with Naruto, especially when comforting Naruto after Jiraiya’s death, were some of the best character development moments in the show. While Iruka physically ages between each interaction, Naruto grows as a person. Seeing their relationship evolve from a middle-aged man tasked with taking care of a mischievous brat, seeking attention, to a respectful admiration for one another was beautifully relatable.
In this way, the last episode of Naruto Shippuden, “The Message,” that aired last month, not only poignantly transitioned Naruto’s journey into an adult but reminded me of why I love the series. The hour long episode follows Naruto’s and Hinata’s wedding as their friends struggle to find a gift for the pair. Fittingly, the episode is a homage to the fifteen year long success of the series, its characters and the development of Naruto as a character. But the most powerful scene was with Naruto and Iruka. It’s a short but emotional scene where Naruto asks Iruka to be his father at his wedding, a moment that perfectly symbolises their relationship. Throughout the series, Iruka is the closest person to a father Naruto’s ever known.
Sure, the exhaustingly slow pace in the last few years of Naruto Shippuden turned me off watching the show for a while, but this moment powerfully symbolised why the show should be remembered.
Now, three years after the end of the manga and a few weeks after Shippuden’s finale, Boruto: The Next Generation begins to air, the story of Boruto, Naruto’s and Hinata’s child, carries the torch. The new series will introduce the coming of age narrative to a new youthful audience; following a child walking in their famous father’s shoes trying to find their own feet.
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