It's been a few weeks since the conclusion of the first story arc of Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, so hopefully everyone is caught up and unspoilable as I talk about just how satisfyingly familiar the ending felt. The new series has a number of different beats but, in the most important moments of the story, it's unmistakably Naruto. This is an extraordinary feat given the new story structure and Kishimoto stepping back from the series, so let's look at what makes Boruto work.
It’s a difficult thing to inherit the responsibility of writing for a franchise as iconic as Naruto, especially when it has spent its entire 15-year existence firmly under the creative control of Masashi Kishimoto. Ukyo Kodachi, the author of Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, has a task as enviable as it is herculean. In the history of shonen anime, perhaps only Akira Toriyama handing off narrative control of Dragon Ball to screenwriter Aya Matsui for Dragon Ball GT (which would eventually be retconned with the start of Dragon Ball Super) is as monumental a passing of the torch.
Fans who have invested themselves in the world for over a decade can be understandably skeptical of a new story arc in which an author relinquishes creative control. Naruto has been deeply meaningful to a massive global audience--even moreso when transitioning to a new primary cast with the familiar characters taking a back seat in this new leg of the story, a move that could really only said to have been successfully pulled off by Hirohiko Araki in his generational epic Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Speaking as someone who grew up with Naruto, it was difficult to approach with a completely open mind.
There was a great deal working against Kodachi before he even started. Making things even more difficult, the transition from the high stakes battles of Naruto Shippuden to the easy slice-of-life rhythm of Boruto is jarring, even if it seems inevitable in retrospect. A slice-of-life setting is just the sort of world Naruto was fighting to create, free from the intense suffering he had experienced as a consequence of lineages of violence and retribution. With that in mind, and the conclusion of the first story arc, I feel I’ve finally been won over by this new series. As a story, Boruto doesn’t try to be Naruto exactly, which it shouldn’t, but instead presents a distinct world that carries the same emotional notes and cathartic moments that defined the first series--the same feeling with a new flavor.
Kodachi has written a new world where the same issues that existed in the original Naruto are still present, as they may always be present, but are confronted from a different direction. Konoha’s new era of peace was earned with spilled blood and there are remnants (as there always are) of old enemies waiting for their opportunity for revenge and/or passing their weight of their vendetta onto their children. Instead of fighting for peace, Boruto is about a world that has attained peace and is attempting to hold onto it. Rather than preparing for enemies from without, Konoha must turn its gaze inward to battle its own paranoia and discover the seeds of resentment before they can take root.
Sumire’s plight breathes the same feeling of pain and hopelessness as so many opponents Naruto faced. Each are the victim of the previous generation’s resentments, vengeance that is doomed to repeat itself if allowed to continue. She doesn’t understand her father’s hatred, but all the same feels trapped by the inescapable destiny he set out for her. The most iconic opponents in Naruto weren’t the evil ones, but those who suffered in solitude. Recognizing that pain in others and having the courage to reach out to save them is what made Naruto a compelling hero, and now that legacy has been passed on to Boruto, who bullishly, almost idiotically helped Sumire recognize that she had the freedom to leave her past behind and choose her for herself
In this time of peace these threats have grown more difficult to find. The same problems take different forms, which encapsulates many of the individual character’s struggles. Boruto’s childhood angst is fundamentally similar to that of his father. Where Naruto suffered from immense loneliness as an orphan and outcast, Boruto also feels isolated, secondary to his father’s responsibilities as Hokage but burdened with high expectations as his heir apparent. Although there is tragedy in the fact that Naruto’s lack of a father figure makes it difficult for him to communicate with his own son, he’s undeniably built a better life for his children than he experienced. Each of them ultimately found solace in acting out and pursuing friendships, an area where Boruto has been allowed to flourish.
Although the opening scenes and moments of foreshadowing have shown a future much less optimistic than the one Boruto and his friends currently enjoy, the foundation set in the first season of Boruto established a brand new perspective and a crucial understanding of the themes that caused the original series to take the world by storm. An attempt at a perfect recreation of Kishimoto’s work would have been doomed to failure, but the shift from protecting rather than pursuing peace provides a fresh perspective and new opportunities. It also makes the struggles of Kishimoto’s original work meaningful. Kodachi still has a long way to go in establishing an individual work that will last the test of time, but it’s comforting to know that he understands Naruto’s heart.