Stressing over unsportsmanlike behavior is a problem unique to Boruto's generation
The Chunin Exams in the latest arc of Boruto: Naruto Next Generations has gotten into some heavy territory. During the first rounds of the exams, Boruto has twice found himself on the brink of defeat against the Genin from foreign nations and twice made the fateful decision to use his kote, an experimental machine capable of automagically casting jutsus using miniaturized scrolls.
While no surprise to fans of the Boruto movie, this is an interesting direction to take the inheritor of the Naruto franchise. Although Naruto himself had his fair share of obnoxious traits and was less than a model citizen when it came to things like pranks and defacing public monuments, he never took shortcuts… unless you count using shadow clones to multiply your training hours a shortcut. Basically when the going got tough, Naruto never compromised. His respect for his opponents and the scale of his dreams demanded he find a solution on his own terms.
Portraying Boruto as a more true-to-life character, falling to temptation when he was unable to live up to his own expectations for himself, is a daring move. He knows what he did was cheating and that, if he fesses up to it, it could mean disqualification for not only himself but also Sarada and Mitsuki. Boruto feels guilt for what he’s done and has to cope with the idea that, if he passes, he’ll never be sure if he actually deserves his spot. He’s in a no-win situation because, if he was honest, he would be in the stands observing and thinking about how he’s going to spend the next year.
That’s compelling on its own, but seeing Boruto wracked with self-loathing as his father congratulated him on passing the first round, I couldn’t help but remember Naruto’s own experience during the Chunin Exam.
Their very first exam was a test designed to force everyone present to cheat, making cheating itself a traits they were attempting to measure as a qualification for becoming a Chunin. Only those who were capable of cheating without getting caught advanced to the next round. Meaning good ninja and good cheaters were synonymous at that time.
This disparity is another window that shows how the world has changed. During Naruto’s era, political tensions were high and nations were on the brink of war. The Chunin Exams weren’t just a means of promoting worthy Genin, but a tenuous connective tissue between troubled countries where nations were just as likely to use their new generation as a display of military force as make an attempt a diplomacy. A cutthroat affair where winning was essential to inspiring fear in rival nations, dissuading attacks and enforcing an “any means necessary” mentality among the upcoming generation.
It’s not just in regards to cheating, either, but the entire ethic of the test. This cutthroat atmosphere was implicitly encouraged by the examiners as another test in and of itself, to see if the potential Chunin were mentally prepared for the realities of war. The second round of Naruto’s exam didn’t take place in an abandoned city as with Boruto, a location called the Forest of Death, an environment that was itself deadly and where killing was perfectly acceptable. Gaara’s power and derangement were introduced when he murdered a team of ninja his own age after they had surrendered and the result was his advancement to the next round.
Having never existed in this world where war seemed so close and the knowledge that his entire generation was being trained as professional assassins and saboteurs, Boruto may not realize what a gift it is that he is even able to stress out over using a tool like a kote during the exam. You can bet in Naruto’s era none of the participants would have batted an eye at using any weapon that would give them the extra edge. Rather than moral quandaries, they had to face leaving each round on a stretcher or returning to their village in a coffin.
In Boruto’s exams it’s hard to believe that anyone is facing the threat of an early death. Having forged not only alliances, but honest friendships with the other leaders of the world, the Chunin Exams have grown into something uplifting. An event of mutual growth between allies meant to test the achievements of the next generation of leaders. A place where ideas like sportsmanship and fair play actually matter and where students have the opportunity to forge friendships and shake the hand of their fellow contestants rather than being taught before they even arrive that their competition are the enemy. Where the Kage can speak unguarded about the outcomes of the matches rather than trading threats and jealously guarding secrets.
It’s a problem unique to the new world of peace that his father has been able to build. With a sister and mother cheering him on in the stands, a father pacing back and forth in his office worrying about the results, and the threat of death a distant worry, Boruto has the room to begin wondering about if his actions are just. Just as the five villages, in this new era of peace, can concern themselves with not only winning, but fairness. Although, if Boruto had known the test his father underwent, and that he nearly failed trying to crib his future wife’s answers, he might not feel so bad about using a questionable tool.
Peter Fobian is an Associate Features Editor for Crunchyroll, author of Monthly Mangaka Spotlight, writer for Anime Academy, and contributor at Anime Feminist. You can follow him on Twitter @PeterFobian.