For years I’ve avoided long anime series like the plague — when I was younger, I enjoyed the 2002 series Fruits Basket, yet since then I’ve balked at the idea of investing time in shows like One Piece, Dragon Ball Z and Detective Conan. But this quarantine, I chose to battle the whole Naruto series. I finished the original anime and I’m working towards the end of Naruto Shippuden, which takes place after the events of the original series.
The original anime has 220 total episodes, with 89 filler episodes throughout. Although the filler isn’t canon, or part of the original manga storyline, it was added because the anime might have caught up to the manga, while the mangaka, or manga artist, was still creating the storyline simultaneously. Naruto Shippuden has 500 episodes and 210 filler episodes. This doesn’t include the spin-off movies that were released during the series.
I don’t know what pushed me to even start it, but I decided to plunge head-first into the Naruto universe during quarantine.
Since then, I have become emotionally invested in Naruto, occasionally binging episodes during the summer and even shedding tears over the most poignant ones. Naruto tells the story of young ninja Naruto Uzumaki, who dreams of becoming the hokage, or the leader of his village. This show has taught me so many lessons — lessons about friendship, sticking up for your friends, people learning to change, knowing your strengths and weaknesses and becoming a better version of yourself.
Anime as a medium reverberates among so many people and so many languages. I didn’t even know Russians were big fans of the show until I bought a couple hoodies from Nikifilini, a Russian streetwear brand that makes hypebeast Naruto fashion. That’s what makes Naruto, and so many other anime and manga, so special — they’re timeless. Anyone who wants to watch can easily start and get into the lore. I didn’t even think about how much of an impact Naruto had on me until I was crying in almost every episode, sharing memes online and finding online communities to learn more about the series. I don’t think I can say that about any other anime I’ve watched so far.
The Naruto series is a rather old anime classic. The manga was first published on September 21, 1999, and the first anime episode was released on October 3, 2002. To put things in perspective, I was four years old when the first anime episodes came out. The series turned 21 years old at the end of September.
When I watched the first episode back in May, I wasn’t sure if I could personally relate to Naruto, a 12-year-old child. I found him to be obnoxious and troubled, but his behavior was explained by his upbringing as an orphan and a jinchuuriki host, a person with one of nine monstrous tailed beasts living inside them. Despite my initial hesitation, I carried on watching the show and got invested. I found myself shedding tears with the characters, crying for their situations and the realizations that came with the decisions they made. I felt like I could relate to each and every one of them. With the downtime I had from quarantining in a pandemic-stricken state, I found solace in a new ninja world.
Naruto Uzumaki taught me that one should never give up. He is faced with such hardships throughout the series and never asks anyone to pity him. He strives to rise up and become the hokage to show everyone he is capable, even when people look down on him for being the jinchuuriki of the nine-tailed fox Kurama. Naruto always stands by his ninja way — he doesn’t cut corners and does his best to become stronger and better in order to reach the level of his rival and best friend, Sasuke Uchiha. Naruto isn’t a perfect character and he has his faults, but he stands by what he believes and keeps his promises. He protects his friends and those he cares about. He loves everyone regardless of where they are from and can relate to anyone, even if he only meets them once. Even villains in the series have their own redemption arcs and go through positive change. I couldn’t help but love them as well. Each character in the series is well-written, and each has their own story to tell.
Even though Naruto is the first “long” anime series I’ve watched, I’ve had my fair share of anime since middle school. I’ve watched a variety of anime on Netflix, but my dad only let me watch it dubbed, with the Japanese voice acting replaced by English, because, as a nationalistic Chinese man, he didn’t want anything to do with Japanese language and culture — including anime. So I watched these “cartoons” in English, which is humiliating to say in front of true anime lovers, but it’s true. I know better now, and watch in Japanese with English subtitles.
In my initial anime days, I didn’t like telling my friends I liked to watch because I was afraid I would be ostracized and labeled as the weird kid. Think of the kid who would Naruto-run in the playground, play Yu-Gi-Oh or Pokémon cards and fight with the other weird kids.
Years since I feared this stigma, I think it has died down with all the anime TikToks people have been making. Seeing attractive people making TikToks about their favorite anime series makes me feel like there was never anything to be afraid of. I was afraid of liking something that I really enjoyed as a child, yet these girls gain popularity online for their otaku, the hardcore tendency to fall in love with a 2D character. Some people have been making TikToks and photo edits featuring their favorite anime characters. I think it’s a little cliché, but it’s cute. They’ve become very trendy and somewhat easy to make if you know your way around Photoshop. I’m glad TikTok has allowed people to represent their niche communities and hobbies, and show who they really are. Social media is partly responsible for the growth of anime, transcending those stereotypes of the weird anime kid, and I think that’s something to be proud of.
Now, I’m not so alone. I can share this fun little hobby of mine with a supportive community online. Beyond the connections I’ve made through anime, life lessons from these shows and characters have taught me what it means to be human.