So... I didn't bother with Naruto until at least Jan 2008 until I saw it on sale at my local HMV for an amazing £11 - thirteen whole episodes for the price of what would usually buy me three of any other series!! I bought it, took it home to my boyfriend and promised him that it wasn't going to be another girly shoujo fiasco that I'd made him sit through so many of and bribed him with ninjas and fighting...
But we got so much more than that...
Many years ago in the hidden ninja settlement of Konoha, a great demon nine tailed fox (Kyubi) was unleashed on the unsuspecting villagers. Yondaime Hokage sacrificed his own life to seal the Kyubi inside of a small baby, Naruto. In the years to come, the villagers of Konoha began to fear and shun Naruto, believing that he himself to be the demon fox, leaving him him isolated and alone. To gain the respect of the villagers, and to be acknowledged by his peers, Naruto strives to become Hokage (village leader) one day, by being the best shinobi he can be.
Although it is a little slow to begin with, the story of Naruto is a great one. The first main story arc after the introductory episodes (Zabuza arc) is at it's core, a good way to begin a series. Before I saw Naruto, I had a look at a few character guides and was completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters involved, but when I began to watch the series, I probably should've known that all these characters weren't going to be thrown at me at once. No, the start is a nice one... We get to learn about our ninja trio and their sensei. Naruto himself is at first glance, a little annoying, but once you learn of all the hardships he has endured and the loneliness he has been through, you feel a little paternal towards the little guy, or at least, I did. Once you put him in the equation with the rest of Team Kakashi, (aka Team 7) Naruto almost becomes complete. He has been teamed up with the girl he loves, Sakura, a sensei he he will grow to admire, Kakashi, and a team member that will ultimately shape the rest of Naruto's life, Sasuke.
It's not often in a story that the main protagonist starts out with everything he wants... He's now a fully fledged shinobi going on paid missions and has a set dream right out in front of him, to be Hokage. He's forming bonds and friendships with villagers and fellow ninja alike and fighting battles that will ultimately make him stronger. Everything seems to go right for Naruto in the main series, while his team mate, Sasuke falls further and further into to darkness, determined to avenge his murdered clan.
The main villain in Naruto is Orochimaru, a weird hybrid of Michael Jackson and Voldemort... He does not want to die and will go to many lengths to prevent death, one method of which heavily includes Sasuke. Orochimaru offers Sasuke more power so he can avenge his clan in exchange for Sasuke's body.
While Sasuke has a decision to make, Naruto tries everything in his power to make his best friend and first ever bond see sense.
My advice? Episodes 1-135 are a must see, anything after that until Naruto Shippuden won't really give you any plot progression as it isn't canon material. Episodes 136-220 are filler episodes designed for the specific purpose of letting the manga series get ahead.
I'm no expert on animation, so I'm purely going on what I see here, ok?
While I have no real complaints about the animation, it is not the best quality I have seen in my time, but what else could I really expect from a long running series? It does it's job and doesn't stray too far from the manga design, which I like, but sometimes (especially in the first 50 or so episodes) there are some downright ugly (and kind of scary) animations Oh, and I know they're only background characters, but maybe they could've put a little more effort in there... I mean - at one point, there's a character in the background that looks like Sasuke with a fake moustache...?
In the original Naruto, the music by Toshiro Masuda is sheer genius. It is something I am sorely missing in Shippuden at the moment and while I fully accept that Shippuden focuses on the characters a few years later and that is probably necessary for the music to mature along with them, I can't help but miss the original music. A time where I especially loved it was at a time when Naruto rose to a specific occasion and basically kicked ass. The music accompaniment helped the entire mood and the times when you knew it was coming made it that much more enjoyable.
With most anime fans, you either like dubs, or you don't. There are some that don't mind either way, it's just a matter of what they can get their hands on. I began watching Naruto in it's dubbed form, Maile Flanagan as Naruto, Yuri Lowenthal as Sasuke and Kate Higgins as Sakura, and they were just fine. I had no complaints and it wasn't until I looked it up online that I realised Naruto was voiced by an older woman, which threw me a little, but I then realised that many of my favourite shonen characters are voiced by women and I got over it. People are way too harsh on the Naruto dub, because I think for the best part, it's pretty good. I switched to subbed around season three, simply because at that point the dubs weren't available to me and I wanted to carry on the series and had no patience and I liked that too, especially Junko Takeuchi as Naruto. I recognise very little Japanese but I have learnt enough to realise that Naruto's childish use of 'dattebayo' doesn't really mean anything and is simply a trait of his character.
Opening themes and ending themes are always a must for me. My boyfriend doesn't like them at all and we constantly have arguments about skipping past them or not, but I usually get my way. The first Naruto opening 'Rocks', if you'll excuse the pun. It's not too harsh, not too wimpy... It sets the tone right and gets my foot tapping every time. The first ending is a song that will stay with me forever. 'Wind' by akeboshi is the most beautiful, haunting song and fits perfectly at the end of the first few episodes and 'Viva Rock' by Orange Range is also a catchy number. While no other ending themes particularly stand out for me, I do have some more favourite openings. I like the second, 'Haruka Kanata' by Asian Kung Fu Generation, the fourth, 'Go!' by Flow and 'Re:member' also by Flow.
While I already mentioned that I like Naruto, there were many times throughout watching where I wanted him to progress faster and do better by himself, but that just didn't happen, which greatly frustrated me at times. There were also points where I just wanted him to tell Sakura to fuck the hell off and get a crush on someone who's actually worthy of his affection... but no, the heart wants what it wants and he'll keep trying his luck for years to come. Naruto is, and will remain my favourite character, and I know that will probably seem obvious to most, but I really do love him as a character. He has depth (when he tries), integrity, determination and will go to the end of the world and back for the sake of his friends. He's a very likeable if you give him a chance. Go Naruto!
Like Naruto's feelings, there was a time when I didn't like Sasuke at all. Right the way up to the point where you actually get Sasuke's origin flashback, I disliked him a lot and didn't understand why he had such a big fanbase, but when you learn of his tragic past, I sort of understood why people might like him. There are certain moments where I feel that this anime should have been renamed 'Sasuke' because it focuses on him so much at points, sometimes a little too much, but then I guess in hindsight, that it was necessary. I have a love/hate thing going on with Sasuke, sometimes I like him and sometimes I want nothing more than to see Gaara suffocate him with his sand.
Sakura... What can I say about Sakura? She's angry, irritable, unnecessarily violent... I'm afraid you'll have to fast forward to Shippuden if you want some real character development here... Sorry. For the best part of 135 episodes she's whining about Sasuke and hating on Naruto...
The same has to be said for Kakashi really. While you do get a good idea of his abilities and skills in Naruto, it's not until a good way through Shippuden that you get to see the animated adaptation of the manga's 'Kakashi Gaiden' which delves into his childhood and former team mates. Throughout Naruto, Kakashi is cool, calm and somewhat mysterious, and while sometimes his vagueness seems annoying, I believe that Kakashi always tries to make the right decisions and does his best by his team mates and village. The man knows what he's doing.
There are many MANY other characters in Naruto, and if I had all the time in the world, I'd share my opinion on all of them, but I don't, so I won't. I'll just tell you who to look out for!
Gaara, is high up there on my list of favourites, as is Rock Lee. Their fight in the Chuunin exam is one to watch!
Neji, Shikamaru and Kiba are also firm favourites, each with their own interesting stories and abilities, each with their own beliefs. Neji starts off unconvinced with his situation, but a little beating from Naruto sorts him right out.
In all, I feel that every single character in Naruto has earned their place and even the ones I don't like would be missed. Shizune for example. I can't STAND the doubt she has about Naruto, but I feel that her distrust is necessary to show what others think of Naruto.
I think that if you read all this thoroughly, that you'd have a firm understanding of my love for Naruto. I'm truly glad that I didn't listen to my friend that one time, because Naruto has featured in a big portion of my life for two years and for as long as it carries on for (no, it's not done yet, although I can slowly see an end making it's way towards me) I will be there, reading, watching and loving everything about it. It's made me cry, it's made me angry and best of all, it has managed to make me laugh, which in honesty, isn't that hard to do, but much appreciated anyway. If you take out the fillers and focus on the main story arcs, Naruto really is a great story. It's got everything from action to drama and belly laughs to uneasiness. Although it's animation plain sucks at times, it makes up for it with some really well animated scenes and stories.
A word of warning though... Be wary of fillers, flashbacks, flashbacks of flashbacks and unnecessarily long scenes full of staring, fist clenching and teeth grinding to stretch out the length and character origin flashbacks of characters that you couldn't really give a flying shuriken about.