Understanding Storytelling: The Strengths and Weaknesses of Boruto

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Now that Boruto has hit the 50 episode mark, it’s first recap episode, and the Chunin Exam will start shortly it’s as good a time as any for a look at what Boruto does well and what kind of problems the show faces.  Obviously there will spoilers.

My greatest concern overall is that Boruto seems to have a big problem managing weakness.  Many of of Boruto the character’s fellow shinobi are pretty weak, as one would expect them to be.  But Boruto’s team is broken as shit.  I get that Boruto is supposed to be a prodigy and all but he, Mitsuki and Sarada are all way better than basically all of their classmates.  The only character whose strength I’m totally ok with is Iwabe, because is several years older and has intensely focused on ninjutsu to the detriment of his studies – hence why he’s had to repeat the academy several times.  Honestly this problem really just applies to Boruto’s team but considering that they are the main team it’s a serious problem.  Boruto seems to have very few problems fighting opponents who should be above his level, Mitsuki apparently can already use Sage Mode because plot and Sarada, who at least is still a beginner at the Sharingan, can inexplicably use super strength despite that not being a technique she is training to use.

This jump starting of the main team is a serious mistake as what made the early parts of Naruto great was how the characters managed their very limited abilities to the best of their ability.  There’s no real need for them to be this strong and some of the things they can do, like the Sage and super strength don’t make any sense.  These are not abilities you just get.  Sage Mode requires intense training and the super strength is the by-product of a very specific style of healing jutsu.  Mitsuki and Sarada have not done any of the training required to get their powers.  Boruto on the other hand just seems to have more jutsus than he should although he’s honestly the least problematic of the three.  Still having the characters start so strong raises some serious red flags.  The biggest trap Boruto should be aiming to avoid is the drastic rise in power levels that made late Naruto episodes a snorefest .  Ideally Boruto and Co never get as strong as their parents partly for the sake of the story but also partly because they live in an age of relative peace and prosperity.  Unfortunately one of the core ideas in Naruto was the whole, child/student surpasses the parent/teacher, and it used that idea to excellent effect so I would bank on Boruto going for the same thing.

Which brings me to my next point.  Boruto seems very willing to follow almost identical story beats to Naruto, some of which work to it’s advantage and some of which are unnecessary or even weak.  As I discussed before the Kakashi test was a good example of this being weak, because the ideas which Kakashi was trying to teach are way less applicable in Boruto’s day and age than they were in Naruto’s time.  They’ve basically taken the Zabuza arc and split it into three parts, the Mist Village rebellion, the random town they saved from rouge ninja’s where the conflict centered around a bridge and now the Byakuya gang arc which drew heavily on Haku and Ice Style to create it’s own story, which admittedly was the best of the three arcs.  Drawing on Naruto for inspiration isn’t necessarily a problem but it has been very hit or miss thus far and the creative staff needs to take into account the global changes in Boruto’s world which separate it from Naruto.

Jumping back to the first problem about jump starting the main team I think I see the motivation.  One of the main problems Boruto’s creative staff will have to face is creating adversaries and scenarios which are dangerous enough to be tense and challenging for the kids but which aren’t so dangerous that their parents won’t just come in and curb stomp the problem.  They have mostly managed this just fine so far but as the power levels rise this problem will only get trickier.  I think the reason the main team is so strong for their age is so that the staff can justify letting them tackle problems which, realistically, the adults would do.  This is counter productive though, in part as explained above the dangers of making the kids overpowered but it also negates one of the shows greatest strengths, the contrasts between the current generation and the previous one.

Consistently the greatest scenes and most interesting dialogue comes from Naruto era characters either talking about how things used to be/how different things are now, or imparting word of wisdom to Boruto and Co.  I loved when the Five Kages have a discussion about their concerns about a lack of strong new ninjas.  Naruto and Sarada had both some warming father daughter moments, because Sasuke is terrible as a dad, but he also impresses on her how ludicrously strong he is during the fight with Uchiha Shin, and honestly I think Boruto needs a taste of that to level out his ego.  Hell even more recently when Naruto personally takes some time to recognize Iwabe and let him now that being a repeat student is not a stain on his reputation or character as Naruto himself was a repeater.  It’s been great stuff all around and if anything I’d rather see the kids struggle more and involve the adults more in helping them get through their issues.  Because while seeing the kids develop is part of the appeal of a show like Boruto, another obvious appeal is seeing how characters we grew up in Naruto have changed as they became adults.

One of the other differences between Naruto and Boruto is their pacing.  Both shows are slow but for entirely different reasons.  Naruto was slow because of protracted battles and lengthy, gratifying training arcs.  Boruto is slow because it switches off between being Naruto and being Naruto-slice of life edition.  There are a number of episodes where the objective is definitely about building the class and the teams as characters and not bothering with any serious conflicts.  And even the conflicts are taken much slower, as I explained thus far Boruto has taken elements of the Zaubza Arc and split it into 3 arcs.  The battles in Boruto are not protracted because how could they be?  If the battle was a big enough deal to be protracted the adults would come in and clean things up quickly.  I don’t mind that Boruto is taking it’s time but I do sincerely hope they don’t forego training arcs entirely as the Naruto’s training arcs were fucking great, it made his high level techniques feel far more justified if we see him busting his ass to get them.

Those are the main issues.  There have been some surface level changes like Naruto generally being goofier and more consistently funny, there being an all male and all female team instead of the standard 2 guys 1 girl, and Anko went from sexy to fat, but Boruto has been treading cautiously, a wise move, and hasn’t had any moments big or dramatic enough to make it like Naruto.  My only suggestions would be that if Boruto is intent maintaining this slower pace it should be doing more to flesh out the changes in the world that have occurred since Naruto’s generation have come into power and adulthood.  If on the other hand Boruto is about to drop some big dramatic or action bombs then it needs to be careful of not treading into power levels which the kids should not have or which the adults should deal with.

I think Boruto has been a decent time and I’m looking forward to where it goes but ultimately it doesn’t have the same hook that early Naruto did and nor can it really.  It’s banking on Naruto’s famous if somewhat dubious legacy and that severely limits what the creative staff can do and what they should or should not do.  I will be cautiously optimistic about the future of this show but I see some clear pitfalls and am very worried by what I saw in the opening flashforward.  Honestly I think Boruto will crash and burn at some point and the real question is, how long can they prevent this from happening while keeping the show interesting, and so far the answer seems like quiet a while.

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Boruto & the Generational Gap: Why Kakashi’s Exam was Misguided

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This post will generally assume you’re up to date on Boruto but in case you aren’t here’s a quick grasp of the situation.  Boruto’s class is taking a Genin exam and for whatever reason Kakashi is the exam proctor and his doing a variation of his old bell test from Naruto.  Boruto’s class ends up passing the exam but during the exam Kakashi ripped into Boruto and his classmates for not being good enough and that’s where about half the intrigue for this test should have been.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

By far one the most interesting aspects of Boruto is the contrast of Boruto’s generation and Naruto’s generation.  In the buildup to this exam, an exam which Naruto almost entirely glossed over since Naruto was the only one which couldn’t pass it, though obviously he does end up passing it via learning Shadow Clone.  In Boruto this exam is much bigger deal because it will break the class up.  Everyone wants to pass this exam because it’s like getting a high school diploma but the class is split between people who want to continue down the ninja path or people who want to get a secondary school education and do something else.  Some teams almost fall apart because of the disagreements between those who wanted to be ninjas together and those who want to take their lives elsewhere.

A particularly good scene in the buildup to the exam is when Boruto asks Hinata why she became a ninja.  She casually remarks that when she was a kid that was what was expected of people.  Boruto just kind of moves on from that scene without really taking it in but there’s almost no greater sign of the differences between the two generations.  In Naruto’s time countries were either at war or on the brink of war and ninjas were the lifeblood of every village.  Boruto has never experienced such a world and none of the kids can really conceive of it.  Few if any of them even have concrete goals or motives with regards to becoming a ninja and as mentioned above plenty of them aren’t even interested in being ninjas and do in fact plan to go elsewhere.

This is where Kakashi’s exam is kind of strong.  Kakashi goes incognito and investigates the class and observes their collectively weak or altogether lacking resolve.  He pins Boruto down in 1v1 combat and just rips into him about his lack of resolve and the bad influence he has on the rest of the class, and for a second it seems like he might really go ahead with his threats to fail everyone.  Ideally in fact I think none of them should have passed the exam.  It would have been really cool if the adults had made them face the fact they really aren’t ready to be ninja because the ninja world is a much more brutal place than they realize.  Imagine the amount of time they could spend developing characters after such a major failure, with some people dropping out for real this time, other’s hardening their resolve and so on.  Hell the impact of such a scene would have been phenomenal too a loud smack from an uncaring reality against the mostly happy-go-lucky tone of Boruto, the show and the character.

Alas this is where the exam falls apart, because the real point was to make sure the kids worked together and didn’t abandon their comrades – teaching the “those who break the rules are scum but those who abandon their friends are worse than scum” lesson we saw in Naruto.  But what was the point of that?  Boruto and friends are a hell of a lot more willing to cooperate and look out for each other because to them that’s, well, normal.  This is not an age of war where the best could and sometimes would look down on their squadmates or when leaving comrades to die for the sake of mission was considered acceptable and even normal.  The reason Kakashi’s exam made sense in the past was that it clashed with the established norms of sacrificing people to ensure the team succeeded overall.  And with regards to team 7 specifically it was used to unite the fractious 3 genin under Kakashi’s command.  Boruto and friends need no such push to unite them nor do they need to be convinced they should do things for the sake of their friends, that’s practically all they’ve done up until this point.

What the kids really need is a wake up call, something to really spell out for them how dangerous the world they are trying to step into can be.  Instead of being about uniting to get the Kakashi’s bell the exam really should have been something like the whole class having to beat the instructors in combat or, though impractical and out of character, the whole class trying to even hit Naruto.  I’m fine with them all passing the test so long as they learn a lesson about the realities of the ninja world.  Naruto himself would be ideal to show the kids just how unreasonably powerful their opponents could theoretically be while a maybe using the Ino, Choji and Shikamaru team to beat the whole class could really hit home how deadly enemies working together can be.  The point of the exam should not be about being a good friend anymore, that problem has been solved, rather the new genin exam should be a lesson in humility that challenges the half baked ambitions and resolve of the kids.  It should make them confront whether they really want to be ninjas or not because unlike in Naruto’s time, not being a ninja is an option with no stigma attached.  And I feel like Kakashi himself sort of agrees with me because he remarked that they had made the test too easy for Boruto’s class shortly before they passed it.

Long story short I think this exam shows both some real sparks of intrigue in Boruto and also the problems of sticking too close to Naruto in terms of writing.  The audience already knows all about this test and the lesson it teaches and it’s not given much weight or time at all because it’s a formality for the viewer.  Likewise it doesn’t even effect the kids too much.  However in the buildup to the exam and the split second where it seemed like Kakashi might actually fail everyone we saw glimpses material that could make for great character stories.  Ultimately I think what needs to happen is that in the near future Boruto and friends have to be confronted with the differences between them and their parents in the most stark and serious manner possible, because that will challenge them a hundred times more than this exam did and it will cut to the heart of their character as individuals, while highlighting some of the serious differences between the world of Naruto’s childhood and Boruto’s childhood.

Understanding Boruto: How to Save the Naruto Universe – or Kill it for Good

 

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“The generation below us is.. frankly not up to par.”  I included that in the picture at the top of this post for a reason, I think that quote is phenomenally on point both in the context of Boruto as a story and what I believe about how Boruto should best fit into the Naruto-verse.  This line comes up in a Five Kage Summit behind closed doors from latest episode of Boruto and the context here is that Naruto and Sasuke have discovered that Kaguya and her White Zetsu army are likely not the greatest threat the Ninja World will have to face – but they don’t know when this greater threat will appear.  The worry here is obvious, the current generation – Naruto’s generation – doesn’t think the generation below them is strong enough, with the current Raikage claiming that a lack of real skills among the youth is a concern for every ninja village and that this lack of real skills is the result of the current united, peaceful world.  The current Tsuchikage says it best though with the above quote though her literal words were closer to “Frankly the next generation’s level is too low.”

Now this is followed by Gaara and Naruto arguing that every generation faces the same scrutiny from the generation before them and that the kids may well surpass the current generation.  I agree with them to some extent but I think it would be best for the Naruto-verse for Boruto’s generation to never exceed Naruto’s generation.  This is because Naruto’s biggest problem is that the power levels got out of control and trying to write a story involving those power levels basically took Naruto away from the things which made it initially appealing.  I’m not entirely opposed to the idea of there being an enemy greater than Kaguya but if such an enemy exists Naruto’s generation – not Boruto’s – should be the one to face it.  Based on a few hints from the Manga and the very first scene of the anime it looks like the plan is for Boruto to somehow surpass Naruto even when he’s still a teenager – and that would be a death blow to the Naruto-verse.  Keep in mind that most of the Jinchuriki are gone, there’s no Akatsuki anymore and there is no threat of war or great tragedy driving the kids to get stronger at such a young age.  This is why I agree with the Tsuchikage and Raikage, this era can’t produce the same level of ninja, or at least the same numbers of ninja of a high enough level as the generation before them.

What then can be done to save Boruto?  Because against all odds it’s been decent so far.  There are minor details I would’ve changed but the overall feel is fine and some of the scenes featuring Naruto’s generation as parents have been the most well written Naruto moments in years.  I found Naruto’s warm paternal moments with Sarada, who has lacked a father figure her whole life, to be especially good.  And I loved the new Five Kage Summit and seeing all those kids from Naruto all grown up and handling adult problems – it’s been a blast to see character’s I’d largely gotten tired of become interesting again.  To answer the aforementioned question I see only two solutions. 1 – The greater than Kaguya threat (henceforth GTKT) appears when Boruto’s generation is older.  In this scenario Naruto’s generation would likely do something akin to the very first major arc of Naruto – basically give the kids challenging missions to hone their skills while adults supervise and step in if unexpected developments, like Zabuza showing up on a low ranked mission, occur.

The other option, and in my opinion the better option, is to have Naruto’s generation defeat the GTKT but to destroy themselves in the process.  Basically it would be akin to Sasuke’s situation in Naruto, Sasuke has to deal with Itachi because there are no other Uchiha’s left to hunt him down.  I don’t think Boruto would have to be that extreme but the idea here is for enough of Naruto’s generation to die or suffer crippling wounds when fighting the GTKT that they have no choice but to let Boruto’s generation to step up to the plate in the aftermath.  In this scenario no enemy Boruto’s generation would have to face would be like the GTKT, instead they would have to deal with strong leaders from minor villages seeking to claim power now that threats like Naruto are no longer hanging over their head or something like a huge outbreak in mid-level criminal ninjas.  The point is I don’t think Boruto’s generation should ever fight an opponent above the level of the Akatsuki and even then I think the Akatsuki’s power level might be too high for this generation to handle – but at least it could be done I think.  This way Boruto’s generation could grow and struggle but it wouldn’t break the Naruto-verse the way having these new kids surpass their sometimes stupidly powerful parents would, especially if they did so before they were adults.

Ultimately Boruto’s greatest narrative challenge is in creating foes and scenarios which are tough for Boruto’s generation to deal with but not so dangerous that the parents feel forced to come in and curb stomp the problem.  The Nue was a good example as the nature of the Nue made it something which Naruto couldn’t combat but Boruto could because Boruto was too weak to give the Nue any real power while Naruto would’ve given it more fuel for it’s explosion.  So at the very least the staff is clearly aware of the problem and working on it.  But the longer Boruto runs the trickier this challenge will be, and like I said I can only really see two ways out of the problem.  And I for one, hope that Boruto doesn’t break Naruto for good.