I am stepping away from the movies and indy comics for a moment to focus on some mainstream manga. Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto series continues with the next generation, following his son in Boruto and it has finally been translated into English! I am aware that the manga has already been around in Japan and there has already been a movie released, which I have never seen. There have even been a few individual stories I’ve read already following some of the new cast, such as Boruto’s friends, Sarada Uchiha — daughter of Naruto’s former teammates Sakura and Sasuke — and Mitsuki — an artificial human created by former baddie Orochimaru. While those side stories may not be crucial to the plot of the new Boruto series, I feel like they have me more invested in Boruto’s story since I have more insight into not only the titular character but also his supporting cast.
In the opening of the first chapter, Boruto confronts a character named Kawaki on the damaged face of what is basically the Leaf Village’s version of Mount Rushmore, overlooking the demolished village itself. Both Boruto and Kawaki have matching tattoos on their right and left forearms respectively, however Boruto’s is blue while Kawaki’s is red. Apparently the tattoos provide some form of power the user must activate, but it is unclear what the power is as of yet. Boruto also produces his ninja headband from his pocket and there is a strike through the symbol of the Hidden Leaf Village which is an indication that the wearer is a rogue ninja, usually a criminal without a village.
The story then jumps back in time to show Boruto with his family and his team. There are a few brief glimpses of some other classic Naruto characters throughout the chapter. Apparently Naruto’s old sidekick, Konohamaru, is now the leader of Boruto’s squad, which includes Sarada and Mizuki, and the Chuunin exams are about to get underway. Boruto, sick of his father’s neglect of his family, especially after Naruto misses his own daughter’s birthday in order to work, has little interest in becoming a ninja however he does desire to become stronger in order to beat Naruto. Upon meeting Sasuke Uchiha for the first time, he asks him to be his master.
Ignoring the side stories I’ve read so far and focusing solely on this first chapter, I honestly have some mixed feelings about the series. Besides those who are already huge fans of Naruto, this first chapter doesn’t do a whole lot to establish the world and the characters in it for new readers, but it is an obvious continuation. Without prior knowledge of the history of the Naruto series, I wonder what kind of impact the stories would have on people picking up Boruto first though. Series creator Masashi Kishimoto is also taking a backseat (kind of) for this spinoff, assuming the role as editor, but leaving the art and writing to his assistants Ukyou Kodachi and Mikio Ikemoto. I noticed a few inconsistencies with the character designs, some of which are hugely noticeable (looking at you, Hinata), but they don’t affect the past stories so I can forgive it.
I kind of like the direction they are going with the introduction of new technology into the Naruto universe. Konohamaru debuts a device that deploys ninja scrolls in a manner very similar to Spider-Man’s web-shooters, which allows any ninja to use another ninja’s spells or techniques, even if they are specific to a bloodline. There is also a handheld video game being played by the title character and a pair of his friends. The juxtaposition of training to be the strongest ninja possible (instead of relying upon advanced tools) and the steady progression in a video game (over using cheat codes) was a nice moment, and I hope that the series continues to explore this theme. I know Kishimoto said he intentionally wanted no technology in the original Naruto series — I feel like the lack of technology actually helped make it unique, but I will remain open-minded to see what this new interpretation has in store.
I am also not fully invested in Boruto as a character yet. I think that, unlike Naruto, Boruto is portrayed as a child prodigy and advances way faster, but I hope that that does not negatively affect his development as a character. So far, Boruto is merely a spoiled brat with anger issues caused by the lack of attention from his old man, and while he resents his father for prioritizing his duties as leader of the village over his duties as a parent, he wants to surpass his strength. I do like the idea of an Uchiha as the main contender for the hokage title, since Sarada aspires to be in Naruto’s shoes, while Boruto idolizes Sasuke. I can appreciate the parallels of the two original main characters with their children’s relationships and goals and how the kids are also foils of each other.
I do like the fact that, judging from the dialogue between Boruto and Kawaki and the opening scene, there will be plenty of tragedy and destruction to look forward to. Just from the marked headband and the glowing tattoo, I have several ideas about possible story arcs for Boruto and what brings him to that point, but I will happily sit tight and trust in Kishimoto’s team to inspire and entertain me with the new series as he has successfully done for years.