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Review: “Boruto: Naruto the Movie” – The Kids Are (Mostly) Alright

by on May 24, 2017
 

WARNING: Spoilers for the end of the Naruto manga and the Naruto Shippuden anime series are placed throughout this review. This is unavoidable due to Boruto‘s subject matter. This is your only warning.

It’s hard to believe that the Naruto manga had ended back in 2014. It seems like the franchise has never truly left us, since the Naruto Shippuden anime kept going and going and going to a nearly ludicrous extent to stretch out the conclusion of the show (so much so that only six of the episodes that ran in 2015 are canonical). Several video games have been released since the manga’s conclusion as well, and two movies, The Last and now Boruto, were all made while Shippuden spun its wheels.

Boruto is an interesting experiment, based off what Masashi Kishimoto showed us in the 700th, and last, chapter in the Naruto manga (and a short manga that followed). The Naruto franchise has, without question, been an enormous cash cow for Studio Pierrot over the years, and its success has allowed Pierrot to take chances on riskier propositions (such as Tokyo GhoulYona of the Dawn/Akatsuki no Yona, and The World is Still Beautiful), to varying degrees of success. So it makes perfect sense, just like Toei did before with the Dragon Ball franchise, to commission a follow-up to its biggest property. The gravy train has to keep rolling.

Putting one of the most heralded animators at Pierrot (and of Naruto Shippuden in general), Hiroyuki Yamashita, in charge, and commissioning Masashi Kishimoto himself for a new story, Boruto is an attempt to see if a follow-up to the Naruto story can work, or is even remotely advisable.

It actually kind of does.

Decades after the final confrontation against Kaguya and the (somewhat) redemption of Sasuke Uchiha, Konoha and the rest of the ninja world has progressed dramatically in terms of technology, to about 1998 in real world terms. Skyscrapers dot Konoha, computers and color TV have been invented, and email has become a thing. Naruto has finally achieved his dream of becoming Hokage, and has found out that it involves paperwork. Mountains upon mountains of paperwork, with Shikamaru helping him make sense of it all. He has also settled down with Hinata and has had two kids with her, the titular character Boruto and a girl named Himawari.

The film wastes no time in establishing Boruto as a separate entity from Naruto and ensures Boruto’s personality and motivations are also quite different. While Boruto is the same age as when we were introduced to Naruto (12), he could care less about becoming Hokage and it hardly even matters to him if he even passes the Chuunin Exams. As far as he’s concerned, the job can go to his best friend Sarada Uchiha (the daughter of Sasuke and Sakura), who is far more driven and energetic than he is.

Apathy is a risky character trait to go with for a lead character, but Boruto doesn’t stay that way for long, revealing it to be more of a mask. Boruto’s apathy towards increasing his skill as a ninja goes hand in hand with what’s happened with his father due to becoming Hokage. Naruto is so busy in the Hokage’s office he hardly interacts with his family anymore; when Himawari has her birthday it’s revealed Naruto merely sent a shadow clone instead of being there in person. This is when our first impressions of Boruto are subverted, revealing that he is not simply apathetic but rather sullen and rebellious, furious at his father for putting his job ahead of his family. He wants to show him up, and via two chance meetings, he is given his chance.

The first is with none other than Sasuke Uchiha, who is in the middle of investigating strange Kaguya-like beings in service of Naruto. Boruto is well aware of Sasuke’s up-and-down relationship with his father and wants to be apprenticed by Sasuke simply to see the look on his father’s face. The second, far more negative, meeting is with the scientist Katasuke, who has invented a ninja tool that can absorb chakra and unleash powerful moves even without proper training (including the Rasengan). Naruto has banned the tool from being used by Konoha ninja, but Boruto sees an opportunity to not only impress him, but also show he can accomplish things without relying on Sarada and fellow teammate Mitsuki (a desire that is magnified after Mitsuki and Sarada have to bail Boruto out in the first stage of the Chuunin Exams).

It probably goes without saying that Boruto’s setting himself up for a fall, and, of course, those beings Sasuke’s investigating will also enter the picture in appropriately dramatic fashion. While Boruto’s character development through his fall from grace manages to hit the right marks, the villains leave less of an impression. The opportunistic, slimy Katasuke, Momoshiki, and Kinshiki Otsusuki basically share the same goals as Kaguya did in the main series, but despite some surface-level personality differences and some new powers, they fail to stand out because ultimately they feel like ciphers for both Kaguya and the film’s core moral.

It’s no accident that Momoshiki’s signature ability bears a remarkable resemblance to the ninja tool Boruto is using to cheat, which paints the moral with bright neon colors. Momoshiki’s opportunism is exaggerated and subtly pathetic: he is nothing without his ability to absorb and throw back enemy attacks, showing the flaws of relying on storing and using the abilities of others. It’s so blindingly obvious what the film’s theme is that you can almost see it bouncing around behind Momoshiki like puppet strings. That being said, it’s a solid message, but the execution could have gotten away with a bit more subtlety.

Overall, the story is largely fine outside of the weak villains. There’s some decent comedy, Boruto interacts well with Sarada and the mysterious Mitsuki, and anyone who has had parent issues will feel some empathy for the frustrations Boruto has with his father. Certain parts may not resonate, but as far as Naruto movie plots go this is definitely one of the better ones.

More impressive is the animation. While it’s expected that the animation will get a quality bump from the main series, almost every scene has Hiroyuki Yamashita’s mark on it. Yamashita has his own, unique way of drawing and modeling the characters right down to how they’re shaded, and nearly every scene in the film reflects Yamashita’s design aesthetic like he drew every frame of the film himself. The battles, as one might expect if he or she is familiar with Yamashita’s work, are spectacular, and without worrying about a manga, they are briskly paced. Every blow hits hard, and every new power (and combined powers!) are visual spectacles. Yamashita is a truly gifted director and this film powerfully showcases his talents as an action director, with the job he did here probably winning him the job of directing the Boruto anime series that recently premiered.

Yasuharu Takanashi and his -yaiba- unit return from Shippuden to score the film. Other than some slight increase in electronics, the effort they do here isn’t much different from the Shippuden series. It’s the basic combination of live strings, Japanese instruments, and Zakk Wylde-influenced heavy metal that’s been the modus operandi since Shippuden  began. Some old themes from Shippuden do make a return in new arrangements, particularly at the end of the film, but ultimately this is an exceptionally by-the-numbers score. The strongest piece of music belongs to the J-rock band KANA-BOON, with their song “Diver” (which is not a cover of the song by NICO Touches the Walls that was used for the eighth Shippuden opening). Matched to visuals depicting the old and new cast together, “Diver” is the perfect choice to close out the film and makes you anticipate further exploration of this modernized ninja world.

It is impossible to discuss the English dub without bringing up the fact that, absurdly, Maile Flanagan is still dubbing Naruto despite him being in his mid-to-late thirties now. Flanagan’s voice has clearly been destroyed by voicing an older Naruto for so long, making him sound like a chainsmoking grandmother in this film. This breaks the immersion every moment Naruto opens his mouth. It doesn’t help that her pitch is actually higher than the voice Amanda Celine Miller uses for Boruto, and the distinction between their tones broke my suspension of disbelief whenever they interacted with each other. I get the sentiment for keeping Maile Flanagan on as Naruto (especially as Junko Takeuchi is still voicing Naruto in the Japanese version herself), but Flanagan’s rough vocals drag the English dub down hard. When the Boruto TV anime inevitably gets dubbed, Naruto needs to be recast with a male voice actor.

Amanda Celine Miller’s voice for Boruto is legitimately fantastic, doing a great, realistic impression of a 12-year-old boy with his voice about to change. Miller is able to explore a full emotional canvas as Boruto with nary a voice slip; when Boruto yells at her father or growls in sullen anger it legitimately sounds like a young boy speaking. Miller is flanked by Cherami Leigh as Sarada and Robbie Daymond as Mitsuki, along with Max Mittelman becoming the first male voice actor for Konohamaru. They all bounce off of each other well, showing great potential at forming a main character group as memorable as Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, and Kakashi were in the original Naruto. Other standouts include Xander Mobus gleefully channeling hammy evil as Momoshiki, and Yuri Lowenthal being rock-solid as always as Sasuke.

The Japanese dub has the same issue as the English, with Junko Takeuchi clearly not suited to still be voicing Naruto at this point. However, she and Yuko Sanpei (Boruto) are at the same pitch, so even if both dubs share the same fundamental issue, it is at least less prominent in the Japanese version. Takeuchi manages to deepen and husk her voice enough (possibly with subtle electronic pitch-shifting) that the voice, while not ideal, doesn’t sound quite so completely out of place. Otherwise, the Japanese dub is every bit as solid as the English dub, if not slightly more so.

Extras are thin on the DVD (which was the review copy). It’s a mystery why there are no English credits anywhere on the set despite this being a union dub (nearly all of the information about English voice actors were discovered through the actors tweeting their involvement). There are a few storyboards of a couple of the action sequences, along with a clean version of the “Diver” ending theme. There are more extras on the Blu-ray version, including an art gallery and a short ten-minute OVA, which along with HD visuals make it the superior choice for purchasing.

Overall, this movie is both a fitting coda for the Naruto story and a springboard for something new. Despite a few hiccups and typical Naruto hamfisted moralizing, it’s a solid, entertaining film that showcases great potential for further exploration of the world of ninja. Overall, this is one of the better films in the Naruto canon and shouldn’t be missed by fans of the series.

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