Ah, the title everyone loves to hate. I don't even think I need to write an introduction. With the advent of Naruto Shippuden to continue the second segment of the Naruto manga series, I finally feel free to unleashed all my accumulated complaints I have for this atrocious production. ;-)
Adaptations from manga titles are generally not easy. Although they share many similarities that almost make the viability of transition seem like a "natural" one, anime and manga ultimately have one striking difference - the communication medium of time. Manga are free-flow and timeless; readers follow through at their own pace. Anime has.... 24 minutes per episode on average. How well directors reconfigure the presentation to fit a limited timeframe makes or breaks the end-resulting production. Studio Pierrot in their feeble attempt to remain faithful to the manga has failed in this aspect, and illustrates a severe lack of directorial expertise.
It should not be surprising that Naruto, being a ninja-oriented story, earns its day salary by showcasing fights. The beginning season focuses on a single mission Naruto undertakes with his newly formed genin (low-rank ninja) squad after graduating from ninja academy. While the number of characters involved in this initial arc are limited, there are already a fair number of opportunities to display the unique jutsu (techniques) each shinobi utilises to out-fight and out-wit his/her opponent. It is honestly exciting to witness the characters fight, but most unfortunately it just about mandates the tragic stage and template for how the rest of the series will be like. All these excitement quickly boils away into thin air, as characters frequently stand still and start explaining what they are doing, and downright rambling of unnecessary statements. Couple in the style of conducting character development during fights and not between them, it makes for fast-moving action like a Bangkok traffic jam. It even took half a year's worth of episodes to account for a single day's event at one point. Clearly Studio Pierrot has no knowledge about the concept of "momentum" and "pace" here. Obviously targetting a shounen audience, it also downplays its message delivery by having characters talk so much about themselves, leaving almost nothing unexplained and thus nothing for a mature viewer to pick up on his own.
A pity, because many of the characters do carry a fair amount of substance; you have to hand it to manga author Kishimoto Masashi to come up with literally platoons full of unique personalities (and skills) that all mesh and gel rather well into this special world that features a potentially deep political background and long military history. If you can ignore the brattiness and rashness of attitudes, you can see recurring values about sheer guts and determination, working hard to fight for your own beliefs, and never losing sight of your life ambition. Another thing done right is the music; I have not heard a soundtrack that communicates the theme of comeback as strongly as like this one. Of course, as a fighting show the growth in strength and skill is necessary for characters. But many times, the level of skill is simply off the scale and does not adhere to any logic. Take for example, Naruto could actually fight on par with a certain enemy who so easy dispatched ANBU squads (elite ninjas), when it is obvious Naruto's current skill level could not possibly match up. The overall story is actually decent; it is just that Kishimoto and Studio Pierrot need to hone their timing skills on when to tell a story and when to fight, with believable power scaling.
That aside, there are some delightful key fights, when the animators ram full throttle to animate scenes of immense motion and situation awareness. These are arguably the biggest treats of the series, the talking point of many whenever they appear. However, they are far and few, so waiting for one to happen over the standard stand-and-talk fight is like playing bingo. The quality of art and animation is also never consistent; the constant change of hands is way too blatant to miss; I've lost count on how many "versions" of Naruto I have seen. Milking a cashcow must really mean alot for Studio Pierrot, for after the end of the first manga segment's storyline, they stubbornly produce filler after filler of utter tedium and irrelevance that are just a pain to watch.
To be honest, I quit after Anko's arc, but so would any self-respecting adult. In the end, this series is a rampant fest for kids yelling "CHIDORI!!!" and "RASENGAN!!!" all day long at school. For the rest of us, just stop after Naruto and Sasuke has their last fight at the waterfall.
Overall rating: 3/10
intriguing political/military system; huge roster of characters; unexpected life lessons; the fully-animated fights; rock-solid soundtrack
wrong way to adapt from manga; absurd imbalance of power; excrutiatingly slow/draggy; too much "tell" too little "show"; uncreative filler tail end; fluctuating art quality; last-minute storytelling