A fond farewell to the Naruto story:
Yes, if it weren't for the anime I would never have started the reading the Naruto manga, that's a fact, but I know that the manga affected me just as deeply as the anime, and no matter which way you look at it, it's hard to let it go.
My introduction to Naruto as a complete series correlates heavily with my introduction to the world of Anime/Manga and that whole Japanese culture. A close friend of mine was continuously showing me new things, and I was blown away by the sheer magnitude of it all, thinking "How the hell do they have so many separate series?!" (Though, if you look at Western Culture, do we not also have an abundance of live-action and cartoon shows plus an always expanding library of comic books and graphic novels, not to mention just books on their own?) Looking back on it now it doesn't seem all that overwhelming, but for a tiny 12 to 13 year old me, it was very new stuff.
Now I believe it was during a sleepover that my friend opened the doors to Naruto. His family had a humongous collection of DVDs, comprising of a lot of pirated ones from Thailand, I believe. One of these DVDs happened to be the first Naruto movie; "Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow", that I now of course own on DVD myself. So we sat down on his huge couch after dinner and stuck it in the DVD player, watching intently on the huge plasma TV screen.
Most (Not all, I believe? Correct me if I'm wrong.) Naruto movies included a tiny short before the movie, sort of like the mini-movie before a Pixar movie. These are considered OVA's I believe. Anyway, the one before the first Naruto movie was this thing called "Hidden Leaf Village Grand Sports Festival Short", which was sort of like the Naruto Olympics! But it had a catch, Naruto had to take a dump, and he could not find a toilet anywhere, so he painstakingly goes through all the sporting events while holding in a turd. I couldn't understand this thing at all. Why the hell is a Ninja wearing a bright orange jumpsuit? What the hell? Who the hell is the pink-haired girl? Why the hell does this man cover up his face? It really didn't help that it was clearly all in Japanese, with subtitles in a completely different language I couldn't read.
But, I loved it. I could not stop laughing, my gut couldn't take the strain. Watching this yellow-haired kid get tortured while desperately trying not to "shat" himself was hysterical. And then the actual movie started, and yes, while I admit to not sitting through the whole thing, it still really grabbed my attention. I really don't know what. Something just clicked. It probably ties into the gigantic weeaboo I transformed into, that I just had to watch every single Japanese anime because it was so cool! Omg!
These characters just looked really appealing, the action at the start of the movie was downright awesome; Sasuke chopping the neck of a Samurai man on a horse? That gets my approval.
From there, Naruto just became a larger and larger presence as I moved into this new stage of my life.
Soon, my friend and I were going to these really secretive DVD stores in suburbs I'd never even heard of, where we'd find stacks upon stacks of the Naruto anime series to watch. Kakashi's introduction and his famous bell test was such an intense point so early on in the story for me, and I just became gripped.
WILL THESE THREE KIDS ACTUALLY BECOME NINJA?! THIS GREY HAIRED GUY SAID HE'D DEMOTE THEM RIGHT AWAY! OH MY GOD HE'S READING A BOOK WHILE FIGHTING?! HE'S NOT EVEN TRYING!
These were all genuine thoughts going through my head, I was just completely blown away.
(And I have to add that further down the track, the Chunin Exams just propelled my love for the show to even greater heights. I thought that the Bell test was intense, well I was in for a shock. Sasuke with curse mark, Naruto smashing out of a Snake, Rock Lee showing his stuff and that fantastic Lee vs Gaara fight, being genuinely terrified of Gaara, Hinata and Neji squaring off, I could go on forever! Gosh darn that Arc was just fantastic.)
Unfortunately my memories go into a sort of blank period, but very soon after that Naruto began airing on Channel 10 in the mornings right before school, quite coincidental don't you think? I instantly recognised it and absolutely had to watch it, even if that meant surviving through the horrible, infamous "Naruto German Opening" (That isn't even in German? Like what gives? It's so ridiculous.). It didn't take me too long to realise that the openings and endings were changed from these awesome Japanese tunes (Naruto Opening 2, "Haruka Kanata" by Asian Kung-Fu Generation being my absolute favourite ever, and "Wind" By Akeboshi being my favourite ending).
Basically, Naruto exploded. I certainly know it did in Australia, so I imagine it was around the same time for America. Magazines I picked up had Naruto all over them and inside them, competitions, merchandise, it was crazy. I was getting into drawing at the time, so what else filled my sketchbooks but Naruto, Naruto, Naruto? And over these years that drawing passion has just grown and grown, and with that a continuous string of Naruto sketches to add to my huge gallery of everything. I was drawing Naruto at school, anywhere I could. People often bullied me for it, having no understanding themselves, they labelled all my things as "hentai" and continuously poked and prodded me wondering what I was drawing. I became a little well known as "that kid that draws the anime stuff". As soon as they saw a Tobi sketch, they knew who I was.
Of course, my love for Hinata was blossoming. Both my friend and I loved her to pieces, she was probably hands down the character I drew the most. And for good reason! I instantly thought she was adorable, being all shy around Naruto and what not. Naruto and Hinata had to hook up. It was criminal if they didn't. My early drawings reflected this, countless comics of Hinata and Naruto hanging out and such (I recently found one actually that has Hinata finding and performing a secret "magnet jutsu" that results in Naruto becoming stuck to her. It's hilariously stupid, and horribly drawn.). I hadn't felt anything like it before, kind of strange really. And yes, Hinata hasn't been given the best treatment by Kishimoto sure, but she certainly has matured from her younger self, and I'd say I'm really proud of her.
I'll admit I was kind of embarrassed having Naruto screaming "BELIEVE IT" on the TV at me while my family was hanging around getting ready for school, and the second Hinata showed up on screen my heart started beating like a madman. The love was real, man.
Of course, I was buying everything Naruto. The marketing took full effect; the magazines that featured Naruto, trading cards, action figures, stickers, badges, tiny little keychains, and once I discovered the magical world of Japanese-produced figurines, I went crazy on them too. My birthdays at the time were dominated by Naruto, any money I was given went straight to Naruto merchandise.
As soon as I saw that Naruto had a Playstation 2 game, "Naruto: Ultimate Ninja", it was my god damn life-long goal to own it. My friend managed to snag it before me and I was so jealous, but at the same time the game was downright amazing. I had to go to some really out-of-the-way game shop to my parents' dismay to finally pre-order and purchase it, but it was well worth it! That game is still so fantastic, even if the cover art was a tad too misleading.
(I have ended up buying basically every Naruto game since, bar a few exceptions. Unfortunately you can notice the decrease in quality.)
Funny story quickly: I had discovered that Japan got new Naruto games years before they were released worldwide, because Naruto wasn't quite as huge as it is now where games are released simultaneously, and I was dying to own Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 3. The only way I could get it was a Japanese import, and luckily I did just that on my birthday (My PS2 was chipped, naughty-naughty, so I could play Japanese games!). The game defied my expectations, I was blown away. As a bonus birthday surprise, my family booked a hotel for us all to stay in the city, and while naturally I would've been super pumped, I was bawling my eyes out because they took me away from that beautiful game. Never mind.
As my interest in all things Japanese grew in intensity, I was slowly discovering all these hidden comic/pop-culture shops in the city of Melbourne. This is where I discovered the Naruto manga for the first time, in a shop called "Minotaur". I didn't totally understand what manga even was really, I thought someone had cleverly taken Naruto and just copy-pasted it into a book that was for some reason the other way round? How the hell any normal person was supposed to read from right to left boggled my young mind. But I bought some books anyway, and enjoyed the medium, when it came to Naruto, just as much as I did anime. I of course had to own the volumes that contained Hinata. That was out of the question. That was fine and well, but back then the whole reading online thing I don't think was ever really around on the internet. I certainly didn't bother to check, because I didn't even know that was a possibility, so I bided my time and enjoyed watching the anime. I discovered that you could watch the anime online though, which was awesome, I could watch Naruto whenever I pleased.
Suddenly Shippuuden happened. It happened before my introduction to deviantART, and through my introduction to deviantART I was learning all about it. In my anticipation to see what it was all about, I skipped the first 6 or 7 episodes and just started watching it. I just had to see what happens. And seeing all these characters after a time skip? That was quite amazing. Hinata made me go wild, and the Akatsuki were suddenly the coolest guys ever!
I was watching Shippuuden online every Thursday. And then I believe it was my older sister who discovered that the manga was online, and that it was in fact further into the story than the anime. I was a bit skeptical to start at first, but I caved in and did it anyway. I can't remember the exact point I started, but I do remember reading through the Pain Invasion Arc, so I think it must have been after or just before Jiraiya's fight with Pain in the anime (which still gives me the "feels". Such a heroic death.).
What more could I say about reading the manga? It was awesome. I could finally understand all these parodies people drew online, I was totally invested in the mystery behind Tobi and how freaking awesome Pain was. Suddenly Sasuke was on the scene and using all these crazy-awesome Sharingan techniques. It was a wild ride!
And then the years just kept going, as I slowly pushed away from the weeaboo stage. My drawings were still frequent, and I was still watching the anime, but every Wednesday was so exciting because unlike the anime, I had no idea what was going to happen. I was up-to-date, every single cliff-hanger was complete and total agony, but all of these exciting developments hyped me up so much.
That is something I am going to miss dearly. Nothing compares to the extreme anxiety amongst the constant excitement I'd get waiting for a new chapter. It didn't matter how badly Kishi could butcher things, or how many plot holes or problems there were, this was Naruto. I was going to love it unconditionally. Of course, I can recognise those errors, they stick out like a sore thumb. There are things I don't like, but it's done now. That's it. You can't complain anymore because what's been written/drawn is absolute final.
So thank you. Thank you Masashi Kishimoto for writing and illustrating this magnificent story. I loved it. What a fantastic journey. I consider this my Harry Potter equivalent. I can definitely understand the feelings people had when that ended now better than ever.
When you've invested such a huge amount of your life to something like Naruto, it's really hard not to get emotional. It's going to be difficult to replace Naruto because of how much time I've put into it. The void that it's left is incredibly huge. I cried. I'm not embarrassed to admit that. I listened to the very first Naruto anime soundtrack and flicked through chapter 700 heaps of times and cried. I cried at chapter 699's conclusion. Crying at the fact it's ending yes, but also crying joyfully, because this tiny little kid, who wished for nothing more than to be a Hokage, has finally achieved it. His life-long goal. And there I was, every step of the way, even if I started out watching the anime first.
All of these characters growing up. Naruto and Sasuke becoming friends again. The biggest conflict and driving force for the whole Shippuuden storyline, concluded in such a beautiful way. Naruto handing Sasuke his headband, and Sasuke accepting it.
The huge timeskip we were given in chapter 700, witnessing the next generation of ninja.
Naruto and Sasuke having families of their own. 2 characters with terribly tragic childhoods can now make sure that their own children are safe.
Being introduced to these children and noticing how similar they are to their parents! Boruto, Himawari, Salad, all of them so extemely adorable!
Witnessing the only pairing I've ever truly cared about and invested time into, NaruHina, becoming canon right before my very eyes.
It's such a surreal experience. Something I would've hoped for, but never dreamed we'd actually get to see.
Thank you again Kishimoto, or as I like to call you, and as most of the fandom does, Kishi. Thank you for sharing Naruto's story with us, it's truly an unforgettable experience and it's been an amazing journey. I've discovered so many new things thanks to Naruto, made new friends, made improvements with art and I can't imagine what would have happened if Naruto wasn't there in my life. It's sad to see it go, but all good things must come to an end, and in the end, that will of course apply to Naruto as well.
But, on that note, here's to the future! Naruto is not completely done yet! The anime is still going strong, so I'd hope, and there are spin-off manga to come next year exploring this new generation as well as the very exciting, NaruHina-centric "Naruto: The Last" movie! For all that I'm sad about, I have a lot to be excited about!
Here's to the future! Dattebayo!
If you stuck through this and read the whole thing. THANK YOU. That means a hell of a lot to me, I really appreciate it!
Thank yous are in order for all of you people too. You have enjoyed my stupid scribbles and drawings and have joined me in Naruto discussions and the excitement it generated. My deviantART and Tumblr foundations for example have been built thanks to Naruto-related content. So, as redundant as it sounds, Thank you.
I don't plan on stopping. I couldn't. Naruto is amazing and I love it dearly, so the art, parodies, scribbles etc. will continue. You can bet on that!
Naruto's story is over, and we are sad, but in his great words, we, as Shinobi, must endure and press on.
Good bye, Naruto.