Thursday, March 01, 2007

Naruto: An Example of Good Writing

Last year, I began watching Naruto. Shonen Jump’s Naruto series is an anime cartoon and manga (essentially graphic novels or comic books). I’m not someone who watches much anime, but this show has quickly become my favorite, edging out Veronica Mars by a small margin.

The show mostly focuses on the life of Naruto, a young ninja who grew up as an orphan. Not only did he feel the rejection from not knowing his parents, but he was also cursed in his infancy to hold the spirit of the Nine-tailed Fox, a powerful entity that nearly destroyed their entire village. Naruto seeks the respect of those in his village and desires to grow through the ninja ranks in order to one day become Kage, the leader of the village and most powerful ninja.
Naruto (the series) does several things very well that impress me as a writer (and draw me back each week). The characters are strongly developed. Each one is quite unique, and they also change over time. Often as background stories unfold, I change my opinion on certain characters, proving that the flashback sequences not only integrate into the storyline, but they also impact character development.

The fight sequences are another indication of brilliance. Aside from the fact that the good guys don’t always win, the fights include a great variance of techniques that keep the viewer guessing as to the outcome. The ninja go beyond real-world combat and employ special jitsus based around the fantastical power of Chakra. As the spars draw out, the ninja employ various strategies with their jitsus, adding intelligence to what would otherwise be chaotic.

I really enjoy the progression of the series. It continues to build momentum, and as Naruto gains experience, the plot around him becomes much more serious. The writers have the ability to continue escalating the plot without artificially inflating it. The episodes flow quite well.

A final point that kept me interested early on is that the writers established my trust. With any kind of detailed fantasy storyline, there are going to be items that a reader/viewer cannot grasp. The writers of Naruto realize this and bring in dialogue to assure us that all we be explained later. For example, one character may begin using a new type of jitsu that causes all sorts of strange things to happen. Usually, a lesser character will say, “What’s that? What’s he doing?” This vocalization of my thoughts through another character lets me know to be patient. And the writers have never failed to explain a critical point, sometimes recapping certain items (probably for newer viewers).

For anyone who may be skeptical about a show like Naruto, I will say that it’s difficult to watch one episode and understand anything that’s happening. It’s better to watch a few episodes or, better still, to watch the first season.

If you are a writer, consider watching the show (or reading the manga) as an example of good writing. This show isn’t popular by accident.

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