Taking You to Ninja School

Seven reasons why 'Naruto' is kicking everybody's ass

Taking You to Ninja School

1) Naruto Uzumaki is a fictional character, let's mention that up front, so the ass that he's kicking is mostly abstract. He's the protagonist of Masashi Kishimoto's wildly popular series of manga and animé about the students of an elite ninja school in the wilds of Japan during some ill-defined period of history. ("It's an anachronistic clusterfuck, Dad," explains your reporter's teenage daughter.) The first feature-length, English-language Naruto movie, Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow, will be released in the United States for just one day (Wednesday, June 6) in only 162 theatres. This isn't a Big Cinematic Event like a new opus from Hayao Miyazaki or Satoshi Kon, but it's reason for fans to be happier than a hungry rat in a box of ramen. Also, the events depicted in the movie occur in an interim not covered by the source material, thus leaving the canon unstained by discontinuity.

2) This would-be shinobi is a hot-headed, impulsive kid. Still in early adolescence and at the beginning of his career, he's hard-pressed to check his emotions sufficiently to focus the energy needed to kick whatever ass needs kicking. But, often, he's successful, and, sometimes, it's due to those upheavals of emotion that he's able to survive at all. It doesn't hurt that he's also the human cage for the spirit of a nine-tailed fox demon that was imprisoned inside him when he was a baby.

3) Oh, but it does hurt. There might be a place where a kid bearing the spirit of a powerfully destructive demon can grow up without being shunned and dissed by his peers, his elders, pretty much everybody and their sister, but Konohagakure Village isn't it. So Naruto's had to deal with being the population's black sheep, besides having to contend with the usual coming-of-age tribulations, the vagaries of social interaction, the rigors of martial-arts training, and the barely dormant über-vulpine motherfucker lurking at the crux of all his chakras.

4) The manga, published by VIZ Media in volumes that collect chapters from their weekly Shonen Jump magazine, made its initial assault on bestseller lists in 2006, eventually reaching No. 29 in the USA Today general fiction tallies. (VIZ will triple its monthly publication schedule from September to December of this year, advancing the printed English narrative until it matches the animé schedule in Japan.) The reason for this success? Because kids think ninjas are cool, sure, but also because the storytelling in Naruto is so compelling and addictive. The diverse and deeply drawn characters inform the intricate, battle-wracked plots; the plots serve to reveal more of the characters' depths; and all the narrative elements feed relentlessly into one another. And the artwork? Astonishing. When Scott McCloud, in his seminal Understanding Comics, made note of Japanese styles of depicting motion, emotion, and physical environment, he could've used Naruto as one of the most effective examples.

5) The English-version animé, shown during the Cartoon Net-work's popular Toonami segments, is no cheap knockoff of the manga. Although the more grisly death scenes and violent sheddings of blood may be edited to protect the youngest viewers, although the vernacular of panel-to-panel action has been translated into actual motion, the cartoon is a viable rendition of the same dense storytelling and even allows for character development not provided in the print version. It's well-rendered, colorful, and – Naruto's more asinine capers notwithstanding – thankfully free of the kawaii and chibi dreck that is the first refuge of lesser animé.

6) The movie's metafictive, oh boy. Naruto and his team prepare for an assignment to protect an actress from attackers by watching a movie in which the actress portrays a princess who's being attacked. But the actress really is a princess, too, it turns out, and at the story's end ... but let's not give too much away. And the main feature's preceded by a 10-minute short about Naruto not being able to use the bathroom while competing at a sports festival. Which is almost funny in a Spike & Mike sort of way but actually funny if you know Naruto. And if you don't know Naruto yet?

7) Gaara. That's all: Gaara.

Wednesday, June 6, 7pm

Gateway 16 and Metropolitan Stadium 14

Admission and other information: www.fathomevents.com
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Naruto:Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow, Gateway 16, Metropolitan Staidum 14, Musashi Kishimoto

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