The Spring 2017 Manga Guide
Boruto Vol. 1
What's It About?
A sequel series to the bestselling, long-running manga Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto, Boruto is the creative effort of writer Ukyo Kodachi and artist Mikio Ikemoto, a former assistant to Kishimoto. This monthly series focuses on the next generation of Konoha ninja at an age similar to the age of their parents at the start of Naruto. In this debut volume, Boruto Uzumaki, son of Naruto Uzumaki and Hinata Hyuga, and his classmates take the first couple rounds of their Chunin Exams. Disgruntled over the fact that his busy Hokage father has little time for his family, Boruto searches for a mentor in Sasuke Uchiha, his father's former rival/best friend and Boruto's teammate Sarada Uchiha's even more frequently-absent father. Although more innately skilled than his father before him, Boruto shares little of his work ethic and patience, which leads him to enter the exams with the illicit assistance of an experimental ninjutsu technology. The volume ends with a prologue short story showcasing amnesiac third teammate Mitsuki's suspicious “introduction” to his own parent.
Boruto: Naruto Next Generations volume 1 (04/04/2017) is available for $9.99 from VIZ Media or catch up with the latest chapters monthly on the VIZ website or via the VIZ Manga App. An anime adaptation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Viz.
Is It Worth Reading?
Although not unfamiliar to fans whose first introduction to Boruto was Boruto: Naruto the Movie, which adapted a good portion of this volume, the first volume of the Boruto: Naruto Next Generations manga still offers plenty to long-time Naruto obsessives, casual Naruto fans, and new readers alike. With a new set of central characters and a more developed, almost unrecognizable Konoha village, readers don't need to know every minute detail of the series that came before it to follow along. At the same time, there are plenty of Easter eggs for those who have put in the hours as readers and viewers of the popular manga and anime about protagonist Boruto's father, Naruto. Plus, since the additional Mitsuki story is not a part of the movie adaptation, there's plenty of new, intriguing material for consumption. While Boruto's (intentional) physical resemblance to his father is counterintuitive to the new beginning a spin-off series offers, it also helps tie the stories together, and Boruto is less like his father than one might expect at first glance. An especially refreshing change is that it's poised and intelligent Sarada—more like her introverted father than her extroverted mother, Sakura, although she's not cold and damaged like Sasuke was at her age, either—with dreams of being Hokage one day. While Mitsuki, the third member of their three-man cell, has less to do in the main story of this first volume, the bonus backstory that features him reveals just enough for this early stage of the story while still keeping most things about the pallid boy mysterious. Orochimaru, apparently mostly forgiven for his crimes following his assistance in the Fourth Great Ninja War, is clearly still up to something—but on what scale remains to be seen.
Also new to the movie viewers is the opening scene, where a teen or adult Boruto battles a mysterious rival named Kawaki, who vaguely brags that he may have done something awful to Naruto, the Seventh Hokage. It's a strong way to open the new series, signaling Boruto is going to grow into a ninja with skills and perhaps even import equal to that of his father one day.
While there isn't enough time to showcase much action, there are a few pieces during the exams that make the movement pop on page. As former assistant to Kishimoto, Ikemoto does an admirable job of echoing Kishimoto's distinct manga style, although there are rough edges from time to time that make it clear it's not the original artist at work. Still, it's good enough that the sequel manga seems clearly at home in the Naruto-verse, making this first volume a satisfying legacy to the fan-favorite series before it.
Never having really gotten into Naruto, I was pleasantly surprised by Boruto's first volume. In part this may be because it's not really a rehash of Boruto's dad's story – something he's quick to tell us. Unlike his father, Boruto doesn't have great ninja aspirations; in fact, he blames his dad's position as hokage for a lot of what's wrong with his own life. The implication here is that Naruto's finding work/life balance to be a far greater challenge than becoming the most powerful shinobi in town, and the result is that he's alienating his son as he tries to fulfill his duties. It'd be easy to pass off Boruto's complaints as just the whining of a young teen, but the book takes time to show us that his gripe is legitimate: Naruto's much more likely to send a shadow doppelganger to his own daughter's birthday party than to actually show up, and when he congratulates Boruto on his successes, he does so via email. Neither of these are award-winning dad behavior, and Boruto wants Naruto to know it.
The big question is “how.” At this point Boruto is just sort of flailing around trying to figure out what the best way to tell his father that he sucks is, from yelling at him to tossing his iconic jacket into the road. Towards the middle of the book he decides that he'll see if Naruto's former rival Sasuke will teach him so that he can become better than dear old Dad, or at least learn his weaknesses. It's not entirely clear whether or not Sasuke sees through Boruto's plans, especially given that his own daughter is gung-ho in her studies and one of Boruto's teammates. The whole story thus far feels like everyone is looking at Boruto and seeing Naruto, and that if someone doesn't see Boruto for himself soon, things are going to reach a point of no return.
That may be closer than anyone thinks, given that Boruto has accepted mechanical help from a developer. If it isn't cheating, it's pretty darn close to it, and that could get him the absolute wrong kind of attention when it comes out. But then, his partner Mitsuki isn't as traditionally human as other people, which could also be an issue – or at least a reason for Mitsuki to stick by Boruto if things go south. If the story can keep on track with the theme of Boruto trying to get out from under his father's shadow and be his own person, as well as the repercussions for his adolescent methods of doing so, this stands to be a decent, if not good, story in its own right. I hope it can keep it up, because after that birthday party thing, I really want to see Boruto succeed.
Shaking off a first impression can be really difficult, especially when it goes unchallenged for two years. When Boruto was first introduced in the final chapter of Naruto, he seemed a lot like his father had been at the series’ beginning – an energetic, boisterous problem child who was often annoying to the point of obnoxious. In his own sequel series Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, Boruto is just as he was in his debut. But unlike Naruto, who acted out because everyone in his community had ignored and shunned him in his childhood, Boruto throws fits and commits vandalism because his father is always busy with his duties as the head of the village. The successor of one of the biggest manga franchises in recent history comes off as an entitled brat who would be better suited as the mopey kid in every 90's family film about a dad who works too much.
I've been reading Boruto in Viz's digital Weekly Shonen Jump, which is the only reason I've been able to change my perception of Boruto the character from this first impression. The first story arc of the manga is an adaptation of Boruto: Naruto the Movie, which is a coming-of-age tale in which Boruto learns some hard lessons and matures by the end of the film. Unfortunately the story plays out differently when the film's two-hour running time has to be paced out over the course of ten chapters. By the end of volume one, Boruto is still an aggravatingly whiny, impatient, sheltered brat, and if I had initially encountered the manga as collected here I might have quit reading the series before that changed. Fortunately, there's a lot to enjoy about the supporting cast to make up for that. Sarada is back after her wonderful introduction in Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring. Her father Sasuke has some fantastic interactions with Boruto, and to see him take up the role of a seasoned and wise mentor is a surprising but welcome occurrence. Additionally, while Mitsuki's side story isn't the most original science fiction tale, it's something different for the Naruto canon, and an encouraging sign that the series is willing to do more than recycle ideas from its predecessor.
There's not a lot that makes Boruto stand apart from Naruto in either style or content. As such, it won't likely strike a chord with readers who aren't Naruto fans to begin with, but for those who are, it will seem comfortingly familiar. Kishimoto's oversight of the series has helped Boruto to look and feel as if he wrote it himself, and Ikemoto emulates Kishimoto's style almost flawlessly. It's far from a perfect manga in a general sense, but in the end that might not matter, because it's a near-perfect manga for anyone wanting to read more Naruto.
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