Greetings, ladies, gentlemen, and sentient non-humans! Today we set out to answer that burningest of burning of questions: Which series is better, Naruto or Boruto?

Hehe, just kidding! No way do I have a death wish. :-p Instead, let’s take a look at a question which is a bit more complicated but ultimately more fruitful: How do the two series relate to and inform each other?

Settle into your seats, grab your wine or whiskey or—in my case—kombucha, and hang on!

(Tangent: Speaking of kombucha, I was a hipster before it was cool. What’s that? “Being a hipster never was cool,” you say? I rest my case. Time to go grab a kudzu salad snack.)

Ahem! As some of you may already know, Naruto was the first series I got into that made me something of a fan of anime. A friend invited me to watch it with him, and we jumped in at the middle of the “Battle on the Bridge” arc in Season 1. I was struck by several things, especially the music and what seemed to me Christian symbols woven into the arc. Among the latter:

  1. Inari’s father is a savior (he risks his life to protect the people of the town from a flood) who dies on a cross abandoned by those he saved and loved,
  2. The deaths of Haku and Zabuza are marked by suggestions that they make it to Heaven.
  3. The burial of Haku and Zabuza ends with a shot of two crosses over their graves and a third ‘cross’  between them formed by the knot on the back of Naruto’s headband. It reminded me strongly of the images you see of the three crosses on Mount Calvary when Jesus died.

At the time I was hooked, at least for a while. Today, with probably over a thousand anime episodes under my belt, I think a more objective assessment is in order.

I’ve been watching Boruto since it came out; and over the holidays my kids decided they wanted to watch the original Naruto. Re-watching the latter gives me the perfect opportunity to compare the two side-by-side. And without knocking the very real strengths Naruto had, I think Boruto is off to a stronger start, for two reasons. (Again, I promise this won’t turn into a “which one is better” screed, as you’ll see.)

Animation quality: Naruto‘s art style was quite good for the time when it began. It’s clearly quite dated today, however, and Boruto shows what is possible with an up-to-date anime team and budget. Crisp lines. bright colors, and lots of motion! Have you ever paid attention to how much of the early Naruto episodes were still shots (maybe with some camera motion, but no action), mostly still shots with just a bit of animation, or simply re-used clips from earlier in the series? Sweet Odin, is it ever static! By contrast, the visuals in Boruto are solid even when they aren’t stunning, and sometimes they do stun. I think my jaw literally dropped during the fight between Sakura and Shin—I don’t know when I’ve ever seen an anime depiction of hand-to-hand combat that was so smooth and rapid, swift yet with incredible fluidity and detail. (And boy have I seen a lot of anime combat!)

Early episode development: In hindsight, it’s rather fortuitous that I didn’t start watching Naruto from the beginning at first, because the earliest episodes are nowhere near the epic quality that the series developed later on. They’re often quite ridiculous, actually. Boruto has its ups and downs, but seems to have a consistent sense of direction and development from the outset. (Later on, Naruto fell into a lot of filler storylines; hopefully Boruto will avoid that, but it’s too early to tell.)

And yet, at the risk of stating the obvious (but which I’ve not yet seen stated anywhere), Boruto owes all of its strengths and potential for excellence to Naruto. The music is pretty solid, but it is at its best when it is hearkening back to the brilliant themes by Toshio Masuda. The rich story development we’ve seen so far is only possible because of the epic tale spelled out in Naruto (and Naruto Shippuden): The older series had the task of breaking the ground, so to speak, in developing a new fantasy world for us; Boruto can largely take all that development for granted, giving it a running start.

The boy Naruto started out poor, orphaned, friendless, and largely considered a failure at school, while Boruto is well off (his dad’s the freakin’ Hokage!), has a family, makes friends easily, and knows his teachers all consider him a genius. Similarly, Naruto the series earned all of its merit from the ground up, while Boruto the series inherited its wealth from its predecessor and now seeks to build on it. I’m not hating on Boruto as a character or series, of course—just pointing out that both are the rich kids of hard-working parents who started with nothing. Even if Naruto had been terrible (which I don’t think it was), it’s very existence would still be a goldmine to Boruto. Think of all the moments—Boruto accidentally ‘kissing’ Sarada, and the team’s decision to be called Seven instead of Three, for instance—that are made richer by the fact that they echo details (whether important or incidental) from the original series.

This point was driven home for me by one particular moment in the first season opening to Boruto. The music is largely accompanied by lots and lots of action: Boruto and his friends constantly jump in the air, over fences, off a cliff and through the clouds(!), as well as generally running and firing off exciting jutsu. In the midst of this blood-pumping music and activity, the action pauses briefly as Naruto calmly steps out into a literal limelight and just smiles with one hand on his hip, as if to say, “Yeah, I don’t need to do anything to prove how awesome I am; you and I both know it.” Naruto’s calmness in the midst of the upbeat music and hyperactive adolescents struck me more than anything else in the opening. He needs no introduction, and we all know it.

Naruto: He knows he's rocking it.

As if to underscore this message, the opening concludes with Boruto leaping (again) and punching towards the audience, while Naruto stands behind him with his back to us, motionless except for his rippling cape. Neither that image of Boruto nor his titular series would be quite as impressive without Naruto/Naruto hidden but obviously present in the background. Naruto/Naruto doesn’t even have to do anything to be impressive; his/its mere presence, mere existence is enough.

Naruto makes Boruto possible by its existence; and by its existence, Boruto brings Naruto honor.