Gaming

Naruto’s Live-Action Movie Can’t Avoid Ruining The Original Manga’s Greatest Strength

Summary

  • The live-action Naruto movie risks diluting the strength of the original series by condensing its expansive and well-developed cast of characters into a two-hour film.
  • The moral message of friendship and teamwork in Naruto succeeds because of the vibrant and layered cast of characters, despite justified criticisms over the handling of female characters.
  • Adapting Naruto for TV instead of the big screen would have allowed for better exploration of the wider cast, similar to the successful adaptation of One Piece, avoiding the risk of reducing important characters to superficial roles.


Turning the story of Naruto into a live-action movie will inevitably risk diluting the greatest strength of Masashi Kishimoto’s original anime and manga series. Alongside Dragon Ball and One Piece, Naruto is one of the few Japanese anime and manga franchises with mainstream international appeal, so Hollywood’s long-standing interest in a live-action Naruto movie comes as no surprise. Reports initially surfaced in 2015, with Lionsgate acquiring the rights for a Naruto movie. The project then turned suspiciously quiet as one live-action anime adaptation after another proved as successful as Jiraiya’s attempts at coming onto Tsunade.

Surprisingly, November 2023 brought a rare update on the live-action Naruto movie, with Tasha Huo reported as signing on to write the project. With the wheels finally starting to turn on Hollywood’s Naruto movie and the reputation of live-action anime adaptations now vastly improved thanks to Netflix’s One Piece, thoughts are beginning to turn toward what Kishimoto’s ninja epic might actually look like on the big screen. One immediate problem a live-action Naruto movie would face, however, comes merely from opting for the feature-length format in the first place.

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The Naruto Anime’s Greatest Strength Is Its Large Cast Of Characters

The overarching moral message at the heart of Naruto concerns friendship and teamwork. It’s the story of how a maligned ninja creates bonds with those he encounters, and how those bonds turn into a powerful weapon against evil forces that seek to divide and oppress. This message only succeeds because Masashi Kishimoto’s manga and its anime adaptation work hard to create a vibrant and layered cast of characters beyond Naruto Uzumaki himself. There are exceptions. Kishimoto is frequently criticized for his handling of Naruto‘s female characters, and those misgivings are not without merit. Nevertheless, Naruto does boast a massive roster of fascinating – if predominantly male – figures with well-developed personalities.

The likes of Gaara, Itachi, and Neji are never elevated to main character status in Naruto, and all three are totally absent for large chunks of the story. Even so, each feels vivid and relatable – as relatable as a genius ninja who slaughtered his family can feel, at least – and the depth of their characterization leads to some of Naruto‘s very best and most tear-jerking moments. Numerous other ninja who only appear for short bursts could make similar claims, and it is this smorgasbord of salient and striking shinobi that has turned Naruto into an anime and manga classic.

The Live-Action Naruto Movie Risks Ruining What Made The Anime Great

Naruto grabs Neji's arm in Naruto Shippuden

The biggest problem the Naruto movie faces is how to adapt the anime and manga’s compelling ensemble within the context of a two-hour narrative. Live-action Naruto‘s priority will be establishing the core quartet of Naruto Uzumaki, Sasuke Uchiha, Kakashi Hatake, and Sakura Haruno, as well as the Naruto movie’s central villain, whether that be Zabuza of the Seven Swordsmen or Orochimaru. Giving those five characters the same level of characterization they received in the anime and manga – and perhaps improving upon it in Sakura’s case – is already a Juubi-sized challenge. No matter how well-written, a Naruto movie will not have space to do justice to its side characters.

That creates a huge problem, because depending on which chapters are adapted, Gaara, Itachi, and Neji could all feasibly play roles in the first Naruto movie. With so many ninja to feature and so little time to feature them, crucial and beloved characters may be reduced to bit-parts, cameos, or minor roles that barely scratch the surface. One might argue that these characters could be explored in later entries, but any Naruto sequels that do arise will have new characters of their own to develop – the likes of Jiraiya, Obito, Killer B, etc.

Naruto’s Movie Ensemble Problem Had A Really Simple Solution

Mackenyu as Zoro vs. Steven John Ward as Dracule Mihawk in One Piece season 1

To avoid this potentially fatal pitfall, all Hollywood had to do was adapt Naruto for TV instead of the big screen – an increasingly viable solution for big-budget projects thanks to streaming services. Within an eight or ten-episode season, Naruto could take a far stronger stab at fleshing-out its wider cast, and would stand a considerably better chance of capturing what worked so well in Masashi Kishimoto’s anime and manga. One Piece is the obvious example of this theory in practice. Like Naruto, One Piece thrives on its eclectic, jumbo crop of characters. Adapting One Piece for TV meant each member of Luffy’s Straw Hat crew received at least one episode in the spotlight, while also leaving room for the likes of Koby and Garp.

One Piece as a movie would have been a messy disaster akin to Dragonball Evolution, which infamously decimated its side characters into vague stereotypes that barely resembled the source material. The TV structure allowed Netflix to introduce One Piece‘s characters at the same pace as the anime and manga. The live-action Naruto movie will not have that luxury, and will likely be forced into deciding whether to omit characters like Shikamaru, Neji, and Itachi, or to include them superficially without any depth or substance. Neither sounds appealing.

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