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Anime review/comparison: Naruto and Bleach

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This page last updated on or about late 11-24-07
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First off, let me say this: neither Naruto or Bleach include giant robots. Hooray!

Both Naruto and Bleach are combat anime stories. They mainly diverge combat-wise into magical ninjas (martial artists) in Naruto, and magical Samurai (sword-wielders) in Bleach.

Naruto follows a group of kids growing up learning how to be spell-casting ninjas to fight other spell-casting ninjas, in a strange world with TVs and video games, but no cars. The cast of Bleach is at least a bit more grown up, for the most part, and has for their setting the modern-day world on Earth, and a somewhat medieval Japan-style afterlife.

Both animes offer up some dazzling combat visuals at times, and both possess decent quality artwork. However, Naruto is better than Bleach by a considerable margin. In terms of artwork, character development, story, pacing, and creativity.

Naruto does an excellent job at getting you to care about the characters, as well as see both good and bad in just about everyone (true, irredeemably evil super-powered characters in the series seem to be limited to a very small handful, thank goodness). Naruto's also surprisingly good at reprising the underdog scenario again and again and again, with lots of different characters and situations.

The main problem with Bleach is there's too many extraneous characters to keep track of. Indeed, the show creators seem to love to add more and more of these regularly to the show. And when I say extraneous, I mean just that: most of these extra characters appear not to have anything significant to do with the story for at least dozens of episodes-- if ever. Just last night (I write this 8-19-07) I watched an episode where maybe a whole other new dozen folks were added to the cast: and to make matters worse, the episode appeared to have nothing to do whatsoever with recent and ongoing events in the series-- and to be barely relevant to the story whatsoever. There were token appearances in the episode of two previously seen characters from the series-- just enough of them so that you'd know you were actually viewing an installment of Bleach, and not some totally different anime series. I think this latest abomination was labeled episode #46.

Episode #46 was the one which broke the camel's back for me. I may not ever make a point of watching another Bleach episode again. For all these irrelevant tangents and throwaway characters tend to overwhelm the show's good points for me.

Naruto too has a large cast of characters: but amazingly enough, you'd be hard-pressed to find many throwaways among them. Heck: you'll find yourself rooting at one time or another for an awful lot of the second and third-tier characters on the show, in addition to the main stars.

Like most all Japanese anime, both shows have their share of silliness. They both also do tons of flashbacks. Bleach does way too much, while Naruto balances it quite well with current events-- most of the time.

(I'm not usually a big fan of flashbacks-- especially lengthy flashbacks which interrupt a thrilling action sequence-- and most especially such flashbacks which may actually last several entire episodes before returning you to the current action. GRRR.)

(Unfortunately, Naruto does occasionally present such gigantic, intrusive flashbacks as these. Thankfully though, the show's good enough for viewers to mostly forgive these-- mostly)

Where the creators of Bleach are unquestionably good and above-average anime producers, those responsible for Naruto seem to be extraordinary talents in the genre. And work as well together as Naruto and his team-mates-- at the very least!

I consider Naruto to be one of the very best anime series I've ever seen-- and apparently I've seen almost all of the first 100 Naruto episodes produced, by the time of this writing.

Both series would likely be worthwhile DVD purchases or rentals for anime-lovers. But if you can get only one, go for Naruto.

Since I'm viewing these in the US, it may be I'm watching pre-censored editions (broadcast and over-the-counter video is heavily censored in America these days). But from what I've seen of these, both series are pretty kid-safe for viewing-- except for possibly being too scary for those under ten or eleven years of age. There's considerable violence in both series, plus obvious bloodletting at times. But neither are nearly as graphic as they could be. Much of the violence is implied, rather than explicit.

As for sexual content, there's very little. Bleach has one heroine well-endowed bosom-wise who may bounce a bit at times-- plus a sleek bombshell spy who masquerades as a black cat much of the series, then magically transforms into a naked woman in one episode. After that she chides the hero for being a young boy (fifteen is the usual age for anime heroes and heroines) who's never seen a naked woman before. But nothing except legs, head, and shoulders are ever seen skin-wise, by viewers.

In Naruto, the namesake boy of the series can transform his appearance to resemble all sorts of things, from stumps to other people; this is one of the ninja magicks available for all the characters to learn on the show. Naruto in particular though will at times transform into a naked young woman to distract or confound others. Alluring sounding music will play when this occurs, and any cartoon males in the vicinity usually faint or leer. But clouds of smoke obscure the female form, exposing only arms, legs, head and shoulders to viewers.

One or more of the male ninja teachers sometimes exhibits excessive interest in scantily-clad women in the vicinity-- but in the context of the show it seems normal enough. For the series often points out the frailties or weaknesses of various characters. Besides the one or two adult males who might at times be seen as peeping toms, there's also a female super-ninja with a gambling addiction, for instance. Plus enough vanity that she maintains one spell at all times which makes her appear younger than she truly is.

The fellows prone to leering at women also pay the price of being more easily tricked by them in the show. For instance, one male ninja master in particular with this weakness is unknowingly incapacitated by a female ninja who slips something into his drink while he's too distracted to notice.

I guess I should also mention that at times a juvenile(?) form of toilet humor is displayed by the series. Such as the Naruto character passing gas at a critical moment in a battle with another ninja who utilizes a super-sensitive sense of smell like a canine. Naruto's gas smell is therefore amplified to hit the guy like an unexpected slap in the face, and helps turn the tide of the battle. In other cases it appears one character pokes another in the butt with a finger or other object. And I mean the bull's eye here. Sometimes as a battle tactic (Naruto sticks a small knife with a magical bomb attached to it into the rear of a monster he can injure in no other way), and sometimes to test if someone is truly unconscious, rather than pretending (in the show's battles, there's frequently a lot of sleight-of-hand, misdirection, and illusion going on).

Yeah, I know that last part sounds a bit off the wall-- but I suppose it's one of those odd nuances of Japanese culture you often see in their anime. I myself had to see those particular episodes several times before I realized what exactly was happening there-- so they're fairly easy to miss or miscomprehend as you're watching. And I've never seen them presented as any sort of sexual activity. Or done to females at all.

Apparently in Japan such pokes at males can be considered to be a prank of some sort, in their mildest forms.

The overall theme or message of Naruto seems to be that doing good consists of hard work, never-ending learning, and protecting friends and family from harm. Plus, that underdogs who are sufficiently determined and work hard enough can win the day against almost anything. A similar message can be seen in Bleach too-- if not nearly so clearly or often.

One very important element in Naruto is that heroes do not necessarily emerge unscathed even from their wins. In fact, they can and do die, to protect those precious to them. They may also be permanently disabled or scarred-- both physically and emotionally.

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