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Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto is a beloved and enduring anime and manga franchise that is split into two segments: Original Naruto and Naruto: Shippuden. While the latter is famous for its epic battles and world-building, its predecessor did much better when it came to characterization and character development.
Naruto’s story revolves around the main character and his adventures as he tries to fulfill his dream of becoming Hokage. This theme is consistent between the two halves of Naruto, with the main characters being quite young and immature before Shippuden. They were just Genins back then, and the threat they face is nowhere near the severity of what came later. However, that doesn’t mean that Shippuden is better than the original Naruto, in fact, quite the opposite.
Youth worked in favor of the characters in the original Naruto
While the stakes have risen significantly in Naruto: Shippuden, the original series is much better in terms of characterization. The characters were much more down to earth and less unreasonable, with set goals and aspirations that made them more down to earth and more empathetic. Naruto’s emotional and physical development was clear, and viewers and readers alike could see him mature as the story progressed. Other characters like Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno were in the same situation.
Sasuke may have been determined to gain power and get revenge on his brother, but there was more depth to his character than that. His relationship with the members of Team 7 has deepened at a reasonable rate over the many missions they have flown together. He came to regard Naruto as both his closest friend and his rival, so much so that he attempted to kill him just to awaken his Mangekyo Sharingan. That said, sparing Naruto after their fight shows just how multi-dimensional Sasuke’s character was..
This wasn’t limited to Team 7. Neji’s grudge against the machinations of the Hyuga clan ran deep, making his relationship with Hinata both intriguing and complicated. Rock Lee was also shown as a brave and hardworking ninja, and his relationship with his mentor Might Guy was greatly explored. Their most defining scene is undeniably the one where Lee almost loses his ability to become a ninja. There was also the dynamic with Ino, Shikamaru, and Choji, though the latter two’s friendship was emphasized more. All of this put the original Naruto on a pedestal that Shippuden never reached.
Why characterization took a turn for the worse in Naruto: Shippuden
Unlike the original Naruto, the characters in Shippuden have gone through a huge decline. Most of the cast evolutions are hidden on screen except for the Ino-Shika-Cho formation. Apart from how they are presented right after the time jump, the other characters barely evolved after that, and even those evolutions weren’t necessarily good, especially for Naruto and Sasuke.
One of the most notable changes in Naruto’s character between the two games is his tendency to be controlled by his anger. While he’s always had a hot temper, Naruto has become much more impulsive and prone to outbursts in Shippuden. This undermines his character development since the original series, where he had learned to control his emotions and use his pain as a source of strength. He was even able to control Kurama’s chakra to some extent during the first half of the series.
Meanwhile, Sasuke’s story arc takes a darker turn, as he is consumed by a desire for revenge against the Hidden Leaf Village and his brother, Itachi. His motives became less clear and his actions increasingly erratic, making him a less relatable and empathetic character than in the original Naruto series. There even came a time when Naruto’s relentless pursuit no longer made sense. After all, Sasuke had already made it known that he had no intention of returning to Konoha, even after cutting ties with Orochimaru, the Sannin who kidnapped him. So, although Naruto: Shippuden had a bigger scale in terms of battles, it failed to beat the original Naruto in terms of characterization.