15 of 35 people found this review helpful
13 of 13 episodes seen
The above is what's said on the first Narutaru trailer, and it pretty much sums the show up in a nutshell.
Narutaru begins very slowly; so slowly that most assume it's some kind of kid friendly Pokemon show if they go into it blindly and fail to notice the creepy staring of Narutaru's 'mascot' early on. A young girl goes to her grandparents, finds a star-shaped creature and takes it home. So far, so good on the 'safe for children' front. But, after that, other young owners of mysterious creatures enter the picture, and the other children want more than to just own weird pets...
The animation studio behind it rather foolishly made the show appear even more childish by making the opening into a parody of the show itself; full of smiling faces and complete with a song about sunshine. The opening is rather amusing if you look back at it once you've watched the series and can pick-up on certain things, such as a strong hint towards the bullying arc that the series ends with, but it does little good for people not familiar with the source material...
If you get past the opening episode, it quickly becomes apparent that Narutaru isn't aimed at children at all. Or, to be more precise, once one of the characters pulls out a knife and starts talking about 'shaving' the world rather than changing as a person in order to fit in, it becomes crystal clear that Narutaru is about as far away from being 'child friendly' as an anime about a girl finding a seemingly harmless creature can be.
Children play the starring roles in the story and Hoshimaru (the first 'dragon child') may appear cute, but the children are used to paint a grim picture of society and the monsters are tools for killing. Kitoh's work is among the most disturbing out there because he's not afraid to depict awful things - including rape and murder - happening to children, with children often committing the crimes as well as being on the receiving end. Whatever holds most people back doesn't restrain him as he delves into the minds of unstable children and shows the darker side of humanity.
To start with, Narutaru shows little promise. Compared to Bokurano, Kitoh's more recent work, Narutaru is slow and aimless. In the case of Bokurano, no time was wasted in setting up the rest of the story, and that allowed readers to get some sort of indication of where it was going from the get-go. On the other hand, Narutaru gives no indication and it takes forever for the cast to assemble. And since Narutaru gets progressively darker, rather than starting out twisted, there was very little for me to get my teeth into in terms of the characters. In fact, Shiina's (the lead) simple-minded, overly happy personality and Akira's inability to speak pushed me away more than anything else.
Also holding the series back is its lackluster visuals and forgettable soundtrack. While Kitoh's artwork is copied without issue, the dull colours and general lack of animation make the show a hard one to recommend to those moved more by visuals. The fact that certain scenes had to be executed with much left to the imagination because of how gruesome/disturbing those scenes were in the manga also hurts the anime visually. And, honestly, there's no music on the soundtrack worthy of hunting down the soundtrack to listen to.
Depending on if you're a dub fan, the voice acting side isn't any more impressive, either. The Japanese voice acting is pretty good, as it tends to be in general, with the famous Mamiko Noto playing the role of Akira and making the character slightly more bearable. But the English voice actors quite simply read the lines without inserting any personality or emotion. For example, where as I picked up on Shiina's uneasiness in response to something Akira said to her early on through her Japanese voice actress, when listening to the same line in English no uneasiness was conveyed. Maybe I've just been spoiled by Funimation's dub of late but Narutaru's dub struck me as being quite poor, and I quickly decided to read subtitles rather than letting my ears do all the work.
However, it isn't all bad. Far from it. As odd as it is, Narutaru only really gets going in the last three episodes... and then it ends. For the first time focused, hard-hitting character development took center stage, rather than character introductions and monsters killing soldiers. Two cases of near enough unrelated stories of bullying get told in the final three episodes, the end result being the victims flipping and, in the case one of the girls, lots of brutal murder occurring in retaliation for her parents running her life for her and the severe bullying she endured at the hands of other children in silence (being forced to 'drink' worms, being violated with a test tube, etc.) Unlike in the case of a lot of the previous episodes, time flew by and I was actually saddened when I ran out of episodes.
It's a shame the anime ended there because how it ended made a lot of what went before meaningless. What of Sudo's plan to make the world anew with other children possessing 'dragon children'? Why was there even a standalone episode that... sort of explained how dragons are born? Really, aside from the early episodes and the final three, nothing else was needed for an adaptation that ended so abruptly. It makes me wonder what the intention of the animation studio was... Why even bother starting plot threads they had no intention of finishing?...
...In closing, let me add this: it took me three attempts to finish Narutaru. First the pacing made me on-hold it. Then, months later, the pacing made me 'drop' it when I tried again. Only recently, when I managed to buy the DVDs, did I finish it and see why others rate it highly. I'm now very interested in reading the manga further and I STRONGLY recommend that people stick with it until the end before judging it. If you don't give it time, you'll miss the best part of the anime--simple as that.