Like many anime fans of my generation, I began my life as an anime fan through Cartoon Network's Toonami block, featuring shounen classics such as Dragon Ball Z, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Rurouni Kenshin. However, for me personally, I was on the tail end of those shows' airtime, only catching the Majin Buu saga and reruns of the first few episodes of other shows. I didn't come in at the beginning, so it wasn't like starting a brand new adventure, and it wasn't until around 2005 that I first got to experience the start of a brand new story, and that story, of course, was Naruto, an epic reinterpretation of ninjas combined with the superpower action/adventure style of DBZ and other shounen tropes, though of course I had no idea what shounen was at the time. Now, after over a decade of popularity in the US, and half a decade more in Japan, the last story in the Naruto-verse has finally been told.
Several years after the Fourth Shinobi World War, Naruto has finally become the Seventh Hokage, and a time of peace and prosperity has descended upon the Leaf Village. However, this time our focus is not on Naruto, but on his son, Boruto, a young ninja desperately seeking the attention of his father, who has become overwhelmed with his duties as Hokage and barely has time to spend with his family anymore. Through his trials in the lead-up to the Chunin Exams, as well as a mysterious new villain making an appearance, Boruto attempts to garner his father's attention and force him to recognize his exceptional talent as a shinobi and give him the attention he so desperately craves.
Much like Naruto: The Last, we've moved past simply adding a new villain for our favorite characters to fight against, and instead the main focus of this movie is on the emotional turmoil that Boruto and Naruto have to work through in their strained father-son relationship. This part of the story is pretty straightforward and basic, though that's really all that it needs to be. Naruto doesn't have time to spend with his son, so Boruto gets angry and hates his dad's guts, yet still tries his best to get his dad to notice him. In terms of the franchise's history, Boruto is actually a fairly weak-willed main character at times and gives up a lot more easily than his father ever did, though this still seems to work because, rather than not having anyone in the first place like Naruto, or having his family taken from him like Sasuke, he instead feels abandoned by a father who is still technically there but doesn't pay enough attention, causing him to essentially lose hope that his situation will ever get better, and when he does finally start seeing reassurance from his father after Boruto starts making more headway in the ninja world, he subconsciously rebounds and does everything he can to keep his dad's attention, even if his methods start to deviate from the shinobi way. In a way, this sort of echoes Sasuke's history, which kind of makes sense since Sasuke is Boruto's mentor for a good portion of the film, and at times it almost feels like Boruto sees Sasuke as someone to fill the void left by his barely-there father, though this idea isn't explored too much in the film. The overall arc of Boruto's character is probably the best part of this film, as it reaches a satisfying conclusion in the final act.
As for Naruto, this is probably the most difficult part of the story to convey to the audience, since they have to make Naruto look extremely busy without making him act like a douche to his family, and with the exception of a few lines, they manage to do that fairly well. You can definitely see that he's become overloaded and exhausted from his work as Hokage, and also that he's still trying to find time to spend with his family, although failing miserably. There are a few moments in the beginning though where the strictness he's adopted as the Hokage seems to be a bit too forced for his character and ends up making him look a bit uncaring, which is hardly the kind of trait you would expect from Naruto.
As for the rest of the cast, most of them are fairly solid. I ended up liking Sarada a lot more than I thought I would since she ends up being an interesting support character for Boruto in sharing similar elements of their parental situations. I do wish they had explored her more in this movie, but I suppose that's what Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring is for. The rest of the characters fill out their own fan service and nostalgia roles pretty nicely, and I didn't really expect any more than that since it would end up clogging up the main story line. The main villain, unfortunately, is pretty much as generic as they come. Again, anything super-complex would have bogged down the character drama between Boruto and Naruto, but this guy's about as plain and standard as they come. They try to work him into the already existing shinobi history, which worked out fine in Naruto: The Last, but it feels like too much of a stretch in this case and a lot of the details feel a bit jumbled and rushed.
The new technology they introduce in this film was also a bit odd at times. I've always felt that Kishimoto has struggled with balancing how much advanced technology is used in the Naruto universe, and this movie almost fixes that problem by basically showing this giant leap forward in technology, and it even seems to address the debate of whether hard work and willpower or technology and cutting edge tools with spearhead the future of the shinobi world, but it's still just a tad too jagged and uneven at times.
As for animation, this is definitely one of the best-looking Naruto films thus far, though I'm not quite sure I would call it the best. The character designs are about as refined and polished as they've ever been, though I did notice quite a few draw distance issues. Perhaps this was more a problem with the theater I saw it in...amongst many other problems I had with my particular theater viewing, that will eventually be fixed by the time the Blu-rays come out, but it's still something worth noting. To my delight, this film does not rely nearly as much on CG environments as previous movies have done, though there are still a few whiffs of that pungent CG stench hanging around. As for the action scenes, once again, it does a lot of things right, and a lot of things not so right. When it gets into the huger scale of things, the choreography and particle physics are outstanding, with tons of vivid colors and unique attack designs, and watching these massive explosions and earth-shattering jutsu go off in everyone's faces is spectacular to watch. On the other end though, a lot of the smaller, hand-to-hand choreography is a bit disappointing, especially compared to the previous film. There are a few moments where the hand-to-hand gets pretty awesome and some of the more complex strategies and jutsu are fun to watch, but these moments largely fall by the wayside in exchange for a “whoever has the biggest jutsu wins” competition like the latter half of the main Naruto storyline fell into. The very end of the battle did have at least some smartness to it though, so I wasn't dissatisfied by the ending to a significant degree. Despite its flaws though, this is some of the better work that Studio Pierrot has put out so far, and it's a great way to view the shinobi world for one last time.
On the soundtrack end of things, it's pretty much the same as it's always been: an epic combination of orchestral and rock compositions with that extra Eastern flavor of shamisen, taiko drums, and bamboo flute that has shaped the Naruto soundtrack's identity for the past thirteen years. The ending song played during the credits was provided by Kana-Boon and gives us that last burst of excitement as what is most likely the final chapter in the Naruto world comes to a close. Oh by the way, make sure you watch the after-credits scene because it is absolutely something that you do not want to miss.
Overall, if you go into this movie thinking it'll be the big final hoorah of the Naruto franchise and that it's the best story yet, you'll probably be disappointed. To me, the final climax of Naruto was in Naruto: The Last, if you couldn't tell from how often I brought it up during this review, and Boruto is more of a fan service/second generation side story that serves as more of a dessert dish rather than the last bite of a spectacular main course. Despite that, though, I still highly recommend that you see this movie if you are a Naruto fan because, despite all its flaws, it's still probably the last major project that Kishimoto will make for the Naruto franchise, and that's...kinda sad for me. Even though there are so many other, much better anime out there, Naruto is the one that, for me and thousands, possibly millions of other anime fans, shaped how we viewed anime as we were growing up, and to know that the story is now completely finished is kind of depressing. Sure the TV anime is still going...for some reason, but the manga's story is completely finished and now there's this void left behind from a series that's been a massive part of my life for so long that I can't even remember what life was like without Naruto. From the first volume to the last, from Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow to Boruto, and the dozens of side stories in-between, this has been one hell of a ride. Knowing that there's a future without more Naruto is really weird for me, and, in time, perhaps a new franchise will take its place...but, that's a story for another day.
For now, I say "Sayonara" to a franchise that, despite its flaws, means more to me than others can possibly imagine.