Anime Review | Naruto: Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Drew Hurley 19.09.2016

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Naruto: Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals (UK Rating: 12)

Regardless of opinions on what Naruto became or problems with the mass filler episode (oh the year of hell… try to not remember the year of hell!) or the shoddy animation in the anime towards the end (why did the Pain fight look like something out of Loony Toons?!), there's no denying that the orange jump-suited Shinobi forever changed the landscape of manga and anime. Dattebayo. When the series came to a close, fans were still clamouring for more, and thankfully they got it with an epilogue volume of manga, Boruto movie, and now a Boruto manga series. There was already a spin-off available, though, and now it's available in the UK thanks to Manga Entertainment.

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Launched as a manga series in the magazine Super Strong Jump in 2010, it then got its anime adaptation in 2012. The anime adaptation lasted a year and may have passed by a lot of Western fans. The chibi style and comedy setting could have easily put off potential viewers with its childish aesthetic, but it's nothing new and something that has proven to have worked well in many series over the years. This Super Deformed, or SD, style has been used by seminal and serious series, like Fullmetal Alchemist, for OVAs, and shorts that have been a real highlight as DVD extras, over the years. The problem is that these are usually set up as short one-note gags, whereas this show is trying to use them for a full series of 30-minute episodes.

Instead of having this series based on the titular Naruto of the main series, it gives another fan favourite character a chance in the spotlight. Rock Lee's battle against Gaara in the Chuunin exams, along with his eccentric design and personality, quickly built a fan base for Lee. This young ninja is unable to use Ninjitsu or Genjustu and, instead, makes it his path to become a fine Ninja using just Taijutsu or Martial Arts. The series is somewhat of a slice of life/gag show rather than the shonen show it was spun-off from, and follows Lee and the other members of his team as they go about missions, stuffing in plenty of cameo appearances and inside jokes for fans of Naruto.


 
Lee may be the star of the show, but he gets to shine thanks to the two other members of his team. The characters in the show are very different to their original incarnations. In the original Naruto series, Hyuga Neji was a high-class genius Ninja from a noble family, and Rock Lee's rival. Here he is often the butt of the joke, forced to cross-dress and act out skits. Then there's Tenten; she was little explored in the original, just being the girl who summoned weapons, yet here she's the ever suffering mature straight-man of the group. Funnily enough, she gets a lot more character development and screen-time than in the original show. There are also plenty of regular appearances from Lee's mentor, Guy, his crush, Sakura, and, of course, Naruto. Hey, gotta keep those original fans watching! The best characters, though, are the ones who don't appear too often. The cameo appearance by characters like Orochimaru, Kakashi, and Tsunade, always deliver the funniest episodes. One of the best characters is one that's never even seen: the narrator, who delivers deadpan lines with gusto and regularly even converses with the characters on-screen.

There's not much of a story or overarching plot here; some plot points are referenced here and there but it's very much an episodic show. Each episode is split into two comedy stories, a move that helps to transition the style of show from its usual short five-minute episodes to a longer format. There are some regular recurring plots, like Naruto and Lee vying for the attention of Sakura, Neji trying to keep Naruto away from his cousin Hinata, or Orochimaru assaulting Konoha, but mostly the stories just follow the usual slice-of-life style tales with a ninja twist. What is most prevalent in every episode is the comedy - it really is non-stop gags. The series is filled with slapstick comedy, along with the famous Japanese wordplay, and a heavy dose of insider jokes for the Naruto fans in the audience.

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Due to the pure onslaught of gags, there are far too many for them all to land, but there are plenty of genuinely funny moments. Lee using his own version of famous moves, like Neji's Byakugan (taping his eyelids open and rolling his eyes into the back of his head) is one example, or another being Shikamaru's Shadow Bind (he can't control shadows, so pours out his gargantuan eyebrows). It's worth checking out the English and Japanese versions, since the comedy and translations differ in each, with cultural and pop culture references appropriate to Japanese and English.

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Naruto: Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals is a fun addition to the Naruto franchise and one that every Naruto fan should try. There's a reason these Super Deformed-style gag series are included so often with anime series or developed as OVAs: they are genuinely funny and give a whole new twist to established characters. This instalment is no different, filled with real laugh out loud moments. As enjoyable and funny as this is, though, it's definitely made for fans of the original Naruto series, with plenty of Easter eggs and insider jokes throughout. Non-Naruto fans will find the show considerably less enjoyable. This series is only half of the original run from Japan, but Manga Entertainment has already announced the second part will arrive in October, so Cubed3 will be right there to see how the series wraps up.

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