My journey into the anime fandom and my journey into the Narutoverse are actually one and the same. Before beginning Naruto my relationship with anime was a fairly casual one. I’d only seen a couple of shows and only on the recommendation of friends. I didn’t really seek the stuff out for myself and my other pastimes still preoccupied the majority of my time. However, Naruto really ignited my love for anime. Its cast of characters, who I fell head over heels in love with, taught me the power of anime characters to affect, comfort, and inspire you. They each had their own distinct backgrounds, personalities, dreams, and struggles, many of which I was able to identify with. This was because, when I first began Naruto, at the tender age of 14, I was but a year older than the majority of its cast…
At this point in my life I was the epitome of “troubled teenager”. At school I was basically invisible, being a transfer student in a small town where everybody knew everybody. This meant that I strongly identified with Naruto’s desire to be acknowledged by other people. I also had a difficult time at home. My mum and I often butted heads over her alcoholism. Many Naruto characters also struggled to cope with problematic family members at this point in the series, including Gaara, Neji, and Sasuke. Watching them wrestle and come to terms with their parents’ abuse, neglect, and/or weighty expectations was a great comfort to me.
I watched the bulk of Naruto Shippuuden in my late teens. Once again, the cast of Naruto were about the same age as me – 17, 18, or so. At this point in the series the characters were wrestling with grief, romantic feelings, loss of relationships, and uncertainty over their futures. Whilst I wasn’t busy taking on evil organisations made up of puppets, zombies, and fish-people (at least, not on a daily basis) or fighting in literal wars, I was busy fighting in wars of my own. I had just moved out of home and begun university. The relationships that I had formed with people from my hometown were slowly fizzling out, while new ones were being formed in their place, I had just found love, and I faced much uncertainty over what I was going to do post-graduation. Whilst our situations may have been different, the feelings that they prompted were the same and seeing the cast deal with these with bravery, determination, and perseverance was, again, extremely soothing.
This year I finally finished Naruto Shippuuden. It was immensely satisfying to watch characters, now in their early 20s (again, like me) finally settle their differences with each other, achieve their dreams, decide on new ones, and enter into relationships with one another. Shikamaru stepped into his role as adviser to the Hokage, Shino decided to become a teacher, and Hinata and Naruto got married. Whilst I am still trying to decide upon a career path for myself, I also got married last year and that was definitely a dream come true!
A few weeks ago I started Boruto: Naruto Next Generations. The cast of Naruto, now slightly older than me, in their late 20s/early 30s, are now respected, established pillars of their community and mentors/parents to the next generation. With Sasuke being the sole exception (seriously, step up, dude), Lee, Sakura, Chouji, Hinata, Naruto, Ino, Sai, Temari, and Shikamaru are all fantastic parents! It’s so heartwarming watching them teach, dote on, and gently discipline their babies. At this point in my life I’m now thinking about having kiddos of my own. And I know that, when I do, these mamas and papas will be a positive influence on my own parenting.
It has been such a special experience to have grown up alongside the cast of Naruto. I have literally known these characters longer than most of my flesh-and-blood friends, so they feel just as dear to me. They’ve been there for me at almost every important stage of my life and through watching them overcome their struggles, they have helped me to do the same. They’ve made me laugh, made me cry, and have inspired me to be the best that I can be. And I know that, going forward into 2019, they’ll continue to do the same.