by Austin Lanari
“1800 MAX SEATING.”
That’s from a sign held by a Hammerstein Ballroom usher outside on 34th as Masashi Kishimoto walked along the steadily growing line to see the North American premiere of Boruto: Naruto the Movie, the closing chapter of the Naruto series. Of course, the sign didn’t make a lot of sense. No one standing in the line could count that many people efficiently by themselves. No one could fly either; it would require a higher vantage point to count the crowd that was roughly five people wide and, at its longest, stretched the entire length of the block.
The first one hundred attendees were rewarded with tickets to an exclusive signing session with Kishimoto himself before the screening. In retrospect, it seems like the most promising chance to get something signed by Kishimoto was at the Kinokuniya signing, which also had a line of epic proportions. The line for Boruto, however, held a buzz among many con-goers as being one to camp out for. I’m not sure how many people went through with that, but I wouldn’t put it past this group of fans: they really love their Naruto.
I’ve been reading Naruto for only six years of its fifteen year run. Though I can’t speak to my seniority in terms of years-of-fandom, I was surprised to see that the average fan appeared to be in high school or early college. That makes perfect sense for a quintessential shonen manga–eponymously aimed at teenage boys–but I still expected to see more people my age who had been in those sweet-spot ages during the series’ initial success in the US. In any case, by far the two loudest things I attended (and the things with the longest lines that I saw at NYCC) were the “Evening with Masashi Kishimoto” on the Main Stage on Thursday night, and the Boruto screening on Saturday.
Despite all of the fervor, Kishimoto himself is exceedingly humble. Nearly every response to a question he provided on the Thursday night panel he ended with the Japanese phrase “onegaishimasu,” which is hard to translate, but essentially is a request for future (or, in this case, continued) mutual care between two parties. Given that this was his first ever major public appearance outside of Japan, questions and answers were pretty clearly prepared in advance. I don’t think anyone in the audience minded, though. I certainly didn’t. Given the presence of translation, preparing everything in advance made everything flow more smoothly.
Still, little things like his manner of speech and several candid moments made his presence felt in a way that was far from scripted. At one point during the Evening with Kishimoto Panel, after drawing a sketch of Naruto, he decided to do another sketch, drawing his second-favorite character, Jiraiya. However, there was a problem: because Kishimoto hadn’t worked on Naruto in so long, he had forgotten how to draw Jiraiya! Then, when he went to look up an image for reference on his phone, he couldn’t get any wi-fi (a running theme in Javits on Thursday). In a funny moment, he confessed to using a cosplayer in the crowd for reference. Jiraiya is not a particularly complicated character to draw, but he has a few small idiosyncrasies that even I forgot after finishing the series last year, such as small horns on his gaudy metal ninja headband.
The fact that he had forgotten how to draw Jiraiya, to me, was welcome news. Here is a man who has been holed up in his room cranking out over twenty pages for a vast majority of every week of the last fifteen years. In some of the first snippets of interviews that were available in English at the end of Naruto late last year, it was revealed that even though he married his wife in 2003, he had yet to go on his honeymoon. Recently, he finally got a chance to go on that honeymoon, and when asked at the panel what he has been doing since he finished the screenplay for Boruto (his first complete screenplay on any of the Naruto films), his answer was that he has been spending time with his kids.
Boruto, then, is the perfect ending to both Naruto’s story and Kishimoto’s story, at least as the mangaka of the over-200-million-sold ninja coming-of-age tale. “Boruto” is the name of Naruto’s son, and the movie explores what it’s like to be a child whose father is far too busy for his son, and how both family members deal with that state of affairs. Kishimoto has never been shy about the fact that he has put a lot of himself into Naruto, and fatherhood is yet another thing that made its way into the story. Also present for the pre-show was Naruto’s voice actor, Junko Takeuchi, who remarked that she felt a special duty to nail the part of Naruto this time around since it mirrored Kishimoto himself more than ever.
As someone who gets intensely annoyed by people talking during movies, I was pleasantly surprised at how thrilled I was watching Boruto during absolutely uproarious noise every five minutes. I still could have done without the people who felt like they had to yell something for a laugh. However, the cheers that occurred during character’s first appearances and the audience’s reactions to tender moments made it one of the most exciting movie-watching experiences I have ever had. Tense moments in the film were given a lot of extra weight due to the fact that everyone was actually quiet for a significant span of time.
Naruto was, and always will be, a big part of my life. It was the first comic I ever started reading every week, and thus essentially served as my gateway into pictorial narratives of all shapes and sizes. It meant a lot to see Kishimoto, but I share his sentiment that what mattered most was seeing the masses of international fans who hold his work dear.