Finding The Right Comedy Ratio Was Crucial For Naruto

Naruto Uzumaki is a comfort character for many reasons. The knuckleheaded ninja went from being a young troublemaker and failing student to a brave, responsible Hokage of the Leaf Village after helping win the Fourth Shinobi World War. Masashi Kishimoto, who created the "Naruto" manga series, based the titular hero on his own experiences at school while growing up, painting a flawed, lovable character worth rooting for in the process. The subsequent anime adaptations of the manga, "Naruto" and "Naruto Shippuden," succeeded in preserving these foundational tenets of Kishimoto's world and brought the vibrant characters to life rather convincingly, to its credit.

However, what makes "Naruto" as an anime so beloved and enduring? There are many reasons, but a significant one is this: The series expertly balances serious situations with humor, knowing when to stop without taking it too far.

There are multiple running gags and plenty of slapstick humor, but these moments have been organically woven into the characters, and thus never come off as forced. Here's how anime director Hayao Date and his team balanced the perfect humor ratio for "Naruto."

Humor as a coping mechanism

"Naruto" is not always about fun-filled shenanigans or the primary characters having a good time going on fabulous adventures. There is a real element of danger in every mission, and the young ninjas slowly grasp the seriousness of the situations they are in as they grow up.

Take the Chunin exams in "Naruto," for instance: The exam starts off in a rather funny way when Naruto has absolutely no clue about the answers to the written assignment. While everyone else comes up with ingenious ways of cheating without getting caught, Naruto's inner monologue becomes progressively funnier as the poor kid is clueless about the exam's true intent. Gradually, the characters realize that their actions have actual, real-world consequences on their future and that of their teammates, and a single misstep in the Forest of Death could lead to actual death. The stakes are higher than ever, and there is a sense of perpetual anxiety that permeates these scenes.

Date spoke to Animation Magazine about following-up such life-threatening scenes with slapstick comedy, and how the latter is used to bring levity to relentlessly tense situations. This is a tricky balance to achieve in an ever-evolving story, and Date addresses this aspect in "Naruto":

"We're very careful with the placement of humor. If slapstick comedy is inserted into a tense scene, the characters come across as stupid. On the other hand, if a tense scene goes on too long, viewers are left holding their breath too long, which is exhausting."

Circling back to the Chunin exams example, Date achieves this balance by alternating tense sequences with character humor, in which the kids cling on to their humor to cope with the emotional trauma of surviving a death trap designed to test their ninja skills.

Humor makes the characters more relatable

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Kishimoto explained that Naruto is such a compelling character due to his knuckleheaded nature, as the character's ability to find humor amid challenging situations is what makes him relatable. On the one hand, Naruto had a difficult childhood as he was shunned by everyone in Konoha, which contributed to his constant need for attention. Conversely, this also helped him take on a more optimistic view of life, making him a relentless ninja who never gives up. 

Other characters also take on similarly humorous views to cope with their flaws and push through — a good example being Shikamaru Nara. Shikamaru is a brilliant strategist, relying on his mental acumen to defeat powerful enemies in battle. However, he is hopelessly lazy, which turns into a running gag in the series, birthing the line: "Laziness is the mother of all bad habits. But ultimately, she is a mother and we should respect her." This perfectly sums up Shikamaru's character, as it positions him as a relatable ninja who is aware of his flaws, but that does not stop him from indulging in his true nature once in a while. While he still thinks that everything is a "drag," he continues to do his part as a shinobi and applies his skills in battle, rather expertly.

"Naruto" and "Naruto Shippuden," which have a 600-plus episode runtime when combined, contains a lot of filler episodes, which can be annoying for fans due to their mostly frivolous nature. However, these episodes also offer a welcome break from tedious, drawn-out battles, which often lead to tragic character deaths and personal tragedies. Comedy is an integral part of the "Naruto" franchise — without it, we'd only have tragedy.