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/Film - Letting Naruto Age Was 'Extraordinary' For Voice Actress Maile Flanagan


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Shōnen manga is Japan's equivalent to American superhero comics, but comes with a few more storytelling advantages. Manga is more creator-driven; instead of different writers and artists rotating shifts on staple characters like at Marvel and DC, mangakas (manga artists) pitch and create the stories for their publisher. While Shōnen manga is primarily comprised of boys' adventure books, they tend to feature different types of adventurers: Shōnen heroes can be pirates, hunters, shinigami, alchemists, or ninjas. Since manga doesn't use a "shared universe" model, the barrier to entry is a bit lower.

Manga doesn't experience the same stasis as American superhero comics. Even if chapters go up into the hundreds, there's a forward progression and, eventually, an ending. Take "Dragon Ball," the godfather of modern Shōnen manga created by Akira Toriyama. Son Gokū is introduced as a child, growing up over the manga's 194 chapters. The manga's rebrand, "Dragon Ball Z," picks up five years later, when Gokū and his wife Chi-Chi are the parents of young Gohan.

Masashi Kishimoto's "Naruto," one of the few Shōnen which can rival the ubiquity of "Dragon Ball," also takes its cues from said series. The series' ninja hero Naruto Uzumaki is similar to Gokū: an orange outfit, an identical blue energy orb technique, and the same kindhearted stupidity. The manga also has the same bifurcated structure. After chapter 244 in 2005, "Naruto" entered "Part II" (the concurrent anime adaptation rebranded as "Naruto Shippuden"). The story skips ahead two years, with Naruto and his fellow ninja students having gone from children to teenagers. The sequel series "Boruto" features them as parents to the next generation of ninjas.

No one was more thrilled to watch Naruto grow up than Maile Flanagan, his voice actor in the anime's English dub.

There Was No Sense Of Time


Maile Flanagan didn't come to "Naruto" an anime fan; indeed, the "Naruto" franchise is the only anime dub on her resume besides the 2003 "Astro Boy" remake. Despite her limited involvement in the industry, she's helped shape anime's popularity through her portrayal of the young ninja. In October 2022, she spoke with Crunchyroll about "Naruto" in commemoration of the anime's 20th anniversary. Asked about what it's been like following her character's coming of age, she said:

"What's extraordinary is that cartoon characters don't always, or often, hardly ever grow up. As an actor, it's so great to be able to play those different mindsets, ages and emotions that go along with it."

Flanagan's right about cartoon characters. For instance, The Simpsons will always be a five-member nuclear family. Bruce Wayne will never permanently pass on the Batman cowl to one of the Robins. And even in Japanese animation, Ash Ketchum of "Pokémon" has been 10 years old for more than two decades.

Despite all the time that's passed onscreen and off, Flanagan felt it pass by.

"The 20 year thing is kind of mind-blowing. We used to joke about it, Elizabeth McGlynn and I. I was like 'Will we do this in 20 years?' Then it's like...we are. [McGlynn] is not directing ['Naruto'] anymore. She directs a lot of stuff, but not ['Naruto' anymore]. The other directors, Susie and Ryan, hats off to them, because I think of Suzy as newer, and I've been working with her forever. And then I think Ryan is newer and he's been at the studio 10 years now. There was no sense of time with 'Naruto.'"

Everyone Will Become A Silhouette


So precisely how long have Maile Flanagan and Naruto been together? In America, "Naruto" first premiered in 2005 on Cartoon Network's Toonami block, alongside other anime like "Pokémon" and "Yu-Gi-Oh," as well as American cartoons like "The Batman" and "Teen Titans." While "Shippuden" is technically a sequel series, in Japan, it premiered the week after "Naruto" ended in 2007. Likewise, after "Naruto" ended its run on Cartoon Network in 2009, "Shippuden" premiered on Disney XD later that year. It would move to Adult Swim in 2011.

The change in series also brought a certification change from TV-PG to TV-14, reflecting the growing maturity of Naruto (character and series alike). Flanagan tried to reflect that maturity in her performance, especially when returning for "Boruto":

"I try and be a little more stern. A little more emotionally stern, I guess. A little more emotionally grounded. The first several episodes of 'Boruto', not gonna lie, there was a lot of me lecturing. I was like, 'Is this how it is?' Then that stopped and it got to be very adventuresome, fun and interesting."

Actor Michael B. Jordan, an anime fan who counts "Naruto" as his favorite, said "[I've] been a fan of [the series] for years, since I was maybe 12, 13 years old. I've literally seen Sasuke and Naruto grow up." Clearly, the growth of the characters is what's made "Naruto" a rewarding experience for its fans and performers alike.

Read this next: The Top 13 Anime Betrayals Of All Time, Ranked

The post Letting Naruto Age Was 'Extraordinary' For Voice Actress Maile Flanagan appeared first on /Film.

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