This week’s episode of Boruto: Naruto Next Generations is special, not because its good or anything like that, but because it had me keep one of my eye brows raised throughout its 24 minute run-time. As far as bad, filler based Boruto NNG episodes go, this was is up there in terms of being thoroughly terrible. It’s got a weak story that feels like its at home on a kid’s show, it trivializes things like suicide and terrorism, and it also reinforces the rather bad status quo of how Japanese corporate workers and game developers in particular are treated in Japan.
I have no idea who thought any of this was a good idea, but I think its about time the writers of Boruto NNG got an editor or a bit of a filter. Look, I get that Boruto NNG is set during times of peace, and I know that its meant to be closer to our own modern times in terms of how the society and world operates but… This is not a place for the show’s writers to give their rather odd social commentary on Japan’s societal problems.
Simply put, a story about Ninjas and magical Nine Tail beasts is not the place for a show to cover topics such as corporate overwork, unfair bosses and how there’s a huge gap between the rich people of the world and the poor. I totally believe there’s a place for nuanced social commentary, and I’m particular a huge fan of media and entertainment that has some larger point to make. The thing is, however, that in order to do something like this properly, you need an entire series dedicated to the concept, rather than a messy filler episode in a show that is generally so far removed from reality that it just feels jarring to even see this sort of stuff covered in it.
Now, before I get into the actual events of this week’s travesty of an episode, I do want to point out one thing that I’ve noticed since the show started covering Boruto’s genin adventures. Its a rather odd pattern really, and one that has Boruto basically proclaim some kind of stupid, selfish thing, only to come face to face with someone who’s a sort of “worse off than you” mirror. This meeting that Boruto has with someone who’s going through something very much like him, leads to him realizing the error of his ways, empathizing with the other person, and helping both them and himself move past it.
Its a good idea in theory, and its something that the original Naruto story utilized to great effect. Why it doesn’t work here, however, is mostly due to the fact that actual stories and ideas here are a lot more mundane, smaller and are treated with the same respect and nuance as a punchline of a bad joke. See, when Naruto and Naruto Shippuden explored themes like family, abandonment and rejection from society, it told really emotional, tragic stories that were steeped in real thought and emotion. I keep bringing it up, but the Naruto and Gaara storyline was a perfect example of how to deal with isolation in smaller communities and the toll they can have on innocent and hopeful young people.
Contrast that to what we got into this week’s episode, and things become really dire indeed. See, this week’s episode has Boruto (by himself no less) rush in and try to stop a suicide bomb strapped bank robber from blowing himself up, as he tries to rob a bank. Ignoring the obvious fact that Boruto basically learned nothing from the last two week’s and basically rushes in alone, the show actually really trivializes what is and can be a rather horrible situation in real life.
The show takes great pains to basically suggest that there isn’t actually a huge problem. “Oh yeah, there’s a guy with a suicide bomb vest in a bank, but its okay! All the staff have been cleared out and evacuated. There are no hostages! Oh and the dude who’s got the suicidal vest on, he’s a friggin timid wimp who has no idea what he’s doing!”
The whole scenario just reeks of insensitivity, and paints a rather serious issue of a terrorist threat in a bank, as if its friggin nothing. And look, I get that its not meant to be taken seriously, but the fact that the show goes on to make a joke out of it all, while basically actually creating this real serious and dire situation, just rubs me the wrong way.
To make matters even worse, the show goes a step farther and makes the so called suicidal nutt job in the bank into a sympathetic character. Which… I have no words to describe how shocking and weird that whole thing is to me. Under no circumstances, whatsoever, is it okay to strap a bomb to yourself and try to rob a bank. I don’t care what your situation is, as human beings, we should never stoop to or even think that kind of behavior is justifiable. But the show does it, and it does it under the guise that the guy in question is a weak, confused idiot who has no idea about what he’s doing.
Now… The travesties don’t end there either. To add even more insult to a rather grave injury, the show has the gall to make this sucide bomb robber into a friggin overworked game programmer. Look, I know better than anyone (having done both game development and software development) how hellish life as a programmer can be sometimes, and how soul crushing a terrible and unreasonable project manager can be but… Is this where that kind of subject is even remotely appropriate?
Here’s some cold hard facts that the show does a terrible job of dishing out. The way the games industry is, particularly in Japan, there is a lot of focus and emphasis on the director or studio head of a project. That so called “visionary” is given so much attention and respect in both marketing and the general enthusiast press, despite the fact that a game is actually made by dozen upon dozens of talented people. Most of the programmers, artists, designers, quality assurance testers, producers e.t.c are hardly even given a nod or even basic appreciation for their hard work, and end up being little more than a name on a list of credits that most people skip after they beat a game.
This is a real problem in the industry, and its something that a lot of people are unaware of. A visionary or director is super important, but they themselves are not the only person responsible for the creation of one of the most complex pieces of entertainment. And while this is an issue that plagues video game development throughout the entire world, its especially problematic in a seniority based corporate culture like the one found in Japan.
THAT, is the issue that Boruto NNG is trying to tackle in this idiotic story of a disgruntled overworked employee turned suicide bombing bank robber. Think about that for a second, and about how off the mark this particular episode really falls. Anyone looking at this story, anywhere in the world, would just gasp in horror at what’s being written here. And no, I wouldn’t even think that people in Japan would be “culturally” unaware of what’s going on, because this whole issue is presented from a very Japanese perspective.
How do I know that? Because the stance that the show ends up taking with regards to this whole thing, is very indicative of Japanese culture as a whole. There’s this concept of valuing the collective over the individual in Japan, and its something that I think leads to some unique challenges in that particular society. I won’t go into the details here, mostly because I think that’s a detailed essay in itself, and one which I don’t think I’m really qualified to cover in depth anyway.
But look, the point here is this, People being overworked and being made to follow unreasonable deadlines is disgusting no matter what the context. Its unfair and its terrible, but in Japan in particular overwork is just an accepted reality in the corporate world. It would be one thing, if Boruto NNG were making some kind of political statement against overwork itself, but what the show does instead, is focus in on that whole “I don’t received credit and praise for what I do”.
That’s the suicidal robber’s big issue, the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. This is a guy who was overworked to the bone, and then had evidence falsified against him for a crime he didn’t commit, which in turn got him fired. And his big issue: “No one knows how hard I work on stuff behind the scenes”. This is the thing that drives this guy to not only kill himself, but do it in a way where he is ultimately causing terror and panic in the society around him.
I just… have no words. And no, the fact that Boruto is able to show the guy that he’s a huge fan, thank him for his hard work, and then gets him to not blow himself up in a neat little ending does not somehow redeem this show. Nor does the fact that it eventually turns out that the guy actually didn’t have a bomb, and wasn’t actually a danger. Plus Boruto using his “rich friend” to get this poor unfortunate worker another job doesn’t help, it adds even more fuel to a raging fiery problem.
And yes, I get that the show tries to, yet again, make this whole scenario acceptable by pointing to the fact that there’s some weird mastermind behind this whole incident that actually drove this timid programmer to do what he did. We’ve seen stories like that, but this isn’t the way to do them. You can’t just trivialize the issues being discussed, remove all consequences for one of the most serious crimes today, make it some kind of brainwashing backstory, and basically get out of dealing with the tough questions you yourself brought up. I mean, there are examples of how to do this sort of brainwashing story well. Look up something like Psycho pass or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex for how a show CAN actually do the whole “psycho creating more psychos” story.
So yeah, this was a particularly bad episode of Boruto NNG. When I originally watched the episode, I was just kind of annoyed and surprised by what this show was doing. I mentioned that I had an eye brow raised the entire time I watched it, and that was true. But that itself, doesn’t highlight how dreadful the idea and the writing behind this episode was.
The fact that the writers of this episode were probably not intending to portray what they did isn’t lost on me either. I get that the show wasn’t trying to trivialize suicide, terrorism, overwork or any of those things. I get that, but I also see that if I myself, took 2 minutes to read into and think deeper about what the hell I was actually seeing on screen, then what realizations I come to are pretty darn shocking.
And that’s the problem right there. No one writing or producing this episode took the time to step back, and reevaluate what the hell they were producing and saying by creating this episode. I used to think that lazy writing was a bad thing, but hardly ever could it result in being something close to an ignorant, offensive piece of drivel. Boruto NNG made me realize that that is very much not the case. We really should take more time to think about what we’re saying, and what we’re consuming, and what it means to do, say and portray certain things.
In closing, I will say that I don’t hate Boruto NNG, nor do I think its creators intentionally sought to create something offensive. I totally think this episode is a huge tragedy, in that a lazy, quickly written episode ended up turning into one of the more offensive and sloppy pieces of anime entertainment I’ve seen in a good while. This isn’t some call for Boruto NNG to stop production, or for it to boycotted or anything like that. I’m not dropping the show either, and the reason for all of that is because I genuinely believe that no one involved with this episode was actually intending to cause any sort of harm. Plus, I get that media and entertainment has the right to say controversial things, so if anything, I’m more disappointed and saddened by what I saw this week, then angry.
In the end, my feelings on the matter are more akin to a deep sigh… I hope the show never touches these topics again, because its clear that the writers in charge do not have the maturity or the skill to handle such topics with any semblance of grace.
And this is one of those episodes where, again, I want to ask anyone reading to leave a comment. Did you get any of this stuff when you were actually watching the episode? Or did you realize this later, after some thought like me? Am I just being exceedingly sensitive and looking into this way too much? Sound off in the comments and let me know, because I guess even I’m a bit surprised by what I unraveled as I began talking about this episode.
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