Of the Big Three manga, I read Naruto and Bleach. Another big serialisation is Fairy Tail, which I peruse as well.
Nowadays, I wish I didn’t read any of them, or that I didn’t have a complex about completion. All have fallen in quality in terms of story in recent months, even years. Heck, Fairy Tail even feels like the art has worsened. I find their fanfiction to be superior in story (although that’s a handful in the sea of dross), and whisper this, I think my own story is better in terms of plot and character development.
Bleach is the first big offender in terms of story. It should really have ended by the Deicide arc, which was when Aizen was defeated. Fullbring was a terrible concept, and while the current Quincy arc is pretty fun to read, I’m reading it to appreciate the art (which is fantastic now) and finally see all the Bankai. How some of the captains didn’t think Aizen, the biggest threat to Soul Society since the Juha Bach, didn’t necessitate use of Bankai is beyond me. I think Shōnen Jump is milking Bleach right now, to show off cool powers that will probably help sales of toys and whatnot.
Fairy Tail was the second offender. I get the desire to create suspense in a manga that is mostly linear in story, with predictable arcs that get stale after a while. But the Eclipse arc was implemented so badly, I just lost interest. You can’t build suspense and not hit a climax at some point. The switch to a more serious tone was welcome by me too, but then it was ruined when a dragon had powers to blow away clothes.
Fanservice is fanservice, but there’s more than enough in Fairy Tail, which is filled with voluptuous beauties (that are straying into plus-sized model territory at this stage) already. Then it segued into the Tartaros arc so weakly, I can’t help but feel disappointed. The current Tartaros arc looks like it’s headed for the climax already, and it’s barely even started. Pacing is a huge issue now, when it wasn’t so before the 7-year timeskip. I picked up Fairy Tail because it was s simple shōnen story. But Mashima-sensei tried to change the formula, and ruined things for me.
Then there’s Naruto. Oh Naruto. Where did it all go wrong?
I think the story has been degrading in quality for a while, but the real moment when it clicked was when Sasuke and Orochimaru turned sides. When visiting an Uzumaki shrine in the outskirts of Konoha, to summon the Shinigami to release the former Hokage to talk to them. What. The. Fuck.
The entire premise of Shippuden was Naruto’s quest to get Sasuke back to Konoha, fulfilling his promise to Sakura. We see Sasuke heading further down the rabbit hole of madness, joining Akatsuki and attacking the Kage Summit. Those are good plot points. Then out of nowhere, he suddenly wants to be Hokage to change the system the ‘right’ way? No one, obsessed with revenge and butthurt from his revenge being misdirected, will suddenly switch sides after a talk with the most idiotic character in the series since the protagonist himself; also the most powerful. Yay
While that’s a good endorsement for Naruto as Rokudaime Hokage (that Hashirama is an idiot), it really grates that there’s so much lame humour inserted into serious scenes that ruin the impact. The trend continues all the way through the Fourth Shinobi War arc, which is a WAR. Joking around in war, with your lives directly under threat from a megalomaniac who can summon meteors? Okay.
Not to mention the overpoweredness of the Sharingan. It can do everything and anything, and even evolve to the just-as-broken Rinnegan. Naruto, as the protagonist, was initially forced to keep up with his overpowered rivals and enemies using grit and a dash of ingenuity. And a dose of friendship, as is the norm for shōnen. But now, the friendship extends to the demon in his stomach, and all he does is rely on the demon’s power now. Which makes him no different from his Übergan-equipped enemies and completely undermines the premise of his character design: HARD WORK.
There’s so much potential in Naruto that it spawned one of the largest communities on ff.net (which could also be down to popularity I suppose). But now, it’s all wasted on stupid punch lines that only make me roll my eyes.
Sometimes, I think it’s just because I’m older now, and I can’t appreciate shōnen, a genre catered towards a younger audience. But I look over at monthly serialisations like Rosario+Vampire (which didn’t end well, admittedly) and Tower of God (a Korean manhwa), and I wonder why it seems so hard to write a good story. Do I demand too much? I don’t think so. Plenty of fanfiction authors seem to agree with me. Maybe we just think alike given we’re all cut from the same cloth.
It’s one of the reasons why I’m so engrossed in fanfiction. The other is that I really do love anime and manga, and fanfiction expands on the worlds I love, in the way I like.
I really hope to find a good weekly serialisation to sink my teeth into when these big ones finally end. In the meantime, I’ll have to satiate my appetite with more anime and fanfiction…