I like Naruto. Okay, I fucking love Naruto. The very first thing I wrote as a Bastard was about the end of Naruto, and I was practically too emotional to sputter anything out about the series. Part of what made it so easy to let go of a series that had been a part of my life every week for six years was the surprising announcement that Kishimoto would continue to draw an extension of the series: Naruto Gaiden: The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring. Of course, I'm not sure why I was surprised. People from the outside looking in might just look at this and think that it's indicative of a generation of stories that have relied on prequels, sequels, remakes, and spiritual successors. But if there is one thing that Naruto has always been about, on a deep level, it is the acknowledgment that the next generation has to carry the torch and, at the same time, the previous generation's impact cannot be overstated.
If I had to pick a favorite character in this series, I would have a tremendously hard time. And it's not because there are a bunch of characters who are peers and all equally awesome in different ways (even though this is true); rather, it's because all of the best characters had a teacher who was way more awesome than they were. You won't find this kind of true-to-life narrative in a lot of Western stories, and surely it falls out of a reverence for teachers and elders that is hard to find on this side of the planet.
I mean, just look at Kakashi. If I had to pick a favorite character, like, REALLY had to, it would be him. And even though his students are incredible, two of whom are essentially the saviors of the entire ninja world, he still looks more awesome in comparison. Why? Well, other than just obviously being more awesome, Kishimoto has laid out this series in such a way that it is fucking impossible to give anybody in this series credit without first giving credit to his or her teacher. There are some exceptions here, but it's important to notice who the exceptions are: figures like Orochimaru and Deidara seem largely to be self-taught in their weirdly evil ways. But neither of them is supposed to be admirable. By contrast, figures like Hashirama and Madara are essentially god-like figures who founded the modern concept of being a ninja. The difference? The latter two are the ultimate teachers, and essentially worshipped as such.
It's just impossible to honestly say who had more of an impact between Sarutobi, Jiraiya, Minato, Kakashi, or Naruto, because none of them would be anything without the person who came before. And with that kind of weight placed on teachers who pass the torch, The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring is tailor-fucking-made to underscore this central aspect of the series. The generation of lovable little shits who had to save the world as they were just entering adulthood are now in charge of things, and have to pass the torch on to their own children.
Kishimoto, with this project, is acknowledging that even the most central and impactful protagonists that we come to love will eventually fade into the backdrop as the new generation takes over. Naruto's painful and beautiful awareness of this fact of life is just one of many reasons this series is close to my heart, and the hearts of many others.
Okay, so you're probably wondering, now that the rant is over (at least, I think it's over), what I thought of this first chapter. Frankly, I don't have much to say about it: Naruto proper ended at 699, and chapter 700 pretty much served as a flash-forward preview of the things to come. This first chapter, cleverly named chapter 700 + 1 (not 701, smart-ass), is an extra stumble into Naruto's future, which, at least initially, is going to center on Sasuke's return to the Leaf after his foreshadowed journey abroad in Naruto's final chapters.
Obviously I love the character designs, as they have always been Kishimoto's strong suit. Oda is probably his only superior, perhaps ever, in terms of designing memorable characters. Cho-Cho is fantastic, Boruto is the little shit we all expected him to be, and Sarada looks to be a great addition. Having a new Uchiha is such a powerful and important step for Kishimoto to take with this series. Additionally, the part where she is childishly wondering exactly what the point is of having ninjas ties directly back to a crucial turning point in her father's character development.
As for her father... sigh. I suppose some people are going to call Sasuke “emo” again for running away and traveling the world, but it completely squares with the end of the series. Remember that him and Naruto were essentially the two biggest outcasts of the Leaf village. Naruto, however, had the chance to show everyone they were full of shit, and finally gained acceptance after the epic Pain fight. Sasuke never found what he was looking for. Talking to Hashirama and deciding to protect the Leaf was obviously a hugely important step, but it was just a first step. Even Itachi, one of the most talented and focused individuals in this series, never found what he was looking for because of what he had to turn himself into. Sasuke is taking it on himself to finally surpass his big brother and become complete.