Even if you aren’t a fan of anime, chances are you’ve heard of Boruto’s dad, Naruto, and his signature ninja run. But in the last year or so, anime fans will probably also have noticed Naruto’s famous running form become an increasingly large part of the anime community. College campuses and popular meeting spots around the world have seen scores of headband-clad anime fans running around with their arms sticking out straight behind them. This, of course, inspires two pressing questions in both otakus and those who have yet to realize how amazing anime is: Where does Naruto running come from and why did it become so popular?
Enter: An Animation Shortcut
Animation in Japan is a difficult, time consuming, and – sadly – a less than financially sound career. Due to constant pressure to churn out weekly episodes, animators often seek shortcuts or tricks to produce quicker and easier content. Some of the most famous time savers in anime involve transformation sequences that reuse animation or obscuring a character’s mouth while they’re talking. Naruto running is one of the most successful and popular animation cheats in the history of anime.
In anime, an animator must craft every tiny movement. This is why anime features so many conversations between characters standing still with little more than their eyes and mouths moving. Running is a particularly time-intensive action to animate, as it requires a character model and background to change dozens of times in a matter of seconds. By having a character’s arms remain static, animators save a terrific amount of time and energy, and the animation studio can save a lot of money.
Why it Works
If there is one thing anime fans enjoy as much as their favorite shows, it’s calling an anime out on its shortcomings. When Dragon Ball Super first aired, fans were furious with how poor the animation was compared to the films that covered the same story arc.
However, Naruto never received the same level of criticism despite how often the anime has used the shortcut. This is because this time-saver actually helps flesh out Naruto’s fantastical world.
Feudal Japan builds the bedrock of the world of Naruto, but beyond that, it consists of many unique countries and cultures. The fact that the majority of characters run in this unusual way helps cement the fact that the world of Naruto is fundamentally different from our own. Naruto running twists a very mundane and familiar concept and converts it into a signifier of a fictional world.
How it Became Popular
The popularity and practice of organized Naruto running coincides with the final episode of the show. When Naruto concluded in March 2017, fans needed a way to express their appreciation for the anime and keep their fandom alive. So, over the course of a few short months, Naruto running went from a well-executed animation shortcut to a cultural phenomenon.
Naruto running has become a meme both on the internet and in the real world. It’s not only a staple of the anime fandom, it’s also a distinct element of that sub-culture. Rather than disband after their beloved show came to an end, members of the Naruto fandom banded together and started a practice that the entire anime fandom can appreciate and join in with. While the anime fandom is a bigger community now than ever before, Naruto runners are inadvertently making the community more public and approachable to new members.
Entering New Fandoms
Beyond just anime, the Naruto run has now entered a new brand of fandom. When Blizzard released the latest character for their overwhelmingly popular game Overwatch, fans noticed her peculiar style of running. In an interview with PCGamesN, the game’s lead writer, Michael Chu, implied that this was a direct homage to Naruto. With a development and creative team who are all anime fans, it’s hard not to see the inspiration.