So, episode 1 of Rock Lee’s Springtime of Youth aired in the now-vacated Bleach timeslot. So Studio Pierrot are now animating two different Naruto anime, with the voice actors featuring in both. And…I can’t say I find it a bad idea. Where the Naruto manga has long been a disappointing trudge of stupid twists and dull fights between giant blobby creatures, the SD comedy based on Rock Lee that emerged as the best of the comics in the Saikyou Jump spin-off to Shounen Jump was a breath of fresh air. Even as professional fanfic. And Tenten shone as she never shone before as the comedy straightman.
I was a little surprised it was to be a weekly anime – I had expected it to get truncated and appended to the end of Naruto Shippuden episodes like Bleach’s Shinigami Zukan, maybe getting half-hour specials for Jump Festas or DVD releases or some such. This way may actually be the better business decision, as it’s compulsively watchable – but I’m not sure if it will make for quite such a funny show.
This first episode was a bit of a mixed bag. It expanded the first part of the first chapter into a mini-plot about saving a girl from debt sharks, and while the new enemies were funnier than the throwaway one in the manga, the jokes about dog turds got very laboured very fast and the pacing just wasn’t as funny. The second half, on the other hand, was an improvement on the original, other than the timing and reactions to Lee’s attempts to do Sexy and Harem no Jutsus being off. Lee’s little play about having to raise his young daughters was a great addition and made me like the episode overall rather more: I was doubting the writers’ abilities to come up with gags as funny and sparky as those in the manga, but that made me think that they can riff on basic ideas well.
I doubt it will be as funny or clever as the manga, but I quite like that the strips are being expanded – having a joke repeated in anime form is never likely to offer much that’s new, but if Pierrot continue to put their own spin on Rock Lee’s Springtime of Youth, it could be a great companion piece to expand what’s in the manga rather than replacing or emulating.