“Naruto” is not always about fun-filled shenanigans or the primary characters having a good time going on fabulous adventures. There is a real element of danger in every mission, and the young ninjas slowly grasp the seriousness of the situations they are in as they grow up.
Take the Chunin exams in “Naruto,” for instance: The exam starts off in a rather funny way when Naruto has absolutely no clue about the answers to the written assignment. While everyone else comes up with ingenious ways of cheating without getting caught, Naruto’s inner monologue becomes progressively funnier as the poor kid is clueless about the exam’s true intent. Gradually, the characters realize that their actions have actual, real-world consequences on their future and that of their teammates, and a single misstep in the Forest of Death could lead to actual death. The stakes are higher than ever, and there is a sense of perpetual anxiety that permeates these scenes.
Date spoke to Animation Magazine about following-up such life-threatening scenes with slapstick comedy, and how the latter is used to bring levity to relentlessly tense situations. This is a tricky balance to achieve in an ever-evolving story, and Date addresses this aspect in “Naruto”:
“We’re very careful with the placement of humor. If slapstick comedy is inserted into a tense scene, the characters come across as stupid. On the other hand, if a tense scene goes on too long, viewers are left holding their breath too long, which is exhausting.”
Circling back to the Chunin exams example, Date achieves this balance by alternating tense sequences with character humor, in which the kids cling on to their humor to cope with the emotional trauma of surviving a death trap designed to test their ninja skills.