15 November 2017 | trackster006
More than Just a Spin-Off Despite Some Repetitiveness
When I saw that Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals did not have a single review here, I knew it was time to take that first step into reviewership. As a fan of the Naruto series from the very beginning, when I first learned about this spin-off series I figured I'd give it a shot. Spoiler: I was not disappointed.
Unlike many of the anime fans out there I don't consider myself a super fan of any one series. Naruto. Dragonball. Hunter x Hunter. I enjoy them for what they are, but I can also recognize their flaws. With Naruto in particular, I felt that the series from start to finish was okay, but nothing spectacular. Okay enough to stick with until the end obviously (I'm a sucker for relationships like the one Naruto and Sasuke have), while taken with a grain of salt. Therefore, the fact that I enjoyed this spin-off quite a bit despite some repetitiveness goes to show its quality. As such, whether you are a huge fan of the series or not, I recommended giving it a chance.
A brief summary: this spin-off follows Team Guy, consisting of Rock Lee, Neji Hyuga and Tenten under the tutelage of Might Guy. Even for those familiar with the main series, the way in which these characters are portrayed might come as a surprise. After all, in the main series, Tenten is perhaps the most minor of minor characters while Neji is serious throughout. The constants? Rock Lee and Guy Sensei of course.
Most of the characters follow their standard roles. Guy Sensei and Rock Lee are the overly-enthusiastic types who go overboard with anything they set their minds to. Tenten delivers most of the punchlines throughout the series, although Neji also takes up said role in a number of episodes. When he isn't delivering punchlines, Neji can probably be found doing one of several things: analyzing a situation rationally, supporting Lady Hinata or... (this is a major, often hilarious reoccurring theme).
Most of the other characters from the main series make an appearance as well. Naruto is featured in most episodes, as are a number of others like Sakura, Lady Tsunade and Orochimaru, who is relegated to a bumbling but lovable villain in this series. Even the minor characters get some deserved screen time here and there, although not all of them seemingly are worthy of being voiced (poor Captain Yamato. Another hilarious running theme). Thankfully for newcomers to the series, each and every character is given some sort of introduction and defined fairly quickly. It's also important to highlight that all of the characters are voiced by their main-series counterparts, meaning that you as a listener are in for a treat. Whether it's standard plot-related dialogue or over-the-top reactions, each and every character delivers in their performance. In fact, in some cases said performance was so good I would go back and re-watch specific sections once or twice more (there is nothing quite like Japanese anime reactions). The subbed translations in particular felt far more natural than those from a significant majority of the anime I have ever watched. Without such accuracy, the show would undoubtedly lose a good deal of its appeal.
At its best, the show is comedic gold. You can certainly tell the creators show put a lot of effort into it despite it being just a spin-off. From the witty dialogue to surprisingly good animation for a spine-off to some rather creative plot premises, when it all clicks the formula works quite well. There are tons of puns, spot-on reactions and ridiculous moments. Another running theme of the series is the use of skits, which Lee often uses to make specific points or convey certain feelings. Some of them are quite funny and/or absurd, some are actually moving and some are just plain weird but in a good, creative way. There are also references to other anime as well as fourth-wall remarks poking fun at the series itself. Perhaps the thing I love most about the series as well as anime in general is how the character models are handled perfectly in most situations. Whether it was Tenten's facial expression after something ridiculous Lee did, Lady Tsunade getting angry off after being called old or Lee and Guy Sensei embracing in their creepy, yet touching way, their reactions embodied exactly how I would've expected them to react. That's symbolic of the series as a whole: for the most part, everything feels right.
When much of it doesn't click, however, the show can be somewhat painful to watch. Rock Lee as a main character can be quite annoying at times with his repetitive craziness and role as the punchline target. Meanwhile, Tenten and some of the other characters can become too predictable when they deliver the same expected punchlines over and over again. Some of the skits can miss quite badly, and considering that they can take upwards of two minutes in some cases, said misses stand out like a sore thumb (I'm sure some people won't be a fan of the skits to begin with). And most of all, there are certain scenarios which felt formulaic. Out of the 51 episodes aired, I can recall at least a half dozen episodes which centered around Lee setting Tenten up for a couple of simple puns that just weren't very good. Without a doubt, there are going to be some episodes you will probably not enjoy very much, hence the 7 overall rating. But again, I think the highs are worth it.
Bottom line, the show is fun. While the characters may stick to their inherent roles for the most part, there are some surprises along the way, including a few heartfelt moments and surprising twists. It's zany, it's silly, and it's slightly predictable but it mostly works in the end, and I can safely say a few episodes stand out among my favorite episodes of anything ever.