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How Naruto's Maile Flanagan Feels About Playing The Same Character For Nearly 20 Years

"Naruto" has been one of the major players in the anime world since 2002. Even if you've never seen an episode of any of the "Naruto" shows within the franchise, you've likely heard about the series. You could identify at least the main character based on appearance alone. In fact, even non-anime fans have probably heard his name more than once.

For 20 years, Naruto and his friends have navigated their world and lives together. As such a massive franchise, "Naruto" has been able to stay current and relevant far longer than most shows will ever get to. Running in leagues that are almost as impressive as the powerhouse that "Pokémon" is, "Naruto" commands respect, not only for its success but its creativity and its approach to anime that can often be overlooked in other series that grow stagnant.

Maile Flanagan, the English voice of Naruto, has been with the franchise since the beginning. Bringing such an iconic and influential character to life for so many years is no easy feat, but Flanagan makes it look easy. She's made it clear that she's spent a lot of time dissecting Naruto as a character and what his development would be like over the course of many years.

Flanagan points out how unique Naruto's storytelling is

Briana Lawrence interviewed Maile Flanagan for Crunchyroll to get her perspective on the mega-franchise. Lawrence asked Flanagan what it was like to play a character who's grown up over 20 years. "What's extraordinary is that cartoon characters don't always, or often, hardly ever grow up," Flanagan began. "As an actor, it's so great to be able to play those different mindsets, ages, and emotions that go along with it. The 20-year thing is kind of mind-blowing. We used to joke about it, Elizabeth McGlynn and I. I was like 'Will we do this in 20 years?' Then it's like ... we are."

Flanagan makes a decent point. When we think about animated series, we think about characters that never really age. Either the series doesn't last long enough for them to grow older, or they simply never do. Ash Ketchum from "Pokémon" is a great example of this phenomenon. How long did he stay 10 before he finally won the World Coronation Series?

Naruto is unique because the franchise has multiple shows, movies, and video games covering different periods, allowing the characters to grow and mature over time. For example, in the original anime, Naruto stays in the age range of 12-13. In "Naruto: Shippuden," he's aged up to 15-17. In "Boruto: Naruto Next Generations," Naruto is in his thirties and is Boruto's father. What Flanagan had the opportunity to do with Naruto is a rare thing for a voice actor.