Yet Another ‘Rogue One’-Related Article

Author’s Note: I’m just posting this to get it off my chest and maybe compensate for releasing such a short TTR/TTS compared to the usual, so the post won’t be all that polished (not that my other posts can be considered as such when you think about it), nor all that long.

I’m pretty sure we’re all sick and tired about any discussion of last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I know I am. Still, because I have little better to do at the moment, I may as well bring up one issue I had with that movie which doesn’t get as much prominence as I feel it deserves.

Rogue One was billed by its creators as a grittier, more grounded war film. This was supposed to be something different from what was usually presented in the Star Wars setting, but when you think about it, that wasn’t really true so much as yet another claim to promote the film just like how The Force Awakens kept publicizing its so-called emphasis on practical effects.

The problem with the movie is simple: it suffered from a major identity crisis. By that I mean that RO could not decide whether it wanted to be a gritty war movie or a Star Wars film. Sure, there’s an emphasis on the darker side of the Rebellion and the oppressiveness of the Empire’s rule, along with an emphasis on characters who should not stand out nearly as much from the crowd as the main characters in the other films do. But at the same time, this attempt to ground the movie fails hard.

Take for example the continued poor showing of stormtroopers. In the original movie, the troopers were said to be well-trained and professional troops who managed to quickly overrun the defenders on the Tantive IV. When they failed to hit the good guys and let them escape, it was because the Empire wanted to track the Rebels to their hidden base. When the heroes did interact with them in other films, we figured that they could get away with humiliating these guys because these were supposed to be lighter films where good prevailed and the main characters were wearing thick plot armor. In RO, on the other hand, stormtroopers continued to be faceless mooks who got taken down with ease. For some inexplicable reason, characters could easily take out several of them with blunt weapons instead of blasters. A more grounded movie might have tried to emphasize that for “normal” characters, taking on stormtroopers was not nearly as easy due to the fact that they were “normal” people taking on professional soldiers.

A second issue is the fact that despite claiming that this was supposed to be a more grounded movie, it retained the soap opera aspects of the other films. By that, I referred to how the main character turned out to have a close connection to the people behind the Death Star. Of course, Jyn is related to the guy who ensured that the station was vulnerable to a proton torpedo fired directly into a small exhaust port (by the way, there was never a plot hole given that you wouldn’t expect anyone not using the Force to successfully make that shot).

On top of that was the treatment of the Empire. Here, the Empire was portrayed as this totalitarian and monolithic government that the original movies had implied they were. However, the movie goes and ruins that with one scene.

If you haven’t guessed which scene I’m talking about, it’s the infamous scene with Vader on the Rebel flagship.

Why is that scene such a problem, you ask? Well, it goes completely against how the movie wants to portray the Empire. The Empire isn’t meant to be cool. It’s a terrible form of government that ruins lives, with its ranks being made up of monsters, backstabbers, and incompetents. It’s rather telling that the primary focus among the bad guys was Director Krennic, who is the closest thing to a mundane representative of the evil that is the Empire in the series. However, that one sequence goes against everything that has come before it by making Darth Vader look cool. Don’t give me any BS about it making him scary. If they’d made it scary, little kids would be too terrified to continue watching the film while Vader brutally slaughtered Rebels in a scene right out of a horror movie. No, this scene made Darth Vader look cool as he cut through Rebels like butter. The only people who would find the scene scary are the sort of wusses that are afraid to leave the house and post some of the more ridiculous content to the “Nightmare Fuel” pages on TV Tropes. Furthermore, the scene also overshadows the rest of the movie. It doesn’t help that the plot is forgettable and the characters so uninteresting, making it all the easier to forget about everything except for Darth Vader looking cool. So much for a story focusing on something outside of the main cast, huh?

And to be honest, the ending wasn’t all that special in how dark it tried to be. Sure, the main cast was killed off, but it was hard to care about them. Furthermore, the series had already given a darker ending in the form of Revenge of the Sith‘s ending, which ended with the Sith victorious, a lot of people dead or changed for the worse, and the good guys holding on to their last hope. Before that, The Empire Strikes Back had done a good job of establishing a much darker tone than its predecessor.

All in all, on top of its many other issues, RO just didn’t know what kind of movie it wanted to be. All we can do now is hope that the upcoming movies aren’t nearly as unsure of what they hope to achieve, and are worth watching beyond highlight moments uploaded to YouTube.

Things That Rocked, Things That Sucked: Birth of the Ten-Tails’ Jinchūriki

After the interminable battle against the three antagonists that went nowhere for Jashin knows how long, something finally happened when Obito made himself the ten-tails’ jinchūriki. The fight against him was followed by another against Madara, who repeated his protégé’s actions before successfully initiating the Moon’s Eye Plan. Spoiler alert: the arc continued the pattern of sucking established by previous ones.

 
Things That Sucked: What Was the Point of Obito?
What exactly was the point of Obito’s character? He came off as unnecessary padding when he was revealed as Tobi, and kind of stole Nagato’s thunder as Naruto’s foil by being the exact same thing. Not only that, but his battle stretched out the story to the point of ridiculousness, not helped at all by how one-note his character wound up being and how lacking he was in posing a credible threat. The fight against him could basically be described as “Obito does something. The other side counters without taking significant damage. Obito does something. The other side counters without taking significant damage. Rinse and repeat until Obito is defeated.” Hell, his very presence afterward was borderline unneeded given that we could have had Kakashi taking much of his role in the fight against Kaguya.

It doesn’t help that Rin’s death was so stupid. I mean, why couldn’t she escape and have someone skilled with seals help her? Why did she feel the need to traumatize Kakashi? Kishimoto’s attempt to justify her lack of intelligence just raised the question of how in the hell Madara could have planned ahead so far without being able to see into the future.

His defeat only made things worse. Why was it that only Naruto’s Konoha peers could get power-ups to help him take down Obito? Did the other villages simply not matter in the end? Oh wait, they got a chance to contribute to the whole chakra tug-of-war thing that was set up since Naruto took on Kurama. Shame that it didn’t really feel as dramatic as it should have given that the readers weren’t given much of an opportunity to bond with these side characters.

Going back to Obito proper, just what was the point of him? Was he meant to be Kishimoto’s attempt at offering social commentary on otaku obsessed with fantasy worlds with young cute girls that they can spend all their time adoring? Is that why Obito was trying to ignore reality while acting with a childish sense of justice and fairness that he tried to cover up with edgy cynicism? Am I just reading too much into this in a pathetic attempt at trying to find something that redeems the shitfest that was Obito’s character?

 
Things That Didn’t Blow Entirely: The First Kage Summit
As boring and pointless as Hashirama’s speech felt due to the fact that this fight just went on and on and on without Obito actually coming off as a credible threat, at least it introduced us to the first kage from each of the other villages, so yay for minor world building.

The designs weren’t half bad either. The two Kazekage looked awesome: one had the appearance of a cool professional who’s always dressed in his military attire, while the other looked like a gang member (who was not to be confused with that one samurai). The first Raikage looked like Hendrix and it would be sweet as hell if it turned out he used an electric guitar as his personal weapon. This detail also gives readers an idea of the design motifs of Kumogakure, as they went from the Hendrix and Blaxploitation era (judging by the appearance of the second Raikage) to a more wrestling and rap-laden one (subtle, Kishimoto). I wonder what motifs a future Kumogakure would go with. In regards to Iwagakure’s representatives, we’d already seen these characters, and honestly, Mu looks better with the Edo Tensei eyes, at least in my opinion. As for the Mizukage, it was odd seeing the first and third lords there, but I figure that maybe Trollkage was left behind to keep the village safe. Or based on my head canon, it was because they were afraid he’d be himself and start a war or something at the summit. Anyway, it also suggests that the second lord wasn’t Mizukage for long, based on the fact that one of his peers wound up leading the village.

As for Konoha, Hashirama came off as overly naïve, making it harder to take him seriously as a leader. You would expect someone like him to have some modicum of a statesman’s attitude as the founder and leader of the greatest village. I get that there was supposed to be a parallel between him and Naruto, but you would expect the founding leader of a shinobi village to maintain some level of dignity and rationality.

 
Things That Sucked: To Be Sung to the Tune of “The Song That Never Ends”
This is the arc that doesn’t end,
yes it goes on and on my friend.
Some people started reading it,

not knowing what it was,
and they’ll continue reading it forever just because

This is the arc that doesn’t end,
yes it goes on and on my friend.
The Alliance wasn’t worth shit

cause shit was all it was,
and these pointless characters stayed useless just because

This is the arc that doesn’t end,
yes it goes on and on my friend.
Obito started talking shit
and that’s just what it was,
and we just kept on reading this total shit just because

This is the arc that doesn’t end,
yes it goes on and on my friend.
Minato said something stupid,

calling the boys the stars,
while the audience wasted their time reading just because

This is the arc that doesn’t end,
yes it goes on and on my friend.
The plot just kept repeating, as

Kishi wrote from his arse,
and it seemed that there was no end to this farce just because

This is the arc that doesn’t end,
yes it goes on and on my friend.
Insert your own lyrics right here,
If you feel the need to vent,
And I would not blame you if you feel the need just because

This is the arc that doesn’t end,
yes it goes on and on my friend…

 
Things That Sucked: Here We Go Again
After the interminable experience that was dealing with Obito, Kishimoto decided to have Madara do pretty much the same thing, except go much further, because your plots can only get so repetitive. It didn’t help that Madara came off as overpowered once he was revived. The guy casually laid waste to the Alliance and all nine biju, quickly sealing them away in seconds, a task that required days for nine members of the Akatsuki working together, but fuck it, the story had ceased to engage in any sort of coherence and consistency some arcs back. He also used Susano’o without having any eyes, and took down the first two Hokage like it was nothing despite only having one of his Rinnegan at the time. It was clear that the author cared as much about the story as the average reader did by this point.

 
Things That Kind-Of Rocked: At Least He’s Threatening
I will say this about Madara though: at least he managed to seem threatening compared to Obito (although that’s not exactly difficult). He actually succeeded in dealing fatal wounds to Naruto and Sasuke, who were saved only by the almighty power of the plot. A shame then that they were then revived in a hilariously cheap manner (more on that below).

 
Things That Sucked: The Biju Suck
Once freed, the biju decided to handle the brunt of the work against Madara. However, after a promising start that had them smack him around like he was a pinball, they proved useless in spite of their supposedly immense power, getting humiliated and sealed away by their one-eyed opponent.

It’s kind of hard to believe that these things were so feared given how quickly they became irrelevant as anything other than chakra batteries. This was repeated right after the fight against Princess Blandface, when Sasuke hypnotized them and placed them in miniature satellites. Isn’t it amazing how insane the power levels became that even the tailed beasts became pointless?

 
Things That Rocked: Holy Shit, Sakura!
As much of a disappointment as Sakura has been throughout this series, I will admit to being impressed by the emergency treatment she gave Naruto after Kurama was extracted from him. I mean, holy shit, she cut into his side, through his ribs, just so she could manually pump his heart. All the while, she had to focus on breathing air into his lungs using CPR! Damn!

I have to give her some kudos here. Shame Kishimoto couldn’t let her do anything nearly as impressive in the couple hundred chapters before that one.

 
Things That Sucked: Karin, WTF?
Meanwhile, Karin proceeded to show off the fact that she was an Uzumaki, somehow manifesting the chakra chains characteristic of the clan to assist in taking down Spiral Zetsu. The problem with this is one question: where the fuck did this even come from?!

You would think that Karin would use this sort of jutsu in other dangerous situations, like back when Danzo had Sasuke dead to rights. But no, let’s give the video game developers a new technique to work with by giving her fucking chakra chains. This was yet another detail proving that Kishimoto just didn’t care anymore.
 
 
Things That Sucked: Yet Another Unearned Power-Up
So Naruto and Sasuke wind up in some sort of limbo, where the separately come across the Sage of Six Paths! He then proceeded to remind readers just why a certain scene in the second Matrix movie pissed them off so much by dumping exposition on them. Oh, and he also revealed that once again, hard work doesn’t mean shit compared to being descended from the origin of all chakra.

The problem with info dumps like this is that they slow down a story and grant a false reprieve from the rising action of the story. It’s one thing to end an arc and then have exposition delivered to the reader, because then the action is at a low point, allowing readers a chance to absorb information readily instead of wanting to get back to the action.

It also didn’t help that this was the umpteenth power-up that Naruto had gotten during the arc, as it shat on both power levels and previous training and power-ups. In the past, at least the growth of the characters was paralleled with their growth as ninjas. Here, it was just the latest in a long line of handouts after the previous super-duper power-up proved lacking.

 
Things That Rocked: The Eighth Gate
In order to distract readers from how crappy this series has become, Kishimoto brought put a big gun: he had Guy make a heroic sacrifice in order to hold off Madara. That meant unleashing the power of the…dramatic pause…EIGHTH GATE!

The fabled eighth gate that had been foreshadowed since early in Part One! The fabled eighth gate that was said to grant users ability surpassing the kage! The fabled eighth gate that was here to reward readers for sticking around this long!

Guy then proceeded to open up a can of whoop-ass that almost made me forgive Kishimoto’s previous transgressions. While the nature of his earlier attacks didn’t really strike a chord due to being yet another example of huge attack equals some variant of lasers and long-range strikes, once he started getting up close and warping space and fucking smashing Madara’s torso in, things got fucking awesome! It wasn’t enough to win, but just enough to buy time, making it so that Guy went out with a bang.

It sucks though that Naruto’s latest power-up completely invalidated the drama of this event.

 
Things That Bugged Me: Eye Surgery is Easy
So Naruto proceeded to reverse the fatal effects of opening the final gate, allowing Guy to live. Meh, but I suppose you have to show off the power of the Yang end of the Sage’s line somehow. But in an act that made Sakura even more useless than she was before, he also somehow regenerates an entire eye after Madara plucked the Sharingan away for his own personal use.

Meanwhile, Madara somehow can just use people’s eyes after plucking them out of their sockets and sticking them into his own. That’s actually a thing after Kakashi’s backstory made it so that someone trained in medicine and surgery had to be around to make sure the organ transplant worked.

Anyway, Madara took Obito’s eye, warped to the Kamui realm, proceeded to take back his other Rinnegan, and then gave the other eye back to Obito who was being possessed by Black Zetsu. Who for some stupid reason didn’t get rid of Obito even though he probably didn’t need him alive after Madara won his little temporary victory.

 
Conclusion
After the other arc reviews, this one might seem quite short. The reason for that is obvious: there wasn’t much of interest to say, and what I did have to say tended toward the negative. By this point, it’s hard to sustain an extended review when it’s comprised mostly of bile. Furthermore, to be honest, by this point, my enthusiasm for the story was so low that it was difficult to muster up the energy to want to write anything about this crap. At least the series was almost over at this point.

On Disney’s Mastery of the Crowd-Pleaser

I cannot help but feel a mixture of admiration and dread whenever I look at Disney’s spate of upcoming blockbusters. There is something amazing about how the company has seemingly perfected the science of creating a corporate production line of crowd pleasing tentpole films that not only make significant amounts of money, but also succeed in winning over the majority of critics. At the same time however, there is something almost horrifying in how efficient they are in polishing their products.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Disney has in recent years succeeded in producing a bunch of big-budget flicks that make make money on command while also getting fresh Rotten Tomatoes scores. The movies are spectacles in many senses of the word, if often forgettable; good but not great, but rarely bad due to being well executed on a technical level. They’re also safe and polished in their mediocrity so that while they won’t find themselves on lists of the greatest films of all time due to their lack of ambition, their aforementioned polish should at least ensure that few critics give negative reviews. They provide audiences their money’s worth, so viewers are unlikely to think poorly of the product even if they won’t remember it within a few years, if not a few months. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a family-friendly restaurant franchise.

These movies, while not original properties, do succeed in part because of their nature as continuations of franchises. They can take the form of live-action remakes (although the upcoming Lion King is taking a step further by presumably being an animated remake of the original film), entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the newly restored Star Wars Cinematic Universe.

The live-action remakes appeal to adults who wish to engage in nostalgia alongside their children and recapture their lost youths, rolling out in a format that is more appropriate for grown-ups too embarrassed to admit they enjoy animated movies for children (as they likely never emotionally developed past the adolescent phase wherein a teenager shuns the childish things they enjoy lest they be seen as anything other than ‘adult.’ Not to say that all adults who watch these movies are like this. Others might just be overgrown children who seek nostalgia and escapism to forget just how much they hate their lives).

The MCU is as assembly line as it gets. We get the standard three acts of most Hollywood screenplays for almost every introductory film: protagonist failing to meet their full potential comes across a (likely expendable) mentor or some other supportive figure who helps them achieve their potential (becoming a superhero). Hero battles and defeats forgettable villain, while somehow winning the love of a forgettable love interest. Cue sequel hook and tie-ins to the rest of the MCU.

This isn’t to say that I hate the MCU’s content. I rather liked Iron Man and even appreciated the pulpy period war movie that was the first Captain America. The first Avengers was a lot of fun, and the second CA movie was pretty good too. But even then, once you notice the formula (and don’t throw any bullshit about “different genres” with a superhero skin my way), it starts to get old fast.

Not only that, but there is often a lack of heart or a distinctive voice to the products. Compare that to one of the earlier superhero film series: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. The series was often corny, quirky, and melodramatic, yet was capable of genuine moments of heart and actual drama. The ending shot to the second film is more meaningful in leaving an impression about the true darkness lying underneath an otherwise happy ending than the ending of Civil War, which alleges darkness, but just can’t resist plugging future movies and showing viewers that the adventure will continue in its final shot. To stick to comparisons with SM2, I recall reading somewhere that the MCU wanted to create a more ‘realistic’ home for the Parkers by having them live in an apartment. Now sure, this is more realistic in the sense that they probably couldn’t afford a house with their meager income, but a similar thing was done with much more impact on both the characters and the audience in SM2. In that movie, focus is given to the reality of trying to be a superhero while trying to live a normal life outside the costume, something that has never come up in the lighthearted MCU. Furthermore, the Parkers’ living situation actually comes up in that movie, which has Aunt May losing the house. And let’s not get into the part when Aunt May gives money to a reluctant Peter. That right there is actual human drama of the sort that the MCU only pretends to engage in. Even the third SM film, while a weak point in the series, at least was bold enough to end things ambiguously in regards to the state of Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship. The closest thing to that sort of darkness in the endings of any MCU films happens in the first Captain America movie (which might help explain why I’m so fond of it).

This isn’t to say that it’s wrong for the MCU to strike a light tone. It’s not a bad thing to be fun, even if the movies do get rather samey after a certain point, and the character arcs of the heroes often suffer. Remember how Tony Stark finally seemed to be moving forward with his life at the end of Iron Man 3? Unfortunately, because the studio likes money, and because the nature of comic book story arcs means that the adventure can never end, this happy ending was short-lived.

And then there’s Star Wars. The two movies released thus far can be summed up as fanservice and pandering. Fanservice and pandering. The scene with Darth Vader at the end of Rogue One was not enough to save a mediocre movie and you know it. The Force Awakens succeeded in spite of its script, and even then, there were little things that made it sometimes come off as less a SW film than a pastiche. I’m personally not hoping for too much from The Last Jedi (cripes that sounds more like a title for the final part of a trilogy than the middle section), and fully expecting the Han Solo film to be crammed with fanservice (and maybe show us the whole “12 parsecs” thing that should have just remained a cock-and-bull story that he was trying to pull on what he thought were a couple of yokels) and a story that undermines his character arc in A New Hope because the studio is afraid of having a proper anti-hero as its protagonist (which means we’ll be getting a jerk with a heart of gold who does the right thing at the end).

Hopefully, I’m wrong about at least one of these two movies in the best way possible.

Not that such descriptors apply to only those three products rolling out of the Disney factory. One can see this in their animated movies as well. Moana, which I actually liked, was as perfunctorily executed as it gets. The plot was standard, the heroine followed a basic outline, and the story beats could be seen from a nautical mile away. One can see the laziness of Disney’s factory-like efficiency in how they treat the predictable moment when a supporting character leaves only to come back near the end to aid the protagonist a la Han Solo. The moment is poorly built up, with the reasons for it being hinted as it occurs, but not before (unlike in the case of Han, where we get a brief scene that foreshadows his return at the heroes’ darkest hour). Zootopia (a movie so predictable that I correctly predicted exactly what lines would be said and how they would be delivered at several points) somehow won an Oscar despite the story and the characters being far less interesting than the themes and the world presented in it.

Still, for all my criticism, I would like to make it clear once again that there’s nothing wrong with what Disney is doing. They’ve figured out a formula that works for their business. Their movies please crowds and make money. Not only that, but since they can reliably pull of the former, the latter is more likely to happen. Even someone as cynical of their process as me has to admit to having liked some of their recent movies. The fact is, you don’t always need great art. Sometimes, people just want to escape the dreariness of daily life and the latest neorealist art film isn’t an ideal means for doing so. Fluff might be fluff, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable. The subject matter of much of this blog is proof of that.

It’s just that sometimes I wish Disney would take a real chance rather than putting on the appearance of doing so. Aim for the stars even if it means increasing the likelihood of falling into the mud. But then again, that’s not good business, and who am I to tell the people swimming in cash what they should be doing?

Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: The Fourth Shinobi World War: Climax

Following the first act of the war were a series that could be summed up as the good guys fight Madara, Obito, and the Ten Tails for a while, and then Obito tries to become a god. Normally, this might serve as the climax of a story, and the title of the arc as per the anime might imply just that, but unfortunately, it was like waiting in line for a ride at an amusement park. You get there and think it’s going to be a lot of fun, but the wait is so long that by the time you finally get on the ride you can’t help but feel like you could have done a lot in all that time you wasted. Kind of like life in general.

But brief moments of existential angst aside, yeah, this arc was the very opposite of a climax. You keep waiting for something to happen, and it features a lot of buildup and junk that does not really go anywhere, and yet despite going on for as long as it does, for some inexplicable reason, the story keeps going with no end in sight. It was a whole new kind of suck for those who continued to torture themselves as they followed a series once worth reading.

 

Things that Rocked (Sort Of): The Nature of the Biju (With Some Caveats)

Let me get this first thing out of the way: I fucking hated the whole Jubi revelation. It was stupid. It was so stupid that the last time I saw something so stupid related to a story set in the Naruto universe, I was reading a bad piece of fanfiction. In fact, bad fanfiction was the first place where I saw the idea of a ten-tailed beast. It wasn’t even properly foreshadowed, with its inclusion in bad fanfiction prior to becoming canon arguably making a bad writing decision even worse. I’m surprised it didn’t get more of a reaction, considering that it happened within a few months of us learning that the Espada weren’t ranked from one to ten.

My second caveat lies in the presentation of the young biju. I understand that the Sage split the Ten Tail’s chakra into nine separate beings, and that Kishimoto wanted us to sympathize, but did we really need to see the biju as newly born babes? It just felt awkward as hell to see these beings of mass destruction portrayed as such. Furthermore, it raises questions like: so if the biju grow bigger, does their chakra grow with them? If biju age, can they die of old age? What happens if they die of old age, do they just reform into a newborn? These are some serious questions that wouldn’t be an issue if the story had stuck with its original conception of the tailed beasts as masses of chakra stemming from unknown or mystical origins like the previous backstory for the Shukaku.

But I digress. If there was one good thing I took from the revelation about the tailed beasts’ true nature, it lay in how this development related to the themes of this manga, particularly those about conflict, revenge, and peace.

I rather like how the biju were in the end rather benign beings, not wild animals, but sapient creatures that were capable of understanding the world around them. It put past descriptions of their behavior in a whole new light. The creatures were not the mindless purveyors of destruction that we thought they were, but simply powerful beings exploited by humans eager to use the abilities they possessed.

It suggested that rather than being acted upon by outside forces, human beings are in the end the ones who are often to blame for their own tragedies.

Knowledge of how to split an atom is itself potentially beneficial or harmful, and in the end, all knowledge’s effects lie not in the nature of that knowledge, but in its application. Even then, such knowledge must be proceeded with using the utmost caution. It is the same with the tailed beasts, who act as the closest thing in the story to nuclear weapons. It’s not a perfect analogy, atoms aren’t capable of emotion and free will, at least last I checked, but the sentiment is there: people who wage war are ultimately the ones at risk of self-destruction.

  

Things That Sucked: Kurama’s Conversion

This one really annoys me. It does. I should be more annoyed than I actually am with it considering how important a development we all knew this was going to be, but by that point, I was just so used to being disappointed that I was able to for the most part shrug it off. Just to be clear, I’m talking about the moment when a certain nine-tailed fox ceased to be an antagonist, and instead made peace with the blonde protagonist it was sealed into.

Working in tandem with Kurama was something that had been highly anticipated from the moment that the series began. Having been sealed in him when he was just a newborn baptized in the blood of his parents, the fox acted as Naruto’s darker side, his inner demon. Due to the massive amount of power it possessed, Kurama was both a boon and a bane to Naruto, acting as an inner demon that tempted the hero with promises of easy power, though at the cost of control over his sanity and actions. It was made evident however, that while Naruto would need to resist its temptations, the fox’s power would be necessary for him to fulfill his destiny. Sooner or later Naruto was going to have to cease being a mere borrower of its chakra, and actively master it so that he might finally achieve the potential we all had been aware he’d possessed since the beginning.

Naturally, something this important to both the plot and the development of the involved characters would have to be finely written, given that as far as plotlines go, it definitely ranks among the most prominent goals of the main character, as it in turn relates to the other goals he gains over the course of the story. Not only that, but in order for Naruto to confront the Kyubi, he would have to tame his other demons, namely those negative emotions that allowed it to influence him as he accessed its chakra. As a result, it was fair for readers to expect Kishimoto to put a lot of effort into writing this part out.

What we got however was Naruto saying a nice thing after besting the Kyubi, and then, less than sixty chapters later, becoming all buddy-buddy with it. I’m not even trying to make this sound worse than it actually is, it really was that sloppy.

Kishimoto should have started developing the change in Naruto and Kurama’s relationship during Part I, and had it continue throughout the story at regular intervals so that their bond would be as strong as would be necessary when they did begin to work together. Kurama was a demonic figure during Part I and early Part II, serving to tempt Naruto into taking the easy path to power. As a result, his presence was often shrouded, highlighting his mystique and devilish nature.

This probably went on for way too long, as by the time Naruto finally got around to confronting his inner demon, it was over 400 chapters into the story. A relationship this important needed a foundation to build from, and for Kishimoto to cheat by simply having Kurama experience a chapter’s worth of flashbacks was lazy as it gets.

It would have been better to have Kurama acknowledge Naruto’s achievements as the story progressed, and if their relationship had undergone a slow transformation, from mutual resentment to a grudging respect (Kurama for Naruto’s insane determination, Naruto for Kurama’s power and intelligence for a “mindless beast”), to one of concern on the part of Naruto (his promise not to harm Kurama after besting him), and then to one of an equal partnership.

Like a great many other things in the story, this just happened to be given less attention than it truly deserved, as by this point in time it was clear that Kishimoto had failed to properly plan out the plot and characters.

 

Things that Sucked: Meeting the Other Hosts

If there is one major flaw in particular about Tobi’s fight that I feel I should start with, it’s the way that Naruto’s meeting with the biju and their former hosts was executed. Not only does it interrupt what was supposed to be one of the arc’s major battles, but it also adds an unnecessary and pathetic sentimentality to one of the major motifs in the story: that between a tailed beast and its host, and how this relationship in turn affects how the world at large perceives said host.

Naruto’s fellow hosts were described as for the most part being ostracized to varying extents due to what they had sealed within them. Thus, seeing the hosts and the beasts all sitting hunky dory with one another in a circle (why not just have them sing “Kumbaya,” Kishimoto?) and getting all friendly with Naruto was one of the single most moronic parts of the entire manga. While I’m sure that the spirits of the deceased hosts and the beasts did have quite a bit of time to themselves before the fight, the breezy positivity and clichéd words of courage just took away from the aforementioned scene. In addition, due to the lack of proper development and characterization that could have been afforded to the hosts earlier in the story (it’s hard to feel much of any emotional impact seeing a colored spread of the hosts when we barely know them), there was nothing to really connect Naruto to the other hosts or beasts whatsoever (at least fucking Studio Pierrot, of all people, had the presence of mind to have Naruto interact with one his fellow hosts in a filler arc). An element that needed to be treated with gravitas was instead handled the same way one would write a bad animated PSA about how we need to treat one another with love and kindness—horribly.

 

Things That Sucked: The Only Threatening Enemies (or Supporting Characters of Relevance) Were Uchiha

I don’t really consider the Uchiha characters themselves to be as major a problem as some fans do. In fact, I consider them sort of a bunch of scapegoats in many ways, kind of like Jar Jar Binks was in relation to The Phantom Menace. Yes, the characters are overexposed and oftentimes obnoxious, but if you’ve been following this series of critiques, then you will realize that my gripes with the series revolve around a whole mess of other things, of which the Uchiha are merely symptomatic of to some extent.

At the same time, this war arc singlehandedly provided a simulacrum for a problem that started way back during the much maligned Year of Sasuke. That problem being the manner in which the Uchiha (and by extension anything related to the Sage of Six Paths) consumed the entire plot.

I think Kishimoto tried to present the Uchiha as the Narutoverse equivalent to the Sith, except the clan comes off more as a bunch of douchebags with popped collars than they do a group of dangerous warriors out for power. It’s apparent in his descriptions of the clan’s past as well as the legend explaining their origins. The thing is, where the Sith had mystique, the Uchiha have high collars. Where the Sith had Vader and the Emperor, the Uchiha had an overexposed deuteragonist, a once cool but now overexposed genius, some uncharismatic guy in a mask, and a zombie with a man crush on his deceased nemesis.

The problem with Itachi saving the day is that while this does redeem his earlier actions somewhat, it also exemplifies just how unimportant the rest of the cast is next to the Uchiha plotline. Side characters of all shape and size engaged in actions that were seemingly less important after Itachi fixed the whole problem of the zombie army.

Kabuto was incompetent throughout the arc, and only Tobi actually managed to do some damage to the good guys before Madara got around to dropping meteors on people. Even Sasuke, with his little subplot with Naruto, is worth a hell of a lot more dramatic attention than the rest of what went on during the war, which was basically glorified fanservice.

To make a long story short, the Uchiha became the plot, and considering how this was done, it was to the detriment to the story’s quality.

 

Things That Sucked: The Rookies Make Vows and I Don’t Give a Fuck

Remember Naruto’s peers? You know, those guys and girls (and Tenten) in his relative age group who also took the chunin exams way back in Part I?

Anyway, one of the problems with Part II was the overall negligence Kishimoto exercised when it came to using the supporting cast.

I’m not one of those guys who thinks that Part II sucks just because a bunch of side characters didn’t do much, but I do feel that one of the war’s weaknesses has been the relative absence of these characters from the story for so long.

Even when reading the story in volume form, one of the things that is rather noticeable about Part II is the fact that not only do the other Rookies make uncommon appearances, but when they do appear, they are for the most part nothing more than walking scenery. One of Part I’s greatest strengths was the use of interesting, sympathetic, and relatable supporting characters to add depth to the fictional world of Naruto. In Part II, aside from Shikamaru, the Rookies were for the most part ignored in favor of focusing on Naruto’s very personal quest to save Sasuke and his conflict with the Akatsuki, with the Uchiha plotline kicking in about midway through.

As a result of this lack of relevance however, in both real time and in-story time, a disconnection was created between the audience and the characters. While the characters are familiar, the fact that readers didn’t really get a chance to learn more about what happened to them over the course of the time skip makes them less familiar, and as a result, less sympathetic. It also doesn’t help that for the most part, the interactions these side characters have with Naruto have been lacking.

When I got to the part where the various Rookies made their vows to help Naruto and his friends fight Tobi, I honestly didn’t feel anything. I know that it was supposed to be an emotional moment, that it was a grand sequence detailing the coming together of disparate people for the sake of one common goal, but honestly, due to my sudden inability to care about these characters that had long been ignored by the author, I just could not give a single fuck.

These characters who had at one point seemed so familiar, and thus so easy to relate to were now strangers to me, and I just couldn’t find it in myself to feel even the slightest emotion at their vows. Or rather, I could not feel the right emotions. Critics call it bathos. TV Tropes calls it narm.

And it was bathetic. It was amusing looking at Hinata’s stiffly drawn face as she made clear her status as a shallow love interest. It was laughable when Kiba called Naruto his rival. It was gut-bustingly hilarious that Tenten got a moment to give her inner monologue but Neji, who had been deeply affected by Naruto in the past, did not, perhaps because Kishimoto was saving his big speech for the upcoming death scene.

As with Kurama’s conversion and Naruto’s subsequent team up with him, what could have been a moment of gravitas was ruined by the events leading up to it.

 

Things that Sucked: ‘Nobody’

I don’t have much to criticize in regards to Tobi’s decision making throughout the fight. He went to the big guns early by having six undead jinchuriki and their corresponding biju fight under his thrall. How was he supposed to foresee Naruto suddenly being able to communicate with the other hosts and tailed beasts on a spiritual level? He decided to hold back from fighting on the front lines and let his pawns do the fighting for him, getting close only when he saw an opening with which to end things quickly. How was he supposed to expect the sudden appearance of Kakashi and Guy? When the biju were released from his control, he acted fast, sealing them back into the Gedo Statue without letting the situation get too out of control, and then using said statue to fight Killer Bee on (at the very least) an even level. He made all the right moves, but the plot didn’t even let him win a minor victory, which only hurt my ability to take the fight seriously.

The early parts of the fight were marred by just how disconnected the combatants felt from one another despite the connection between Tobi, Kakashi, and Naruto. Up to this point, there wasn’t really any hint at Tobi having a particular relationship with Kakashi except for theories about Tobito that proved true, while Naruto was surprisingly chill in the presence of the man who almost singlehandedly (Minato’s not getting off free for his role) ruined his early life. This lack of emotional tension robbed the fight of much of its dramatic potential.

Furthermore, as a villain, Tobi was a disappointment. He started off as a bit of a joke character, and among fans, his role as the Akatsuki’s comic relief led to him becoming a minor fan favorite. Needless to say, his transformation into the story’s Big Bad was rather jarring, regardless of the lack of foreshadowing. Afterward, he became a sarcastic, grim diabolical mastermind. The problem, as is a theme with this series of reviews, was how his character was executed.

He never comes off as either all that funny or all that intimidating. His quips to Minato and Konan are painful (at least in the Viz translations), and when he does try to be intimidating, he manages to only look unimpressive. Against Danzo’s barely there bodyguards, he managed to lose an arm. Against Minato, he got pwned hard despite Minato’s claims about “the masked man’s” power. And against Konan, he had to bring out an extremely haxx technique. All this while using only one jutsu for the most part.

Perhaps it would have been preferred if Kishimoto had focused on either Tobi’s jester or mastermind personas. In his attempt to characterize Tobi as both, he has failed to deliver for the most part. I admit, it would be hilarious to have a troll of a villain who managed to make me laugh, but it probably wouldn’t do for a big bad in this kind of story. And diabolical masterminds are good, but they are defined less by their personalities (which in the hands of the average writer tend toward the dull) than by the scope of their plans (and the Moon’s Eye Plan isn’t what I’d call great). If there is a character who does manage to be a great example of both, it’s the Joker from Batman, and Tobi is no Joker. Not even Cesar Romano.

It doesn’t help that masked villains are meant to have a certain allure and mystique. Unfortunately, Tobi’s behavior failed to keep up with his machinations. He never comes across as mysterious in a vaguely threatening way. Sure, he turned out to be behind all sorts of important events. Sure, his identity was actually a mystery. But his unimpressive performance as a villain and lacking personality keep him from being a truly great masked maniac.

Darth Vader succeeds in being a threatening villain who retains his mystique for a good chunk of the story (unless of course, you watched the prequels first). He does so by actually posing a threat instead of merely being implied to be one (showing rather than telling). The character possesses an aura of menace, and even at his most sympathetic prior to his redemption, he still serves as the major physical, emotional, and spiritual threat to Luke. Tobi tries to be menacing, but as I said earlier, he never really succeeds in matching the hype whenever he’s onscreen.

I admit that the scene where Tobi is informed of the real Madara’s appearance and then starts saying that he himself is “no one” actually rectifies this somewhat. While that revelation did rob him of some of the mystique that he had built up, it also served to illustrate in many ways (or at least until the reveal, but more on that soon enough) that Tobi was the ideal ninja—having sacrificed all sense of self in favor of his mission. It calls back to the moment in the Penis Arc when Sai states (wrongly) that he is no one, he is without identity, acting only as a tool in the service of Danzo. Tobi’s sudden turn for the subtly deranged (just look at his body language as he reacts to Naruto’s words) did manage to redeem him somewhat, though it was a bit late in the game.

 

Things that Sucked: The Gokage versus Madara

One of the problems I have with Madara is that his characterization was so delayed. Early on, Kishimoto tried to create a Sauron type of character whose very name inspires dread and who manages to cast a presence even without physically appearing in the story. However, where Sauron was a somewhat abstract figure who maintained his mystique by remaining out of the story entirely, the true Madara finally appeared during the arc’s climax as Kabuto’s trump card.

Based on his hype, one would expect Madara to be not only powerful, but in possession of a character worth fearing. Instead, we got John Kreese with superpowers and a hard-on for a guy who was sealed away a few hundred chapters ago. Also, 80s hair.

His personality aside (and by God is it hilarious to see Madara act like an elitist he man woman hater who may or may not be a total closet case), I have to admit, as ridiculous as I found his move set, at least he felt like the closest thing in this war to an actual threat. The whole dropping a meteor on Gaara’s division was pretty damn over the top, but I have to admit, it was pretty cool. The walking Susanoo made multiple was also pretty interesting. And while I thought it odd that his perfected Susanoo is so huge and capable of destruction on par with a biju (makes the whole thing about capturing one for the purpose of strengthening a village’s military capacity seem less rational when it’d arguably be easier to just stock up on Uchiha and Senju and doing all that could be done to avoid alienating them), I will concede that the design and sheer insanity of the thing to at least be great eye candy.

Another thing I found hilarious was the Hashirama face grafted onto Madara’s left breast, if only because of how much it looks like something out of Kuso Miso Technique.

One issue of characterization not involving Madara that stands out is Ohnoki’s transition into the wizened leader of the kage. While this is in itself definitely not a bad thing, far from it actually, the execution of the process could have been, like much of the writing in Part II, better. It all started when for some inexplicable reason, one decent verbal comeback from Gaara was enough to get Ohnoki to reconsider his entire life.

It came off as sudden and clumsily handled, as the reader was not privy to whatever inner conflicts and bouts of characterization Ohnoki was supposed to be having. We see him going from a cynical, crotchety old man to a newly hopeful, crotchety old man in between Gaara’s verbal smack down and his first appearance after the summit. There’s no proper transition for the audience to connect to the character’s rediscovery of his youthful ideals. And this only hurts the moment where Ohnoki flashes back to his youth and thinks about what the first Tsuchikage told him. Had this scene been earlier foreshadowed or hinted at when Ohnoki had his ass verbally handed to him, the actual moment would have been powerful. Instead, it just comes off as the typical use of a flashback somehow motivating a character to not give up, except without the proper buildup. Compare this to when Jiraiya thinks back to his memories of Naruto before he wills himself back to life; the difference in quality is evident due to the audience being aware of the bond between the two characters as well as readers having witnessed much of what was shown in Jiraiya’s memories. Another thing to compare this character arc unfavorably to is Sarutobi’s time in the spotlight prior to his genuinely sad demise. Like Ohnoki, Sarutobi had flashbacks to his youth when making his last stand. However, because of his emotional connections to other characters in the story, be they the recently unveiled founding Hokage, to his former students, or to the younger citizens of his village, which had been built up not only prior to that fight, but also during it, Sarutobi’s time to shine was able to connect with the audience on a level that Ohnoki’s never could.

My main beef with this battle however, has to do with the efforts of the five kage against Madara. While it was nice to see good old fashioned teamwork for the purpose of fighting a superior opponent, it’s kind of sad that in the end, they came out of the fight looking rather pathetic. Had they lost but still managed to deal a significant enough blow that was nullified only by Madara’s immortality, then there wouldn’t be as much issue. Instead, it was made clear that all their efforts were for naught, as Madara stopped playing around and made clear that he could have crushed them whenever he felt like it. Not only that, but there were no lasting impacts from this battle, which was in hindsight, padding for an already bloated story. It’s pretty disheartening to see Kishimoto make it clear that all the willpower in the world is no substitute for good old fashioned power, and by extension that the only people who matter are descendants of the Sage (and even Tsunade falls short because her skills are but a pale shadow of Hashirama’s). It also does not help that it made Ohnoki’s vows to hold the line and take down Madara look pointless in hindsight.

 

Things that Sucked: When a Flashback is Better Than the Fight It Ungracefully Interrupts

This is easily the worst of the three battles that took place during the war’s climax, between the poor pacing, Kabuto turning out to be another disappointment of an antagonist, Itachi getting shilled hard, and the fact that once again, the Uchiha plotline turned out to be more relevant to the story on an emotional level than that surrounding Naruto.

As I’ve mentioned, this fight was poorly paced. It was like rereading the Penis arc, except the characters involved were a lot less interesting at this point. These two pages happened within three chapters of each other, and in that time, not much happened during the fight. We got a crappy flashback that tried to add emotion to the battle, but the problem was that it came out of nowhere, and served as a lame justification for why Sasuke’s Susanoo had a bow and arrow set. Had there been some buildup to this flashback’s playing out, there wouldn’t be a problem, but since it was clumsily inserted into the plot, we got yet another moment where Kishimoto went for pathos, and came out with a steaming lump of bathos instead. In fact, if you take into account the contents of Itachi’s Izanami, you come to realize that when it comes down to it, very little action actually occurred during the fight.

Kabuto himself isn’t much of a villain, being more of an Orochimaru wannabe than anything. I get that he was supposed to mirror Tobi in that he was a being without an identity searching for one, while Tobi is pretty much the opposite, but while this theme of his character is in itself not a bad thing, the attempts to make him a legitimate antagonist were. While he had heaps of potential, having trained off-panel to become a ninja on par with any of the kage even without Edo Tensei, he had the bad luck of having his debut in battle be against the Brothers Uchiha, one of whom has a borderline unbreakable plot shield, the other being Itachi. Furthermore, his use of Edo Tensei was in the end, pretty weak sauce, as a fair chunk of his army was quickly sealed away, and when he did take complete control, Kabuto still found ways to screw up. Only Madara actually threatened to do anything of consequence, a shame considering how much anticipation there was to see the zombie army in action. Poor bastard never had a chance to look good.

Itachi is part of the fight’s weakness, but it has less to do with his power than his role in the plot. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Itachi is an intentional invocation of a God Mode Sue. Like Minato, he’s always been designed as a benchmark to surpass, and as a result, his talents and abilities were intentionally executed in a manner that gives him an aura of invincibility (while also showing just how he could have come to the conclusion that he was capable of singlehandedly fixing everything himself). The problem with Itachi in the context of this battle was that Kishimoto had effectively overused him by this point. When he served as the primary element in Nagato’s defeat during the war, it was irksome, because the two had little connection other than being former associates, and Itachi’s continued glory came at the cost of Naruto and Bee’s apparent levels of competence. When Itachi almost singlehandedly dealt with Kabuto by revealing Izanami, that was when it was apparent that Kishimoto had officially overdone it with Itachi. Again, it’s not his level of power that bothers me; it’s the execution of his role in the plot. In Rurouni Kenshin, a similar type of character, Hiko Seijuro XIII, was intentionally given a minor role in the story, as the author realized that someone as powerful and memorable as he would only overshadow the other characters if given too much screen time. Kishimoto failed with Itachi by giving him so much screen time and so large a role that he effectively became one of the main characters, and arguably the most competent of the good guys.

There wasn’t really much teamwork to speak of either. As with the fight against Nagato, Itachi was made to shine at the expense of his partner’s image. Sasuke did contribute a bit, but even then, on more than one occasion, Itachi had to protect him, at one point at the cost of his own safety. As a result, the same character that is meant to be Naruto’s final and most personal challenge was made to look like a common noob, even after having shown of the power of his new EMS. If Kishimoto wanted to temper some of the hype for that battle, he succeeded.

Another problem with this fight is that it serves as the emotional center of the war’s climax, given that Naruto wasn’t having all that emotional a battle against Tobi, and the kage hadn’t really displayed anything all that generally relatable given their relative lack of screen time. The problem with this is that it continues a pattern that started during the Year of Sasuke: the fact that the story is more about Sasuke and the Sage’s descendants than it is about Naruto. Once again, he is meant to serve the most important role as the destined child, yet, as far as the emotional context of the story is concerned, Naruto is the secondary protagonist.

I will say this though, for all its faults, at least the fight was interrupted by an interesting flashback. It was nice to see Orochimaru remind us of what an interesting villain looks like, and while I wasn’t able to emotionally connect with Kabuto’s situation, I did appreciate the hidden details of the shinobi world that his past revealed.

 

Things That Sucked: Tobito

This was crap. It was so crap that I almost marked this revelation as my synonym for suck. But now I realize that simply saying “Tobito” is another way of saying suck, just as one can use either the terms “rectify” or “correct” in a sentence where either could fit. “Kaguya” and “Tobito” are interchangeable as synonyms for the kind of suck that we got in the later chapters of Naruto. Sometimes I really wonder how this series could disappoint me so much, but then I remember what the Star Wars prequels did to me.

All right, all of you know about this “twist,” which a lot of people had predicted ever since Tobi was first introduced and a lot of others, including myself, had wished was not meant to be for a variety of reasons. But you know what, he turned out to be Obito, and the forums were down for a while. Now on to why it sucked.

Why It Sucked: Failing as a Foil
Part of the whole Obito being evil thing’s “appeal” was supposed to lie in the fact that he was similar to Naruto and thus an ideal foil as an opponent, you know, like Nagato had already done before him. And Gaara before that. But this was different because young Obito was basically a brunette Naruto. Well, if that was what Kishimoto was going for, he failed harder than I did the last time I tried to make myself shepherd’s pie.

Obito falls flat as Naruto’s foil because he lacks the depth that Naruto offered as a character. Naruto is defined by a lonely childhood as an orphan hated for something he had no control over because his father was a fucking dumbass. Despite this tragic life, he kept trying to make things better for himself and sought the acknowledgment of others so that he could prove to others, and to himself, that he existed, and that perhaps he deserved to exist. That’s an interesting bit of characterization right there. So what does Obito bring to the table?

Obito turns out to be an orphan with no friends except for Rin. Except we only learn that he was an orphan long after he was introduced (which makes it even weirder that this was never brought up during his earlier appearances when it might have been relevant; an example of this being his developing bond with Kakashi during the Gaiden). Furthermore, we don’t really see him interact with others that much. As a result, he comes off as a rather flat character whose bonds are rather loosely written, making it all the harder to identify his character with Naruto’s. When he does suffer loss (more on that soon enough), his reaction is stunningly over the top, especially given that Naruto never indicated he would slide down the slippery slope nearly as quickly.

If you’re going to compare and contrast two characters so explicitly within a story, you have to draw the lines of similarity and difference between them with the proper detail. Obito being so shallowly written kind of takes away from that.

Why It Sucked: Your Motivation Sucks
The second reason why this twist sucked? Obito’s motivation.

Obito, as Naruto’s foil, clearly needed something to set him apart from previous villains and their tragic backstories. After all, previous foils had included horrifically abusive childhoods, seeing loved ones die, and the tragedies that abound in a world defined by its commitment to waging war. After Gaara and Pain, we needed to see something that was fitting of a villain posing as Naruto’s ultimate shadow archetype during the most spectacular part of the story. Kishimoto needed a home run to top his base hits.

He went for a sacrifice bunt. Instead he screwed even that up and got tagged out before he could move away from the plate.

Obito turns into a nihilistic psycho with solipsistic dreams simply because his crush died. It wasn’t even a matter of her being killed by the guy he had come to see as both his rival and best friend. It was because his crush died. All this shit that happened? The attack on Konoha? Capturing jinchuriki? Starting wars? Because his crush died in a really, really stupid way. This was supposed to be Naruto’s ultimate foil? The guy whose crush died? It’d be like if Sakura died and Naruto went all Pain on the world in spite of the fact that there were people who cared about him other than her. Obito had the potential to meet up with his teacher or Kakashi or whoever the fuck he bonded with. Instead, he goes all emo teen and lets Kakashi stew in his guilt and ruins what should have been the happiest day of Minato’s life. What a little bitch.

Furthermore, sometime after the reveal, in a blatant attempt to make Obito’s reasoning look less ridiculous, Kishimoto reveals that Obito learned later what events led up to Rin’s death. Unfortunately, given that we know for a fact that Obito snapped when he saw Rin die, this just comes off as a lame attempt at justifying Obito’s rapid turnaround.

What makes it worse is that Kishimoto tried to explain this by revealing that, through Tobirama, that Uchihas just love so hard that they go batshit insane when they suffer loss. It’s like the whole thing with Saiyans becoming stronger after near-death experiences, except really, really stupid.

Why It Sucked: What is Does to the Gaiden
The third reason why the twist sucked is because of what it does to the Gaiden from earlier in the manga. That side-story serves to illustrate just how Kakashi went from a stick in the mud haunted by his father’s fall from grace to someone willing to bend the rules for the sake of doing what’s right. Despite Kakashi being the character that grows the most, it is Obito who is the true protagonist of the side-story because in the end, he leaves Kakashi with legacies physical, philosophical, and emotional. Obito represented the defining element of Kakashi’s character. When we see him visit the memorial at different points in the manga, we come to understand just how strongly this impacted him. And while Kishimoto did a decent job showing just how badly he took the revelation, he also failed to consider what it did to the message passed by the Gaiden.

When you think about it, Kakashi was right when he originally opted to leave Rin behind. Had his father carried out the mission without falling into sentiment, things might not have gone so badly for Konoha afterward. Had Kakashi carried out his mission regardless of what Obito did, the Uchiha would have probably been killed along with Rin, but at fucking least he wouldn’t have grown up to be a mass murdering maniac out to reunite himself with an illusory version of his childhood crush. People like to say that things happen for a reason, but you know what? If Kakashi had never learned his lesson, maybe a lot of the crap that happened in the story could have been avoided. It’s not like Madara could easily leave his hideout (although one wonders how he implanted his eyes into Nagato). Maybe Black Zetsu could have come up with an alternative plan, but the fact is, doing the right thing caused a lot of potentially avoidable pain and sorrow.

Why It Sucked: Who Wants Redemption?
Another issue with the twist is the way it was handled, or rather, how Obito’s redemption was handled later on. Naruto shrugs off the fact that this guy is the one who left him an orphan. The one who started a war. The one who is directly responsible for a bunch of peoples’ deaths, and indirectly responsible for a hell of a lot more. So for Naruto to be so forgiving is one thing, even if I would have liked these details to have made more of an emotional impact on him, but what makes it worse is that Naruto seems to brush them over after Obito sacrifices himself to save him. The fact is, one realization of his life’s errors is not enough to change the fact that he screwed the pooch in the first place. Simply being “similar” to Naruto in his youth is not enough. He was not a cool or awesome guy. He was a fuck up who tried to do something decent in his final moments. But Naruto couldn’t even get that right.

And when Obito gets to the afterlife, how does Rin greet him? By saying that he did good. I’m sorry, but one act of sacrifice while he was already in the process of dying is not nearly enough to completely discount the fact that it’s kind of his fault shit got this bad in the first place. A moment of good doesn’t immediately undo over a decade of sin.

Atonement is great. When done right, it serves as a way of saying that anyone can become a better person if they are committed to it. When a character genuinely feels contrition for the things they’ve done though, they have to realize that atonement isn’t a destination, but a never ending path. You don’t get rewarded for one good deed at the end of your life (unless of course, you’re Anakin Skywalker, but that’s a whole different topic to discuss altogether). You keep trying to make things better for everyone else regardless of the fact that you’ll never be able to fully make up for what you did. And Kishimoto didn’t seem to realize that.

So How Could This Have Possibly Been Fixed or At Least Made to Suck Less?
Now I’m going to take a step back from my usual format to look at what Obito could have been assuming that Kishimoto had always intended for him to be Tobi. Before that, I would like to bring up something that I actually did when discussing the treatment of Hidan and Kakuzu.

Sakumo’s story raises questions about the story’s themes and the ideals espoused by Konoha, namely whether it is worth it to save one’s loved ones and comrades if sacrificing them would be in the name of a greater good, and also whether such sacrifices might in turn imply that the greater good might not be worth it in the end. By acting in a manner that would be applauded by the narrative and the younger characters in the story, Sakumo only managed to ruin his life and career. Is it really worth it to protect your comrades when doing so only nets you scorn and dishonor? By making the village the main priority, as even an idealist like Hashirama came to do, is the individual sacrificed? If the people of the village are aware of such things but do nothing about the status quo, does that make them worth protecting? The importance of these questions becomes clearer in the context of my argument in this post once I point out Obito’s admiration of the White Fang.

During the Gaiden, Obito at one point, when told by Kakashi just what an ideal shinobi is supposed to be like given the system, rebuts his teammate’s argument by pointing out that not only did he agree with Sakumo’s decision, but that he was willing to crush the idea of what it meant to be a shinobi if said idea was so heartless. Already one can see the potential for an interesting villain if done right. To have Kakashi be the one to kill Rin, and then to have Obito learn unsavory details connected to this incident would thus create a backstory for a different kind of villain from what we actually got. Given what happened to Rin and Sakumo, Obito could have easily been written as having become disenchanted by the shinobi system, and thus obsessed with crushing it rather than becoming a nihilist out to put everyone in a world of dreams. The horrific stories of the Uchiha clan, Kakuzu, the perpetual war zone that was Pain’s homeland, Kisame’s experience with betrayal in the Mist, and even the discrimination against jinchuriki could have provided more ammo for a character convinced that the current system needed to go. It would even add a new dimension to the Akatsuki’s originally revealed goal of attaining a monopoly and crowding out the hidden villages. By turning the group into a strong competitor, the villages’ strength would be destabilized on an economic level.

This would be a rather topical antagonist to depict in the story given that people in real life have grown somewhat disenchanted with the status quo. Other works have already done similar things with masked revolutionaries, a particular favorite being Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. Like V, Obito would be dedicated solely to the idea of taking down what he viewed as a corrupt and unjust establishment, with even his identity being subsumed into his cause. By having Naruto unmask him and the person behind the mask, Kishimoto could have written himself a rebuttal to works like V by pointing out the personal psychologies that lead to people becoming like Tobi while still acknowledging his arguments.

By giving him a more fleshed out and foreshadowed motivation, as well as a less far-out plan, Kishimoto could have actually made Obito into an interesting villain. Unfortunately, we got what we did, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.

  

Things That Rocked: Kakashi’s Reaction to Tobito

If there’s one thing that was done right, it was Kakashi’s response to seeing his friend and idol on the other side of the battlefield. As much as the reveal sucked, Kakashi’s reaction was great. The large panels with his shocked and disturbed face successfully conveyed just how much this impacted him. Obito wasn’t just the friend he had made too late; he was the reason why he became a better person. Obito was a symbol of what Kakashi strived to be, and his difficulty processing this inconvenient truth was well done.

I also admit to rather liking Kakashi’s speech to Obito after the latter had been defeated. While Kakashi had always been somewhat enigmatic despite our knowing his backstory, the revelation that he was a self-admitted nihilist who sought a higher purpose was both heartbreaking and inspiring. He could have easily become something horrible like many villains in the story, but instead he decided to act constructively. All this in spite of having a pretty horrible backstory in his own right. Granted, he’s no messiah like his student. However, he did serve as a symbol of how a person unconnected to prophecies could overcome hardship and emerge from it a better, stronger (albeit broken) person.

 

Things That Could Have Been Better: The Ten-Tailed Beast Revived

Okay, so the Ten-Tails is revived, and shit looks bad. I admit to chuckling when it simply flicked Bee’s attack right back at him. Still, you would think that it shouldn’t be so easy to physically flick away what is supposed to be a ball of destructive energy. But oh well.

Contrary to what some thought, I felt that the creature’s designs were okay. Not the greatest, but not horrible. It looks kind of like a Bulbasaur gone bad with the bud on its back, foreshadowing its connection to the World Tree. If anything though, I question why it needed to transform. Anyway, the first form looks properly monstrous, if a tad plain for something that was supposedly the biggest threat in the universe. The second form was a bit better, with its facial features being warped in a way that called to mind the three monkeys. However, the tails that were actually hands looked kind of ridiculous, and when the creature bulked up, it looked rather silly rather than threatening. If anything though, I would have preferred that if Kishimoto was going to include a rabbit demon in the story, he would have hinted at that by making sure his designs included aspects of such an appearance.

I’ll go into greater detail in another post, but one issue I had with the pinnacle of tailed beasts was its disappointing performance during the war. This was supposed to be the closest thing the world had to a god, with Kaguya being its true identity, yet it continually found itself underperforming to expectations. I expected its ability to manipulate the environment itself to be enough to overwhelm the average human. However, merely being gifted with a tailed beast cloak was enough to keep the Alliance going. And later on, the Uchiha proceeded to easily handle the beast when they became its jinchuriki. I don’t know about Madara, but in the case of Obito, I could at least comprehend how his single-minded obsession was enough to overcome Kaguya’s will.

 

Things That Sucked: Neji’s Sacrifice

It was so bad that when the chapter came out, I started a thread in the Naruto Forums Telegrams.

So Neji, a character who’s been out of the spotlight for so long that I almost forgot about him finally gets a day in the limelight. You know what that means, kids! That’s right, he dies after Naruto suddenly goes all derp and tires out from an injury, a bit of writing that made little sense but was necessary to create contrived drama. Hinata, being the dumbass she is, decides to shield him with her body instead of something more productive. Neji, being an even bigger dumbass, decides to shield her with his body! So he dies protecting the main branch. Like his father did. Out of his own free will. So he escaped his fate as a member of the cadet branch? But then his father escaped his fate by making a sacrifice based out of familial love rather than duty to the clan. And Neji…it was a little ambiguous.

Anyway, so we get some more symbolism of a flying free bird (play it!), a callback to the caged bird motif associated with Neji since Part I. So far so good. But then, as if to really make it sink in that this is a tragic event that deserves our precious tears, the bird gets impaled by a wooden spike.

Shit. Is. Hilarious.

What should have been a tragic moment came off instead as bad comedy. To wit, Kishimoto set up a visibly contrived situation, and then proceeded to overdo the drama in order to make up for the fact that his setting up of the event was piss-poor in its execution. Had Neji remained a part of the cast focus on a somewhat consistent basis, readers would have better retained their connection to him. However, because he was for the most part ignored for so long, the bond between reader and character was interrupted, making it harder to feel anything about what happened to him. Furthermore, by having the bird die in the manner it did, suddenly, and at the end of the chapter, it invokes only bathos, appearing less like a summation of tragedy than it does a punchline to some very sick joke.

Then, to add to the suck, we get the reactions to it. It’s one thing for Naruto and Neji’s peers to show shock and sadness. It’s another thing entirely for the entire Alliance to grieve for this one guy and then rally around his sacrifice. I mean, how many other people died during that war? Don’t they get a moment to shine by having people rally around them? Does this only apply to Naruto’s loved ones? Is the entire world really trying to bend over backwards that far for some kid?

It also comes off poorly compared to a similarly executed scene in One Piece, when Ace fell in battle. In that series, the scene worked because one, Ace’s bond with Luffy had been built up prior to and during the arc, two, there was an established camaraderie among Whitebeard’s crew, and three, because Ace was one of the focal points of said arc. Readers could understand why the crew mourned along with Luffy because all of them had a bond with Ace. Furthermore, because rescuing Ace had been one of their shared goals, having him die served as a punch to the gut for both the characters and the reader. Neji was close to Naruto, his clan, and his peers, and that’s it. He wasn’t the focus of the war. As a result, this scene just looks even worse when laid side by side with the one in One Piece.

 

Things That Sucked: Orochimaru Defanged

At least in Kabuto’s flashbacks, Orochimaru had some dignity. Post-resurrection, he underwent the same fate as Kurama: he was pussified. The same Orochimaru who had once thrown away subordinates once they’d ceased to be useful, the same Orochimaru who had struck fear into the good guys and killed off Hiruzen, the same Orochimaru who had committed dastardly deeds like it was going out of style, was played for laughs! Like a fucking episode of Rock Lee’s Springtime of Youth! And later, when probed about his goals, Orochimaru reveals that upon looking at Kabuto, he began to reevaluate his priorities, and that he wished to see what Sasuke was capable of. The guy who wanted to be the master of everything through immortality! The manipulative fuck who convinced Sasuke to go rogue! What the shit!?

 

Things That Bugged Me: Incoherent Storytelling

So Sasuke’s group stops by an abandoned temple on the outskirts of Konoha. Funny that this was never mentioned anywhere in the story before. Said temple houses masks and assorted other items that were used by the Uzumaki clan. Where the fuck did this come from? Seriously. A place with a connection to the main fucking character of the series was never fucking brought up before? What the fuck am I even reading? Okay, so they get a mask that turns out to be a means of turning its wearer into a medium by which one can summon the Shinigami. Oh, that’s pretty fucking awesome. Why did Kishimoto waste so much time with broken-ass ocular jutsu and Hot Topic-brand angst when he could have been writing about kick-ass onmyodo inspired jutsu? The only thing I don’t like about this last bit is how it leads to the invalidation of Hiruzen’s sacrifice. But oh well, I would expect Orochimaru to look into ways to get his arms back.

The group then proceeds to sneak into the village, which presumably has lax security due to most of the troops going off to war. Fair enough? But then they don’t even make any attempts to hide their identities, which sets off some alarm bells because you would expect at least one fucking person to recognize frigging Orochimaru and Sasuke! What kind of crappy ass security and apathetic citizenry are we even looking at here? The gang may as well throw a fucking parade for all the responses it might get.

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that Kishimoto just wanted the story to go in a particular direction and could not care less about whether or not it made sense in how this came about. To be fair though, you could say that about a lot of the previous chapters.

 

Things That Sucked: The Uchiha Curse

The revelation about the true curse of hatred associated with the Uchiha clan was brought up during this arc, and boy was it the epitome of shitty writing. First of all, it turns the Uchiha clan into an entire family of lunatics. I’m sorry, but if this was supposed to make them more sympathetic (“it’s not his fault, it’s his genetics”), all it did was convince me that the elders had the right idea keeping a close watch on the clan. If these guys could go nanners simply from suffering a simple tragedy, then that meant that they were a danger to anyone around them if they were to get close to anyone, especially important given that they were a family geared toward ninja work. It made Obito go from pathetic sad sack to pathetic sad sack with a mental illness. This was literally a clan of little bitches. It was canon. The Uchiha are a clan of little bitches! It’s bad enough that Kishimoto expects readers to sympathize with the Uchiha regardless of how far they fall, but for him to go out of his way to make up a genetic excuse for their behavior? Is this really the same guy who wrote a bunch of arcs I was praising in other posts not so long ago? In short, this was a fucking stupid twist and the fact that Sasuke was allowed to breed is highly disturbing.

 

Things That Were Not All That Bad: Hashirama’s Flashback

You know, I don’t hate Hashirama’s flashback. I thought that it addressed a point that needed to be made: that in the end, the main conceit of the series’ premise was that we were reading a story about child soldiers. Sure, they were raised in an environment where the next battle always appears to be around the corner and there is much to be said about the way that they are raised to put their duty to their homelands first. But in the end, for all the niceties and moments praising such sacrifice, they are in the end children being raised to fight and die for their villages. It ties nicely back to the grittier aspects of Part I, even if the series tends to find itself in conflict over whether it wants to glorify death during war or show how pointless such things are. In fact, if anything though, I thought that this particular element of the flashback was great, and a reminder that this series could be something better than what we’ve gotten lately.

I would in fact argue that part of the problem with the series is that it sometimes does remind us that Kishimoto is or at least was capable of genuinely good writing, and that the disappointment of many is made worse by this realization. Had Kishimoto been a mediocrity from the start, it would have been tolerable. We could have just moved on. But to show flashes of brilliance only draws us back in when we should know better.

The rest of the flashback isn’t that bad either. Hashirama and Madara’s childhood friendship does get some needed panel time, and it’s nice to see these two kids away from the battlefield and just plain acting like a couple of kids. Such inanity actually makes their relationship feel more sincere, and it all the more painful when fate intervenes. We see the roots (no pun intended) of what would become the modern shinobi system, as well as the good intentions behind it. It serves to illustrate that even the most well-intentioned plan has to make compromises when it meets with the realities of human nature.

If there is a weakness though, it is that Madara changes too suddenly and Hashirama seems kind of like a pushover. Yeah, he realizes what he must do at the end (as well as the compromises he must make), but at the same time, he seems overly naïve, and the story seems unwilling to punish him for it as much as it should. His willingness to die in order to earn Madara’s trust is a bit overdone, and raises too many questions to count. His preference for making Madara Hokage shows that he doesn’t understand politics nearly as much as he understands the battlefield. As for Madara, it would have been nice to get a more gradual transformation. A longer flashback would have served to better illustrate how a shared dream could go so wrong. For Madara to go from anxious ally to sneering villain in so short a span story-wise is far too jarring for those interested in better understanding the characters and their bond.

Hell, if anyone comes out of this looking good, it’s Tobirama. Yes, he’s a bit of a jerk, and a more than a little harsh, but his logic is sound, and I can’t help but wonder about the anti-intellectual undertones of this manga at times.

 

Things That Bugged Me: Karin

Last but not least, we come to Karin. Oh Karin. For a moment you looked smarter than Sakura, deciding to move on from Sasuke once it became clear that he saw you as nothing but expendable. But nope, you just had to suck more than should be possible by crawling back to him after a half-assed excuse and having this moment played for laughs. What is wrong with the women in this series? Speaking of which…

 

Things That Sucked: Sakura

So after several hundred chapters of relegating Sakura to moving scenery and token damsel who only appears useful because she heals irrelevant characters, what does Kishimoto do? He brings her out by revealing that Sakura actually spent the past couple of years building up enough chakra in the Yin seal on her forehead for the purpose of pulling a Tsunade.

Normally, this would be awesome. However, given how much crap we had to put up with involving Sakura before this point, it just came off as a last minute power-up. Furthermore, Sakura’s training had been left entirely off-screen, meaning that it was impossible to truly appreciate and comprehend her growth, unlike in the case of Sasuke when he first appeared in Part II, as his unusual growth at that point highlighted the sheer difficulty of Naruto’s quest and was hinted to be in part due to Orochimaru’s less than healthy experiments. With Sakura, on the other hand, we were left with a sense that since so many people were complaining about her lack of usefulness, Kishimoto had decided to pull something out of his ass.

A second issue with this particular development is the questions it raises. If Sakura really had this sort of potential the entire time, why the hell didn’t she stop sending part of her chakra to the seal instead of allowing herself to be put at mortal risk during the fight against Sasori or against Sasuke in the Land of Iron? It just makes her look stupid.

Third, after Sakura gets her moment in the spotlight, Kishimoto seemingly mocks her by having one of the Juubi Juniors attack her from behind, resulting in her two teammates saving her ass and making her look silly in the process. It kind of undermines a character’s moment of glory if they have to have their asses saved right after the author and other characters tried to make said character look awesome.

Fourth, there’s the shilling. Suddenly, characters are talking about OMG, how awesome Sakura has become. This violates “show, don’t tell.” If you need to tell us a character is badass, they might not actually be all that badass. The forced parallels with the Sannin didn’t help.

Parallels aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Like any other tool of the trade, they must be used properly. Unfortunately, I can’t say that for the developments here. Sasuke and Naruto had already moved beyond their mentors by going past snakes and toads/frogs, toward the legacy of the Sage and even new abilities and/or summons that had nothing to do with their mentors’ styles. It also makes Sakura look even worse given that not only was she still a clone of Tsunade, but she didn’t even have a new summon to call her own.

 

Things That Bugged Me: Minato Sucks, But We All Knew That

Anyway, Minato reveals during this arc that he still had hiraishin markings on Obito’s body, meaning that he could have actually solved a lot of problems by not only sealing Kurama into Naruto using means other than a fatal sealing jutsu like other villages had done, but also using his jutsu to track and take down the mysterious masked man before he continued to wreak havoc. Damn it, Minato, could you be any dumber?

 

Things That Bugged Me: Pointless Fanservice

Anyway, for the sake of throwing a bone to fans of the supporting cast and the video game developers, Kishimoto revealed that the rest of the Konoha group had developed new special moves of their own over the years. It’s a shame then that we didn’t really get to see them grow as people or ninjas, but fuck it, because fanservice.

At least Shino’s was actually pretty gruesome, so there’s that.

 

Conclusion

This arc was bad. It was horrible. It was crap. It was somehow worse than all the junk that came before. It flat out sucked. Look at just how much stuff I talked about that fell under the category of “Things that Sucked.” It’s actually kind of amazing how a manga that was once so good could fall so, so far. Going over all my old notes and rereading this part of the series actually made me feel tired and almost sick even. Part of the reason this post took so long to finish, aside from real life intruding, was because I had to force myself to get through the arc to rework my original posts on it. Unfortunately, the suckfest that that Naruto had devolved into was not yet over.

Little things that would have improved ‘Rogue One’

So I finally got around to watching the new Star Wars spinoff: Rogue One. My thoughts? Eh. It was competent but unmemorable. And while I could easily write a whole essay on my issues with it and the often poor arguments put up by those who are attempting to defend it, I decided instead that since those are already being covered by countless numbers of clickbait writers and critics of both the amateur and professional variety, I figure that similar to The Force Awakens, I’d just offer a few points of improvement that could have been made with the benefit of hindsight. Beware of spoilers!

 
1. Less Vader
I never thought I would ever argue such a thing given that he’s one of my all-time favorite fictional characters (I only bothered to read the comics featuring him despite being lukewarm on the whole new expanded universe I’ll have to keep some track of now). However, the fact is that I could have done with a little less Darth Vader in the movie. His meeting with Krennic doesn’t really add much to the movie (I didn’t even mind his one-liner), but given the positive reception a certain later scene of his has gotten among various viewers, I would make the serious argument that something along those lines should have been his only scene in the movie.

The problem with Vader’s usage in the actual film was that his prior appearances kind of take the wonder out of that final sequence. By limiting his presence before then to brief mentions, anticipation can be built before he finally makes a memorable cameo.

Just have Tarkin tell his subordinates to contact Vader before we see his star destroyer enter the field of battle and wreck the remaining Rebel fleet. Afterward, maybe have the crew of the Rebel ship inform their comrades that an Imperial boarding party has arrived. Throughout this entire time, Vader has been absent from the movie, as if to emphasize that this spinoff is less about the usual gang than it is the supporting players that made things possible for the good guys to come out on top. Then, as they gather at the likely entry point, the lights go out and there is a silence. This is suddenly interrupted by a soft sound that grows progressively louder and louder. It’s a familiar one: the iconic breathing of a certain Sith Lord. The characters on the screen freak out. So does the audience. And then the lightsaber ignites.

 
2. Do something with Krennic
Krennic was completely forgettable. Of course, one could say that about pretty much any character in the movie. This was a huge shame given that there was material there for a character I wouldn’t forget about as soon as I left the theater.

For one, there was his friendship with Galen. Perhaps they could have given this more emphasis, maybe even have it so that as a friend of her father, Krennic could have represented how the Empire twisted talented people into monsters and tore bonds, be they personal or communal, apart, just like how civil wars can rip apart families and communities. Maybe make him a guy who Jyn may have once referred to as an honorary uncle before everything went wrong to contrast with her two father figures. At least give him something.

Also, all that traveling that Krennic did felt kind of silly. I could understand him going to check on the facility to figure out who leaked the info, but what about Scarif and Mustafar? I guess with the latter you could say that he was trying to play politics against Tarkin, but this went nowhere and added little to the film. As for the former, I guess the script needed him to be on Scarif for whatever reason (I’ve already forgotten why).

 
3. Trim the cast
Quite a few critics have argued that one of the film’s prominent weaknesses is a rather weak cast of characters. They’re poorly fleshed out and by the time of the movie’s end, you just don’t care all that much about what happens to them. I suggest then that the cast be slightly trimmed so that more can be done with fewer characters.

To be more specific, I’d have merged the characters of Jyn and Cassian. Perhaps have it so that instead of just being tortured and apathetic lead number 1138, Jyn could have been a Rebel agent trained by Saw who fought the Empire less out of ideals than out of a desire for vengeance. Maybe even this motivation is starting to fizzle as she finds herself more and more burnt out from carrying out dirty work like Saw’s or having to kill informants lest they leak information after being captured like Cassian does in the movie. However, this all changes once she discovers that her father leaked a message.

In this way, the focus could be on her rediscovering her desire to fight the Empire, except out of a desire to serve a higher cause rather than a darker one like revenge, paralleling how the series itself is about fighting for the right reasons rather than falling into dark paths and methods. Furthermore, this way she would have the standing needed among the Rebels to make her speech and gather like-minded volunteers before the climax.

This trimming should also allow for more time with developing relationships, be they the ones Jyn has with her two father figures or the camaraderie that develops among the Rebel group the movie follows.

 
Bonus: The stuff that bugged me
First of all, I couldn’t help but notice how the movie’s opening seemed to be based less on what the characters would do rather than ticking a few boxes. In this case, leaving the lead character alone because her mom was dead and dad taken away by the Empire. Her mom dies a pointless death after being told to run when it is clear that her acting as she did was stupid due to the fact that she was heavily outnumbered. Maybe just go for the cliche of having her mom killed in a surprise attack on the homestead and her dad taken while Jyn hides in a bunker.

Second, what was up with the inclusion of the two bar thugs that harass Luke in A New Hope? Why did those characters have to be there given that they were on Tatooine not long afterward? Apparently they left Jedha just in time to avoid getting roasted by the Death Star.

Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: The Fourth Shinobi World War: Confrontation

Starting with the initial skirmishes against the vanguard of Kabuto’s forces and ending with the reveal of the real Uchiha Madara, the first part of the war managed to be one of the most disappointing in a series that was long in decline. What should have been exciting was instead often dull and, to paraphrase the Bard, full of sound and fury, all the while signifying nothing.

 
Things That Sucked: Sasori and Deidara are Pointlessly Humiliated
This was hilarious in how bad it was. Sasori and Deidara were among the greatest criminals to have ever come out of the five great nations, with Sasori having assassinated a Kazekage after leaving behind a famed career in the service of Sunagakure’s Puppet Corps, while Deidara was an artistic prodigy who had studied under Ohnoki himself. Furthermore, in their time as living members of the Akatsuki, each had impressed in their respective showings. Naturally, one would expect them to factor strongly in the opening stages of the war.

Having become an undead corpse under Kabuto’s spell, Sasori had finally achieved his goal of becoming an immortal puppet, the ideal towards which he had unsuccessfully strived for in life. In a sequence that was otherwise poorly executed, this was a nice little detail.

I could understand why the two didn’t fight to their full potential. Deidara had always been arrogant, and in undeath this arrogance caused him to flat out avoid any defensive maneuvers, having come to the conclusion that all enemy attacks were pointless anyhow. Sasori was without any of his trademark puppets, and as a result, unable to use his most powerful Secret Red techniques (although considering how much access Kabuto had to items relating to his undead army, it’s strange that he wasn’t able to even scrounge up a couple of puppets, much less a storage scroll).

What happened to the two however, was beyond humiliating.

Despite being outnumbered, Sasori and Deidara were able to fight a brief skirmish against the commandos making up the Surprise Attack Division, although they failed to take out a single one of them. However, Sai was able to somehow get behind them and successfully knock them off the clay bird they had been standing on, in spite of the fact that they were supposed to be top class ninja and his having been right in front of and below them just a moment ago.

Prior to this point, Sasori had easily been one of the best characterized villains, and his shared back story with Chiyo had been one of the stronger elements of Part II. So to see him so quickly converted to Kankuro’s way of thinking after being bested (contrary to what Kankuro claimed, the younger puppeteer did not display all that much to suggest he’d surpassed Sasori) and then give a short speech did not sit well with me.

Had there been more to the speech, and had the two characters possessed a stronger connection other than both being puppeteers who’d briefly met before, I wouldn’t have minded. Perhaps if Kishimoto had given us more about whatever admiration Kankuro had for Sasori, there might have been something. Unfortunately, there was nothing more to the short talk Kankuro gave Sasori, and their connection was rather tenuous. If say, Chiyo had given him a speech, I could see Sasori having a change of heart the way he did.

As for Deidara, well, as arrogant as he was being, you would still expect better and smarter from a guy who was good enough to be a part of the Akatsuki. It was one thing for him to get up close with his clay bird the first time. But after having the ground raised from under him once, wouldn’t it have been smarter for the guy to elevate himself so that he and Sasori wouldn’t get knocked off their perch?

 
Things That Were Meh: The Seven Swordsmen Look Pretty
I’ll admit that I was kind of hyped when the rest of the Swordsmen got summoned. Really, I was. I mean, sure the designs were kind of derivative of Kisame and Zabuza’s, but I figured that it was more to show either Mist or group traditions.

And I admit to being a bit disappointed though with the nature of the swords. Samehada stood out because it was a sentient being that consumed chakra that it would then share with its wielder. Hiramekarei can shape chakra into whatever form the user wishes. And it was revealed later that Kubikiribōchō was capable of fixing itself by using the iron found in blood (a fucking vampire sword! Granted, the science behind this makes no sense, but fuck that, Zabuza sword can’t be beat!). The rest of the swords felt rather mundane next to them (although as is implied, I thought it was cool how Zabuza didn’t need any superpowers, just a sword he could always rely on). I suppose Kiba (not to be confused with the character of the same name) being capable of naturally emitting electricity to increase its cutting power was okay, but considering how many characters can use chakra streaming on their weapons; it’s not all that special. Nuibari is a giant needle and thread that sews people together. That’s not really a power, although I guess it’s kind of suggested that it has amazing piercing power. Kabutowari is simply a hammer attached to an axe. Again, not really a special ability given that it’s just a hammer and an axe. And Shibuki, well it’s also kind of mundane, what with simply being a big ass sword with an unfolding scroll containing explosive tags on the side. Not a special ability so much as an impressive, if slightly impractical, bit of technological innovation. But I’ll admit, it’s pretty fucking awesome.

Still, of all the designs and swords, Jinpachi’s was easily my favorite. Just look at the guy. It’s like he was designed to be the most fucking awesome guy ever. Is he a ninja or a pirate? Ninja pirate or pirate ninja? Fuck if I know but it’s fucking awesome (yes, I doubt that he was a pirate, but fuck you, let a guy dream). And his sword looks like something Michael Bay would design. Hey, how do you improve upon a big fucking sword? You add some big fucking explosions, that’s what! And so it was, we got a sword that blows your fucking ass up when it’s swung at you. Holy shitfuck that is awesome.

So anyway, after we got all hyped up, Kishimoto gave us a retread of Haku and Zabuza’s story, although since things were rehashed, and the outline of it so overused in filler and bad fanfiction, it simply lacked the emotional punch that it deserved. I knew I should care, but I simply couldn’t summon any enthusiasm for this particular part of the story despite having been hooked into Naruto by that earlier arc.

So after Haku and Zabuza got sealed, we got Kakashi implying that he was going to go on a rampage. Cool! Then we switched to another scene. Not cool.

I can’t say that this part of the story sucked entirely, because there was an element to it that I liked, that element being seeing the Swordsmen in action. I also did like how Suigetsu’s little expository speech was intercut with that part. I fucking love Jinpachi and his sword. But I also didn’t care for everything else, but didn’t really hate it all that much. Hence the meh score.

But as disappointing as this part was, at least it wasn’t as horrid as what was to follow.

 
Things That Sucked: Forgettable Side Characters
The Gold and Silver Brothers are among the more forgettable characters introduced in the series. While the audience is given their history, there is little depth to them other than their being dishonest, egotistic brutes. Unlike villains in the past, there was little time to get to know them, and what little we did know was so wholly unappealing that in a story with so many interesting villains, these two were utterly forgettable.

During this time, we were also introduced to Atsui, whose gimmick basically came down to being a stupid braggart. Granted, in his limited screen time he was as much a character as Samui, that is, barely, despite her having been introduced about a hundred chapters beforehand. As a result of this lack of depth and time with which to get attached to them, when the two got sucked into the gourd, no one cared (it didn’t help that Atsui was a dumbass of epic proportions).

This last bit feels all the worse considering how much the importance of bonds and the tragedies of war are emphasized in the story, so to have two characters the reader has no reason to care about suffer weakens what should have been an emotional moment for Darui. (plus, the two of them are rescued from the gourd later on anyhow)

As for Darui, well, what’s to say? He didn’t get much fleshing out during his introductory arc, and while Kishimoto tried to provide some depth to him during his fight, there was just so little for readers to work with that it becomes difficult to feel any emotional investment in this part of the story. Having to read through these chapters back when they were first coming out week by week was even worse.

Between the forgettable bad guys and the forgettable good guys, there was little reason to give a damn about anything that happened here. Part of what makes a good fight scene is the emotion behind it, as well as the audience’s investment in the characters involved. Since each of the characters involved had so little depth to them, there is little tension as one goes through the fight. If not for the twins’ possession of Kyubi chakra, the story could have easily done without them.

 
Things That Were Meh: Seeing Side Characters with Little Depth Fight
I didn’t hate Mifune’s fight. I still don’t hate it even after rereading it a couple of times in print format. I wish I could like it. I really do. I mean, we got a short but sweet skirmish. We got to see a samurai look badass. We got a hint of Hanzo’s true power. We got a good look at Mifune’s worldview and how it relates to the pursuit of peace and dreams. We even got a really brief Pain flashback.

I just can’t muster up much of an opinion of the entire thing because of how little we know the characters involved. As I said before, and I will say it again, although you should know the drill by now, when we see characters in a story fight, we are drawn in by the choreography and the actual fighting, but what allow fights to really affect us are the emotional factors that go into them, i.e. the characters.

Previously, as with Darui, we were introduced to Mifune during the summit, but he was not really given much characterization. As with Darui, Mifune was fleshed out in the course of his moment in the spotlight. There just wasn’t all that much depth to him.

In contrast to the Gold and Silver Brothers though, Hanzo was a potentially interesting character (his name is Hanzo for crying out loud!). As a young man, he had been idealistic, believing that with his strength, he might someday succeed in uniting the disparate lands of the shinobi world. Eventually he became dictator of a small isolated nation that was constantly the site of various conflicts fought by larger nations. As a dictator, he would need strength and brutality in order to maintain power and order. This need to hold on to power by any means necessary would leech away at his ideals, and the paranoia associated with being a military strongman eventually caused him to go from an ambitious and highly gifted shinobi to a cynical, ruthless old man eager to hide away and rest on his laurels. As a result, his skills stagnated, easing his downfall and final defeat at Mifune’s hands.

While I wasn’t the biggest fan of how quickly Hanzo was beaten (especially in the light of how hyped he was), as the previous paragraph indicates, I could understand the reasoning behind his underwhelming performance. I also didn’t care too much for how he arranged for his capture and sealing by committing seppuku, although that might have more to do with my surprise and bemusement at the revelation that underneath his flak jacket he was dressed like Sai. While already an old man.

 
Things That Sucked: Chōji Gets Pointless Attention
Poor, poor Chōji. After initially being introduced back in Part I’s second major arc as a stereotypical big fat guy who likes eating, he was given greater depth during the attempted Sasuke retrieval and even managed to get a good fight out of it. This moment in the spotlight not only made him more than the cliché he originally fulfilled in the story, but also served as a fine example of the potential to be found in the story’s supporting cast, whose own fictional lives added much to the story. Then Part II happened.

Chōji was, like his fellow peers of Naruto, shunted off to the side for the most part, with his purpose story-wise being more along the lines of moving scenery than an actual character. He did little during his earlier appearances in Part II, and when he did appear, his emotional connection (along with Ino’s) to Asuma was given far less emphasis than Shikamaru’s. However, this was to change somewhat during the war, as supporting characters were finally given some screen time, and even characters like Ino, who up to that point had been a mostly useless female cast member, were given a chance to shine. Unfortunately, Chōji’s second moment in the spotlight was not to be as well executed as his first.

By all means the battle between Asuma and his former team should have been more than it was. In contrast to earlier skirmishes during the war, there was an emotional connection between the characters, and this had been and was still clear to even the audience. Unfortunately Chōji’s role was what kept it from being a great scene.

What happened to Chōji was entirely unnecessary, given how his character arc up to this point had previously had him developing into a braver, stronger person who was willing to stick up for his loved ones. Sadly for Chōji, Kishimoto decided to have the poor bastard act like a scaredy cat during the opening stages of the war, as it suddenly became his job to be that one character who’s all afraid before shit goes down and he has to man up. Then, when fighting Asuma, he turned into a load.

It’s one thing to have a character unable to fight at their full potential against a loved one who is moving against their will. It’s a whole other thing to have a character not only unable to fight at their full potential, but act like a whiny little bitch to the extent where other good guys are at risk for more than a couple of chapters when prior character development would imply that they wouldn’t be acting this way if not for the fact that for some reason the plot required he act as such.

So Chōji finally gets his requisite man up moment, powers up into a butterfly form without needing that pill labeled “do not ingest because all potential unlocked comes at cost of life” (because fuck logical power ups and onscreen training), kicks Asuma’s ass, and then proceeds to aid in the off-paneling of no less than Hizashi and fucking Kakuzu (poor guy just can’t get a break).

I’m sorry, but Kishimoto went through the trouble of making us go through an unnecessary man the fuck up moment just so Chōji could have a crowning moment of awesome that was left off screen. It was Kakashi’s rampage all over again, except even crappier.

 
Things that Sucked: Why Making a Theme of a Shonen Battle Manga “War is Hell” is Stupid
The acclaimed filmmaker François Truffaut once alleged that it is impossible to make an anti-war film. Basically, the idea is that it is impossible to make an anti-war film if said film involves a war being shown. If a movie has a message, it runs the risk of implicitly saying the opposite of what was intended as what is said comes into conflict with what is actually portrayed.

This sentiment not only applies to Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto, which is most assuredly not a movie, but is actually magnified by the constraints of the genre, said genre being the shonen battle manga. The very essence of any decent battle manga is to wow the reader with spectacular fights.

Since the days of Barefoot Gen, which actually did run in Shonen Jump, believe it or not, it appears that manga aimed at the shonen demographic have been becoming more and more censored in some ways as time goes on. As a result, violence in such manga appears to be less horrifying then it was in Gen. This has the impact of lessening the harm that war does to people. Instead of being shown a man with his intestines flopping all over the place while he bleeds out from the stumps that used to be his legs, characters are shown with a bit of blood and bandages on them, if we get that much. This results in a lack of impact about the costs of war.

But going back to the main topic of this section, the bread and butter of shonen fighting manga is the spectacular nature of the battles. Because of that, instead of war being a tragic waste of human life, characters are shown instead being brave and having their own individual moments of glory. Rather than vilifying war, shonen manga authors end up glorifying it. In this way then, attempting to criticize wars in such stories is nothing more than a fool’s errand.

This is a problem that I have seen with not only One Piece, but also Naruto in its current form. If one wishes to make a point, it’s best to ensure that both the medium and execution suit said point well. Otherwise one simply proves Truffaut right.

One of the more prominent themes of the manga as it went on is the futility and heavy costs of war. The use of bloodline users in conflicts caused reprisals among the populace of the Land of Water. A desire to gain an edge in military strength led to the creation of village jinchuriki, the potential costs of which are best illustrated in the character of Gaara. Konoha’s victory against the Sound and Sand was not without its costs. Tsunade wound up losing the people she loved—her grandfather, great uncle, brother, and lover—over the course of multiple Shinobi World Wars. Kakashi’s gaiden illustrated this theme up close when it showed readers the tragedy behind Kakashi’s current philosophy and Sharingan. Itachi became obsessed with preserving peace at all costs due to being traumatized by the human costs of battle. Nagato’s entire life was defined by the effects war had on him. Aside from a few individuals, much of the political maneuvering in the story has involved disparate attempts to preserve the peace, often in a harsh manner. The price of war has had its influence on various characters and events, and for this heavy a theme to be tackled in a shonen battle manga of all things would suggest that the climactic war arc continue this pattern in some shape or form (Nagato had even suggested this in his final monologue prior to his death, warning Naruto about war’s costs, and how this might affect a generation that had grown up in times of peace).

So when Kishimoto proceeded to for the most part toss this theme aside, it was a slap in the face. The depiction of the war was far from the hell that Kishimoto continually made such conflicts out to be. Instead of focusing on the costs, readers were instead been treated to scenes of heroism and side characters finally getting a chance to shine. I’m sorry, but it’s hard to consider the tragic consequences of war when a character who hasn’t had significant panel time in years, if ever, is finally doing something awesome. Instead of focusing on how war has and will affect the people involved, we instead were treated to its positive side effects, namely the unification of previously warring peoples against a common foe. Instead of relating the war to the thematic conflict against old hatreds (and how said hatreds beget new ones), there was nothing of actual substance other than half-hearted attempts to connect Uchiha Madara and Kaguya with a fantastical history that was hard for anyone to relate to and move past. The enemy was made up of a bunch of synthetic plant men lacking any depth other than acting as Tobi’s personal drones, zombified legends of the past that had little to contribute to the theme, and a bunch of all-out villains.

Visible injuries were at a minimum. At best, you might see a bleeding guy (and it’s almost always a guy) lying on the ground and covered in marks and dust. What’s so horrifying about that?

And there was little in the way of meaningful collateral damage. Every battle took place on an untamed piece of land free of any civilians. As soon as the good guys were victorious, the residents of the affected countries probably went right back to business. Remember when Pain detailed how the people of Amegakure were stuck in a warzone because the great nations didn’t want to fight on their own home territory? Yeah, apparently this little issue would have been too heavy for the final battle against evil. I mean, it’s not like the emotional core of the story revolved less around epic fights than it did the lives of characters and how they shaped, and were in turn shaped by the environment they grew up in.

Just because it’s shonen is not an excuse for Kishimoto to suddenly wimp out when it comes to exploring one of his story’s long running themes. He didn’t have to be as graphic as the examples given, but he could have at least given us something. Because just about anything would have been more than what we actually got.

I believe it’s safe to say that Kishimoto really dropped the ball on this particular matter, unless you want to make the argument that he made war seem less appealing to his audience by making it boring as hell. In which case, he succeeded admirably; as I doubt the impressionable young men and women reading this manga over in Japan would want to start a war knowing just how boring it would be.

 
Things That Sucked: A Lack of Pathos
After the end of the first day of fighting, Kishimoto decided to engage in more telling rather than showing—one that connects to my earlier point about the issue with exploring the high cost of war in a manga like Naruto. In this case, after a harsh series of opening battles, the plot slowed down a bit so as to give us the details on just what the numbers were. Unfortunately, due to a lack of emotional connection with the events going on, and by extension a lack of genuine tension, this moment fell flat. What makes it worse is the absurd number of casualties, which is cartoonish in its extravagance. It seems to suggest the high command of each side is pretty damn incompetent in matters of basic military strategy. I guess I could understand the huge losses for the villains, as we were consistently shown a number of Zetsu getting themselves killed onscreen as the resurrected ninja were sealed one by one. Unfortunately, because we didn’t get all that much of the same for the good guys save for Tobi’s rampage, it was hard to really connect the day’s events with the high number of casualties.

To do such a thing right means giving the audience an emotional connection with the events to which they are witness. Take that series of moments at the end of the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan. The contrast between the loud and chaotic battle scenes and the melancholy and quiet of the closing moments of that opening allows the tragedy of the entire thing sink into the viewers’ heads. If you haven’t seen that film, then what about that moment in say, the last Rambo (2008), which, after a gory but surprisingly awesome battle sequence, slows down to show the costs of the good guys’ victory, be it the loss of innocence, the loss of friends, or even the realization that in order to protect what is good, deeds which could be construed as evil must sometimes be committed.

For a comics based example, one can even look to—SPOILER ALERT: SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED—that particular scene in Watchmen, after Veidt successfully launches his strike on New York. Several pages are devoted not only to the “alien” creature that caused the massive destruction, but also to illustrating the carnage resulting from its arrival. Background characters that the reader has had a chance to form some attachment to are left killed off in the back and foreground of the scene. It’s simultaneously depressing, shocking, and horrific in its scale.

Now, bringing up the numbers by itself isn’t entirely or even necessarily a bad thing. In many a war story, after the chaos of the battle comes to an end onscreen, what is sometimes done is that narration or some sort of text is used to inform the audience of the actual number of casualties. Done right, this can lend an even greater degree of emotion to a story. Unfortunately, Kishimoto failed in this regard.

For a manga based example, I’ll bring up a certain moment in the manga Tokyo ESP (SPOILER ALERT: SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED). In that manga, the villains successfully manage to drop a ship (a tanker to be precise) in the middle of a city. Unlike most other stories in the genre, the effects of this are made clear. Many panels (and by extension a few pages) are devoted to illustrating the scale of the damage done by the attack. The following chapters go further by not only bringing up the statistics on the actual number of casualties, but also the fallout from the attack, be it political, social, or even on a more personal level.

Kishimoto tried to add a human element to the mostly unnamed and undeveloped members of the Allied forces, but unfortunately, such attempts fell flat for the most part. First of all, aside from Kankuro, Sai, Kakashi and Team Ten, much of the focus was on side characters with little detail to them. As a result, it was hard feeling anything about their situations.

Darui and Mifune had only been recently introduced, and as a result, were mostly unknown quantities. Atsui was a dumbass on par with Jar Jar Binks who I didn’t really mind seeing getting sealed away, while Samui was such a nonentity that I didn’t really give a shit what happened to her. Also, there was that guy who got fodderized by that bakuton user.

Tajiki’s death didn’t mean spit to the audience simply because he had been introduced only to die at that very moment. Because of that, readers could not connect to either him or his friend. I know Kishimoto wanted to show that the story is so much bigger than the named characters it focuses on, unfortunately, because characters like Taijki and his friend are given exactly zero depth or detail, it becomes impossible to develop any empathy for them.

Anyway, due to this lack of pathos, the war up to this point had failed to communicate the idea that war is hellish, tragic, and wasteful.

 
Things That Sucked: Naruto Goes All Kung Fu Jesus on Us
So starting the first night of war, the Zetsu army finally began fighting smart and decided to engage the enemy by using their ability to replicate the appearance and chakras of those they had come into contact with. In doing so, they were able to sneak around and attack the good guys while in their midst. You know, like real ninjas would.

Unfortunately, Kishimoto never really made the Zetsu seem as big a threat as they should have. While it was nice that we got one whole chapter of Zetsu being sneaky, after that the number of Zetsu attacks shown dropped tremendously, to the point where the threat of them was all but forgotten. As a result, the suspense that should have been built up vanished, and we were left with a bunch of plant men doing shit off-panel.

Zetsu appeared even less impressive once Naruto entered the battlefield and starting offing these guys like it was going out of style. I know that Naruto was supposed to look really impressive there, but considering how easy it appeared for any random good guy to kill a Zetsu, Naruto’s actions looked more like overkill than anything, even if his sensory abilities were a godsend.

We then got a hope spot in the form of Itachi and Nagato confronting Naruto and Bee. Naturally, everyone was hyped. And naturally, with Kishimoto being Kishimoto, the fight was handled quickly and in a manner most unsatisfying. That is all I will say about it.

Anyway, what made this part of the story suck was just how well it illustrated just how relatively unimportant all the side characters became in Part II. In Part I, there was a sense that Naruto’s story was but one important part of a much larger world, as while his actions held great influence over the course of things, they were still occurring within the context of something much greater. When Suna and Oto invaded Konoha, Naruto’s actions helped ensure that Suna’s trump card failed to wreak too much havoc, while other characters, particularly Sarutobi, ensured that the Leaf would triumph. During the last arc of Part I, the primary source of tension was Naruto’s bond with Sasuke, and their inevitable clash. However, what added to this was the role played by each of Naruto’s team mates and the Sand Siblings in allowing him to get that far.

Here, we just had Naruto vow to fix everything himself before he proceeded to almost singlehandedly fuck up Tobi’s army and a bunch of undead ninja. It made what the side characters had done up to that point seem utterly insignificant and pointless, and also made a bunch of his opponents look bad, as they were taken out by shadow clones, regardless of whether or not they were Zetsu or resurrected ninja. Granted shadow clones are just as capable as the original, albeit with a limited chakra supply, but even so, it left a bad taste in my mouth to see a legendary ninja from ages past get taken down by mere shadow clones.

 
Things That Rocked: Kicking It Old School

Things that Failed to Rock: Gaara’s Dad: Massive Disappointment or Massive Disappointment?
I’m not particularly fond of this guy, whether in terms of his character, how he interacted with Gaara, or the contents of his fight.

The dude was an asshole, but we knew that since we first learned Gaara’s history. What was underwhelming about the guy though was his lack of a personality, especially compared to the larger than life figures who accompanied him during the war. I understand that the importance of his appearance here had to do with his interactions with Gaara, but even then, aside from his patriotism and regret, there was so little to his character that I couldn’t really get much of an impression from the man.

I also didn’t care much for the revelations shown in his flashbacks, particularly the role he played in Yashamaru’s demise. Gaara’s backstory was meant to be one of the single most tragic things in the series, and this tragedy served to not only set him up as a foil to Naruto, but to also lend a theme to his own character arc, namely the pursuit and attainment of love by a person whose life up to that point had been devoid of it. In order to develop as a human being, he had to overcome his loveless background and face the future with the intent of reaching out instead of engaging in solipsistic destruction. This constructive approach was the new way in which he was then able to define his existence through his bonds rather than the indeterminate self he failed to recognize in his dying moments, was best exemplified in the gathering of Sand nin after his resurrection early in Part II.

To reveal that Gaara was loved by both his mother and his uncle (at least it seems so) felt like a copout, and needlessly sentimental (and it made the deceased Kazekage seem like an even bigger jackass than he had to be considering how poorly he was already viewed). Had his father’s acknowledgment been the main idea here, I wouldn’t have minded in the least, as it would have been enough to prove that Gaara was now a figure worthy of being treated as a person, and not the failure of a monster his father had deemed him.

The fight between the former Kazekage and Gaara was also rather underwhelming, as it was basically two stationary fighters manipulating particles of sand/gold. Not only that, but the fight went by quickly and without much fanfare, making the former Kazekage a rather lackluster threat physically speaking.

Things that Were Meh: Ma-Mi-Mu
Mu was an improvement over the Fourth Kazekage, although that is not really saying much. While he was far less memorable than the two kage who have yet to be discussed, he at least wasn’t a total waste of space.

I still don’t see why Ohnoki had to be the one to confront Mu. While I could understand the whole master-student thing that they had going on, the reasoning behind the matchup still doesn’t quite work. Ohnoki claimed that only a fellow jinton user could confront Mu, but why is that? Gaara was able to help him just fine, and Naruto didn’t have too much difficulty slamming a giant ball of chakra into the guy’s torso. It wasn’t like Mu had unique abilities that could only be countered by Ohnoki, save for knowledge of his fighting style.

While Mu didn’t have much of a personality, and he didn’t get all that much of a chance to do anything onscreen save for summoning Madara and giving minor side characters something to do, he was still an improvement over Gaara’s dad, even if slight.

Things that Rocked: I’m the Raikage, Bitch!
After the less than impressive performances of the previous two kage, something had to give. The two remaining guys had less of a connection to the characters fighting and had been caught in Gaara’s sand, something that had been avoided by Mu and briefly countered by the Fourth Kazekage. In order to make up for this disappointing early going, the they needed to put on a strong showing. They didn’t disappoint.

The Sandaime Raikage, A’s father, was basically the most over the top character to ever come out of Kumogakure. And that is saying something considering just how over the top major characters from Kumo seem to be. It’s like their village’s hat. Konoha is full of noble good guys or douchey villains. Kiri is full of badasses. Suna is made up of no-nonsense pros. Iwa has fodder (even their kages get beaten up to show how tough someone is). And Kumo is crazy awesome.

The guy died after fighting an army comprising of what was likely the majority of Iwagakure’s military forces for three days. By himself. His flesh was like steel. His blood like iron. He somehow managed to get the Hachibi to acknowledge him in order to seal it into a pot every single time it went nuts. Black lightning was supposedly his thing, even if he never used it during the war. He only needed a finger to ruin your day. And the only thing that could hurt him was himself.

Holy shit.

The guy was less of a character than he was just a plain old folk hero come to life.
And sometimes, in a series that often tried (and failed) to present walking tanks as actual characters, seeing a walking tank who was clearly presented as nothing more was a nice change. I didn’t need to see any personality from the Third Raikage to like him, because he didn’t really have any. All I needed was for him to kick ass and take names. And that he did.

Things that Rocked: Trololololol
I’ll be honest here. I fucking loved the Second Mizukage. In what little screen time he had, he not only was more amusing than his fellow kage, but among the various Mizukages revealed, he was by far the most memorable. I like the character so much that I was tempted to simply post a collage of his best moments in lieu of writing an entry out.

Aside from being the single most entertaining new character introduced during the war, he also added a certain lightness that actually brightened things up quite a bit in an otherwise grim (or at least it was supposed to be grim) situation. Comedy has never been one of Kishimoto’s strengths, and attempts at humor in Naruto have been more miss than hit for as long as the manga has been running. I’ve cringed at more than a few jokes, with the armadillo dick being a particular low point for myself. Seeing the Mizukage make all sorts of comments and expressions that actually got a chuckle out of me was a breath of fresh air. Even when cornered in a pyramid made of sand, his only response was to turn it into a game of whack-a-mole.

It was also good to see an effective genjutsu user who wasn’t an Uchiha, with the presentation of the giant clam summon (granted, the mythology behind it makes sense) adding more ludicrousness to what was already an odd character.

Even the name of his trump card was humorous: I believe (I might be wrong though) “Jokey Boy” is the phonetic pronunciation, and the bizarre physics behind the jutsu was just the cherry on top of what was simultaneously an impressive, yet very strange looking technique.

So of the four resurrected kage, we got one miss, one so-so effort, and two memorable characters. While things started off poorly with Gaara’s dad and Mu’s mostly unseen (no pun intended) efforts, the other two undead ninja more than made up for it, easily making their sequences some of the best parts of the entire war arc.

 
Things That Sucked: Feeling No Tension
To call Bleach’s Winter War one-sided is to state the obvious. Part of the reason the arc is so maligned has to do with the lack of suspense that was clear from the start of that so called “war.” Tite Kubo started things off poorly by setting a precedent with his opening battles, namely having side characters win their battles with no major losses. This continued throughout the arc as none of the good guys died while the enemy army was whittled down to just Aizen and Gin. Aizen then proceeded to whoop ass in the most obnoxious of ways, and even then failed to kill anyone fighting for the good guys. As a result, by the time the climax of that arc came around, there was little tension in the proceedings, as there was no sense of peril whatsoever, considering that all the good guys needed was a little healing while the villains were down to one.

The Fourth Ninja World War proceeded in a similar manner. There was zero dramatic tension to speak of. As with the Bleach example, none of the losses suffered by the Alliance were all that significant to the readers. Remember the lack of pathos I discusssed? Yeah, there’s your first problem right there.

If at least a couple of characters that the readers cared about prior to this war were at serious risk from a dramatic standpoint, or at least suffered some sort of debilitation, then maybe this wouldn’t be a problem. Even fucking Bleach had good guys losing limbs. Here, the only injuries were maybe some superficial cuts and bruises.

Even when the Zetsu were behaving like ninja, we never saw them as a genuine threat to named characters. In open battle they were basically fodder to be mowed down by the thousands, and those people they did kill we had known only for a couple of panels, tops. Judging from the establishing shots of the medic compound, Kishimoto wanted to suggest the paranoid atmosphere as doppelgangers killed off good guys, but was mostly left off-screen for extended periods, removing any suspense that might have been felt.

A good battle sequence has tension. Remember the battle of Yavin in Star Wars? One by one Luke’s fellow rebels were taken out of the battle, and the newcomer to these events so much greater in scale than he could previously imagine was now left in the position of having to save the day. Those moments where Luke decides to trust in the force while Vader centers his targeting computer on the kid’s fighter are fraught with the purest of tension. If Luke fails, then all the Rebels are dead. There’s an emotional connection between the viewer, Luke, and the rest of the characters watching things from the Rebel base. We care about the characters at risk and genuinely worry about what might happen to them.

And because of this relative lack of tension in Naruto, instead of feeling emotionally invested in what was going on and eagerly anticipating the next chapter, I was simply counting the number of chapters until the war would reach its climax.

 
Conclusion
This arc served as payoff for some of Kishimoto’s blunders throughout the story. First of all, by attempting to tackle the costs of war, the author found himself having to deal with the problem of communicating such a message in a series was centered around glorious combat.  Second was the issue of not giving proper time to his supporting cast, which resulted in an arc that failed in many respects to make readers care about what was going on. Third was his tendency to sacrifice characterization for the sake of the plot, which in turn led to what should have been Chōji’s moment turning into a farce.

Naruto had become visibly poorly written, although if there was any comfort to take from this arc, it was that at least the series was seemingly nearing its end. Or so readers thought.

Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: The Fourth Shinobi World War: Countdown Arc

After a string of disappointing turns in the plot, the story finally entered its final act with the lead-up to the Fourth Shinobi World War. Surprisingly enough, it was not as bad as what had come before it entirely. Now that’s not to say it was good, after all, given what faint praise the previous sentence was. But there was more to like here than in previous arcs.

 
Things that Sucked: The Falls of Truth
This could have been something interesting, but as with a lot of other interesting concepts in the manga, the actual execution left a lot to be desired. First of all, despite seemingly serving as a means by which Naruto could confront and overcome the darkness within himself, it failed to actually do that, as soon became evident when Naruto confronted the fox (see below), as well as later on when our main character would once again find himself on the verge of succumbing to despair. Furthermore, because such inner conflicts would be revisited again, they only served to make this particular part feel redundant and mostly pointless in hindsight.

Second of all, the parts about making peace with oneself were handled rather clumsily and shallowly. Naruto was by his very nature a fascinating character to analyze by that point in time. While happy-go-lucky on the outside, his own history and inner thoughts revealed great insecurity and lingering feelings of resentment despite the upturn his life had taken in recent years. This could have been a great opportunity to really look at the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of Naruto, to see just who he had been and who he had become from a new angle as he cemented his transition from unpolished protagonist to a hero worthy of his own tale.

Instead, readers were barely given anything, and the resolution to the whole thing, while somewhat understandable, just came off as anticlimactic enough that it seemed even the author had little interest in the whole exercise (it didn’t help that the brief digression with Motoi, while shedding some light on Kumogakure and Killer B, didn’t feel as properly fleshed out as it could have).

 
Things that Sucked: Showdown with the Fox
This is something that really should not have been so disappointing given its seeming importance to the story. Expectations were that aside from his rivalry with Sasuke and a showdown with whoever the main villain was supposed to be, Naruto’s greatest conflict was with the demon fox sealed inside him. The fox not only represented the source of Naruto’s own troubled history, but also acted as a metaphor for his inner darkness that needed to be overcome in order to come out of the experience a stronger person. A being of what appeared to be pure malice (until later events softened him up), the fox was Naruto’s Shadow, a malevolent beast that personified the negative hidden parts of his personality, as well as what the rest of the village had originally believed him to be. My flowery language aside, this was a confrontation that deserved to be treated with the proper gravitas and time. As you might have guessed by now, it was not.

First of all, why was it portrayed in such a banal manner? While the idea of a tug-of-war between chakras was interesting and made sense, the rest of the confrontation took the form of a standard physical confrontation. This makes little sense given that this battle was a mental and spiritual one between chakras, meaning that the limits of the body should not have applied here. In fact, if anything, Kishimoto missed out on a chance to really go nuts with the abstract imagery, as neither character should have been tied down to anything other than their own mental and spiritual limits. Bringing in natural energy (given its emphasis on serenity with the world around oneself) to serve as a thematic counterbalance to Kurama (given his own emphasis on internal chaos) made a lot of sense. Taijutsu, shadow clones, and jumping around like one would in the physical world? Not so much.

Second, why was Naruto’s opponent, the demon fox himself, so unimpressive? While I get that Naruto had become stronger over the course of the series, this was supposedly a being that at less than its full power had been able to break free from Pain’s technique (and that is not taking into account the various statements made throughout the manga about its overwhelming potential). One might have expected this battle to have been less about raw power, due to Naruto supposedly being at a massive disadvantage there, than about one’s will and other intangible factors. Instead, Naruto, after some relatively minor hiccups, manages to best it in a ‘physical’ match before beginning to succumb to the negative emotions it sends his way.

Third, it failed to really do much to challenge Naruto as a character. The battle at one point sees Naruto being confronted by the hatred of both the fox and its victims, which in itself could have served as an opportunity to portray a battle of wills (wherein a future leader and hero should find a way to overcome such a heavy weight and shoulder the burdens of his position), but instead came off as illustrating that Naruto was in the end unable to truly shoulder his own inner darkness. It was supposed to illustrate the importance of bonds, I understand, but at the same time he comes off as lacking in the inner strength that defines a hero. In fact, despite seemingly overcoming this challenge, he would again falter down the line (in fact, this challenge itself comes after he’d seemingly cleared his head regarding the Sasuke question), so once again, this moment of growth feels unjustified. The fact that it immediately followed a similar internal battle against what was supposed to be Naruto’s own inner darkness also made the whole thing feel redundant.

 
Things that Rocked: Kushina
Some years ago, on a rainy evening, I saw that the spoilers for the then-upcoming chapter had been released. I clicked the link, and lo and behold, there was a spoiler image.

No text.

Just frigging Kushina.

And I was fucking ecstatic. Among all the remaining mysteries of the story at that time, the issue of Kushina tended to weigh heavily on me. It wasn’t a matter of how this might relate to the overall plot or the Sage. What mattered to me was that any revelations regarding her would be revelations regarding Naruto and the Kyubi attack that kicked off the story.

And it was so central to the main character’s potential development and fleshing out that I cared a lot about whatever we might get.

So where was I?

Oh yeah, I was fucking ecstatic.

I actually hopped up from my seat and thought, “holy shit, Kushina!”

Even with my continually wavering interest in the manga’s going-ons, this actually managed to get me excited. I actually couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

And for the most part, I wasn’t that disappointed. Yeah granted it was a bit odd that she was never brought up until over 300 chapters into the story, or that her clan and its symbol were never even hinted as being so important until she became an actual character. And yeah, I’m a bit annoyed that despite Naruto taking after her personality and brawling style of combat, she was relegated to being a damsel in distress for Minato to rescue twice in flashbacks.

But that crap aside, I actually liked her.

Despite appearing for only a few chapters in the grand context of the story, she actually came off as one of the better female characters. In fact, I find the “parallels” that shippers used to compare Sakura and Hinata to her a bit insulting, given that one’s the example of how not to write a female lead, and the other is the very epitome of a shallow love interest.

She had spirit. She had a spine. She had a personality. She overcame so much adversity only to lose everything on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life. And most importantly, for me at least, she was likeable. I actually looked forward to seeing chapters where she played a part. And that’s saying something considering the usual state of female characters in the story.

Of all the supporting characters introduced in Part II that weren’t villains, Kushina might actually be one of my favorites. And I mean that in the best way.

 
Things that Bugged Me: The Flashback and Kishimoto
Now this doesn’t have to do with the story itself entirely, but rather with some comments made by the author (although keep in mind that the above quote is translated, and one also has to consider just how accurate any translation is, along with the fact that quoted texts might themselves fail to capture the nuance of a person’s actual comments).

Anyway, at one point in 2012, Kishimoto gave an interview in which he said the following:

I was initially going to make the flashback about Naruto’s parents very short. But learning about his parents became crucial so that Naruto could become aware of his identity. Though his parents were no longer in this world, they were able to use their chakra to tell Naruto how they felt about him. His parents sealed the Nine-Tailed Fox inside of him to bring peace to the world. They believed in him so strongly that they thought he would be able to handle the responsibility.

Read that first sentence there. Apparently, the author himself wanted to make the flashback “very short.” The flashback depicting the events brought up at the very beginning of the story. The events that provide the background to the most important part of the main character’s history. The author wanted to make this very important history lesson very short.

Now, if I could ask Kishimoto one question about this, I would ask him the following: what the fuck is wrong with you?

This very important flashback was something you wanted to make very short, but it’s okay for you to keep bringing up flashbacks to the Uchiha massacre? I mean, holy shit, is that a sign of the author losing focus of what was truly important in his own story or what? The fucking deuteragonist’s history and family gets more prominence and effort from the author himself.

This right here might actually explain a lot about just how the story fell so far.

 
Things that Bugged Me: Where Were the Uchiha?
Really, where were the Uchiha during the flashback? It was even given some attention through Itachi’s comment about his parents being gone, and yet there was never any actual follow-up in the story itself.

 
Things That Sucked: Plotting at the Expense of Characterization

“Idiot plot: A plot that requires all the characters to be idiots. If they weren’t, they’d immediately figure out everything and the movie would be over.”
Roger Ebert

A bad habit that Kishimoto developed over the years was his tendency to sacrifice his characters for the sake of advancing the plot. What this means is that that if Kishimoto needed something to happen, he would have a character act in a manner that might not necessarily fit their established personality in order to move things along as he desired.

A notable set of examples lies in the usage of Naruto’s peers over the course of Part II. One example that particularly stands out to me at least, is that between Lee and Gaara. In Part I, both wind up fighting each other at the Chunin Exams, with Gaara putting Lee’s future as a ninja at risk, while Lee’s relationship with Guy clearly affects the future Kazekage. Later, when the two meet again, there’s clearly an awkwardness that reflects the continuity in their interactions. Later however, when they’re within a few feet of each other in the first arc of Part II, we get nothing. Naruto is the one who does all the bonding with Gaara (granted, he was the most important person there when it came to understanding him), but still, you would think that Lee and the Kazekage would each take a moment to acknowledge the other.

Regardless, what happens is that these side characters with their intriguing personalities are reduced to moving props. Remember when Lee was a so-called loser determined to prove his doubters wrong? Or when Hinata’s characterization involved something other than her crush on Naruto? Or perhaps you might recall Sakura’s sudden turn toward stupidity during the previous arc. In order to make the meeting with the original members of Team 7 happen, Kishimoto needed a catalyst for putting all these characters in one place. He did this by having Sakura come up with a moronic plan to take out Sasuke, and had her behave in a manner that was contrary to how she had been developed prior to that point.

Anyway, if there is one that really gets on my nerves every time I so much as see an image of the characters involved, it’s Minato’s decision-making on the night of Tobi’s attack. To be more precise, I’m stumped at the insane troll logic involved in Minato’s decision to use the Death God Sealing jutsu.

Had said jutsu been the only way to seal Kurama into Naruto, I wouldn’t have had any problems with it. The problem is that it had been made clear that there are other ways of sealing biju into humans that aren’t nearly as lethal to the caster.

And yet Minato decides to use the jutsu anyway, because he wants Kushina to have an opportunity to see her son in the future. Furthermore, he decides to leave his infant son without parents and susceptible to social ostracism, further justifying this decision by saying that her guidance is not only something a mother can provide, but also will prove useful in helping Naruto tame his inner biju.

While this seemingly works out from an in-story standpoint, it fails hard if you take a moment to think about it on even the most basic level.

First of all, he’s still leaving his son without parental guidance and susceptible to that social ostracism I mentioned earlier. I mean, it’s not like a person has a much better chance of controlling their biju if they’re emotionally sta—oh.

Second of all, it reveals Minato for what he is, an immature pussy of a man. I’m sorry, but sacrificing yourself just so your wife can do what you as a man with your dangly bits cannot? Fuck you. Fuck you in your androgynous face, you selfish fuck. I’m sorry, but if there’s anything that really pisses me off here, it’s how crappy a father Minato was. It’s not even funny how much this pissed me off when I first read this. Oh I’m a man; I can’t possibly give my son the special attention he needs. Better he be an orphan who meets his long dead parents once he gets into big trouble with the monster sealed into him rather than some relatively well adjusted kid who has at least one person who cares for him.

Third, it shows that Minato was a total fuck-up as the village’s political leader. I mean, there’s a guy out there who’s potentially an international threat, and yet you kill yourself and all living witnesses to that terrorist’s actions, without leaving a message or anything. No, you go and kill yourself, leaving your kid to grow up lonely and emotionally unstable, all the while granting that guy who may or may not be Uchiha Madara the perfect opportunity to go on doing his thing.

Good thinking there, dumbass.

So yeah, long story short, fuck sacrificing your characters and their intelligence for the sake of making your idiot plot work. Because otherwise you write shit like what I just outlined above.

 
Things That Sucked: Konan
Konan was, until her introduction, one of the more mysterious members of the Akatsuki. When we did meet her for the first time, she was a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Unfortunately, that was about the extent of her character, as it turned out.

She was basically the Sakura of the Rain Trio, acting less as her own person and being more of a supporter of her team, being in love with one of her fellow team members, and being an utter disappointment.

Even when given the chance to shine, Konan was not much of a character, as everything about her was based around supporting her two boys. We never got much of about her own personal life (aside from the origami hobby), her other goals, or even her personality.

Her battle against Tobi was, to put it kindly, filler. I shit you not, that was filler.

Don’t believe me? Read it again.

We had here a character with little plot relevance outside of Nagato, although she might have foreshadowed having Amegakure support Naruto in the future.

No wait, nothing ever came out of that.

Wait, she promised to protect Nagato’s eyes at all-

Oh.

Her plot relevance was zero. Since the village of Amegakure ceased to be of any relevance after her death, Konan may have been the single most pointless character in the story.

If you took her out of the story, nothing would change. Tobi would have the Rinnegan and Amegakure would still be shunted off to the side. Hell, if she got killed off during Nagato’s flashback, it probably wouldn’t have really changed the amount of angst he had in the present day all that much.

In a way then, it’s rather fitting that she is meant to be Sakura’s dark counterpart. If neither existed, the story wouldn’t change much. It might actually be better.

At least she was hot.

 
Things that Bugged Me: Manda II
During this arc, the readers learn that Kabuto managed to create his own Manda, with his own improvements to what the original had to offer, only for the summon to never appear in the story after this one appearance. Why even introduce the character into the story then?

 
Things That Rocked: Get Hype
If there is one thing I will admit Kishimoto does well, it’s hyping things up. The lead-up to the invasion of Konoha by Oto and Suna managed to draw out the tension the reader felt as they came to realize that the stakes went beyond a mere promotion to what could potentially become an all-out war. Once Orochimaru made his intentions clear, the focus shifted from Team 7’s attempts at passing the exam to watching as the denizens of each village responded to the threat of the Suna-Oto alliance. Naturally, when Sasuke and Gaara’s fight was finally interrupted, it was genuinely exciting, as all these various plot threads brought up during the arc finally were placed front and center and the tension brought to a fever pitch. The first time I read that chapter, I was able to envision it animated (I never did watch that part of the Naruto anime), and could actually see how a director might edit the various scenes together.

Kishimoto would replicate this effect in his build up toward the Fourth Ninja World War. After gathering all five village leaders together in one room, he proceeded to have Tobi wage war on them, necessitating preparations for battle on the part of all the parties involved. As with the earlier Chunin Exams Arc, revelations of every shape and size occurred, with the standouts being the true purpose of Zetsu and Kabuto’s return to relevance.

Given Tobi’s actions at the summit it had become clear that in order for him to fight his little war, he would need an army. The Akatsuki had been severely weakened, and by the time the war had started, there were only two living members. Furthermore, the organization had not been shown to have had all that many employees other than the core group (it says something that one of its tougher fighters acted as their accountant), and it appeared to lack the resources, troops, and connections that Pain had earlier made clear were necessary for the group to properly take over the world (we can thank Pain and Sasuke for catching the major villages’ attention).

Previously, Zetsu had been an undefined character, acting mostly as a bagman and spy among the Akatsuki, with it later becoming clear that he was the closest thing Tobi had to a right hand man. But with the shinobi world on the verge of war, Tobi revealed his resourcefulness, having created an army of white Zetsu clones, which, while not the greatest of fighters, were still numerous enough to swarm over the Allied Forces.

Meanwhile, Kabuto did something that appears to be relatively uncommon for villains who are not involved in the story for extended periods. He actually engaged in a little self-improvement, and in the process, went from being Kakashi’s match in battle to one of the major players in the game, with several stolen bloodline techniques, Sage Mode, improved versions of Orochimaru’s jutsu, and a small army of undead legends. To say that he’d suddenly become a dark horse candidate for the position of Big Bad was an understatement. It also helped that he was not born a descendent of the Sage, giving the villains some variety.

Meanwhile, the good guys gathered their forces in Kumogakure, and I’d be lying if I said that shots of commanders overseeing an entire army in military formation from a high vantage point don’t tend to impress me.

So yeah, color me impressed by the build up to the war.

 
Conclusion
This prelude to war led to an arc that, while not all bad, could best be described as a dead cat bounce. Although certainly an improvement on what had come beforehand, there were too many signs of it not really boding well for the future. The writing was often clumsy and the characters handled poorly. Despite that, there were things about it I did like, namely Kushina and the buildup to the actual war itself. All in all, it was a minor respite from the utter dreck that the manga was by this point in time.

Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: The Five Kage Summit Arc

As if the story couldn’t get any worse, it somehow managed to do so during the Five Kage Summit Arc, which started promisingly enough only to fall victim to many of the same issues that had plagued previous arcs. It really shouldn’t have turned out this way. The world was finally getting expanded upon in a big way with greater exposure to the other major hidden villages, and the villains seemed to finally be open to revealing their grand master plans. Not only that, but Naruto was finally able to come to a decision about how he was going to approach the matter of Sasuke. If anything, it should have been a seminal arc, the final part of the story’s second act. Instead, it was nothing but more of the same old junk.

 
Things that Bugged Me: It’s a Small World After All
It was this arc that, in spite of its attempts to expand the world of Naruto, only started to make it feel a lot smaller in more ways than one. First of all, it felt overly convenient that everyone was somehow within the same general area. I could understand the the main stars of the arc needing to be within a certain proximity of one another, but was the same necessary for Killer B and his music teacher? What were the chances that these characters would just so happen to be in that region despite B not being directly involved in the whole summit?

Then there is the matter of travel time. Remember how it took the characters several days just to get around between Konoha, Suna, and the Land of Rivers and how that played into a race against time to rescue Gaara? Remember the brief travel montage that followed a modified Team 7 spending a night at an inn while on the way to meet with Sasori’s inside man? During this arc, there was an early attempt at creating a sense of scale by showing, to some extent, the different amounts of time required for each village’s representatives to reach the meeting place. Unfortunately, that was thrown out the window for the rest of the arc, most obviously when seeing how quickly Sakura managed to track down and reach Sasuke (and how easy it was for Kakashi and Naruto to follow).

Another issue was how the world-building didn’t really mean anything. Yeah, we got a little bit of insight into how other villages ticked, but for the most part, that insight failed to go anywhere. Furthermore, despite the Land of Iron suddenly being introduced as a neutral site capable of giving even the reigning superpowers trouble (on top of being an entire country of samurai, to contrast with the series’ focus on ninja), none of the characters from there really did anything to stand out, with most of them being faceless masses for everyone else to mow down.

 
Things that Sucked: The Assassination of Haruno Sakura’s Character by the Author Kishimoto Masashi
For a change of pace, let’s try to approach this particular gripe from a different angle than the usual.

Kishimoto: Hey, Sakura!

Sakura: Yes, Kishimoto?

Kishimoto: I’m about to make you relevant again! Just wait for your cue.

Sakura: Yay! I haven’t had a chance to shine in about 200 chapters! Will I get a fight scene?

Omoi and Karui enter. Omoi jump kicks Sakura in the face.

Karui: Hey! Aren’t you the chick with a crush on that Sasuke guy?! Well, he’s now working with the Akatsuki! Just last week he attacked several Kumo citizens, captured my master, and wore a shirt with a popped collar! Just a head’s up! BTW, what do you see in that guy?!

Karui and Omoi leave. Sakura cries. Sai enters.

Sai: Hey, Sakura? You know that romance subplot you’re a part of? Well, you’re really going to hate this.

Sakura: What? Why?

Sai: You’ll see in a moment. But anyway, you realize that Naruto has feelings for you?

Sakura: OMG, I did not realize such a thing despite the fact that my team mate, who I work with almost every day, is not the least bit subtle about his interest in me.

Sai: Also, I’m here to remind you that for someone who promised to work with Naruto to save Sasuke, you’ve been awfully willing to let him shoulder the burden. Seriously, what have you done lately? BTW, it gets worse for your character.

Sakura cries some more.

Sakura: Oh God, am I crying again? As if my haters don’t have enough of that to mock me till Doomsday! Tell me it gets better for me throughout this arc!

Sai: …

Shikamaru enters.

Shikamaru: Hey, we’ve all decided that since Sasuke has made himself an international issue, we’re all gonna kill him, m’kay? Now listen to my bloated and moronic explanation of how Kumogakure killing Sasuke would set off a cycle of revenge that could be easily rectified if you, Ino, and Naruto had the brains to realize that it would be really, really stupid to attack a Kumo nin for carrying out the law. Oh, and also, Kishimoto’s going to really shit all over your character for the rest of the arc.

Shikamaru, having made his less than stellar case, leaves.

Sakura: Oh well, time to recruit some guys to tell Naruto what’s up. All right, Sai aside, I’m going to need a couple of dumbasses to track Sasuke without being smart enough to realize I’m planning something.

Kiba and Lee enter.

Kiba, Lee: Did someone say that they needed a couple of dumbasses?

Sakura: Perfect.

Naruto enters.

Sakura: Hey, Naruto!

Naruto: Yeah?

Sakura: I need to talk to you. It involves the romance subplot sticking its head out in the most awkward manner possible.

Naruto: Oh. Fuck.

Sakura: Yeah. Anyway, I like you and don’t have feelings for Sasuke and am totally not hiding anything from you involving the childhood crush I just can’t shut up about so please believe everything I say.

Naruto: Wow, aren’t you giving Meryl Streep a run for her money?

Lee: I am now posing in a manner that matches the reaction of anyone reading this scene.

Sakura: Oh FFS, later!

Naruto leaves.

Kiba: Well, that was an awkward scene that totally pissed off a bunch of shippers. So, why are you acting like a stupid bitch, exactly?

Sakura: Because this is apparently Kishimoto’s idea of a heroine.

Kiba: That dude has issues. Hey, I’ve tracked Sasuke! And he’s with that masked Akatsuki guy. Let’s take them on despite the fact that one, Sasuke alone managed to outclass you, Naruto, Sai, and Yamato just a few arcs back, and two, that each individual Akatsuki fought so far required either a highly skilled team or elite ninja to beat!

Lee: Good idea!

Sakura: Now!

Sai: Not so fast. I know that Sakura here is planning on gassing us and taking out Sasuke by herself.

Lee: Holyshitwhatthefuck?!

Kiba: RAWR! Imma act like a dumbass despite showing a surprising amount of intelligence earlier and give Sakura an opportunity to gas us!

Sakura gasses them.

Sakura: Thank God for dumbasses.

Sai: Must…breathe in fumes…instead…of getting out…of range…despite…being a highly skilled…ROOT…operative.

Sakura: Now to deal with Sasuke. I hope Kishimoto wrote me a plan so brilliant that readers will be talking about it for years.

Sasuke enters. Karin also enters, except she’s lying on the ground covered in her own blood.

Sakura: Sasuke! Imma join up with joo now! Nothing suspicious about all this!

Sasuke: Has anyone ever told you that you’re a modern day Sarah Bernhardt? In fact, your performance is so bad that it makes me want to put a hole in your head. Eh, why not?

Sasuke, ever the critic, tries to put a hole in her head. Just as he’s about to make the arc a little less painful to read, Kakashi enters the scene like a boss.

Kakashi: Surprise, motherfucker! Damn, I’m awesome.

Karin: Damn, that guy is awesome.

Sakura: Damn, Kakashi is awesome.

Sasuke: Damn, he has a nice ass…I mean, damn you, Konoha assholes! Maniacal laugh!

Kakashi: Sakura, you’re irrelevant to the main plot right now except as walking scenery. Get over there in the kitchen and make me a sandwich. No wait, I’ve had your sandwiches, so no go on that. I’ll make my own damn sandwich. Actually, if you do want to make yourself useful, you can heal this chick here.

Sakura: Damn it, my character’s relevance can’t end here! Not like this! I know! I’ll take out Sasuke myself! That should restore some of my lost dignity.

Sakura proceeds to act like an actual fucking ninja and prepares to stab Sasuke from behind.

Kishimoto: What the? A female character looking cooler than a male in the same scene? Oh no you don’t! Flashback no jutsu!

Sakura: Fuck! It’s a bunch of flashbacks that don’t really justify the depth of whatever feelings the author says I have for Sasuke.

Sasuke: Wow, this is so sad that I think it best to put you out of your misery right here.

Sakura: Please do. You know what would really suck? If you were about to finish me off and the moment was used to portray me as a damsel in distress that needed rescu-

Naruto enters the scene with an epic save.

Naruto: EPIC SAVE!

Sakura: Well, fuck.

Naruto: Sakura, I think you should stand back and let the relevant characters speak.

Sakura: Wow, after hundreds of chapters in which it was foreshadowed that I would surpass Tsunade and play an important role in saving Sasuke, I am now expected to relegate myself to cheerleader status. What the hell does that make me?

Kishimoto: A heroine!

Sakura: Go fuck yourself.

Kakashi: Hey Sakura, hate to distract you from that conversation you’re having with the author, but we need you to humiliate yourself for the sake of some ill-timed slapstick.

Sakura: And there goes the last shred of my dignity.

 
Things that Sucked: The Pointlessness of Team Samui
In a previous arc, a trio of new characters was introduced, complete with splash panel: Team Samui. The designs for these characters were actually pretty interesting, with each of them having a defining quirk, plus they inverted the usual team structure by having two girls and a guy. In addition, it was a chance to meet young characters from outside Konoha and Sunagakure, in effect a chance at world-building on Kishimoto’s part. Here was an opportunity for Kishimoto to really do something with the world he had created, a chance to make us care about people other than those he had introduced back in Part I. He took his chance, and dropped the ball.

When next we saw Team Samui, they arrived at the village after Pain’s attack was concluded, and shortly afterward got into a minor skirmish with Team 7 where the Cloud ninja showed that they were a force to be reckoned with even compared to our main characters. Tensions were high between the two groups, especially in light of Karui’s interrogation of Naruto. They even got a color page showing the two groups facing off against each other.

So what happened with Team Samui after that? Nothing. They just faded back into the background for the most part.

Masashi Kishimoto actually managed to waste a frigging color page! And I’m saying he really wasted it. It wasn’t just a typical “what if” spread or a stylistic splash panel, it was something that hinted at future plot developments that came to nothing. You may as well have had a color spread featuring Tenten facing off against Tenchu for all the plot relevance this spread had to future events.

Things that Sucked: Again with Sasuke
Let me make clear that I don’t hate Sasuke. I believe it a point worth making before someone accuses me of being a “hater” and spamming “haters gonna hate” images (which is among the stupidest memes the Internet has ever given birth too). Seriously though, no, I do not hate Sasuke. In fact, I liked the moments in the spotlight he got in Part I, and even thought him a worthy foil to Naruto.

I just hate the way he was used during Part II, especially after going through the BS that was the Year of Sasuke. At this point, readers were for the most part tired of Sasuke’s personal subplot, which, while necessary, was overlong. So after the relatively short Pain’s Assault Arc, the Five Kage Summit Arc once again saw a huge focus on Sasuke’s activities compared to Naruto’s.

Naturally, this resulted in a bit of backlash that was made worse by some rather questionable writing decisions, namely Sasuke’s sudden shift toward darkness. After a hint at a return to his old self during Taka’s attempt to capture Killer Bee, Kishimoto suddenly had Sasuke take a turn for the worse that seemed oddly out of character given the story’s progression (it’s made worse if you read everything back to back, as this sudden development becomes all the more jarring).

It also does not help that at this point, Sasuke was the story’s emotional focal point, with characters such as Naruto and Sakura, among others (including the villains) focusing much of their motivations around him, often to the audience’s consternation. At that point, the manga may as well have been renamed “Sasuke,” and that wouldn’t have seemed out of place.

 
Things That Sucked: Danzo and Wasted Potential
During the Penis Arc, the character of Danzo and his secret organization (well, as secret as a publicly known secret among ninja can be, anyhow) ROOT, was introduced with great promise. We got hints that these guys made up the darker parts of Konoha’s military, and Danzo served to illustrate that the politics of the Hidden Leaf weren’t nearly as simple as they might have initially appeared. A war hawk even among ninja, Danzo was a mysterious figure that seemed to be involved in all sorts of shady business. Even Orochimaru didn’t seem to care much for him.

Later on, prior to leaving for Amegakure, Jiraiya reminded Tsunade about the threat ROOT was to her regime, and this seemed to suggest that the organization, along with the Akatsuki, would serve as the biggest threats to the safety of Konoha.

Not long afterward, Tobi revealed that Danzo and the other elders had been complicit in allowing the Uchiha Massacre to happen, illustrating just how harsh his methods were and adding to his implied importance in the grand scheme of things.

When Pain attacked Konoha, Danzo intentionally delayed Naruto’s return, and went underground with his followers, all in an attempt to destabilize the Leaf and discredit Tsunade. Shortly after that, it was revealed that the man had played a role in the creation of Pain, showing just how major a player he was on even an international scale. After the mess with Nagato was sorted out, Danzo was able to seize the nominal Hokage title.

Between this rise to power and the foreshadowing that had been going on, it appeared that the problem that was ROOT would be a major one in the story to come. At the very least, they had to be arc villains, right?

Wrong. Danzo made a fool of himself at the Kage Summit, and then, to add insult to injury, got himself killed by Sasuke. All without doing much to leave a lasting effect on the rest of the plot. Once Danzo is gone, the ROOT subplot goes with him. Sai just tells one of his former colleagues that ROOT is now under Kakashi’s authority (at least until Tsunade wakes from her coma), and that’s the last we hear of the group.

Danzo was, at least until his demise, a bit of a cipher. He claimed to be interested in the greater good of the village, yet his actions were exceedingly self-serving. So when his death did come, it was a genuine surprise to see that while he really was selfish, this selfishness was borne out of a sincere belief that what he was doing—the work no one else was willing to do but needed to be done anyway—was the right thing. That he needed to be in charge, because for all the hypocritical idealism displayed as fronts by some, he was the only one willing to get down to the nitty gritty.

While this is not the case in such an idealistic story, it still served to show how a seemingly villainous character might view himself as righteous, as Danzo managed to die still believing that he’d done the right thing.

Unfortunately, a while later, we learned what role Danzo played in the corruption of Kabuto, along with just how he treated those who might know too much. The problem with showing all these flashbacks at that point however, is that they might have held more meaning if the guy was still alive at the time. These little bits of the past do serve to characterize all the parties involved, but the problem with Danzo is that they make him out to be the cause of much of the sorrow in the ninja world. The problem is, he’s dead and gone.

If Kabuto’s history had come out before Danzo’s demise, it would have served to further illustrate how the man had earned his moniker, and the contrast between this and the genuinely noble intentions he’d had would have been all the greater in the eyes of the reader.

There was so much wasted potential here in the treatment of Danzo, a man who wanted to defend the village he loved the way he believed was best. He was a product of the old generation’s mindset, and his methods resembled what people tend to picture when thinking of actual ninja.

It was a great contrast with Naruto, who was the perfect example of the up and coming generation and the new idealism associated with it. And yet, despite this difference, both characters had their similarities: a desire to succeed despite being in the shadow of a more talented rival and a dream of becoming Hokage.

To have these two characters with similar mindsets that approached the same problems in different ways go against each other would have been perfect in manifesting the battle between the ninja world’s past and its present. It would not necessarily have had to be a physical battle; but rather one between ideologies that would determine the future of their world.

It was also a shame given the additional depths Danzo was implied to have as a character. Take for example his centering his fighting style around Izanagi. Given that Danzo believes in the ideal of self-sacrifice and his own failure to live up to it in the past, it is rather interesting to see him utilize a jutsu that allows him to die repeatedly. Is it a reflection of his cowardice or perhaps a means for him to get used to the idea of dying so that he might overcome what he considers his own biggest shortcoming as a ninja?
Apparently, all that stuff with Danzo and ROOT was not what the intended audience would want, so instead, we got more Uchiha focus. Thanks Kishimoto.

 
Things that Bugged Me: Tobi is a Fucking Idiot
I won’t get into the details of Tobi’s true identity, although that in itself will be covered alongside other things in a future post, so instead, I’ll just talk about how, for a so-called criminal mastermind, Tobi seemed awfully stupid when it came to making important decisions (in hindsight, Zetsu was probably the one doing all the thinking).

Issue one, alienating everyone at the summit by having Sasuke attack them and admitting that he arranged said attack. Pain calling attention to the Akatsuki by blowing up Konoha was bad enough, but things could have been salvaged to an extent if Tobi had decided to be patient and lain low for a short while. Maybe even round up some new members to capture and seal the remaining tailed beasts or fight a war against the large villages sometime in the future. Instead, Tobi decided to make himself the enemy of the world’s major powers by having an associate attack them while they were having a meeting. Any strategist worth their salt would realize the importance of making sure that your enemies don’t gang up on you.

Issue two, the Moon’s Eye Plan. As stupid as the actual Plan is (*cough* NGE rip-off *cough*), what makes it worse is the way Tobi decided to present it to the shinobi world’s leaders. First though, I’d like to take a brief detour before I get into the specifics.

During World War II, Nazi Germany was kicking ass. They managed to blitz Poland, rolled over France, and drove the English back to their own home front. Then Hitler did something that had fucked up conquerors like Charles XII and Napoleon: he invaded Russia from the west. Now, the thing to note about Soviet Russia was that things there weren’t so great there considering that Stalin was in charge. When he wasn’t repressing people, he was purging the shit out of them. Naturally, the average Russian wasn’t too keen about all this and if Hitler played his cards right, he could have worked out a strategy that would have made Russia easier for the taking. Unfortunately for Hitler, and fortunately for the rest of the world, the Nazis were bat-fuck crazy.

You see, the Nazis had this little policy of promoting the superiority of the Aryan race, and found the idea of subjugating and/or eliminating inferior peoples just peachy. Naturally, this only served to alienate most of the people they met, in effect uniting an otherwise ragtag country of hard, perpetually pissed off people against the German invaders. As a result, the Eastern front of the European side of the war played a huge role in allowing the Allies to turn the tide and win it.

Had the Nazis actually communicated a message that promised something to the people they were approaching, they would not have alienated them as badly, and perhaps not suffered the defeat they did (or at least not as quickly). Instead, they communicated a message that alienated a lot of potential allies. It is the same with the Moon’s Eye Plan.

Tobi could have offered something to the various shinobi powers or even those countries finding themselves getting the short end of the stick as villages began to dismantle their military forces (as was suggested by Pain’s speech many chapters ago). What he did do was the worst possible thing: he offered everyone an option that no one in their right mind could desire. No one in the shinobi world, be they members of the five major powers or of the lesser nations, could possibly find the Plan acceptable unless they were crazy or emo teens.

The third reason to call Tobi an idiot is his usage of Kisame. Now, I’m not going to criticize his decision to send an Akatsuki agent into Kumogakure as a spy, that’s just basic information gathering (although one questions how successful such a mission might be when the village was preparing for war and thus increasing its security). The problem however, is that the plan was needlessly convoluted.

First of all, he wasted a chance to capture B. Capturing him right there could have done a number on the Alliance’s military resources, and would have severely set back Naruto’s training. Furthermore, nabbing B would have added to the Akatsuki’s own military force another tailed beast’s worth of chakra, bringing him another step closer to the completion of the Moon’s Eye Plan.

Second, why send Kisame, his top biju snatcher, when he could have sent his best spy? Sure, Kisame could have tried capturing Bee and Naruto from behind enemy lines, but considering how outnumbered and outgunned he would be in such circumstances, there would have been only a small chance of him completing the mission and getting out alive.

And what do you know, while the Alliance’s plans were revealed to Tobi, he lost one of his best subordinates and failed to capture either jinchuriki.

 
Things that Sucked: Ten Tails
Fucking Ten Tails. Just fucking Ten Tails. I didn’t care much for the whole Sage of the Six Paths background mythology that was added to the story, and I most definitely do not like the whole Ten Tails thing for the simple reason that it is stupid. Incredibly, horrendously, most incompetently stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.

Kishimoto took a concept that had appeared in more badly written fanfiction than I can count and made it canon. Seriously, do a search on stories where a ten-tailed beast was revealed to exist in some shape or form. It was made worse by the fact that this revelation came just a few months after Bleach had its own twist involving digits between 1 and 10.

Let’s just move on because I’d rather not waste any more words talking about this right now.

 
Things that Sucked: It All Comes Down to Hatred (Really?)
One of the little things I rather liked about Part I of the manga was how Kishimoto managed to mix in more intimate, personal issues with hints at underlying issues inherent in a much larger system. While characters like Naruto, Haku, and Gaara were shown to have their own share of problems, these in turn tied in with the way the shinobi system was run. We had discussions on the purpose of shinobi, and despite the somewhat light tone taken thus far with Konoha, were shown just how badly the system pressed on otherwise normal individuals (like the embodiment of human weakness and relative normalcy that Sakura represented in the dysfunctional group that was Team 7).

At the same time, there was a purposeful contrast between these two zones of interest, as what was personal was kept that way, while what was more universal was used to suggest things about the world Kishimoto was building. Even way back in the opening chapters, there was a marked contrast between the more self-absorbed goals of the three leading genin and the concerns of their squad leader when he talked about the heroes whose names were carved on the memorial stone. While the wannabe chunin were focused on passing the exam and receiving promotions, Orochimaru was planning on starting a war, Sunagakure’s leadership was concerned about the economic realities their village was facing, and even Sarutobi took some time to discuss the sinister logic behind the chunin exams. As a result, one got the impression that while the story itself was focused on more childish matters, the reality of the fictional world created therein was far more complicated.

Kishimoto tried to unify these two separate issues, but the execution, as is to be expected for regular readers of this series of posts, was rather lacking. It was in many ways inevitable that as the characters grew up, so to would the focus of the story. This has happened before in other series such as Toy Story (which, while accessible to all audiences, grew up with its original viewers) or Harry Potter (which saw things taking much darker and less whimsical turns as the plot progressed and its characters aged), and I can understand the intentions behind the increased focus on themes of war and hatred. Unfortunately, while the characters aged (at least physically, one could argue that their actual growth, at least at the start of Part II, was stunted for the most part), and the topics explored did the same, the storytelling did not. Kishimoto wanted to write something that grew with its audience, but because the manner he told the story in failed to do the same, the story faltered as a result.

One need only observe the way hatred and war are explored to see this problem up close. As mentioned above, when bringing up the matter of war, Kishimoto had suggested a certain complexity, bringing up not only the inherent moral shortcomings of the shinobi system, but also the economic and political realities of the situation between hidden villages. Even the chunin exams, for all their pomp, were in reality a small-scale war simulation used to set market prices and measure the relative military strength among villages. Alliances were simply treaties of non-aggression inevitably broken once the international situation changed enough. Pain’s speech to the Akatsuki about the organization’s “plan” also took the time to explore these issues in a manner consistent with the way it was presented in Part I. Danzo’s modus operandi was an exaggerated form of realpolitik. The slowly improving relationship between Sunagakure and Konohagakure as a result of Naruto’s intervention and the revelations about Orochimaru’s actual involvement were meant to contrast with this standard, showing that there was room for a better future, even if the players had to start small. This intimate relationship between jinchuriki, and the theme about how younger generations eventually must supplant their elders served to illustrate just how such personal relationships would prove key to altering the system. While Chiyo in her more cynical moments made some good points, it was clear that with Naruto and Gaara poised to take leading roles in the shinobi world, they might just be able to bring about something better.

Had Kishimoto taken off from there and built up strong relationships between characters of the various villages through competent writing and proper development, this could have been a great way for the story to grow up. Instead, he did something foolish: he dumbed down the story.

Now granted, a shonen manga cannot be too complex for fear of alienating its target audience. At the same time however, one should be wary of going to the opposite extreme and patronizing said audience.

When the character of Pain was introduced in full, Kishimoto sacrificed the character’s depth for the sake of ease in writing the plot, and as a result, a sinister figure who had previously understood the various motivations that went into conflicts between the various tribes of humanity became focused solely on two of those motivations: pain (as should be expected) and hatred. One needs only to reread his speech to Hidan and the rest of the organization; then compare it to the way he was written after being unveiled to see what I mean.

Instead of acknowledging the genuine complexity of the problems that lead to human conflict, Kishimoto continued to further oversimplify exploration of this theme, even tying it in with the goals of Jiraiya and the Sage of Six Paths. The result was a turn from a world of conflict that was colored in shades of gray to one that could be better illustrated in black and white. The richness of previous looks at the world of the manga was sacrificed for catchiness and marketability. Instead of a gradual change in paradigms achieved through mutual understanding while acknowledging certain realities of the world, everything other than the hatred shared by the various villages was completely ignored for the sake of making Naruto’s job easier.

The villages found themselves united by a common enemy, and the sudden willingness between former enemies to cooperate with such friendliness is jarring considering the harshness of the relationships as outlined in Part I (even if Kishimoto tried to rectify this through Onoki’s character development). The moment when Gaara stops a fight between two members of the Allied army with a pretty speech, while clear in its message, should not have been enough to rally all troops toward one common will. At least, it would probably not be so if this was still Part I of the manga.

This also extends to the subplot between Naruto and Sasuke, as Kishimoto began to tie it in with the larger themes of the manga. What happened throughout Part II was an increasingly, and unintentionally, comically ludicrous attempt to justify Naruto’s desire to save a fallen friend. The oversimplification of the themes of hatred and love that surround Naruto and Sasuke only served to weaken the ability of their relationship to appeal on both emotional and literary levels. Naruto’s insistence of Sasuke simply being misunderstood and confused began to take on a foolish tone as his former friend continued to slip deeper into moral darkness, culminating in his becoming a killer (despite his earlier desire to not bloody his hands against those who did not deserve such treatment) and internationally despised criminal.

Had Kishimoto’s writing grown up with his themes, and had he not in turn allowed the exploration of said themes to become so overly simplified, the manga may have been truly deserving of being called one of the great mainstream shonen manga that ran in Shonen Jump. Instead, it became nothing more than yet another generic action manga that fancied itself something better.

 
Things that Didn’t Suck: The Fights
One thing that didn’t suck all that bad: the fights. The battles between Sasuke and the various kage (save Danzo) were a tad short and lacking in anything special, but they at least hinted at what each of the village leaders were capable of (although it is a shame that Kishimoto did not really expand much on their abilities later on considering what one would expect from the strongest ninja from each village).

The battle between B and Kisame was a bit disappointing, especially in light of the fact that for a fight between two skilled swordsmen, there wasn’t much in the way of swordsmanship. While I’ve already talked about the way Kisame was used this arc, I still wish that there had been more to the battle other than charging up chakra and sucking it out (that came out dirtier than I expected).

I would even say that the showcase fight between Danzo and Sasuke was decent, not great, but not terrible either. It was not too long (as the battles against Akatsuki were at times), and showcased some interesting jutsu from Danzo.

 
Things that Didn’t Suck: Unintentional Humor
Also, if there were any parts of this arc that genuinely amused me, it would be the stuff that amused me for all the wrong reasons.

 
Conclusion
This arc sucked. No buts about it, there wasn’t much to like. The characters took a turn for the worse, especially Sasuke and Sakura, the handling of the story’s themes continued to become clumsier and clunkier, and conflicts were resolved lazily. It served to show that Naruto was past the point of no return, and confirmed that sometimes, the things you love turn on you by starting to suck horribly, like a relationship gone sour.

And yet this was only a prelude to something far, far worse.

Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: Pain’s Assault

After the less than stellar arcs that made up the so-called ‘Year of Sasuke,’ readers were more than a little eager to get back to Naruto, figuring that maybe the manga might find its footing once more with a shift back to its titular character. This chance at salvation seemingly came in the form of Pain’s direct attack on Konoha, a decision that must have taken major balls given that the alternative was to sneak into Konoha with disguises like actual ninja. But I digress.

So did the arc redeem the manga?

Well, no.

This arc was, contrary to what some might try to argue, actually pretty terrible. Let’s get into the details of just how terrible.

 
Things that Rocked: Seven Against Konoha
Before getting into the things that sucked, let’s start with one of the positives of the arc, namely the opening moments of the assault. Kishimoto has a talent for hyping up huge events before they’re actually underway, and it was no different when Pain proceeded to almost literally catapult himself (and Konan’s paper clone) into Konoha before splitting up to lay waste to the village that had played such a huge role in his life. It’s not a long sequence, but I enjoyed it enough to wish that I could recut the anime’s rendition of it and sync it to “Immigrant Song.”

 
Things that Bugged Me: Transporting Nagato
Given his inability to walk and the cumbersome appearance of his transportation device, I’m more than a little curious about just how Nagato managed to move all that way out of Amegakure, through foreign lands, and to the top of one of the mountains near Konoha. I can imagine that was in itself probably a long and tedious story we never got to see. Couldn’t have been much worse than what we got.

 
Things that Sucked: Konan Still Doesn’t Get to Do Much
As with before, despite the fact that she was supposed to be a member of the Akatsuki, readers again didn’t get to see much from Konan aside from using her paper to manhandle people and getting told off by a surprisingly memorable nameless extra. Unlike the other Akatsuki that had been featured as arc villains, Konan was relegated mostly to the sidelines and made to look like someone who was only part of the group because of her connections. Even when Naruto is exhausted yet eager to take down Nagato, all she can do is act as a human shield. Once again, it was clear that Kishimoto’s talent for writing decent female characters is close to nonexistent.

 
Things that Bugged Me: Tsunade is a Dumb Blonde Drunkard
Yet another thing that bothered me during this arc was the clear divide between good sense and what the author intended. While it was understandable that there was a need to continue the theme of the current generation of youths taking up where their predecessors left off, as well as the importance of the latter entrusting their responsibilities to the former, as with too many other things in the story, the execution was rather lacking.

First of all, the whole point of sending Naruto off was to not only give him a chance to train under the frogs, but to also ensure that he was kept safe from the threat of the Akatsuki. Instead, it was the duty of the village to ensure that their enemies would not be able to get at one of their most important assets. In fact, as Hokage, Tsunade should have been the last line of defense. While it was nice that she used her expertise to heal people, given Pain’s power, it would have behooved her to attempt to confront him directly with whatever backup she could get instead of waiting for him to come to her after she was in already in the process of tiring herself out. But to be fair, she functions best as a support ninja that keeps her allies in fighting shape. So no big deal on this one. The second issue however, cannot be so easily brushed aside.

Second, while it was nice of her to place so much faith in Naruto, and while there was precedent for Naruto exceeding peoples’ expectations before, there is also quite the difference between figuring out a difficult jutsu and suddenly becoming both skilled and powerful enough to handle an opponent that had previously succeeded in not only heading an organization of the world’s most dangerous criminals, but also singlehandedly ending a civil war and killing one of Konoha’s best ninja. How long did Naruto train anyway that growing as much as he did in so short a time was a likely possibility? Was the plan to have him fight Pain (risky) while backed up by the village? If so, then that should have happened when he did actually confront Pain.

As with the earlier mission to meet up with Sasori’s spy, what the story wanted to convey went against what was most sensible to anyone with some degree of rationality. It was clear at this point that the characters in the story were only as bright as the conveniences of the plot allowed them to be.

 
Things that Sucked: Konohamaru Takes Out a Path
One of the low points of the earlier parts of the arc was when Konohamaru was inexplicably able to surprise and deal some damage to one of the Paths. It was even worse than when Naruto took down Kabuto way back. While the execution of that moment wasn’t great, the idea behind the scene was that it would illustrate Naruto’s growth over the course of the series, his determination, and his ability to continually surprise those who thought him nothing but a failure. Here, we had some awkwardly placed comic relief in the form of Konohamaru’s flashback, the ridiculousness of Konohamaru taking down the nominal head of the Akatsuki (or at least one of his bodies, but still, it somewhat took away from Pain’s image given the amount of effort it took to fight just one body for other characters), and a lack of any fulfillment for the audience since, one, said audience had not witnessed Konohamaru’s growth in any real detail, and two, because he did not appear often enough to become someone readers could grow highly attached to (it also didn’t help that when he did appear, he wasn’t really doing anything of actual consequence).

Because of this one scene, audiences had to bear with jarring shifts in tone during what should have been an intense and dramatic section of the story, a villain who suddenly seemed a lot less menacing and thus seemingly less satisfying an opponent for the story’s hero to handle personally, and a side character whose moment of triumph wasn’t really worth rooting for because of how poorly said character had been handled until the point.

 
Things that Bugged Me: The Contrived Coincidence
I would be lying if I said that this little detail bugged me a lot more than it should have, even if so contrived a coincidence was somehow necessary to moving the story forward by getting Naruto back to Konoha as soon as possible.

Anyway, so it turns out that Ma has to go pick up some groceries—I figure that she either has to gather materials in a certain area or there are vendors that market their goods to talking animals—and in the process finds herself fairly close to Konoha, thus allowing her to see that the situation there is FUBAR.

Let’s not even get into the whole concept of portal pools and their potential applications.

 
Things that Sucked: The Pain Fight

Issue 1: The Momentum of the Battle
A good fight should have tension in it. This fight didn’t.

When Naruto arrived, the first thing he did was take a huge early advantage. A few chapters in, Pain looked like the underdog and the Rinnegan didn’t look so shiny compared to Sage Mode. You can’t have this in a battle designed to serve as the arc’s climax. When two characters are destined to have an epic battle, you need to create suspense for the reader. Seeing Naruto take the lead right off the bat robbed readers of this opportunity.

Then, partway through the fight, the pendulum suddenly swung the other way, and Pain had Naruto dead to rights. Unfortunately, the duration of this consisted of one and a half chapters of Pain winning, some panels to show what witnesses were seeing, a chapter of talking by Pain (though I will admit that it was pretty decent a speech, more on that below), and Hinata coming in (more on this later).

The time where it felt Naruto had Pain on the ropes felt longer (and it actually was) and more significant than the opposite. As a result, any tension this fight could have had was gone.

When Naruto powered up after a pep talk from his dad (more on this soon), readers already knew that there was no way Pain could fight evenly, much less at an advantage, at that point.

Hell, the closest thing there was to tension was the internal battle Naruto had in regards to how to approach Nagato, and even that lost whatever power it could have had due to the overly long flashback and the conclusion of the fight (more on these two things too).

Issue 2: The Scale
This fight was schizophrenic to say the least. It was supposed to be a battle of legendary proportions, but a good part of the early fight seemed awfully mundane, and it wasn’t until after the fox came out to play that the fight took on the scale it deserved.

Early on in the fight, many of the panels remained of a modest size, while the battle itself was not quite on a large scale except for some moves. Pain was using small-scale abilities and tactics. Naruto was using fundamental shinobi skills mixed in with high powered attacks. When we did get large panels and spreads, it was to showcase Naruto’s newly achieved powers. I wouldn’t really mind so much had Pain not been shafted in this regard. When he did do something impressive, the attention paid to it was unfitting.

A good example is when he takes out all three large toads with one move. We get some panels to build it up, yet once the Deva Path does its thing, we get one larger than average panel showing everything from a distant bird’s eye view. The result of this is that what should have been a moment to showcase just how godlike Naruto’s latest opponent was, thereby increasing the fight’s tension, was instead made mundane. There’s no one page spread, or at least a sense of the attack’s scale. It did not even have to be a two page spread, Kishimoto could have easily taken a page out of Oda’s book and have that one large panel cross over to the opposite page.

Speaking of the toads, their inclusion was meant to increase the scale of the battle from the start. Naturally, given that these were toads the size of a building, you would expect the fight’s feel to match their size. Unfortunately, because of the fact that said toads were so large, they needed opponents of matching size to fight them, otherwise they mostly stood on the sidelines. We got a bit of this with Pain’s summons, but those were quickly handled, with most of them getting taken down to some extent either by Naruto or the Sage couple. The boss summons were there only to finish the job. And when the big guys did try to do something relevant, doing their damnedest to squash the Paths, this led to awkward long shots where it was hard to make out the Paths. The shifts in scale weren’t applied as they would be in a competently made film, where human sized characters would remain visible as we got a good look at just how large the boss summons were.

As if to make up for this, Kishimoto tried to make even the most mundane events seem epic, with a hand to hand skirmish somehow causing rocks to be flung from the ground.*

* This last issue reached a whole new level of hilarious later during the war arc, when the act of Sasori being pulled to the ground (albeit from a higher spot) caused a sizable crack and cratering of the spot he landed on. Compare this to earlier parts of the story, where a character falling from a similar height might have left a slight dent in the ground. When Sai kicked his brother, it could be excused with the possibility that Sai had used chakra to enhance the strength of his kick. Here, somehow getting pulled was enough to replicate the effect of a Rasengan from above.

Issue 3: Inaction Sequences
Like a lot of fights in the anime version of Dragon Ball, there were several inaction sequences during the fight in the original Naruto manga, which only made the pacing problems worse.

The most ludicrous example comes after Pain takes out the boss summons. Naruto and the Sage couple are able to have a full conversation before Pain finds his footing, gets straight to the point, and tries to capture Naruto. Good, good, we might actually be getting somewhere. Pain then proceeds to ignore the toads completely, focusing instead on Naruto, despite having two bodies to handle this sort of thing.

Wait, what?

During this time, the Sage couple is building up their chakra so that they might use their Frog Song.

Really, Pain?

You would not believe how thankful I was to see Pain realize how dumb this was and skewer Fukasaku.

 
A Much Needed Interruption: The Thing that Didn’t Suck About the Pain Fight
For the moment, allow me an aside away from the constant criticism of the battle between Jiraiya’s disciples. As fun as criticism can be, it can be a rather wearying experience, and I am sure anyone reading this feels similarly. So let’s get into what was actually decent about the fight: Pain’s speech.

Now Pain is no stranger to decent monologues, so this was not too big a surprise. However, what made this special was that it served to expand upon his earlier talks with the Akatsuki and Jiraiya by examining just what happens to smaller countries when they are surrounded by superpowers able to go to war or dominate by other means with near impunity.

It gave the audience a perspective that had otherwise only been hinted at of the Narutoverse, and served as a great callback to the down to earth motivations behind the Hidden Sand Village’s alliance with Orochimaru. Pain was no longer a mere man with a god complex droning on about the nature of humanity, but someone with legitimate grievances against the existing system. Suddenly, it made a lot more sense as to why he’d reacted so poorly when Tsunade talked back to him earlier in the arc.

Things were no longer black and white. It wasn’t a simple matter of taking down the bad guy to save the day anymore. Now, Naruto understood that even his enemies had their reasons for doing what they did, and that even his home wasn’t some shining city on a hill. Pain’s plan might seem mad, and it might not really work as well as it otherwise seemed, but one could at least see where he was coming from.

It was a thought-provoking chapter that almost single-handedly redeemed so many of the fight’s flaws; a callback to the days when even a silly manga like Naruto could make readers sit back and think.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

 
Issue 4: Hinata
Hinata already had the unfortunate distinction of being a textbook shallowly written love interest, but here, Kishimoto made things even more annoying by turning her into a plot coupon.

We see her jump into the fight without a well thought out plan, figuring that she’ll just have to do her best to save our hero, who has been both psychologically and physically defeated. We see her spend a whole chapter on a confession that further slows down the battle. We see her get smacked down hilariously quickly, so quickly that, instead of horror, the moment evoked awkward chuckles.

Then Naruto loses complete control. Granted, this last part here was foreshadowed earlier in the fight when Naruto took on more and more of the physical traits associated with him going berserk. The fact that Hinata’s sole purpose was to help Kishimoto get from Point A to Point B is what makes her usage so…so…well, stupid.

Issue 5: Daddy ex Machina
I hated this development. I really did. I didn’t mind that Minato had installed a failsafe in his seal. It gave Naruto and the reader an excuse to see him in the present day. What is annoying about this matter is that it took away from what was supposed to be Naruto’s fight. Instead of overcoming his own demons, he ended up needing to go to Daddy for advice mid-fight, lest everything go to shit. Meanwhile, Kurama was the one actually doing real damage to the Deva Path and forcing Nagato to strain himself.

To make matters worse, it slowed down what was already feeling like an overlong battle.

Issue 6: Pain’s Brain Drain
So after Daddy pulls his fat from the fire, somehow allowing Naruto to exit the chakra shroud without any visible ill effects, he continues his fight against the Deva Path and wins in a manner that’s poorly thought out on the part of the venerable author.

First of all, we have Pain decide to first engage Naruto in close combat. This is in spite of knowing full well that engaging in a taijutsu match against an opponent who is using Sage Mode happens to be a really bad idea.

I mean, it’s not like the first time this happened, against Jiraiya, the Human Path was blinded.

Or that the next time it happened, the Preta Path’s neck was broken.

Or that not long afterward, the Deva Path managed to get kicked a fair distance despite blocking the blow with both arms.

So anyway, Nagato had two choices.

Option 1: Engage Naruto from a distance until his sage chakra runs out, at which point it should be safer to come in for the kill. Consider effective and intelligent applications of Shinra Tensei and Bansho Tennin to repel/attract him depending on the circumstances. Use the Rinnegan to check around for any traps he might have planned.

Option 2: Don’t learn a damn thing from past experience and try to stab Naruto with a chakra rod all the while ignoring your surroundings.

Naturally, the right choice was made.

Now perhaps Pain was acting out of desperation, having expended a lot of chakra. The problem is, we don’t see any indication that this factored into his decision. I get the sense that Kishimoto went for this decision less for any rational reason than because he simply needed a way for Naruto to track down Nagato, hence Pain’s brilliant thinking there.

Anyway, the second thing that stands out is the placement of Naruto’s clones. You would think that the Rinnegan, which had earlier been able to see Konoha’s barrier, would allow him to notice that all those rocks around him weren’t rocks.

It wasn’t a good moment for intelligent writing.

Issue 7: The Flashback
Afterward, Naruto confronts Nagato in person, and the latter relates his tale of woe.

Now, before I delve into the meat of the flashback itself, I’d like to discuss the mystery that was Nagato’s past up to this point. Nagato’s back story was implied to be something so horrifically tragic that it was able to warp the troubled but good-natured kid we saw in Jiraiya’s flashback’s into ninja Keyser Soze. Hell, his repeated references to it every single damn time he could make some gave readers an idea that whatever he’d gone through was bad enough to blow all the other sob stories completely out of the water.

Instead, we got, well, let’s get into it.

Nagato’s flashbacks start off with the day his parents were killed in front of him. Okay, tragic stuff right there. I admit that the artistic decision Kishimoto made that chapter, shading everything in a chiaroscuro style lent a certain grimness to the proceedings that fit the intended mood. It was, visually speaking, not a bad start at getting a good look at the horrors of war.

Unfortunately, the writing was not up to par with the art. Seeing Nagato’s parents die as they did failed to elicit any real emotional response. We’d just met them and we knew nothing about them. As a result, it is difficult to identify with the pain (no pun intended) Nagato feels during that sequence, with the panel of Nagato awakening his Rinnegan lacking any of the power it should have had. It came off as a purely perfunctory attempt at a sad flashback.

The following chapter ups the poor writing by having Nagato befriend a dog. A dog that is killed off in the same chapter in which it first appears.

What makes this funny, in combination with the lack of connection readers might feel with the dog, is the fact that it’s like something out of a joke. I distinctly recall someone once making a joke prior to the spoilers coming out about how, if Kishimoto wanted us to feel even more sorry for Nagato, he’d have someone kill his dog. It was a bad joke meant to mock poor attempts to make us sympathize with a character’s sad past. Unfortunately, Kishimoto played this completely straight.

And it was hilarious.

Moving on to the next bit of stupidity: Yahiko killing himself. This was dumb. Not just dumb in the context of this being poor writing, this was dumb in the context that I couldn’t help but wonder how Yahiko even functioned.

First of all, a guy holding your girl hostage says that he’ll trade her for your life. How can you even trust him considering that he earlier betrayed you by taking said girl hostage after having previously acted like he was willing to work with your group? I mean, I don’t know if you noticed, but the paranoid dictator with a kunai to your girl’s throat probably is not the most trustworthy guy. Hell, even his eyes look shifty.

Second of all, by killing yourself, you ensure that your friend has to live with a truckload of guilt. Which makes it perfectly logical for you to impale yourself on the kunai in his hand.

I mean, it’s not like Hanzo will then order your friend killed only for said friend to use his Rinnegan powers—you know, those powers that Konan at least seems to be somewhat aware of—to take out every enemy there not named Hanzo singlehandedly (suggesting that he could have done the same or better if he’d had you to back him up instead). And it’s not like he won’t go off the deep end and turn the Akatsuki into a terrorist organization capable of posing a threat to the entire world.

Oh wait, that did happen. Good job, dumbass. Once more, characters acted in an entirely illogical manner that made the audience wonder if they had IQs in the single digits.

 
Things that Sucked: Nagato’s Conversion

Issue 1: The Manner of the Conversion
Remember way back when Naruto completely lost patience with Zabuza over his perceived mistreatment of and seeming indifference toward Haku? Remember how we witnessed Naruto losing more and more of his composure as he told Zabuza just how much he had meant to Haku, and then wondering outright if Zabuza was so heartless, and whether this applied to all powerful ninja? Remember how the real kicker came right afterward as we saw up close just how much Zabuza was actually hurting at those words?
The reveal of Zabuza’s face works because there was enough actual buildup for the payoff to elicit genuine emotional impact. Later on, during Part II, Kishimoto tried and often failed to replicate this effect, such as when he devoted large panels to Naruto making dramatic statements.

The problem in those scenes is that they lack the same build-up that allows for the proper catharsis when we get to the huge close-up panel. There is no real juxtaposition, and the conflicts leading up to these moments just aren’t as pressing. How can you compare Naruto trying to comprehend Zabuza, and by extension the entire shinobi world’s seeming heartlessness with Naruto trying to push forward during a training arc? Sure, there is some background tension, but it feels distant in the context of the scene due to the need to switch settings. Naruto is not in the thick of things in either moment. It’s just not the same thing.

As for the nature of Zabuza’s conversion, the reason why it comes across as less hackneyed, than say, Nagato’s is that while both antagonists are set up with similar bloody backgrounds in order to emphasize how each tried to subsume his humanity in favor of ruthless ambition, Zabuza’s works because it is not a complete 180 of his characterization. We get little hints that Zabuza and Haku share a bond, and when Naruto appeals to him, he’s not convincing Zabuza that he should become a peace-loving hippie. Rather, Zabuza knew he’d already lost the battle on the bridge, and so whatever ambitions he had would either have to wait or were already impossible to achieve. Instead, Naruto appeals to his sense of humanity in regards to his bond with Haku. Zabuza isn’t saying “I’m not gonna try to take over Kirigakure anymore,” he’s saying “you’re right, I’m human, and despite everything I ever said to the contrary, I actually gave a damn about Haku.”

With Nagato, on the other hand, Kishimoto attempted to do the same thing to lesser returns. As mentioned above, he even brought up a horrifying backstory when it came to disturbing behavior on the part of the person he was trying to appeal to (slaughtering an entire class for Zabuza, playing ninja Keyser Soze for Nagato). Rather than appealing to Nagato’s humanity through his bonds though, Naruto instead appeals to his ideals. And that’s where it falls flat. Naruto failed to fight the battle of ideals as it should be fought, with rhetoric of the rational kind. Instead, he appealed to Nagato in a manner more befitting of Zabuza and Gaara’s situations, by appealing to their humanity. Sure, there was a battle of ideals for all three cases. But even then, Naruto appealed to Zabuza’s humanity by bringing up his bond with Haku, and in Gaara’s case, he not only frightened and awed his fellow jinchuriki, but also proved the value of Yashamaru’s words. In the case of Nagato, all he did was repeat Jiraiya’s words without adding any real substance to them, as he had in the other two cases. Naruto’s answer wasn’t a real answer. It was something a politician might say if confronted with a genuinely tough question. In fact, I would argue that Nagato could have easily repudiated Naruto by questioning whether he was sparing Nagato out of a desire to hold onto his sensei’s ideals or merely attempting to spite him by withholding his vengeance simply to go against what Nagato claimed. He even references a work of fiction by Jiraiya despite Nagato having previously criticized such beliefs in the past due to his experiences.

Horrifyingly enough, judging by Nagato’s recalling of the book and his final words, Naruto might have instead appealed to the Akatsuki leader’s fatalism. This in a story that at one point seemed to propose fighting one’s seemingly predetermined path in life.

So when Nagato did decide to believe in Naruto, with his line about faith being better than any plan, I shook my head, chuckled, and walked around from my computer screen knowing at this point that the manga was beyond all hope.

Issue 2: Pain’s “Heart of Blades” Turns Blunt
Going back to the first major arc of the story is also relevant in understanding yet another way the story missed a chance at exploring its own themes.

Pain’s heart of blades was a culmination of themes and conflicts first introduced in the Wave Arc. It was rather fitting that the so-called Chosen One who would either save or destroy the system was in a way the logical extreme of the shinobi ideal. With his Heart of Blades he had transcended humanity and became a “god” that would do anything for the sake of his mission. Said Chosen One would thus perpetuate the system by doing what has always been done on a much grander scale. Naruto’s rebuke could have been a way of overcoming this fate and making a choice away from it. Which leads into my next point.

Issue 3: A Missed Opportunity to Revisit the Conflict between Free Will and Fate
Going back to something I went over in a previous post, the whole Chosen One concept really hurt the story. However, when considering how Naruto had seemingly represented the triumph of the human spirit over a preset fate earlier in the story, I can’t help but feel that Kishimoto missed an easy opportunity to further that concept. By that, I mean that Nagato should have been the only chosen one.

Think about it this way: as the wielder of the Rinnegan, Nagato seemed to be the second coming of the father of all ninja. Naturally, one could see him as destined to either save the world or destroy it, with it seeming that he was going to walk down the latter path in his attempts at the former. However, if Kishimoto had used this as a chance to revisit Naruto’s battle against Neji, he would have written out a situation where fate’s embodiment would come into conflict with a young man who once more would represent the power of free will. Had Naruto been written in such a way, his victory over the closest thing the series had to a god in human form, the very embodiment of Heaven’s will, would have been all the more meaningful, as it would represent the ultimate victory of the individual over that of the status quo and fate.

Instead, we got an old frog talking up Naruto’s role as the destined child that Jiraiya had chosen, so I guess free will prevailed, except it was thanks to Jiraiya, because Naruto was just the choice that had to be plugged in for the prophecy to work. This wouldn’t be the only occasion where Kishimoto missed a chance to revisit ideas that had been brought up earlier in the story.

Issue 4: Deus Ex Machina, Literally
I really should have seen this last bit coming. I mean, there was Nagato, a self-proclaimed god who needed to get around with a weird looking machine. In addition, it had been made clear that the Rinnegan had some sort of power over life and death.

It does not excuse the fact that this was a clumsy way to end the arc. The arc up to this point had appeared to be an opportunity to really look at the human cost of war, to see Naruto’s generation try to cope with what those who came before them constantly had to. It was an opportunity to weaken Konoha enough that other villages and Danzo might try to take advantage of the situation. And Kishimoto simply swept it all away as if it had never happened.

Not only that, but it made the reveal that Hinata was still alive utterly pointless. Why not kill her off at that moment then? That way, there’s an added poignancy to Naruto’s reply to Nagato, as well as to Hinata’s sacrifice.

It was the crappy cherry on top of the shit sundae that was the fight against Pain, and what makes it worse is that as much as I hated it, I could understand the reasons for going in this direction, as will become clear later in this review.

 
Things That Bugged Me: Pain’s Characterization in General
I can’t help but feel like Kishimoto moved through multiple stages when conceiving Pain’s character. Aside from the Rinnegan seeming to come out of nowhere, Pain went from a diabolical mastermind with a somewhat snarky attitude to a humorless emo with a god complex (which in hindsight made his conversations with Hidan rather amusing). Rereading his interactions with the other members before his reveal suggests a character that is willing to either shrug off what others say or trade barbs with people who annoy him. The way he talks to Hidan is almost reminiscent of how Kishimoto would characterize Tobi, as if it was decided to split the Akatsuki leader into two different characters at some point (only for Tobi to himself become overly seriously after he was outed as the real Akatsuki string-puller).

Personally, I could have done without overwrought drama when it came to Pain. I’ve already covered why Tobi’s reveal wasn’t the greatest bit of writing, and how readers could have done without Pain being revealed as being the nominal leader of the Akatsuki. I honestly wish that Kishimoto had kept the sardonic attitude instead of replacing it with endless bitching and preaching on the subjects of pain and war, to say nothing of the fact that he was yet another in a long line of stoic villains who took themselves too seriously. His speech on Akatsuki’s “goal” was a great exercise in highlighting how knowledgeable and manipulative the “AL” was about international politics and economics. It certainly was more interesting than the peace through mutually assured destruction plan. Fuck it; it definitely was better than the whole reflecting a jutsu off the moon idea.

Another problem I have with Pain’s characterization has to do with his antagonistic relationship with Naruto. The core of the Naruto-Pain dynamic lay in their shared relationship with Jiraiya, and how their own particular conflict paralleled that of Itachi and Sasuke. The problem with this was, as is becoming a pattern with the series, the execution.

Itachi and Sasuke’s troubled relationship was foreshadowed since early on in the story, and the turbulence of this relationship is conveyed over a few hundred chapters, giving readers incentive to feel invested in their eventual showdown and its aftermath. Those last two events served as a turning point for Sasuke’s character, as they marked the moment when Sasuke went from a morally ambiguous antihero to an almost legitimate antagonist (who seems to fail almost every time he wants to do something really bad just to make Naruto’s job easier).

With Jiraiya’s death and the aftermath of the battle against Pain, Kishimoto tried to parallel the relationship between these Nagato and Naruto, as their meeting was an important turning point for the latter’s character and the direction the story took. Unfortunately, there was little emotional resonance here than that which characterized the bond between say, Naruto and Gaara, much less that of Itachi and Sasuke.

The relationship instead came off as highly compressed, and as a result, it just did not connect with readers as strongly as the bond between brothers did. In addition, prior to their confrontation, Nagato and Naruto had a very tenuous connection, as they knew little about one another aside from the most basic of information (Naruto didn’t even know that they had shared the same master until after they had started fighting).

This ties in to how the Rain orphans were shoehorned into the plot. Had Kishimoto done something like foreshadow the existence of Nagato by say, having Jiraiya make comments about how Minato was not the only student of his who Naruto reminds him of, and about how his dream of peace relates to someone he used to know, a greater connection could have been made between the two characters. Perhaps more flashbacks before Pain’s reveal would have actually made it all the more heartbreaking for readers.

When Jiraiya meets Pain and Konan in their modern iterations, it’s clear that he feels disappointment in what he sees. Unfortunately, there is little more than that because the audience has no idea at that point of just what sort of relationship these characters had with one another. If they had been foreshadowed sooner, the scene would have actually meant something to readers.

Had Kishimoto found ways to further link Pain to Naruto, their confrontation would have carried an even greater emotional weight, which may have in turn made Nagato’s conversion easier to swallow. But he did not, so we got what we got.

 
Things that Rocked: Naruto Finally Gets Recognition
Looking back on the whole thing, it seems almost as if this fight would have served as a decent finale of sorts for the story. Everything about it, from the fight itself to the heartwarming moment when Naruto saw just how far he’d come in the eyes of the village (complete with a hug from his crush) felt rather climactic in scale and overall tone, even if the latter was somewhat offset by signs that this still wasn’t the end of the story. However, what really made this feel like a climax within the series was how Naruto had gone from the village’s pariah to its greatest hero.

Early on, Naruto had made clear that while becoming Hokage was his apparent goal, the true meaning of that dream was not with the intent of attaining the position being an end in itself, but rather as a sign of his finally grasping the one thing he desired more than anything: the acknowledgment of everyone around him.

Naruto was always looking for acknowledgment regardless of the form it took. Early on, it was through playing the role of the clown. However, as the story went on, the blonde jester began to not only criticize the flaws of the shinobi system with his words, but also earned the respect of those around him with his actions. By this arc, his fellow Konoha ninja were willing to defend him at the cost of their own lives. The seeming culmination of this is when Naruto succeeds in winning over Nagato to his ideals—the resulting hero’s welcome he receives from the village is rewarding for both him and the audience.

As a result, I’m actually rather torn about the whole matter of Nagato reviving the people who died in his attack. Had people actually stayed dead, then others might not feel grateful so much as resentful of the kid that had brought Pain to Konoha. Had the villagers stayed dead, Naruto would have just been another powerful ninja who’d taken down an enemy rather than someone who had done the impossible: save everyone in the village.

 
Things that Sucked: Telling but Not Showing Enough
Of course, that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t have been better if readers had seen more of the changes in how the villagers saw Naruto in the actual story before this arc. While it was sweet to see Naruto’s hard work pay off, it would have been much more fulfilling to actually see the progression in the village’s attitude play out during the actual story instead of through Ebisu’s flashbacks. Given how central gaining the respect of the village was in Naruto’s characterization, this detail should have been given more attention instead of seemingly going nowhere after Naruto had befriended the other ninja of his generation (and a few other important figures) only to suddenly pop up again during this arc.

 
Conclusion
Despite the claims of some readers, this arc was not the last good arc (that honor belongs to the earliest parts of Part II, if not the very end of Part I). In fact, based on my most recent reading of it, Pain’s Assault is actually terrible in many respects. It merely seemed to be a decent arc in hindsight due to how bad the story got afterward, just like getting stabbed with a knife feels better than being sawed in half with a chainsaw. This arc mostly sucked, plain and simple. And I won’t kid you, things only continued to get worse from here.

An Update on My Progress

This is an update for those wondering why it’s taking so long for me to churn out the next post. For the record, I’ve been using what free time I have to work on the Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked of the next Naruto arc on my list, and boy is it taking me a while to write despite the arc being shorter than the multiple arcs that were focused mostly on Sasuke. It’s going to be a real doozy too given that after writing quite a bit, I’m still not even done with the first draft. Only now do I realize just how much there is to talk about there.

Here’s a bit of something to chew on while I try to finally finish the review: my suggestions for minor changes to The Force Awakens that would have made it so Rey’s growth felt less controversial. First of all, make her less invincible. In other words, don’t be afraid to have her fail and land herself in serious peril despite her best efforts. For example, while she did escape from her shackles near the end, she manages to avoid getting captured just fine without the aid of her friends. Maybe make it so that despite doing fine for a while, she eventually finds herself cornered, only to be saved by her friends. This would better highlight the importance of teamwork among the good guys (to contrast with how individual villains don’t seem to like each other all that much), as well as to emphasize that her friends were willing to come all that way to save her (in contrast to the family that abandoned her), in turn shifting her further away from her loner tendencies.

Second, instead of letting Rey develop the ability to apply the Force in different ways over the course of the movie, instead, as with the original Star Wars, focus instead on one skill that is mastered by the climax. In the original, it’s Luke applying what Obi-Wan taught him when he was practicing with the lightsaber in order to pinpoint the thermal exhaust port and guide the proton torpedoes to it. Instead of a mind trick then, perhaps have Rey escape her bonds using telekinesis. It could even be hinted at by having her unconsciously moving objects when under high levels of stress, which could in turn be used to indicate both her potential as well as emphasizing whatever emotional issues she has that could lead to the Dark Side (and in turn working well to foreshadow the risks of her hostile state of mind during the final parts of the confrontation at the end of the movie). Going back to telekinesis, this skill would become more prominent each time she used it during the movie. This would then come to a head when she overpowered Kylo’s own telekinesis to nab the lightsaber.

And that’s not even getting into making it so that her fighting style is far dirtier and more pragmatic than what we got in the movie. You’d think someone who had to fend for herself against a hostile planet would understand the value of not fighting fair. That would have been a cool way to differentiate her from Luke and Anakin while also showing similarities over which she could bond with Han “Shot First” Solo. It certainly would have been one way to show her gaining an advantage over Kylo Ren during their duel, if she just kept fighting dirty to make up for her lack of experience with a lightsaber.

How the hell does my mind expend so much brainpower on this crap?