Things that Bug Me: Moral Greyness and Star Wars

So it’s almost that time of the year again. The time when Disney releases yet another new product of the Star War saga with the same interminable regularity with which they release their Marvel movies. Huzzah for our new corporate overlords. Huzzah for Disney continuing to dominate the movie studio market and grasping ever wider. But enough about that, let’s talk about one of the dumber things to come out of the pre-release buzz: moral greyness in a morality play like Star Wars.

So ever since the first trailer dropped (and I am not linking to it because I’m assuming that everyone and their mother has seen it. If you haven’t, lucky you.), people suddenly started to get into one of a tizzy about the potential for one of the old Expanded Universe ideas making its way into the new canon: Grey Jedi!

To be quite honest, the very concept is one that is insulting to anyone with a working brain, but then again, there are a lot of people out there without one posting their arguments on the Internet.

So let’s list some of the arguments and refute them, shall we?

Argument 1: Grey Jedi make sense because Yin/Yang
This argument is stupid because it comes out of video game sensibilities that violate the themes of the original films while not fitting in the slightest bit with Taoist philosophy. When you watch the original trilogy, the message is clear: the Dark Side is a bad thing given that it requires negative emotions to really work and in many ways also represents taking the easy way out (Luke: “Is the dark side stronger?” Yoda: “No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.”).

Unfortunately, it also lends itself well to power fantasies such as video games. Let’s face it, when you want to play a Force user in video games, chances are that you’d like to use the Dark Side to do things like blast lightning out of your fingertips or choke people to death. In a way, given the Dark Side’s emphasis on dominating others, it would make sense that the cool abilities it offers would be part of the lure to those tired of feeling weak.

Naturally, video game developers thus decided that they had to offer players a chance to live out their fantasies, which meant allowing players to use the Dark Side without falling to it. It’s fine in a game if such a thing is not meant to be canon, but when you start trying to apply this logic to that of the original movies, it simply doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Return of the Jedi features Luke at his most vulnerable on a spiritual level. He is clearly detached and tempted to the Dark Side throughout the film, and near the end, finds himself poised to succumb to its temptations. While he does overcome Vader on a physical level, the scene plays out like a tragedy: the music is mournful and Luke has almost repeated his father’s mistakes. The moment of triumph comes shortly afterward, when Luke refuses this temptation despite seeing the easy path to power it promises. There is no moral grayness here suggesting that it was a good thing for Luke to use the Dark Side to beat Vader down. To believe that is to misinterpret the message of the scene, to focus on the power fantasy instead of the moral lesson.

Finally, it does not match up with Taoism at all. People seem oddly convinced that the Light and the Dark must both be perfectly in balance, but this is a credulous assumption. If one side is objectively good and the other objectively evil, to use both makes no sense. It would not be a loss if all evil was wiped out, because a world without evil is a Paradise. If everyone was selfless and no one selfish, they’d carry out what they had to for the sake of everyone else, like some sort of utopian worker’s paradise. It does not match up with Yin and Yang, which eschews human notions of morality and instead focuses on the harmonious duality found in nature. Good and evil simply do not need to exist in the same world, although they do.

Besides which, I wonder what Pablo Hidalgo had to say about this?

Argument 2: It’s okay, because Light should work with Dark
Again, why should Good and Evil coexist? We know that if you believe in morality, then they do, but the notion that Evil is something that should exist is a faulty one. One does not need to work with the Devil. One does not need to feed the evil wolf. We tolerate self-centered people because we need their help in areas in which they might be able to offer it if we give them something in return, not because we like them.

Argument 3: It’s great because it matches modern sensibilities
This one just plain annoys me for various reasons. It annoys me because it is based on immature conceptions, because it overstates the value of compromise, because it has poor ramifications given the nature of the religions that inspired the Force, and because it fails to understand what made and continues to make Star Wars what it is.

By immature conceptions, I mean that it is based on immature conceptions of just what a great lesson in morality such a thing would be for the series’ audience. The idea that everything has to be morally ambiguous to be mature is akin to that which states that making things dark makes them deep. In short, it is a failure to understand what real maturity is in that maturity is about examining themes in a manner capable of nuance and not simply pandering to the blind optimists or the hopeless pessimists. This “oh, think of the children” approach could better be thought of as “oh, think of the manchildren who demand that SW become more ‘mature’ so that said manchildren (and womenchildren) can admit in public that they enjoy a story aimed at young audiences.”

Next up is my issue with the idea that it promotes compromise. Now compromise isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not an ideal solution, but it is one that makes sense in a pluralistic society where opinions are not necessarily based on good or evil, but rather about how to best go about solving an issue. In real life, compromise is important, and is often one of the better ways to solve a problem. However, as I mentioned above, compromise is not an ideal solution. There will be times when you should not compromise, when it might actually be better to fight because sometimes compromising only adds to the problem rather than helping to fix it. You can’t compromise with some people and then try to pat yourself on the back for ensuring peace in your time. You should never compromise when something clearly evil is going on right in front of you (at least ideally). In fact, you could make the argument (but that would require a post in itself) that a lot of the world’s problems came when people compromised when they should have fought harder (and while at it, fought where they should have considered compromise). You should never compromise with a Dark Side user, at least from what we’ve seen, given that the Dark Side has been portrayed as objectively evil, or at the very least selfish.

My third issue with this argument has to do with the ramifications of it in regards to religion. The idea that it is a good thing to balance the selfish and the selfless makes sense if you believe in mediocrity, because that’s already what the average person tries to do. Rather, despite getting overly dogmatic and far removed from the reality on the ground in practice, in theory, the Jedi seemed to have the right idea in many respects. You should try to control your passions. You should try to avoid too much attachment. You should strive for an ideal instead of merely sticking with mediocrity. It fits with philosophies like Stoicism and Buddhism which are still practiced today. To say that certain ideals the Jedi espouse are wrong is to say that the philosophies and religions from which these ideals came are wrong, and that’s just stirring up a hornet’s nest.

Finally, there is the issue of such an argument missing out on the history of the series itself. The 1970s was a cynical period in American history. The country experienced social, economic, and political tumult, and this was reflected in American cinema, which considered gritty realism and moral ambiguity to be hip. Antiheroes waged seemingly hopeless battles against forces far beyond their ability to properly confront. The idealism of the 60s had given way to something far more sinister. It must have been a breath of fresh air when some cheesy looking science fantasy flick with an asthmatic cyborg villain, laser swords, corny dialogue, and a willingness to embrace the silly idealistic morality of yesteryear came out.

Despite what those ignorant of history might otherwise claim, the cynicism of today does not find itself unmatched. The 70s were not an idealistic, naive time, and I’m willing to bet that the Cold War inspired all sorts of dread. Given how nice the human race has it today in comparison to the past, I’m willing to bet that the people of the past were not naive yokels holding on to a false idealism, especially given all the wars and famines and whatnot making life hard. The attitude of those who think that the modern environment and its sensibilities requires a more cynical, morally ambiguous approach reeks of Whig History.

In fact, given the cynicism of modern society, I would argue that Star Wars needs all the more to remain idealistic. I argue that it needs to remain a tale of good triumphing over evil. I argue that it must remain so in order to remind all of us, as it did back in 1977, that there is good in the world, and that it is worth fighting for.

 
It is for these reasons that I really hope they don’t go down this path with the new movie. It would not only suck, but in hindsight completely violate the message of the older films. I honestly hope that my fears are unfounded and that the writing team knew better. Perhaps they did and the whole “grey” thing will turn out to be a red herring. But then again, I’m just some shiftless loser on the Internet. What do I know of appealing to audiences today or good storytelling?

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Things That Sucked in Naruto: Sakura

Congrats to Haruno Sakura, who managed to suck harder than Tobito and Kaguya. She will now take her place as the highest form of suckage. Sakura is officially the single worst female lead I’ve come across since Bella Swan. If I still liked this series, I’d cry in a corner.

After several stalled attempts at developing into something useful, Sakura finally resolved to work together with Naruto in order to bring Sasuke back. The beginning of Part II saw her seemingly take the first big steps to fulfilling her promise, only for later arcs to feature her character development sliding backwards massively.

Granted, she would get a power-up and a couple of nice moments, but as detailed before, these felt half-assed and come off as something to tell readers “See? Sakura’s not completely useless after all.” These token attempts to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse only made her failures stand out all the more, especially in regards to the goal she made after seemingly going from useless twat who fantasizes about the hot guy on her team to devoted friend and team mate who wants her team back together and is willing to work for it.

When it comes to actually bringing Sasuke back, it’s Naruto who is left to do all the heavy lifting, and Sakura is there to reap the spoils. Granted, one of the issues with the story is how redeemed antagonists seem to come back without anyone really remarking on the fact that they once were pretty bad people (the most Gaara gets is when Lee shows some unease at his return at the end of Part I). This is pretty bad given that a huge part of her aforementioned character development involved learning new skills and getting stronger so that she could be a part of the whole Team 7 reunification process.

Instead, all she does is cry and annoy the hell out of everyone. Her character development can pretty much be compared to walking in place, that’s how pointless it was. And to put the rotten cherry on the shit sundae, once Sasuke is good again, she disregards the fact that he was willing to let her die less than a day ago. In fact, after a brief time skip, her response to his leaving to find himself was to ask if she could go with him.

Cripes, this character is a waste of ink.

And if you don’t like what I have to say about her, well then fuck you and the white horse you rode the fuck in on.

Things That Rocked, Things That Sucked: The Final Chapters

With Kaguya sealed away and Madara dying his final death, Sasuke declared his intentions of creating a better world by assassinating the sleeping Gokage and acting as the enemy that would unite the world against him. As Sasuke’s first target, Naruto made clear that while he would not allow Sasuke to do whatever he wished, he would be sure to stop him without killing him. So began the final few chapters of Naruto.

 
Things that Sucked: Why It Was So Hard to Care About What Should Have Been the Most Anticipated Fight in the Story
After nearly 500 chapters, Naruto and Sasuke were finally having their rematch. Their first fight was a culmination of tensions that readers had witnessed between the two erstwhile teammates, rivals, and friends, and it managed to combine spectacle with genuine emotion, resulting in one of the high points of the entire story. This second battle was about more than emotions and bonds, it was also about their respective ideals and the legacy passed down by Hagoromo’s fateful choices way back when. So why does it seem to fall flat despite having every reason to be the most exciting thing in the entire story? A variety of reasons actually, ranging from issues with story structure, repetitive plotting, and less than stellar characterization.

First of all, let us be reminded that this fight follows directly on the heels of the war, which resolved the overarching myth arc pertaining to the legacy of Kaguya and its impact upon the rest of the world. Already the series will have to top what was up to this point the most over the top spectacle in the entire story. Granted, this should be possible with the right emotional content, but we will be getting to that later. Another issue in this vein is the way everything has been paced, namely, that it goes against the standard rules for creating tension through rising action followed by a falling action and climax that lead into a resolution.

When building suspense, a story has to set up details that will come into play later, ramping up tension as it introduces characters and conflicts. The overarching plotlines of this series did this for the myth arc and the conflict between Naruto and Sasuke, tying them together while keeping them somewhat separated. As I mentioned above, the former plotlines were tied up with the defeats of Obito, Madara, and Kaguya, leaving room for Sasuke to take his place as the most personal of Naruto’s antagonists. The problem however, is the pacing.

Sasuke isn’t just becoming the main problem for Naruto after those three; he is becoming the main problem right after, as in just a minute later within the story itself. As a result of this, there is less room for the story to breathe and allow for the reader to not only digest past events, but to also build up tension toward the fight with Sasuke. What makes the climax and falling action so cathartic an experience is that it is the equivalent of letting the air out of the balloon after inflating it to the point where it is on the verge of bursting. For Sasuke to follow so quickly afterward keeps readers from not only moving past the other resolutions, but also from being able to actually feel as much tension despite the story having tried to build him up for so long beforehand. This ties into another issue, the repetitive plotting.

The final arcs of the manga had featured a series of rehashed villains within a rather short period of time. First we had Obito, a hybrid of Senju and Uchiha DNA who became the jinchuriki of the Ten-Tailed Beast and was in an ideological conflict with Naruto. Then, we had Madara (Sasuke’s predecessor as incarnations of Indra), a hybrid of Senju and Uchiha DNA who became the jinchuriki of the Ten-Tailed Beast who was in ideological conflict with Hashirama (Naruto’s predecessor as incarnations of Ashura). Next, we had Kaguya, the origin of the Sage’s bloodlines who turned out to be the Ten-Tailed Beast, having merged with the World Tree, and in conflict with everyone who does not look forward to being turned into a plant-human hybrid incapable of defecation. Finally, we had Sasuke, the latest of Indra’s incarnations with the power of the Sage’s eyes who is in ideological conflict with Naruto. Once again, we had a member of the Sage’s line using ocular powers to enforce their ideals. All of this within a relatively short time both within and outside of the story. It does not help that these repetitive “climaxes” thus wound up sapping the readers’ energy, leaving them spent just when the story had reached the point when they should have been at a high point of stored tension, resulting in diminishing returns in terms of actual emotional impact.

The final issue with the fight as it is now happens to be the two characters themselves. Since their fight at the end of Part I, Naruto and Sasuke have become less interesting characters as a whole, although one could argue that this extends to the rest of the cast as well. Naruto has lost much of the fire that defined his earlier self, and while this can be taken as a sign of his growing maturity, it is disconcerting to see him expressing less passion against people he should be less than happy with than he did earlier in the story. When he lashed out at Sasuke earlier on, it made sense because he was a young man desperate to save his friend from his own self-destructive nature. It added a reason for readers to care about what was at stake. Here, Naruto wants to save his friend and keep his promise to Sakura and those who tasked him with saving the shinobi world, but there is a surprising lack of emotion to make his struggle more relatable. There’s only calm even when witnessing Sasuke use a painful illusion on Sakura and hearing of his plans to destroy the old system in the most destructive manner possible.

Meanwhile, Sasuke has been one of the most awkwardly handled elements of the entire story. While he deliberately made himself an enigma in the earlier sections of Part II, later sections of the plot saw him swing this way and that as a character, as Kishimoto clearly had little handle of the character. One moment saw him find strength in the power of his bonds by thinking back to his time with Team 7, only for him to pull a 180 not much later in the Land of Iron. After that, he lacked any real sort of conviction, and only appeared to settle as a character after Itachi’s departure and his talk with the Hokage. It became much harder to comprehend his character as a whole, and this in turn exacerbated reader apathy toward him, as he became harder and harder to sympathize with in spite of the story’s ham-fisted attempts to give him an out for his misdeeds.

Taking things further is the problem with each character’s approach to solving the world’s problems. Naruto’s approach is less a plan than a Hallmark card, and while a little idealism goes a long way, it goes so much better when there is something cohesive to back it up. At the same time, Sasuke’s is naïve in its own way, and is in the end just a short-term solution, except this Band-Aid is going to pull out more than hair.

A well-executed fight is more than choreography and spectacle. It is also about the externalization of internal tensions as they boil over from the realm of the mental and emotional to the outright physical. The fight at the end of Part I did just that, as it took the growing tensions between Naruto and Sasuke to their logical conclusion. It should mean something here, but with the characters as they are now, there is little to work with. We know that there are ingredients for tension, but we don’t really feel these ingredients.

Due to the poor story construction, the repetitive storytelling, and the less than likeable characters, what should have been by all means the highlight of this series feels tepid and nothing more than a period to end the sentence rather than the exclamation mark that signifies its position as the story’s true climax. Much has been said about the decline of Naruto over the years, but if one were to take but one section of the story as an example of this rotting, one need only look at the execution of what is meant to be the decisive battle between Naruto and Sasuke.

 
Things That Sucked: The Beginning of the Fight
Yay, more attacks that make the stuff that came before this look small-scale. It’s amazing how a manga that once brought up the limitations of jutsu and their associated costs managed to turn into Dragon Ball. But at least it led into

 
Things That Weren’t All That Bad Actually: The Fight’s Final Two Chapters
Once the fight became a matter of two exhausted young men engaging each other with basic tools and taijutsu, things took a turn for the better. Where fighting with mechas made out of chakra feels impersonal and ridiculous, fighting with one’s own fists, legs, and even head feels intimate and “real.” Only by engaging each other at such a personal level could Naruto and Sasuke properly show readers the culmination of their emotional struggle after all these years in both real and the manga’s time. Their final clash, with an Amaterasu-empowered Chidori on Sasuke’s end and a Rasengan on Naruto’s, echoed a familiar visual motif in their battles, with both of the characters’ arms blown off below the elbows. They had been literally and figuratively disarmed, and with their weapons cast aside, now was the time to communicate and fight whatever battle there was left to be fought with words.

This conversation was a surprisingly heartfelt one. Sasuke admitted to his insecurities and just why he was so rough with Naruto (although I think that this could have been hinted at earlier, but foreshadowing wasn’t exactly Kishimoto’s strong suit after a certain point). Sasuke was forced to acknowledge that he had always respected and envied his closest rival and friend, admitting defeat even as his former team mate continued to claim that he was still aiming to beat him down. Having finally met an immovable object, Sasuke’s hatred-fueled path was forced to a complete stop.

While this moment could have been so much more powerful if the writing leading up to it had been more stellar, what we got wasn’t half-bad—a breath of fresh air in a sea of mediocrity. At this point, things seemed to be taking a turn for the better. I actually felt hope that Kishimoto would be able to end his series on a high note after an extended period of horrendous writing. Let’s face it; you can’t disappoint people if you don’t get their hopes up beforehand.

 
Things That Didn’t Suck Entirely: Wrapping Things Up
I have to admit that I almost felt something reading these last two chapters. Certain things aside, I did think Sasuke’s chapter was decent enough, even if Orochimaru and Kabuto wound up disappearing and Spiral Zetsu literally fell to pieces for some reason. The next chapter is similar in that it evokes feelings of nostalgia that are countered by moments where readers can’t help but go “what the fuck am I reading?”

While it was actually nice to see the story come to a close, there were some rather perplexing developments there. First of all, fat Anko. Fat Anko. Yes, the first woman in this series you might have considered masturbating to got fat. Probably from all that dango. Then there’s the woman Choji married and had a child with. Karui. Really. Did they even have a conversation during the main storyline? On the other hand, at least it subverted clichés about how childhood romances lead to lifelong relationships. Speaking of marriage, isn’t it strange how the two couples involving Team 7’s core members featured no interaction between partners whatsoever? Also, in attempting to parallel his ending chapter with the very first one, Kishimoto decides to have Naruto’s son vandalize the Hokage monument. The problem with this is a similar one to that pointed out by Red Letter Media when discussing the use of parallels and call forwards in the Star Wars prequels, namely that the author seems to have failed to understand the significance of the original scenes.

In Chapter 1, Naruto vandalizes the monument because it is but one of his usual cries for attention. He does this because he’s an orphan and has no friends or family to speak of. Furthermore, the adults hate him for a reason he has no control over, with their kids not treating him that much better. What seems to initially be the work of a childish (well, he was a kid) prankster turns into something a bit more tragic. In Chapter 700, his son does the same thing, and it is implied that his father is an absent figure in his life. This is rather strange given that he has the chakra reserves to have a shadow clone or two hang out with his kid while he’s busy with work on occasion, although he might just want to avoid the mental strain. Why is Naruto such a poor father? Yeah, he’s often busy with work, but you would think that he would be aware (on a very personal level) of what neglect does to a child. You would think that he wouldn’t leave Hinata to handle the child rearing. You would think that he’d do better than be annoyed at how his kid’s behavior reflects on him. Well, you apparently thought wrong. Well, it’s not like Sasuke’s any better as a parent judging by his daughter’s thoughts (so is the Uchiha curse still a thing, or can we not have to worry too much about a future Uchiha going nanners when their crush dies?).

It’s also a tad concerning that no follow-up was ever made to Naruto’s being made to understand just how negatively the actions of the superpowers had impacted smaller countries. We never did find out what happened to Rain after Konan died. In fact, not one mention is made of the smaller nations in this final chapter despite their resentment playing a part in what was the Akatsuki’s public plan.

 
Conclusion
This finale capped off a series that should have ended years ago. It’s not all bad, with certain parts of the final battle actually working and the final two chapters having their good points. The problem is that readers could not appreciate what they got as much as they otherwise could have due to so much poor writing going on beforehand.

Still, even with all I’ve written so far, there is still more to be said about Naruto and its weaknesses. You should see what I mean soon enough.

Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: Kaguya Ōtsutsuki Strikes

With this arc, the story finally began to go somewhere as Madara initiated the Moon’s Eye Plan only to find himself betrayed by Black Zetsu, who revealed that he was actually working on behalf of Kaguya, mother of the Sage of Six Paths and his brother (note that two of those characters were never so much as brought up in any shape or form until the final stages of the war). With this, Kaguya was revived and the true nature of the Moon’s Eye Plan was—oh fuck it, it’s all dreck. To make a long story short: newly introduced progenitor of chakra users was behind everything and wants to turn everyone into White Zetsu for reasons. Good guys finally get a chance to beat up a woman. They do.

In case you haven’t figured out by this point, it was clear that Naruto just plain sucked to read due to the writing having increasingly taken a turn for the worse over several years, with each arc seemingly attempting to outdo the last in how bad things could get. If one could take solace in anything, it was that at least the story was nearly over.

 
Things That Rocked: Black Zetsu Entertains Us
I will say this about the arc, if one was to name the real star of it, Black Zetsu would be a serious candidate by virtue of his constant fucking with people. Let’s look at how he proceeded to screw with Obito, Minato, and Madara, in that order.

First up, Obito was about to piss off readers by becoming even more of a Nagato clone, sacrificing his life to use Rinne Tensei in order to revive all the people he’d killed during the war. It was a disappointing but not altogether unexpected development given expectations after Neji died in light of Obito being yet another foil to Naruto. But what’s this? Black Zetsu enters the scene, having escaped Chojuro’s notice with ease, takes over Obito’s body (somewhat), and resurrects Madara instead! Holy shit, yes! Thank you, Based Black Zetsu!

Then, when Minato decided that he’d be a good father for once in his pathetic existence, he had a convenient flashback to set the mood as he transferred the other half of Kurama’s chakra into Naruto (weird that he somehow managed to master using said chakra despite dying right after the sealing). As with that really dumb moment near the end of the first Matrix movie where Trinity doesn’t know when to save the spiel until after the good guys are out of the Matrix, this bought Black Zetsu enough time to fucking snatch that shit away at the last moment. That’s right! Just as Minato holds out his hand to transfer Kurama’s other half, Black Zetsu jumps up in between him and Naruto’s dying body, and fucking snatches that shit. Granted, Obito would fight back soon afterward, but that was still funny, and yet another mark on Minato’s record of constant failure.

Finally, when Madara stood victorious, having initiated the Infinite Tsukuyomi and preparing to take out Team 7, guess who stabs him in the back. Three guesses, first two don’t count. Black fucking Zetsu, that’s who!

Black Zetsu, take a bow.

 
Things that Sucked: A Dumb Way to Handle Madara
But don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that the story handled Madara’s defeat well. The guy was a poorly written villain that was so powerful and given so many outs that it was clear that only the author could save the characters. So how do you find a way to have the good guys beat him? First came another one of them last minute powerups that Kishimoto saw fit to keep giving his two main characters. However, when that didn’t prove enough, he decided to have Black Zetsu fuck over Madara for the sake of Kaguya’s revival. No satisfying victory ripped from the jaws of defeat over the smug villain here, just an excuse for Kishimoto to have the good guys beat up a cardboard cutout of an antagonist. Speaking of which…

 
Things that Sucked: Kaguya
How much can a character who was introduced into the backstory within the very same and overlong arc and then shoehorned into the main plot suck?

Masashi Kishimoto attempts to answer this difficult question by revealing that Kaguya, a character who was not revealed until near the endgame, was actually behind Black Zetsu, who was in turn the true mastermind of the clusterfuck that is this manga’s villainous schemes.

Despite it seeming that Madara was the real mastermind behind everything that was going on, wait for it, he was actually being manipulated this entire time by Black Zetsu. Who was pretending to be a homunculus created by Madara’s will. When in reality he was created by Kaguya, the mother of the Sage of Six Paths. The very same Kaguya who was only introduced into the when Madara was talking about what he discovered when he read the tablet. Apparently, she was a tyrannical bitch who manifested the Ten Tails to reclaim her chakra from her sons. Also, Zetsu was actually behind the Uchiha madness, going from Uchiha to Uchiha in order to corrupt them in order to bring about the conditions necessary to revive Kaguya. Retcons galore! Shocking swerves galore!

There are so many things wrong with this particular development. First of all, look at all the information it retcons. Now, retcons by themselves aren’t necessarily a bad thing. However, retconning details that had only become relevant within this very arc on the other hand, is near the height of stupidly bad writing. You can’t reveal that previously revealed information was inaccurate and expect it to hit the reader when said information was relatively recent in its conveyance.

Second, it continues a pattern of Kishimoto failing to write decent female characters. Kaguya is a completely flat character with little personality other than wanting her power back at all costs. She doesn’t speak much, her tactical thinking sucks, and everything she has to say or do depends on what exposition Black Zetsu has to offer. She’s nothing more than an antagonistic entity without any character. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some antagonists without much character can work because they serve as blank slates for viewpoint characters to play off. Moby Dick has no real personality by virtue of being a whale, but it is Ahab’s obsession that drives the conflict. Lovecraftian horrors could care less about humanity, but this indifference is part of what makes cosmic horror as a genre so damned terrifying on an existential level. Kaguya does not offer any of these things. She’s there to be an antagonist. She doesn’t feel like a force of nature. She doesn’t feel like a god given how quickly Naruto and company turn things around. And she most definitely doesn’t provide much space for anyone to frigging project anything onto. She’s wallpaper.

Third, it’s simply a twist for the sake of having a twist. It wasn’t properly foreshadowed. The character has little connection to current events or people. And it further pads what was already a heavily bloated arc. You don’t just foreshadow a huge twist within a short arc and expect it to work. Otherwise you wind up with the Espada twist all over again. Kaguya has no real relationship with any of the characters. As a result of that, there’s little emotional investment and character interaction for Kishimoto to work with. At least Madara and Obito—hugely flawed in their execution as they were—had some connection to the main story. Meanwhile, this climax continues long past the point where it was somewhat interesting. This is the equivalent of expanding the final battle sequence in The Avengers into something as long as the rest of the movie. Do you know how old what was an otherwise awesome, if slightly long climax like that would have gotten? The war arc had up to this point gone on for nearly 200 chapters. A story can’t breathe if the frigging climax keeps going and going and going like the fucking Energizer Bunny.

Fourth, it introduces extraterrestrials into the story. Introducing aliens and/or time travel into a plot that has never so much as hinted at either is usually a good sign that an author is out of ideas. It was worse than the whole Ten Tails thing because this is the sort of thing that people joke about when discussing just how bad a story can possibly get. And yet, here it was.

What makes it worse is that it absolves the system, the system of people who thought myopically in spite of their good intentions, the system whose existence created the incredibly flawed world of Naruto, the system that was implied to be the biggest enemy of those who sought reform, the system whose existence led to both heroes and villains coming up with plans to change it, of any and all blame. All the bad things that have happened? Blame the Uchiha, who were in turn being used by Zetsu, who was in turn created by Kaguya for the purpose of coming back to life.

Kaguya, thy name is suck.

 
Things that Sucked: The Fight
The battle itself was another problem with the arc given its poor structure and some of the odder elements of the fight.

First off, there was little in the way of real strategy and hackneyed attempts at teamwork. We had Naruto try to use a feint, but that didn’t really amount to anything, and for the most part, the fight involved each side to trying to overwhelm the other with brute force. Black Zetsu did all the thinking for Kaguya, who used her teleportation skills rather poorly given the potential applications, and only wound up harming her own cause at one point (see the results of the high gravity environment). Meanwhile, Team 7’s group effort at the end didn’t feel all that earned given what had happened shortly before and what would happen shortly after the fight.

A second issue was that the battle lacked much in the way of in-story logic. By this, I refer to Obito somehow managing to intervene all the way from the afterlife despite the lack of precedent in this sort of thing throughout the series, which had for the most part been somewhat ambiguous about the nature of the great hereafter aside from the glimpse offered by Kakashi’s meeting with Sakumo earlier in the story. Instead of being satisfying, it was merely distracting and an excuse for Kishimoto to throw the video game developers another bone.

 
Things that Sucked: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Filler
Another issue with this battle is that it ultimately came off as glorified filler. Think of it this way: aside from offering a solution for dealing with Madara, what actually changed in the greater context of the story once Kaguya and her plans were revealed? I guess Black Zetsu was dealt with, but even he wasn’t really the major threat in the arc. Obito did die, but he was dying one way or another.

Let’s face it: aside from some mostly minor details (and Madara), Kaguya had no real lasting impact save for the stuff that comes up in sequels set after the series proper, and Sasuke was going to do what he did anyway.

 
Things that Bugged Me: Why Were the Kage Necessary for the Summoning?
No really, why were the ghosts of all the previous Gokage necessary to summon our heroes back to their dimension? I could understand needing assistance to summon them and perhaps skill in controlling their chakras along with deep knowledge of such a technique, but were these the best choices? I guess it was fanservice, really.

 
Conclusion
The best part of the arc, Black Zetsu’s antics aside, was when it ended. It was basically poorly written filler revolving around a crappy twist that was used to get the story from Point A (the problem of Madara) to Point C (the defeat of Madara and Black Zetsu). Unfortunately, unlike most content used to pad out stories, this arc proved relevant to sequels and spinoff material. On the other hand, you can do what I do whenever I come across most of said material: ignore it completely and chuckle at all the poor stupid bastards still spending money on this franchise.

 

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.