With Jiraiya having succeeded in forcing the Akatsuki to beat a hasty retreat, the old sage and Naruto proceed onwards with their quest to find the new Hokage, in spite of the fact that you would expect a village to want their next leader to be up to date in their local knowledge and unquestioningly loyal to the—oh screw it. What follows is an arc that shifts the focus back to Naruto and a smaller core cast, including a couple of newly introduced characters, a contrast to the previous widening of the story’s scope during the Exams and the following War Arc. At the same time, after quite a bit of build-up, the arc takes things a step further by increasing the scale of battles without blowing the story’s load when the Sannin engage each other in mortal combat alongside their students.
Things That Rocked: A Joke That’s Actually Decent
I won’t beat around the bush: Kishimoto has no talent whatsoever for comedy. Most of his attempts at humor in this series fall flatter than Hinata’s character because he just isn’t any good at telling a joke. This makes it all the more surprising when he actually does manage to intentionally write or draw something funny. After the dark ending of the Itachi fiasco, Guy enters the scene showing off his now memetic “Dynamic Entry,” with his antics afterward injecting some much needed levity into what was a dark moment in time that foreshadowed more disturbing developments as the story went on. As silly as it was, everything about Guy here was just competently done, so I don’t have that many complaints. He even manages to cheer Naruto up! If only Kishimoto had used him or other characters as well during some of the darker sections of Part II.
Things That Rocked: Naruto the Kid
This is a part of the series that I managed to truly appreciate only when I reread it for the sake of this post. It was just flat out adorable seeing Naruto be a kid instead of the professional ninja he was, made easier by him being separated from his team and often away from Jiraiya while in a place where no one knew who or what he was. We get moments of Naruto just hanging out at a market and enjoying the various festivities going on. We get sweet moments between him and Jiraiya like the one with the shared Popsicle (makes you all the more annoyed that many other bonds in the story aren’t written with half as much care to detail) that illustrate how the older man is becoming not just a mentor, but a family figure.
Last but not least, we got this panel of Naruto eating snacks. Seriously, I just love that panel. He looks so cute in it. In fact, this is the one panel in the entire manga that makes me find Naruto not cool or stupid or awkward or bumbling or obnoxious, but just flat out adorable. I just wanna pinch his cheeks when I see it.
Aside from that, it was just plain nice to see characters being characters outside of the overarching plot. We got some insight into Jiraiya’s background not only through the obvious means of his interactions with Tsunade and Orochimaru, but also details like his hypocrisy when it comes to young men’s morals and the rather lucrative side career he had as an author of dirty books.
Things That Rocked: Rasengan!
This arc reminded me of the days when the Rasengan was this amazing jutsu that not only hinted at the pinnacle of offensive jutsu, but was also an excellent finishing move coming from the same tradition as Goku’s Kamehameha. Of course, as with other famous finishing moves, it became overused and played out over time, but here, it was still fresh, and it was still awesome.
Part of what makes it work is the fact that in contrast to many other power-ups later on, this was a logical progression from previous training sessions, allowing the story to build on the fundamentals of the chakra system it had set up, adding verisimilitude to the proceedings, while also taking things to a whole new level. We learn early on that using the jutsu requires applying the fundamentals of chakra training that had earlier been brought up during Naruto’s tree climbing and water walking exercises. However, given the difficulty the Fourth Hokage had in creating the jutsu, Naruto is only able to truly use the technique when he does something that characterizes his future importance to the ninja world: he comes up with an unorthodox solution.
By thinking outside the box, Naruto is able to use a jutsu that normally takes years to master, and at the same time, the technique clearly strains its newest user, keeping up the theme of how the stronger the technique is, the greater the drawback, something that was lost in the shuffle of Part II. This also, as suggested in the previous paragraph, gives characterization to Naruto, as it becomes clear (if it wasn’t already by this point) that for all his book-dumb tendencies, he was actually a rather clever and capable ninja under the right circumstances. By thinking out of the box, Naruto also relates to the theme of finding solutions to the world’s many problems, as it is his outsider’s viewpoint that allows him to find new ways to solve old problems.
Something that bugs me even now is the fact that there are variants of the basic Rasengan despite the original technique being perfectly lethal all on its own. Why hit someone with a bigger version of the usual attack when the original works just fine and probably requires less chakra as Naruto did to Itachi’s double later on? Furthermore, the Rasengan is portrayed during this arc as a deadly technique that has the potential to end fights once applied properly. I mean, it’s not nearly as practical as something like the later Rasenshuriken, which added more destructive ability (practical only for widespread destruction and the odd immortal with multiple hearts) and the ability to be thrown once combined with natural energy.
Things That Rocked: The Battle of the Sannin
The final meeting of the three great ninjas of Konoha lore was a suitably intense one. We’d previously had hints about the abilities of this legendary team way back in the Chunin Exam Arc, and it was after a lot of build-up that we finally got to see a strong hint of what the elites of the shinobi world were truly capable of. Because none of the three primary combatants was able to go all out—Orochimaru due to lacking the use of his arms, Jiraiya due to being drugged, and Tsunade due to being out of practice and having to overcome her phobia—what we got managed to in many ways top the headline battles of the previous arc while still promising more sometime down the line. Again, this was a great way to build up audience expectations without going too far with the serial escalation.
Not only that, but for once, a female character got a chance to shine, and when she wasn’t shining, there was at least some excuse for her less than stellar play. Granted, it’s kind of strange that she was having so much trouble with a guy whose taijutsu skills weren’t even anything special despite her excelling in that area, or that once her phobia came into play she became useless. But once she got her much needed character development, she showed readers why she was so praised for her medical jutsu and superhuman strength.
Even the stuff not directly involving the Sannin was relatively decent. Kabuto was the star of the show despite getting taken down in the end due to the fact that despite realizing that he and Orochimaru were potentially outgunned, the dude temporarily took Tsunade out of action after she’d messed up his nervous system, almost killed Naruto, and quickly handled Shizune. Guy deserved a raise for that performance alone, even if he seemingly turned his brain off when Naruto Rasenganed his ass.
Things That Rocked: The Characters
The meaning of what it meant to be Hokage was given further refinement during this arc, with both Naruto and Tsunade undergoing important development. Naruto, continuing from where he left off, came to greatly respect not only the position he desired, but also the people who filled it at the end of the war. In addition, his nindo, first codified at the graves of Haku and Zabuza, was given a serious test in the battle against Orochimaru and Kabuto (in fact, it is telling that his first response to hearing Tsunade’s story from a secondhand source is a deliberate callback to a similar scene in the Wave Arc). Meanwhile, Tsunade’s cynicism gave way to a rediscovered optimism as Naruto’s example and her epiphany about the nature of bonds brought her back into a mindset capable of moving past tragedy and working toward a better future. The significance of such character development once again fits with the manga’s themes about overcoming past hardship and treasuring the connections one makes with others.
Jiraiya also got some much needed depth, as we saw just how loyal he was to the village and how deeply he respected the Hokage position and those who had filled it. We also got a great glimpse of the many sides of his character, be it the buffoonish pervert, the at times wise if lazy teacher, the loyal but self-deprecatory ninja, and the ruthless professional killer.
Things That Sucked: Just a Little Thing about Tsunade’s Nickname
No, I’m not going to make a dirty joke. If you expected that, I’m insulted that you think so little of me (I prefer a little more challenge when it comes to that, thank you very much). Anyway, this is a minor nitpick, but I felt that the reveal of Tsunade’s nickname could have been better executed. Now Kishimoto is capable of some pretty good parallel cutting between scenes (he even admitted in one interview to basing some of his stylistic choices on Hollywood techniques). The scene where Sasuke seeks Naruto out while the Akatsuki close in on him at the inn is one standout example of this done right. You can go over that scene and clearly imagine it as the storyboard for such a tense moment in an animated adaptation. Unfortunately, the gag about the “legendary sucker” didn’t quite work out as well.
The problem with that scene is the comedic timing. We have Jiraiya bringing up her nickname only to cut away from him to the gambling den where Tsunade is being eyed like a prime cut of beef by the sharks running the casino. Unfortunately, instead of either cutting back and forth between scenes or just outright getting to the point by immediately having someone at the gambling den bring up Tsunade’s other title, the reader is forced to wait for the joke, a wait that kind of kills the momentum of it.
Remember when I said that Kishimoto ain’t much with comedy? Case in point.
Things That Sucked: The Lonely Kid with No Friends Seems to Have Peers in Similar Positions
Also nitpicking, but seriously, for a kid with no friends, Naruto sure had opportunities to make friends with peers that found themselves in similar predicaments. You would think that a kid with his charisma and other positive traits would have made friends sooner. I suppose that’s one of the problems with pretty much any story where a loser protagonist without friends suddenly makes some over the course of it.
Things That Sucked: Kabuto’s Sudden IQ Drop
I brought this up earlier, but it kind of annoyed me that Kabuto suffered a sudden drop in intelligence after he’d earlier blitzed through Tsunade, Shizune, and even Naruto using a combination of skills and smarts. He was flat out dominating, and totally deserved any praise he got, and then some, something readers really needed to see after so many hints at just how skilled he truly was when not pretending to be some mere failure of a genin (kind of odd then that he was so unprepared when Dosu screwed with his ear canal).
Unfortunately, Naruto grabs one of Kabuto’s hands after letting the guy stab him so that Orochimaru’s second-in-command won’t be able to get away. The problem with this scene is that Kabuto’s other arm and both legs were still free, and given the speed at which he’d been moving earlier, he should have easily been able to avoid Naruto’s attack and counter him. Also keep in mind that earlier in the battle, he’d physically overpowered the kid with little difficulty.
It was also a bit odd how, after teasing at Kabuto’s loyalty to Orochimaru not being absolute, it didn’t really go anywhere during this arc. In fact, he outright saves the guy from Tsunade, making everything a moot point in spite of the whole ambiguity of his character being a prominent part of his sub-plot before that moment. We didn’t have any idea why he was loyal or a hint of what he was thinking, making it feel like a waste of time. Furthermore, this doesn’t really come up all that much later on in the story, with Kabuto failing to do much to make readers question his allegiance to the serpentine Sannin.
Things That Sadden Me
What bothered me upon rereading the arc was the realization that special summons no longer seem to evoke surprise among the populace despite the earlier awe that readers and other characters seemed to have when seeing big ass animals suddenly appear from out of nowhere. Seriously, everything that surprises characters in early parts of the manga appears to have become boring for the overall populace somewhere in between Parts I and II of Naruto.
Things That Sucked: Certain Parts of the Tsunade Component
Despite having praise for parts of Tsunade’s plotline, I do have some issues with it. While I understand the parallels to Haku, Tsunade’s backstory was a bit rushed, making it harder for me to properly sympathize with her. Haku had the advantage of being the first antagonist with a sob story and the fact that he told Naruto without resorting to a flashback forced the reader to imagine things and focus on Haku’s emotions as he told his story.
At the same time, while there wasn’t quite enough weight behind Tsunade’s angst, I did appreciate how her thought process leading up to her fateful decision was not rushed, and that we were given a montage of scenes over several chapters to really understand the internal conflicts that were brewing within her. This served to create a rather suspenseful mood as she prepared to meet with Orochimaru, even though one could guess what she was going to do after going over her character and her behavior up to that point.
Here’s another bit of nitpicking, but for a taijutsu specialist (at least judging from her data book stats), she was awfully unimpressive against Kabuto. I realize that she was probably a bit rusty and past her prime physically, but still, you would expect her to put up a more impressive showing against a guy who said so himself that taijutsu wasn’t his thing, soldier pill or no soldier pill. It was also annoying how she didn’t just go for the kill when she had an opening. Instead, she punches him (with a far less powerful punch than usual courtesy of injuries suffered during the fight) and then turns away to heal herself! While Orochimaru is watching from afar! I thought these guys were supposed to be professional killers!
Last but not least, as much as I appreciate fanservice, what we got from Tsunade during this arc was just plain awkward. Bad enough that her breasts are ludicrously big (crossing the line from “hot and jiggly” to “I don’t want to see her topless”), but they also, by virtue of her having cleavage that would be noticeable from a plane several miles up, distract from the drama of some scenes involving her. When Orochimaru stabs her with his mouth holding the blade, it almost looked like he was motor boating her! Bad Kishimoto! Bad!
Things That Sucked: Naruto Fails to Impress
I found it odd, after his spectacular showings against Neji and Gaara, that Naruto could be so unimpressive during several parts of this arc. I understand that he was in the presence of some of the greatest ninja to have ever lived, but until his moments of vindication, he just kept disappointing. I also understand the need to build drama and the fact that repeated failure makes the eventual success all the sweeter, but did Naruto have to screw up so badly so many times? All this did was make it so that Naruto looked like nothing without the aid of the demonic fox sealed within him, making Kabuto’s taunt hit all the harder, even if Naruto was able to overcome the guy by using a jutsu that didn’t require the fox’s aid.
Things to Note: More Random Musings
Looking back, I’m kind of surprised that after the Wave Arc illustrated the relationship between clients and the hidden villages, and after the manner in which economics and politics had led to tensions between Sand and Leaf, Kishimoto seemed rather disinterested in further showcasing the relationship between the shinobi world and the rest of it. It was interesting though to see a former Iwa chunin using his skills to become a gangster outside of his home country.
Another thing to note is Iruka’s comments about the origins of the Leaf headbands, which referred to an early chakra control practice, making it all the weirder that none of the genin seemed to have been taught stuff like tree climbing or water walking in spite of supposedly knowing the basics of chakra control and being able to move rapidly (note that the members of Team 7 were able to do a variant of the body flicker during the bell test’s initiation). Also, it looks like, judging by Hashirama’s flashback later on, Iruka was way off about the origins of the leaf insignia.
The flashback highlighting Tsunade’s influence was an interesting one not because of the primary content, but the little details it suggested about the history of the shinobi world. Her suggestion to include one field medic in each team helps highlight the evolving nature of ninja warfare, with this being one of several little touches throughout the story that hinted at how even without Naruto’s intervention, some parts of the ninja world had gotten better or changed over the years.
I can’t tell if Orochimaru destroying the castle was a funny way of making an entrance or symbolic of his inherently destructive philosophy (in which he adds to his own lifespan at the cost of everything that surrounds him). Or maybe he just hates tourist traps. Maybe his parents were killed at or by one. I wonder if anyone ever got around to either fixing the place up or paying for the damages.
I suddenly am reminded of Manda II and his disappearance from the manga after Kabuto used him in Part II. You would think that a genetically modified serpent would be something useful to have when fighting two powerful Uchiha or facing the end of the world as everyone knows it.
Despite the emotional and later practical significance of Hashirama’s necklace in Part II, I’m surprised that its importance was skimmed over and no one really made a remark about it after Naruto smashed it. It’s also funny how the supposedly cursed necklace was outlived, and that starting with its destruction, Naruto began his ascent to worldwide celebrity.
I wonder what ever happened to the soldier pills. You would think that they’d get some screen time due to the practicality of having them on hand for things like a long mission or war.
Kabuto’s ninja info cards suck balls. Otherwise, maybe he would have been more acute to Naruto’s background. Also, how the hell did he get that photo from the exam room?
Why do people keep jumping in front of others to shield them with their bodies? Why not strike the attacker from behind or the side?
So it’s mentioned (at least in the side-text of the chapter covers) that the dreams of the Hokage included peace, so at least there was some set up for later plot lines.
While I wasn’t as stoked reading it as I was the previous big arcs, I found the Search for Tsunade a mostly solid one that allowed the story to simultaneously dial things back after the recent war sequence while also upping the ante with the sheer scale of combat. While it never quite reaches the highs of the Chunin exams or the battle of Konoha, and has its share of flaws, it is an overall solid arc with a rather spectacular climax that slowed things down and revved them up at the right times while setting up later events.