Shortly after returning to Konoha with the fifth Hokage in tow, the tensions that had been festering within Team 7 ever since the aftermath of Orochimaru’s attack finally boil over, as Naruto and Sasuke violently confront each other at the hospital. Despite Kakashi’s best attempts at alleviating these issues, Sasuke leaves the village to seek the power he desires from Orochimaru. Due to circumstances, Konoha personnel shortages force Tsunade to send a team of genin led by the newly promoted Shikamaru to bring Sasuke back, with the unlikely squad of would-be rescuers forced into clashes not only with Orochimaru’s personal team of bodyguards, but Sasuke himself.
Things That Rocked: Sasuke’s Turn
You know what, as crappy as the later writing based around it got, I thought that Sasuke’s turn was a good thing for the story. Like Vegeta, who sought greater power as the lowly Goku continually bested his efforts; Sasuke was negatively impacted by Naruto’s growth. Rather than properly acknowledging Naruto as a rival, Sasuke’s characterization as a person with an inferiority complex that compensates for it with a superiority complex causes him to instead see Naruto as a very personal opponent. The fact that Itachi was interested in the other boy does not help matters given that Sasuke had in many ways internalized the idea of Itachi being his personal opponent, and his alone. For his nemesis to show interest in someone else only added to his frustrations about the gap between them (although it should be noted that Sasuke’s complex about Itachi kept him from realizing that part of this gap could be attributed to Itachi having far more experience than him and that he himself was still a pre-teen). Instead of bolstering their friendship, Naruto’s growth instead is one of the factors that cause Sasuke to turn on him and the rest of Konoha.
I also feel that at this point in the story, having Sasuke turn when he did added a very personal element to the conflicts in the story. Orochimaru was an opponent in that he desired Sasuke for his goals, but at the same time, he had conflicts with other characters due to the scale of his plans. The Akatsuki was a hostile entity, but they had no emotional connection to Naruto proper. Sasuke, on the other hand, was a very personal goal and antagonist for Naruto to face down. Better yet, he was still a sympathetic character at this point, and the Uchiha subplot had not been played out, in contrast to later on.
What I mean by this is that Sasuke was still genuinely sympathetic. However, after genuinely trying to kill Naruto (although this could be somewhat played off to some extent), he then proceeded to work willingly for an enemy of Konoha, attacked the jinchuriki of a foreign country, killed security officers who were doing their job of defending the state heads from terrorists and assassins, and had only some of his actions excused by plot developments that kept him from outright dirtying his hands at times, regardless of his intentions. Naruto’s frequent bursts of outrage when others rightly pointed out Sasuke’s criminal record thus came off as overly emotional and unbecoming of someone who wished to one day head an entire ninja village.
Things That Annoyed: No Country for Young Women
Look, I get that shonen battle manga like Naruto like prefer to focus on the bonds between males in a way that lies somewhere between deep mutual understanding and homoeroticism. But would it have killed Kishimoto to make at least one of the girls relevant in this arc other than as either wallpaper or a source of angst for Naruto? I’m not one of those guys screaming “equality this, equality that,” but after finally having a female character shine somewhat in the previous arc, it would have been nice to show that the Konoha kunoichi weren’t entirely wastes of ink. I guess Temari got a chance to save Shikamaru’s ass and get some sweet, sweet ship tease with him, but she’s from Sand, and let’s face it, between her and Chiyo, Sand kunoichi with some degree of importance kick ass.
Things to Ponder: Bland Settings
One thing that has frequently annoyed me is the blandness of the settings for fight scenes in this manga. It’s always some wide open space with a minimum of physical features that will impact the results of the fight (with the notable exception of Neji’s battle with Kidomaru and parts of the Kaguya fight, with the less said about that the better). It doesn’t help that fight scenes tend to also be in or around forests, meaning that we see people fighting while surrounded by trees a whole bunch of times. I just wish that Kishimoto had tried something different.
For example, why not try using the urban settings that characters find themselves in? Instead of having characters move into areas with more fighting space, why not take advantage of these cramped settings for more claustrophobic fight scenes? It’s much harder to fight a guy when civilians are in the building while you and he are also hiding behind different objects in your immediate surroundings, creating a similar sort of tension to that often found in either any action movie involving gun battles like Enemy at the Gates or horror flicks like Alien, as the very surroundings play a part in the outcome of the tense situations present within each.
It’s why I liked that sequence where Zoro is left to fend for himself at Whiskey Peak in One Piece. He is forced to move around with a mixture of skills and smarts, having to scurry around the environment dealing with a group of enemies that far outnumbers him. That’s the sort of dynamism that I would like to see more of in any action manga.
Things That Rocked: The Tragedy of Kimimaro
Looking at Kimimaro’s backstory, you see more than a basic history. You also get a better idea of the change in the shinobi system as even powerful clans like the Kaguya found themselves getting wiped out by more organized and more numerous opponents in the form of entire hidden villages. This example of world building illustrates how smaller clans and villages found themselves unable to compete, feeding into what Pain would claim was a strength of Akatsuki’s rise (a shame then that the manga never followed up on the idea of disgruntled villages and clans other than the two leaders of Amegakure).
Feeding into the tragic tale of Kimimaro was the way it evoked the earlier plotlines with Haku and Gaara, and then played them toward an ending that was in its own way even more tragic than the first of these. Where Haku could take some solace in being able to serve his master, who in turn was revealed to care about the boy, Kimimaro was to Orochimaru what Zabuza could only pretend Haku was to him: a weapon to be aimed at his foes that was to be tossed aside once it was broken. Kimimaro, left without a clan or a purpose, needed something to fill the void. He, like many other orphans in similar situations, chose Orochimaru. Gaara aptly pointed out that Kimimaro’s devotion was not devotion like he initially thought it was, but rather a means for someone without anything to feel like his life had some sort of meaning, even if that meaning came in the form of loyalty to a heartless monster. There but for the grace of Naruto walked Gaara, and hiss victory was an empty one. Not only was Kimimaro killed by his own illness, but Gaara himself could only feel sympathy for someone he easily could have become.
Things That Sucked: A Bit Overlong
Chandler’s Law states that when the plot is beginning to stagnate and not really go anywhere, the solution is to have someone enter the room with a gun. Taken generally, it refers to how authors, when placed in such a situation, will introduce a new element that kicks off a new course of action. Kishimoto had played such a card previously during the Chunin Exams Arc once he came to the conclusion that one, the story was going nowhere because as cool as the fights were, the main topic of interest was always whatever Orochimaru and Sand were planning, and two, the tension related to that plot was at its peak and would be lessened if he kept drawing things out with the battles between Chunin candidates. As a result, the story, which had been building tension and impressing readers with its developments up to that point, was able to kick into a new gear.
Kishimoto would try to replicate this success later on during the Fourth Shinobi War, but the problem with that arc was that even though he tried to keep things fresh by switching between opponents, not only was it still one ongoing war turned battle against the Uchiha remnants, but it was also incredibly overlong, taking up about a quarter of the entire manga up to that point, about as many chapters as it took from the beginning of Part I to the end of the Search for Tsunade Arc.
As for this arc, he chose not to do much in the way of this particular trope, with the closest thing to executing the Law being the introduction of Kimimaro and the return of the Sand Siblings. However that did not stop the arc from feeling a tad padded out after a certain point, as readers simply wanted to get to Naruto and Sasuke’s final confrontation in Part I, a problem not in any way rectified by the fight being interrupted by a (necessary, given its importance to understanding Sasuke) flashback to the Uchiha Massacre.
Things That Rocked: The Characters
If the series had something that really was going for it during this arc, it was its characters. In addition to the aforementioned developments with Naruto and Sasuke, there was significant time devoted to the various members of the participants in the attempted retrieval. The start of the arc set up some plotlines as Lee, Choji, Neji, Kiba, and Shikamaru had their various character arcs either continued or initiated (although, as I will point out later, Kiba was the weak link here). Over the course of the arc, the kids were forced to grow up and handle a tough mission without oversight from a senior ninja, and they proved themselves for the most part worthy of that trust. Lee took a deadly risk when he opted for career-saving surgery, although it did shed more light on the strength of the bond uniting him and Guy. Choji proved himself a capable ninja who was willing to bet his life and a person with the qualities needed in a true friend. Neji took inspiration from Naruto’s never say die attitude, going outside of his comfort zone to take down an opponent who could seemingly counter everything about his fighting style. Kiba…something, something Akamaru? I guess he strove to become strong enough to protect his best friend. As for Shikamaru, he learned what it meant to be a leader and why village leaders felt the need to be stronger than their subordinates.
There was also a bit of character interaction that fed into these characters. One thing I missed while reading much of Part II was the way characters stopped going on about things outside of work or Sasuke when interacting with one another. During this arc you had Lee and Gaara interacting for the first time since their match during the exams. Their conversations revealed more about each character, namely what it was that Lee valued and what Gaara had come to think about life and loneliness, a far cry from the lack of any such talks when they met again at the start of Part II. Iruka had his usual lunch with Naruto, and it is scenes like that which serve to illustrate and strengthen the idea of bonds between characters in the eyes of the reader.
Things That Sucked: Kiba is Kind of Flat
As I said before, Kiba received the weakest writing among the members of the rescue team. His character is pretty flat, and while his bond with Akamaru was emphasized, he did not really grow much as a character other than resolving to get stronger for his dog’s sake.
Seriously, could someone help me out here? I’m really stumped about what the point of Kiba’s inclusion was.
Things to Ponder: Naruto, Why Do Your Clones Suck So Much?
Something minor that really got on my nerves during my reread of this arc was how useless Naruto’s clones could be. I mean, why the hell were they just standing around with their dicks in their hands letting Sasuke beat the crap out of them like it was the polite thing to do? This later repeated itself during Naruto’s battle against Kimimaro. Cripes, for a jutsu that was supposed to take advantage of Naruto’s huge chakra pool, the Kage Bunshin seemed borderline useless at times.
On a side note, I wonder if the Konoha hospital and other buildings have insurance for the damage done by ninja. I mean, they needed to get a couple new water tanks after the little spat between the boys on the roof.
Things That Rocked: Choji and Neji Get to Shine
I loved the contrast between Choji and Neji’s battles, especially given that there were different thematic focuses within each that reflected their situations. In Choji’s case, he went from a fat loser with only one person he could call friend to a ninja willing to make sacrifices for the team, as well as a person who had plenty of people he could call true friends and comrades. As a result, when dealing with his opponent, it was not a matter of smarts, but of using deadly upgrades to increasingly up the ante with brute strength, beating his enemy (and antagonistic foil) at his own game.
Meanwhile, Neji faced an opponent who toyed with him and countered the Byakugan and Gentle Fist style with deft tactics and long-range attacks. Such a predicament would have broken a lesser person, but Neji, having been inspired by Naruto, chose to press on and try to figure a way out. This cat-and-mouse game was legitimately thrilling, as it seemed more and more likely that Neji was doomed with each passing chapter, as Kidomaru alternated between long-range attacks and summons acting as distractions and impediments to the Hyuga’s movements. For once, the setting played into the battle’s nature, as Kidomaru hopped from tree to tree in order to keep as hidden as possible from Neji’s Byakugan. Only by coming up with a risky countermeasure allowed Neji to take down his enemy with the advantages he did have. Of the various battles other than the main attraction of this arc, this may have been the best in terms of the overall quality of content.
Things That Sucked: The Villains are Dumbasses
You would think that after one of their members failed to show, the rest of the Sound Four would be more alert and decide to just take out the rescue team just to be on the safe side instead of continually splitting off members from the group to handle all their enemies with an attitude of anything other than expecting to lose said members as a sacrifice. Yes, it was clear that Konoha was aware of their presence and would probably want to recover their sole Uchiha heir, but even so, it would have paid for them to be cautious instead of having just one member take on a whole team of unfriendly ninja. You could argue that they split off without expecting to actually meet again, but their arrogance and somewhat unjustified confidence really puts that idea into question.
Things to Ponder: Why Was Lee Fighting Fit Right After Surgery?
Does anyone else find it weird that in spite of needing time for rehab (it’s actually said outright); Lee already somehow is in fighting shape (albeit at less than 100%) on what seems to be the day after the surgery? Is medical jutsu that ridiculously effective?
Things That Were Neat: No Fucking Around With Gaara
I appreciated that of all the characters that appeared in this arc, it was Gaara who clearly wasn’t fucking around in the slightest. What does he do when facing Kimimaro? He doesn’t waste too much time talking like his siblings, preferring instead to let his actions do the talking for him by attempting to alternately bury and crush Kimimaro like a bug. And once that’s done, does he let up? Hell no, he just keeps piling it on because he’s seen this movie. The moment you let up is when the monster reveals it’s just fine. So he just keeps at it. As with his siblings, he turned out to be an ideal opponent for taking down Kimimaro.
Things That Sucked: The Later Events Don’t Fit
This is more a knock on Kishimoto’s later story planning, but given their awareness of these events, why didn’t Tobi or Zetsu do something to interfere with the situation before Orochimaru got their hands on Sasuke? They could have easily taken out all the players on the scene and kept things secret so Itachi didn’t retaliate in any way. Was Black Zetsu that interested in simply observing the latest incarnations of the Sage’s sons?
Something to Note
When first confronted by the Sound Four, Sasuke remarks that they caught him at a bad time, a sentiment repeated later on when he is caught by the samurai in the Land of Iron. Both of these events precede Sasuke taking a darker turn in his sub-plot.
Things That Sucked: Pointless Drama
I will say this though. As much as I liked what was going on with the various supporting characters, I didn’t care much at all for the tension surrounding whether or not Choji and Neji would survive, especially in light of how they were treated by the story later on. While I can understand why a shonen manga wouldn’t want to kill off characters just like that, these two characters did not get much screen time in Part II, serving mostly as walking scenery, only for Choji to get a power-up that called back to this arc except with nowhere near as much solid writing, and for Neji to get killed off pointlessly by fucking Obito (who was not really called out for his BS once he repented).
Things to Ponder: Some Questions about Location and Distance
How did Sasuke know exactly where to go when he left the Land of Fire? Seriously, when did the Sound Four get a chance to tell him? Did they leave a guide somewhere? Markers? If so, you would have expected someone to be able to track a mere genin after Orochimaru’s troops were neutralized.
Also, how nearby was Orochimaru’s base of operations for an injured and tired Sasuke to get there by himself and for Kimimaro to arrive so soon after leaving his death bed? Seriously, as with the final war arc, Kishimoto seems to have little sense of scale and distance.
Things That Sucked: Team 7 Needed More Bonding Time
While characterization was a strength of the arc and while Sasuke’s turn made sense, there was a problem in the form of Team 7’s bond, namely that it lacked enough substance to really make readers feel what they should have felt. One thing that always annoyed me after Sasuke left was that Kishimoto would have flashbacks to events that we never saw before, as if he was attempting to compensate for the overall lack of quality time that the team had spent together on-panel. This overall lack of substance wound up hurting the story as Sasuke plunged further into darkness, with Naruto and Sakura seeming like a couple of fools who were trying to save someone that they didn’t even have all that strong a relationship with. A little more time just showing the slower, quieter moments as the team interacted with one another and grew closer would have benefited the story quite a bit.
It also didn’t help that the team never really felt like a team. While Naruto and Sasuke worked well together that one time, Sakura was kind of a third wheel, whether as a team mate or as a person in relation to either of them. Kishimoto’s attempts to rectify this way at the end of the story thus came off as a token gesture rather than a culmination of the characters’ growth. Meanwhile, Sakura also had a crush on Sasuke and grew closer and closer to Naruto, but these aspects of the relationships in Team 7 were hugely overshadowed by their other bonds. Even Kakashi came off as a tad aloof from the rest of them, so much that it went beyond the aloofness expected of his character. Rather than getting closer to his team, it just came off as him projecting his old team onto them.
Things to Ponder: Why Are You All Shouting Your Techniques?
It was kind of strange that during this arc, everyone started shouting their techniques. Not that there wasn’t some precedent, but for the most part, the names of the jutsu were simply thought out for the reader’s convenience. Suddenly everyone decided to eschew stealth in favor of acting like the most clichéd shonen battle manga characters…which they were, I guess.
Things That Sucked: Confusing Choreography
One issue that I had with this arc was the at times confusing nature of the fight scenes. Granted, this is true for several other parts of the manga, but at least on those occasions I was able to eventually make sense of what was going on in each panel. During this arc, especially during fights involving Sakon and Ukon, I had no fucking idea what happened. Characters would prepare to do something, then the twins would do their thing, but it wouldn’t be shown so much as skipped in the blank space between panels. I actually had to look to make sure I could see the twins fighting as one unit back before Ukon was revealed outright.
Things That Sucked: Overuse of the Fish-Eye Effect
Another relatively minor gripe, but what the hell was up with all the use of fish-eye effects? While Kishimoto has applied it to different dramatic panels (in fact, the first arc of Part II does this as well), it just got flat out distracting at times, if not silly. The panel with Itachi depicted from such an angle doesn’t look dramatic, just weird in a bad way. Rather than being scary or showing how twisted Sasuke’s obsession with revenge has left him, all it does is make one of the biggest threats yet introduced to readers seem ridiculous.
Things to Ponder: Tayuya’s Summons
Seriously, where did Tayuya’s summons come from? For the most part, creatures in this series belong to the animal kingdom, but she had oni whose appearances evoked the three monkeys, kind of like the Juubi. They also fed on yang chakra through yin chakra constructs that attracted chakra of the opposite type, similar to the Juubi’s feeding on life force. I guess this will never get any follow-up. It’s a shame, because between the appearance of the Juubi’s sealed state and its similarities to the oni, there could have been an interesting link and foreshadowing all the way back here.
Another point I’d like to make is that Tayuya clearly had more common sense than Kabuto. When Shikamaru tried to attack her with her own summons, she simply cancelled the summoning. Given that it was Kabuto who had to cancel Edo Tensei, you would think that he could have done that instead of trying to take down Itachi the hard way. Sheesh.
On Foils, Orphans, and Themes
Before I get into the final battle of Part I proper I’d like to bring up the use of orphans in fiction. Orphans are immediately sympathetic to audiences given that they come with their ready-made tragic histories. They are also able to serve as blank slates upon which both the story’s events and the audience can project traits onto. By lacking a background in terms of a standard family, they immediately are pushed into a conflict with the rest of the world, acting as underdogs that must fight to prove themselves to others while also battling any self-doubt of their own. Orphans are thus isolated, with such characterization emphasizing the individual, making it even easier for them to act as surrogates for the audience. As a bonus, the fact that their parents are absent allows authors to create mysteries surrounding both these absent parents and the origins of the orphaned characters. Furthermore, orphaned characters are convenient, as they lack roots, meaning that authors find it much easier to justify having them leave their initial environments and go on adventures. In the case of Naruto and Sasuke, these details apply differently.
When it comes to Naruto, his background justifies his desire to create bonds. Because his past is initially an empty slate to him, he is forced to move forward as a person to make bonds with new people. As with Sarutobi, this set up Naruto as being someone who was truly capable of seeing the entire village as his family, having from the start had no one else he could call that. Even when he does meet his parents and learns about the Uzumaki clan, this is long after he made other bonds with people he had come to consider his family, not by blood, but by their bonds. This is where he differs from Sasuke.
While Sasuke is also an orphan, he has a clear-cut and tragic background from the start. He had his immediate family, as well as his famed clan, whose mon (clan symbol) appears as a constant visual motif throughout not only his flashback, emphasizing its importance to him, but also in the present on his outfits, showing just how strongly the idea of “Uchiha” defines him as a person. In his flashback, even other kids think of him first as an Uchiha, emphasizing again that his identity as a member of his clan supersedes his identity as himself. As a result of this, he is indelibly linked to the past, with him being bonded to ghosts he cannot truly break away from, resulting in a person who not only lives for the dead, but has great difficulty pressing forward into the future.
Despite Naruto’s obsession with saving Sasuke getting old as the story went on, here it makes a lot of sense. Because he had nothing, Naruto feels the need to create new bonds with other people. Because he had nothing, he doesn’t take these bonds for granted, and feels the need to protect these bonds at all costs, because in some respects they are all he has. When Sasuke tries to sever the bond, it hurts Naruto, but also compels him to protect it, because he simply cannot bear to lose it after having been alone from the start. Even Sasuke’s earnest attempt to kill him doesn’t take simply because Naruto has a somewhat unhealthy obsession with protecting what bonds he has (even if the story fails to really acknowledge this).
Understanding this contrast is vital to comprehending just why these characters with their respective similarities repel and attract each other so much, something pointed out in the story itself in moments such as the one where Sasuke points out how Naruto has not truly lost a loved one, because he was born into a lonely existence. As a result, two characters who serve as the orphaned protagonists of their respective storylines find their paths alternately splitting off and converging.
Things to Ponder: The Age of the Police Force
Perhaps this was because I reread these chapters online due to not having the physical volumes with me at the time, but the translation seems to suggest the Uchiha had acted as a police force for much longer than would be expected of an institution younger than the village.
Things That Rocked: Heart
Say what you will of the back-and-forth nature of the fight itself, if there was one thing done right, it was the emotional content of the fight. Naruto and Sasuke’s bond had been developing since their first interaction in the story itself, and watching their intense conflict play out without someone to interrupt was something readers had wanted, and needed, to see. A well-executed fight scene is often more than a matter of choreography and eye candy. It is also a matter of how this fight plays into internalizing the characters involved. Having much of the fight involve fisticuffs instead of long-range attacks as parts of the final battle in Part II did created an intimacy that reflected both the closeness of the two characters as well as the highly emotional nature of their duel. In seeing them fight, we were seeing them.
Things to Ponder: The Size of Konoha’s Standing Army
According to Sasuke’s flashback, the number of students during his year was 90, with 30 in each class. Taking into account the fact that students spend approximately six years in school, this suggests that based on these numbers, there would be a total of approximately 540 students in the Academy at any time (assuming of course that the numbers did not fluctuate due to people dropping out or joining, or other supply shocks as a result of international tensions). Kakashi also suggested that as many as a whole third of all students fail the tests their jonin instructors give them, forcing these kids back into the exam. In addition, the chunin exams see maybe a few people receiving promotions out of a group that numbers in what appears to be the hundreds. Yet somehow each large village is able to call upon thousands of troops in time for the Fourth Shinobi World War.
More than that, for some reason, when Konoha was attacked by Orochimaru and the Sand, the invaders were said to number in the hundreds, yet based on later information, Konoha, being aware of a possible attack, had called their troops back for security purposes, meaning that they should have had the invaders sorely outnumbered.
Things That Sucked: The Aftermath of the Uchiha Massacre
While I didn’t have that many actual complaints about the writing of the flashback itself, I do feel that its aftermath, outside of how it affected Sasuke, could have been done better. Besides the hostile members of the police force and his immediate family, Sasuke was never shown meeting or interacting with other members of the Uchiha clan. If he had, it would have made the contrast between the Uchiha compound before and after the massacre even starker. Kishimoto tries to put more faces on the victims of the attack by having Sasuke think of the husband and wife who ran a senbei shop, but it didn’t really add to the experience for readers because that was the first time we had ever seen these characters. Had we met them earlier on, it would have hit us so much harder.
Things to Ponder: The Police Force Kind of Sucks at Their Jobs
Maybe it’s because they already figured that Itachi was ready to turn on them, but did anyone else find it odd that they handled what appeared to be Shisui’s suicide note with their bare hands? Not even a plastic parcel to put it in. They just handle it casually and give it to Itachi so he can submit it to the Hokage’s office for further investigation by the ANBU. Maybe it’s because they know he had something to do with it and didn’t trust the village by that point, but still, at least they should have tried to act like cops. Maybe they didn’t have fingerprinting at the time, but this kind of seems odd given that with the level of technology available in the story, they should have had means of dusting for prints or something like that.
Things to Note: The Conflict between Clans and Villages
It had been implied through databooks and various parts of the later manga that in creating what became the hidden villages, there had been social transformations as individual ninja went from showing loyalty to their clans before all else to serving their villages. Hints at what would later be revealed about the Uchiha clan are presented during this flashback, as there is clearly some sort of tension among Itachi, his clan, and outside forces such as the village and ANBU. Itachi’s outburst about the foolish short-sightedness of his clan thus takes on two meanings: being a limit for geniuses like himself who find themselves isolated in a sea of lesser talents, or a clan that focuses solely on its own self-interest without considering how its actions might affect others.
Things to Note: The Isolation of Those with Talent
Rather than the typical dumb equals good and loners equal bad theme that much of the rest of the manga appears to espouse, Itachi gives an interesting little speech about what it means to possess talent and power. Compared to civilians, ninja are feared because they are people capable of easily overwhelming anyone without the same sort of training. Compare the movements of a genin like Naruto to Gato’s goons, and you can see how even a low-ranking ninja would be something to fear for the average person.
Among ninja themselves, those with talent like Itachi’s find themselves alone because their talents cause others to single them out. Because of his talent, Fugaku placed a lot of pressure on Itachi as a representative of his clan. Because of his talent, Itachi was chosen for membership in the ANBU ranks, placing him in the center of any conflicts between the village and his own clan. At the same time, because of his talent, people clearly feared Itachi to a certain extent even before the massacre, and he wound up becoming an inscrutable figure to those around him, less an individual than some sort of mysterious genius who could not be easily read. This type of depersonalization thus offers readers a different sort of loneliness than what has been most common so far in the story.
It should also be noted that when Itachi begins to rant about moving beyond false perceptions and the limitations of a self-created reality, his speech parallels Orochimaru’s own from the Konoha Crush Arc. In some ways then, the individual finds themselves crowded by the standards set by those unwilling to climb as high, a rare moment of what appears to be sympathy for geniuses in this manga, even if it precedes a horrifying act of violence.
Things to Ponder: The History of Konoha
When Kakashi states that Konoha was built to mark the battle between Hashirama and Madara, was he getting his facts right? Also, how exactly were Naruto and Sasuke’s lives remarkably like those of their predecessors aside from their rivalry turned enmity? There are some similarities in character and certain aspects of their circumstances, but there was a lot more to Hashirama and Madara’s difficult relationship.
Things That Rocked: Sakura Takes a Step Forward
Looking at this development in a vacuum that ignores later writing, I rather liked Sakura’s decision to work hard so that next time Naruto went after Sasuke, she would be there with him. I appreciated that after so many false starts, Sakura finally had found a way to make herself useful. It also illustrated the changing nature of her relationship with each of her team mates, as she realized that not only was she a poor contributor to the overall team effort, but also two other things.
These two things related to her bonds with each of her team mates. One, she was not the heroine of a romance novel where she got the brooding but handsome cool guy who she could heal with her love. No, Sasuke was a damaged person who needed a lot of help, and she would be there to do so alongside her team mates. Two, Naruto was not the bratty comic character that was an impediment to her goals. No, he was a true and understanding friend who she could trust with her very life.
So long as one views this development in a vacuum, it’s actually decent writing. It’s a shame that one cannot view it in a vacuum, but we’ll get into that in a future post.
Things That Rocked: Ending the First Part
The last chapter of the first part of Naruto begins with a summation of what happened to each of the characters focused on during the arc. Each of the young men and women involved take their first steps toward their respective futures, as Kishimoto closes the book on the plotlines introduced and illustrated over the course of this arc. He also follows up on an older plotline, revealing that Neji is on better terms with his uncle and cousin, revealing that the Hyuga clan has made progress even without a Hokage to outright change them forcefully.
As Naruto leaves the village with Jiraiya, we switch scenes to a hidden base where the Akatsuki have gathered. The promise of them moving out of the shadows and becoming a more prominent threat is made, with Pain revealing that their own goals will also need time to come to pass.
Why the Akatsuki needed all those years before they could begin moving is never quite explained, although it might have had to do with raising funds and preparing the necessary sealing jutsu, or something.
While far from perfect, this arc was for the most part a solid one with some rather notable highlights. While some of the flaws that would become apparent in Part II were noticeable, so too were the virtues that had been present from the earliest parts of the manga. It was not as consistently solid as the Chunin Exam Arc, but at the same time, it did manage to reach some pretty notable peaks.
The later war arc would try to capture a similar feel on a larger scale to create a climactic arc starring all the characters who were still around at that time (and then some), but it made the mistake of going on far too long even compared to a fairly lengthy arc like this one or the Chunin Exam Arc in addition to lacking the proper build-up for its climaxes that these other two arcs did. Characters who had grown as people and ninjas did so with their own subplots that were given time and attention here, but did not benefit from the same throughout Part II, which focused too much on the Uchiha plotline and Naruto’s quest to bring back Sasuke at the cost of an ensemble cost that had originally been able to help shoulder the load for the story’s drama.
At the same time, this arc ended on a high note, as the loss of Sasuke to Orochimaru, while unexpectedly dark given the optimism that otherwise characterized the manga, did set up future plot lines and gave the story an emotional backbone to its conflicts. While the execution was not perfect, it was still a more than readable arc, ending the strongest part of the manga with a bang.