It is widely argued among the fandom that when bringing up the worst arcs of Naruto, one of the standouts is an arc known as the “Penis Arc.”* Needless to say, I agree with the many people who care little for this particular part of the manga.
So why is it so loathed?
It has a lot of things that would normally make up a solid arc: Orochimaru, new characters and plotlines with potential, an epic battle sequence, the first appearance of several of the rookies after the time skip, even the first appearance of Sasuke in Part II.
So what went wrong?
Things that Sucked: The Pacing
Well the first thing I want to bring up is the pacing. For some reason, the entire arc feels extremely drawn out. Read through the volumes and it becomes rather noticeable. While Masashi Kishimoto has always tried to add a cinematic element to his work, this time, he just went too far. While he would remedy this somewhat in the following arcs, it just dragged down a part of the story that had so much promise.
For example, and I’ll name just one, because I could be here all day, remember the part where Kabuto realizes he forgot to take the classified Konoha documents with him?
Anyway, in a brief sequence that could have been drawn by Tite Kubo, Kishimoto uses more panels than is necessary to illustrate Kabuto realizing this fact and then heading back. While this might work in the context of a film storyboard, it fails here due to how much it slows the pacing down. The scene is meant to be a tense one, as the Konoha group heads towards Sai’s location, with Kabuto’s realization being the impetus for them meeting up.
If it had been done with an efficient number of panels, we could have easily cut back to the other side, and the tension would have been ratcheted up. Instead, Kishimoto uses up three panels to have Kabuto realize he forgot the documents, when two would have sufficed, and then adds a totally unnecessary panel to the end of the page. If he’d wanted to fill the page, he could have simply cut down on the panels and made them larger.
And trust me when I say this is a relatively minor example. Other parts of the arc are drawn out in a similar manner, and it all adds up to a poorly paced story. When it was done prior to meeting up with the “spy”, it worked, as it served to slowly build up the suspense. Here, it just killed the pacing.
Things That Didn’t Suck: Slowed Pacing Done Right
Now, contrary to what some might have said, I personally thought that the mostly wordless and large panels contributed nicely to the reunion between Team 7’s youthful trio. Things were properly slowed down, and an important moment was emphasized as we got our first look at Sasuke after the time skip. In fact, the only problem with the sequence might be the art, which feels oddly flat, which in turn robs a bit from the scene’s impact.
But if you thought I was done, there’s more to this gift that just keeps giving for me to complain about.
Things that Bugged Me: Yamato’s Pep Talk
This is more nitpicky, but it’s always annoyed me whenever my mind went over it. Remember when Yamato tried to give Sakura that pep talk way back in Chapter 297? Forget about the pairing implications (or lack thereof), I’m here to talk about the problems I always seemed to have with this scene.
When Yamato told Sakura that what was important was not what she did for Naruto, but the feelings that went into her actions, he was basically telling her that it’s the thought that counts. As nice a sentiment as that is, unfortunately however, in the real world, or even a military setting, the opposite is more likely to be true. It was almost as if Kishimoto was trying to justify Sakura’s later failure to help Naruto when she lied to him and tried (and failed) to off Sasuke during the Kage Summit arc.**
In the end, I just disagreed with Yamato’s claims, and in fact doubted his ability as a team leader. A leader should motivate his followers, not put a Band-Aid on their boo-boos only for things to turn into a total clusterfuck later. He should have told her that she was useless at the moment, but that she shouldn’t give up on finding ways to be useful. Hell, the fact that she even asked Yamato as to how his jutsu could be performed was a great start. She really could have used a better pep talk that used that as a foundation.
Or maybe I should just blame Kishimoto for his inability to offer decent advice. Given that he believed his story was imparting readers with valuable life lessons, I won’t be surprised if the current generation of youngsters who actually did do just that grew up to be massive twits.
Things that Sucked: The New Characters
Take a look at the characters introduced at the start of this arc.
We get a shifty looking fellow named Danzo, his subordinate, code-named Sai, and Yamato, who turns out to have a few secrets of his own.
The first issue I have with the characters happens to be their designs. Aside from Danzo, who appears to be a shifty old veteran whose appearance downplays who and what he is, Sai and Yamato have rather questionable looks. Sai, as suggested earlier, looks like something out of a gay bar, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it does make me wonder about Danzo’s personal proclivities given that Sai’s outfit appears to be a standard ROOT/Foundation uniform (it also doesn’t help given ruminations among the fandom about the at times seemingly homoerotic nature of some of the bonds focused on in the story). Yamato, on the other hand, looks plain odd yet unmemorable at the same time. Unlike the distinctive dynamism of earlier character designs, there’s just something dull about him. While I suppose this might work for a covert agent, it would have helped then if he’d had an interesting personality to go with it. This brings me to my next point.
These characters, well except for Sai, also suffer from a proper lack of characterization for at least a good chunk of the story.
Seriously, after this arc, what could you tell me about Yamato’s character? Not much. Yeah, he was the only surviving subject of a prior attempt by Orochimaru to cultivate the cells of the first Hokage, but that was only relevant so Yamato could serve as either a handler for Naruto or a battery for the bad guys later.
At least Danzo got a chance to be fleshed out, you know, just in time to die. We’ll get into that in a later review.
Furthermore, everything Yamato did was of little lasting importance. His comments to Sakura that fueled the dreams of shippers meant absolutely nothing, and that’s because for some inexplicable reason Kishimoto saw fit to play with the shippers despite the fact that romance just wasn’t ever all that important to the story (word of advice: unless it is a prominent part of your story, keep your romances simple so that you avoid the kind of fluff and foolishness that Naruto had). His comments to Naruto about not relying on the fox’s power seemed to be the start of an important moment of character development about our hero relying on his own strengths as a person instead of selling himself short and giving in to the demon inside him, an extension of the idea that Naruto needed to distance who he was from what others initially thought him to be. However, this proved utterly pointless given that in a later arc, it became important for Naruto to rely on his prisoner’s power in order to keep up with the threats to the world, even if he initially had to take it from Kurama by force.
Sai actually got a good bit of character development during the arc, and for all its faults, I rather liked that Kishimoto took the chance to make him a part of the supporting cast (even if he wound up mostly irrelevant except as a walking plot device as needed) while using him to illustrate the manga’s theme of the power of bonds.
So what else is wrong with this arc, considering that I’ve actually been rather nice to it?
Things that Sucked: Pointless Plotting
Well, there’s the plot structure. It’s almost pointless. Good guys get info on Akatsuki spy. Spy turns out to be Kabuto, who turns out to have turned out Akatsuki. Orochimaru ambushes the team. Naruto shows us a portion of the Kyubi’s power. Team 7 is briefly reunited, with Sasuke pwning people left and right. Orochimaru and his disciples get away. Team 7 has failed.
There, I just saved you time that would have been lost had you read through the entire arc. This arc’s plot borders on being what is known as a shaggy dog story, as in the end, everything was all but pointless. Aside from Sai, little meaningful character development occurred. The status quo remained—Sasuke was still with Orochimaru, Naruto was still unable to make good on his goal of saving him, and Sakura cried a couple of times. What made it worse in hindsight was that aside from Sasuke betraying Orochimaru and then hanging out with the Akatsuki, the other two characters jogged in place when it came to their statuses within the Team 7 subplot.
Things that Sucked: Tsunade is a Dumb Blond Alcoholic
Oh, and in what might turn out to be a running gag with this series of posts, I have to point out the stupidity of Tsunade this arc. We get it Kishimoto, she has faith in Naruto.
Early in the arc, she finds out that the elders have interfered with her plans to let Naruto leave the village on missions due to the threat of Akatsuki. Even Shizune finds herself questioning her mentor’s decision making for a bit, and Danzo manages to get involved in the whole mess. Fortunately, Shizune comes around and Tsunade is able to let Naruto head out by making a deal with the shadowy leader of ROOT. It’s all about showing faith in the hero of the story given his seeming ability to make the impossible possible.
The thing is, the elders had a good point. Aside from the many questionable choices made by Naruto in the earlier arcs of Part II, there’s also the matter of there being an organization of S-class nin out for his head, and the fact is, each of them was skilled enough to either strongly test or outright humiliate some of the best ninja in the five nations. Hell, frigging Orochimaru was a former member. That should tell you something about how dangerous they are.
At least in the first arc of Part II she was smart enough to send in Guy’s team as backup. In this arc, while walking into what could potentially be a dangerous situation, considering that the spy was working in Orochimaru’s organization, you would think that it’d be a good idea to play it safe and send another team to back up Team 7 in case shit got real.
And you know what? Shit did get real. Orochimaru and Kabuto ambushed the team. And what did they do? They freaking followed them. This in spite of the fact that Orochimaru founded his own freaking ninja village and could have had minions all around the place for all we know. Thankfully for Team 7, it was just him, Kabuto, and Sasuke. They could probably handle it.
Brilliant decision making skills you got, Yamato. When did Tsunade hand you the idiot ball?
Little of what happened would apply to future arcs, with Sai getting shunted off to the side, Sakura continuing to get shafted, Yamato not really contributing much to the story aside from acting as Naruto’s personal babysitter, Sasuke betraying Orochimaru on his own terms, and Danzo being irrelevant until Kishimoto decided to kill him off.
Meanwhile, Naruto seemed to grow even more obsessed with Sasuke.
And before you argue that Naruto stopped relying on the Kyubi after realizing what the risk this posed to his precious people, oh wait, it becomes clear later that he needs it to fight on par with the baddies and save the world.
It was almost like a recreation of the Forest of Death, except you know, damn near pointless. And dull. The only things that got me excited were the lead-up to the arc and the fourth tail’s emergence. Everything else was basically filler.
In the end, the only things to take from this arc were Sai’s character development and the Kyubi’s rampage.
Worse yet, the arc managed to do something that no other part of Naruto had managed to do before: it bored me. And in any story, that’s the worst thing you can do as an author.
* This arc’s nickname stems from a brief running gag where Sai would make comments about Naruto’s manhood, amusing in part because Sai’s own outfit for missions makes him look like something out of a gay nightclub.
** Oh bother, she almost made a bad situation worse. But that’s okay. What matters is that she meant well. No. She put three fellow Konoha nin at risk (seriously, it was not smart to leave them napping on a forest road in a foreign country) and even made herself an easy target for Sasuke (twice!). In a way, Yamato’s words might have also served to justify her later ‘resolve’ after the encounter with Sasuke. I know a lot of idiots, I mean, dear readers, continued to insist that would be highly relevant during Sasuke’s redemption, but the problem is that they ignored a very blatant statement from the character herself when she makes clear that both she and Kakashi will let Naruto handle the issue of Sasuke. And that was exactly what happened. Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with their reading comprehension? Anyway, so Sakura resolved to let Naruto handle things and to have faith in her boys. Wow. That’s some amazing character development there. Came a long way from the girl who wanted her teammates to watch your back, eh, Sakura?