Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: The Akatsuki Suppression Mission Arc

Following an arc best known for comments about dicks, Kishimoto decided to venture out of his comfort zone away from softcore gay porn the usual, instead giving readers an arc that had the protagonists relegated mostly to supporting roles while a rather popular member of the extended cast got a moment in the spotlight. Known also as the Immortals Arc among fans, this one saw Naruto begin training in earnest so that he might become a powerful enough ninja to overcome the obstacles standing in between him and Sasuke’s return. As this was happening however, two new members of the Akatsuki were introduced, and having already nabbed another jinchuriki, they began to head into the Land of Fire. Standing between them and their goals is a special anti-Akatsuki task force that includes the members of Team 10, with Asuma and Shikamaru taking rather prominent roles in the fight against the Akatsuki’s dark plans.

While not perfect, it was far better than the previous arc, offering fans hope that the Penis Arc was nothing more than an aberration, and that the manga would soon return to a level of quality familiar to those who had fallen in love with it in years past.

Things that Rocked: A Supporting Cast Member Gets Prominent Panel Time
Something I did rather appreciate during this arc was the slight shift in perspective to a different member of the cast. After the previous arc, readers needed a palate cleanser, and by giving more focus to Shikamaru, the series returned to something that had contributed to its popularity—paying attention to its supporting players. While the overall execution wasn’t always the greatest, I did appreciate the growth Shikamaru went through over the course of the arc as he began to fully embrace the responsibilities of adulthood and being a ninja of Konoha.

Something I also rather liked that wasn’t in the manga proper was the episode where the entire running time was devoted to seeing Shikamaru’s delayed response to Asuma’s passing. It was completely different from anything in the series then and now, and despite featuring no action whatsoever, it did a pretty nice job of exploring Shikamaru’s character through an appreciable mix of writing, direction, and visuals. If there is any aspect of the manga improved upon noticeably by the anime other than seeing action scenes in motion, it’s moments like this, and I can’t talk enough about how I really wish that the episode’s contents had been in the manga.

Things that Sucked: Everyone Else Feels Extraneous
The problem with all the focus given to Shikamaru, however, is that in attempting to do something different it merely shifted one of the bigger issues with Part II. During this Part, the supporting cast was often ignored or left with skeletal writing in favor of focusing on the drama surrounding the main characters, particularly Naruto and Sasuke. By switching to Shikamaru, it gave a supporting character time to shine, but at the same time ignored every other character or treated them poorly, just as the story had when it was focusing on the main characters.

Naruto’s subplot felt somewhat tedious to read through, and the overall execution was rather lacking (more on that later). I suppose part of it could be attributed to Kishimoto perhaps trying to convey the point of view of how other cast members see the rapid developments of protagonists in these types of stories, but even so, what went on here just didn’t really mean all that much, nor did it really change anything given that all Naruto really achieved was a new technique that he needed a later bout of training to perfect, which happened right after he did pretty much nothing of actual substance over the next arc and then some. It was around here that one began to see the problems that arose as Naruto began to feel less and less relevant to his own story with the growing prominence of the Uchiha plotline.

Other characters who suffered during this arc were Shikamaru’s fellow team members. Ino and Choji were…present for the arc’s events, and while both displayed some new skills, they didn’t really prove all that relevant to the overall outcomes. Shikamaru got to avenge his mentor, and they managed to struggle with Kakuzu alongside Kakashi before Naruto showed up to try out his new jutsu on a live subject.

As for Kurenai, another theoretically important character in the context of this arc’s events, I’ll be getting into that in a moment.

Things that Bugged Me: Asuma Signs His Death Warrant
In contrast to the tragic story of Sasori and Chiyo and the very personal encounters with Sasuke and Orochimaru’s group, here the villains were given less prominence so that the focus of the story was instead Shikamaru and his bond with Asuma. While it did contribute to making this arc’s antagonists somewhat lacking compared to previous ones (see more on this below), it was understandable given the greater focus on a particular character’s development during the arc.

One issue with the emphasis on this bond, however, was how it marginalized the importance of Asuma’s bonds with other characters such as Ino, Choji, and perhaps most importantly, Kurenai. While the issue was somewhat rectified later on during the War arc for the first two characters, there was still the issue of Kurenai not getting much attention despite her relationship with Asuma and being the mother of his child. You would think that this sort of thing might be more important instead of just being brushed to the side for the rest of the story for the most part.

Furthermore, something else I took issue with was how transparent Kishimoto’s intentions could be when it came to killing off characters. Aside from the expected cliché of killing off mentors to fuel a hero’s growth, you could always tell what he was planning simply by virtue of his deciding to give a character significant panel time all of a sudden. It was obvious in the case of Asuma, and it was also obvious in the case of Jiraiya later on. What makes it worse is that while the deaths of Hiruzen and Jiraiya related to both themselves as people as well as with those they had mentored (in fact, those two have strong parallels to each other), in the case of Asuma, it wasn’t as emotionally gripping simply because we didn’t see him and Shikamaru interact with each other all that much beforehand (in fact, we didn’t see much of Asuma at all).

Things that Rocked: Akatsuki’s Surface Goals
I make no secret of my fondness for villains. Where heroes often fall into a basic mold for the sake of being sympathetic yet easy for audiences to identify with, villains can more often take a variety of shapes and forms that often make them far more memorable as characters. Naturally, even with all the clichés associated with villains, I still have a fondness for these tropes done right. This is definitely true for what appeared at the time to be the revelation of the Akatsuki’s goals.

Even if the plan was a bit too complicated for some younger readers to keep up with, it did a great job of reflecting the themes and conflicts in the story. Of particular note is Pain’s belief that conflict is an innate part of human nature that turned out to be important later. Here, it reveals just how warped the shinobi system is, in that even those that the audience would consider to be evil are warped by it even as they attempt to manipulate the nature of the beast for their own ends.

Something that does bug me in hindsight though is the whole bit about all the money the organization was raising. Like a few other things in the story, it turned out to be completely irrelevant given that funding was not an issue of any particular importance to either Pain or Obito as the story moved forward. Perhaps if the Akatsuki had been raising money to aid smaller nations and gain allies, or even mercenaries, this might have been a useful detail, but it wasn’t, so there’s not much else to say about it.

Things that Sucked: Shikamaru’s Schemes
One of the issues with writing a highly intelligent character is that of an author whose intelligence is dwarfed by that of the character. How does one hope to handle such a gap between potential applications of intellect? I suppose an author might leave things to the audience’s imagination to avoid the problem entirely, take some time out of their schedule to do plan things out in meticulous detail, or even consult an outside source for some perspective on how to proceed.

Given how Shikamaru’s plans were written this arc, it’s safe to say that Kishimoto failed to do any of these things. Shikamaru’s plan to kill, or at least debilitate Kakuzu by taking advantage of Hidan’s jutsu is a major offender in this regard. While seemingly clever at a glance, the entire enterprise falls apart the moment you take even five seconds to think about it. Somehow, Shikamaru was able to not only prepare things so that he would just barely dodge out of the way of any attack Hidan sent at him (all the more galling given that for all he knew, Hidan could have had other tricks up his sleeve), and then proceed, without Hidan, an experienced if not all that bright ninja, noticing that he’d avoided the attack and instead somehow squirted Kakuzu’s blood so that it looked like Hidan had successfully gotten a sample of his (Shikamaru’s) blood. Oh, and while at it, he had to make sure that he was able to make it look like he’d been cut by Hidan’s attack in the process. All of this while having to somehow come off as being so tired and/or afraid of Hidan that he, for whatever reason, wouldn’t bother trying to disrupt Hidan before he could initiate his rather tedious jutsu.

But wait, there’s more. After that plan is carried out, the next logical step involves revealing that he’s set up a trap involving a large number of wires and explosive tags. Somehow, he expected to get to this part without Hidan suddenly revealing some technique or weapon that might take him out long beforehand. Furthermore, this was all under the assumption that his team would even last that long prior to him capturing Hidan’s shadow (in fact, given how dangerous even individual Akatsuki members turned out to be, you would think that they would have waited for more backup before engaging).

Some of the best plans are the simplest ones because anything with too many moving parts has more areas in which failure becomes a possibility. Shikamaru’s plans during this arc have so many moving parts that it is ridiculous that readers were supposed to swallow the idea that he was anything near a realistically competent genius rather than a poorly written attempt at one, making Shikamaru a clear example of what happens when a very smart person is written by an author who can’t be described with the same term.

Things that Bugged Me: Kakashi’s Ridiculous Stamina
One thing fantastic settings often benefit from is a little verisimilitude. While escapism in stories is definitely not a bad thing in the slightest, it often helps to have a little something familiar so that audiences have a foothold of sorts as they interact with a world beyond the mundane. Stories often do this with things such as protagonists who are relatable and need to have things explained to them, hence Naruto’s hilarious ignorance of the very world he’s been living in back in Part I. Verisimilitude also comes in the form of making the unfamiliar familiar. In movies like Star Wars, the used future aesthetic serves to create a sense of the setting being one in which people have actually been living in. Of course those machines lying around need a little maintenance. Verisimilitude also means that conflicts and themes in such fantastic stories are often familiar, because they allow audiences to relate to things that they themselves are familiar with. Blade Runner asks questions about what it means to be human or a person, as well as the value of life even as it explores the nature of synthetic beings that can easily pass for normal human beings. Avatar: The Last Airbender brings viewers an ongoing war in which the protagonists battle against an empire interested in personal profit that espouses an ideology of bettering those they conquer. Even individual scenes can convey something familiar. Again, to come back to Star Wars, the famous Binary Sunset sequence manages to mix not only memorable visuals and now classic music, but also the familiar and the unfamiliar in one package. The setting and the visuals are unfamiliar to us beyond that of a sunset in a barren desert, as we pay witness to the striking image of a young man watching two suns set. At the same time, the young man could be any young man (hence the importance of the everyman character), and the emotions he feels, his desire for more than the life he currently lives, combine the offer something highly familiar to the viewer. What is unfamiliar melds with the familiar, and with that becomes relatable to us.

The same is true even for Naruto, which gives us questions of systemic flaws and the banality of evil, revenge, longstanding grudges, and so on. It also gave us a more ‘mundane’ form of verisimilitude by creating a combat system with its own internal logic and limitations. One object of importance was that of chakra limitations. Even a highly skilled ninja like Kakashi was limited by the fact that in between his implanted Sharingan and his physical limits as a mostly normal human being (by the standards of the setting), he could only use so many jutsu despite his personal knowledge of, according to the story, hundreds upon hundreds of techniques.

Which was why it was rather irritating to see Kakashi suddenly break out multiple uses of the Raikiri/Chidori like it was going out of style, in addition to other techniques and constant movements, after saying in Part I that he could use it about three times a day, suggesting that proper usage even once in a fight takes a toll on his body (it probably doesn’t help that using it to its full potential requires using the Sharingan). Given that mere usage of his Kamui technique a couple of times wiped him out earlier (we didn’t even see him use other techniques other than those necessary to chase Deidara, and at the end of this arc he claims that using Kamui after all his hard work would have only required bed rest), you would think that all the fighting he did this arc would have forced him to take a breather, if not rest in a hospital bed (isn’t it funny how the first arcs of each Part have Kakashi needing bed rest after using his dojutsu?). I can understand him getting into better shape over the time skip, but this kind of increase in stamina borders on ridiculous. While the later Pain invasion would bring back the problem of stamina, things later took a turn for the worst during the final arc, when seemingly no one ran out of energy, or did only to suddenly start fighting again after a quick boost.

Things that Sucked: Confused Themes
Something else that really stuck in my craw was the confused manner of handling the theme of how revenge is inherently self-destructive. Here, revenge was portrayed as something that was alright so long as you didn’t drag others into it (or not, given that Kakashi had to babysit), and even justified against a major douchebag like Hidan.

The problem with such a portrayal is that when writers write something that goes against a prominent theme (trust me when I say that there will be further explorations of this issue in future posts), it’s either poor writing or an intentional act. In the latter case, it’s not necessarily poor writing if such contradictions are deliberately invoked for the sake of examination. Perhaps Kishimoto could have used this arc to raise questions about whether earlier views were too heavy-handed, and maybe revenge isn’t as bad as it sounds. Maybe it could have led into an ambiguous situation as it became a question of whether Shikamaru was trying to take down Hidan out of duty or out of a personal vendetta. But it wasn’t, and we got what we got.

Plus, why even bother leaving Hidan in a hole? Unlike Kakuzu, he appeared to truly be immortal and even helpless at that point. Instead of interrogating worthless mooks, why not grab the head and start interrogating it? It’s not like he could have run away. It also would have made Konoha’s job much easier if Hidan had known anything of importance.

Things that Sucked: Hidan and Kakuzu’s Handling
Remember when I mentioned that I love a good villain? Well, for this arc, we got two interesting specimens: Hidan, a foulmouthed religious zealot, and Kakuzu, a strange mixture between Frankenstein’s monster and Ebenezer Scrooge.

Both of them had a lot of potential. Hell, the material we did get was actually pretty good. Hidan was hilarious as villains in this manga get, and Kakuzu served as the perfect straight man. They had abilities that were both pretty awesome, and at the same time, exotic enough to keep up with the transhumanist motif of the Akatsuki.

It’s a shame then, that much of their depth was relegated to the databooks.

As should be obvious, when a character is introduced in a story, they have to be given some characterization. But when doing so, it is only proper to do it in-story. To do it outside of the context of the story is lazy writing. Now sometimes, it works, as in the context of Watchmen, which provided material in-between issues and hid plot points and objects of characterization subtly throughout the main story in order to supplement what was already there. One didn’t need to read the supplementary material to appreciate and understand what was going on, but readers could do so anyway because of the further insights provided by said material, which offered greater depth to an already great story.

With Hidan and Kakuzu, we got hints of their stories, but we never really understood the why of their characters. And when we were given this material, it only came in the databooks.

It was like the Star Wars prequels all over again. Supporting characters were given little for the audience to work with, but we were expected to know who and what was going on because for some inexplicable reason, they expected us to buy all sorts of material that tied into the movies.

Let me repeat my earlier point: there’s nothing wrong with supplemental material. Done right, it can add richness to a story in a way that would otherwise be impossible within the confines of the plot. However, supplemental material should never be used to add depth to a shallow pool. A story should provide its own depth, but can afford to give an idea of the character. Supplemental material should do just what its name implies—supplement the story.

When you use supplemental material to provide depth that was not there in the first place, you’re committing the sin of bad writing.

Now, I’ve heard rumors from around about why this was so. Apparently, Kishimoto’s editors wanted him to speed things up so the story could get back to Sasuke (and look how that turned out). I also heard talk (the validity of which I question) that Kishimoto’s own personal life had its own issues at the time, further impacting the execution of the arc.

But before we go off on a tangent, remember that I’m here to talk about Hidan and Kakuzu’s poor handling, so let’s get to that.

Hidan was a fun villain. I’ve mentioned that. But his problem was that he was just so flat and so limited in his move set. We never got to understand how or why he became what he was, which stands out in a story that tries to provide sympathy toward a good number of antagonists. Now done right, this could work.

The Joker from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is a great example of this. So is Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men. Part of the horror they inspire stems from the mystique that results from their lack of a past: it creates a sense that these characters are less typical psychos and more forces of nature or evil than anything.

Hidan however, just didn’t give off the same vibe. He came across more like a whiny psychopath. Could he be creepy? Yes. Could he be hilarious? Yes. Did he provide enough of each to stand on his own merits? Unfortunately, no, at least within the context of the manga. Maybe, as with real life psychopaths, he was meant to be a prick with no sense of empathy that lacked much in the way of depth. If so, then, as I said, he should have been entertaining enough that this lack of depth didn’t matter. Take a look at Palpatine from Star Wars. While a deliberately flat character who was written that way in order to emphasize his status as the story’s ultimate force for evil, Ian McDiarmid’s hammy performance was so memorable that not only was he an iconic character in the original films (all the more noteworthy given that he only really appeared in person for Return of the Jedi), but some would argue that he was easily one of the best parts of the prequel trilogy.

The second problem with Hidan is his extremely limited jutsu set. All we got was his predilection for sharp objects like scythes and retractable pikes, and his Jashinist curse jutsu, which may play a role in his immortality. That’s great, and while his being immortal would be enough to attract Akatsuki’s attention, and his fundamental skills were solid enough to go toe to toe with elite jonin, his limited skill set allowed for Shikamaru to quickly figure him out and deal with him accordingly.

It’s a real shame considering that Hidan’s motif appeared to be shinigami and curses, along with religion-based powers, all of which provide ample material for Kishimoto’s imagination to work with.

Instead, we got Hidan getting taken down by a lone chunin. A chunin with one of the highest IQs in the manga, but a chunin nonetheless. And one with a questionable series of plans at that (see above).

As for Kakuzu, he was basically like a bounty hunter. So think Boba Fett with ninja skills and a hair trigger temper. In contrast to Hidan however, he was an older and wiser “immortal”, preferring to play it smart during his fights, even if his defeat was controversial to say the least.

But one thing stands out for Kakuzu. It’s the back story provided in the databook. He started out as a loyal shinobi of Takigakure that was unlucky enough to be sent on the seemingly impossible mission of assassinating Senju Hashirama.

The same Hashirama whose influence is still felt in the manga. The same Hashirama who regularly went mano-a-mano with Uchiha Madara, a character whose very name inspires dread in characters old enough to know he was, and won.

So, to the surprise of no one, hindsight being what it is, Kakuzu failed. And was punished for his failure. Then he somehow became convinced that only money could be trusted and betrayed his village.

There’s a backstory with potential right there. I mean, come on. If you’re going to bring up several challenging themes in a manga where one of the main character’s goals is changing the system, then maybe this particular back story might be something to really look at.

It’d be great to question the value of staying loyal to a village that sees its troops as ultimately expendable soldiers. In fact, by having him meet with Naruto, Kishimoto could have added more substance to the character’s later desire to completely overhaul the shinobi world. It might even add something to Naruto’s later inner conflict over the matter of the villagers calling him their hero in spite of their earlier treatment of him.

Kakuzu even did battle with Kakashi, a guy whose father suffered for doing what he believed was the right thing instead of succeeding with what was apparently a rather important mission. This is the guy whose father was ostracized by his own team mates and fellow villagers for doing something that is consistently considered a good thing by Kishimoto. I’m surprised that Kishimoto never really explored such an interesting concept and tied it in with his larger exploration of the shinobi system.

Beyond all that, there’s also something that bugged me in hindsight. Why did the duo feel the need to go deeper into enemy territory despite all the attention they had attracted with their attack on a temple and killing of an elite jonin? Sure, Kakuzu’s defining trait is greed, but he seemed smart enough to realize that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to keep at what they were doing. Nabbing a jinchuriki would be even more difficult with every Konoha ninja alerted to their presence.

So what happened here? Was it Kishimoto’s own shortcomings as a writer? Was it his editor? Was it the higher-ups at the magazine? The answer’s not quite clear, but the results are. The villains just weren’t handled all that well.

Things that Sucked: Naruto
This arc was the moment when some readers began to realize that the protagonist they’d rooted for up to this point was in the process of undergoing a transition from loveable underdog to a train wreck of a character.

The first sign of this was the fact that he needed a training arc so early on into Part II in spite of not having really shown readers much in the way of how he had progressed as a ninja. It made the time skip seem somewhat pointless except as an excuse for Kishimoto to give characters new designs.

To add to this, despite Naruto’s supposed desire to grow into an adult by crossing the metaphorical bridge by handling Kakuzu all by his lonesome, in the end, he wound up completely screwing up the first time, and needed the real adults to save his sorry butt. Had this failure been not only pointed out but also expanded upon, it might have meant something. Instead, it was merely brushed aside so Kishimoto could give Naruto yet another Rasengan variant so that the people making the video games had something new to work with.

Also, when you think about it, Naruto’s solution to the problem with perfecting the unfinished (and when one considers the cost of using it given the nature of the jutsu at the time, highly impractical) elemental Rasengan technique wasn’t all that amazing given that it was pretty much a retread of how he managed to use the Rasengan despite his less than stellar chakra control back in Part I. Problems getting multiple steps done? Get a clone to carry out at least one of them.

Another nit to pick has to do with Naruto’s clone training and how such a potentially broken training method didn’t pop up as an option before. I suppose that when you think about it, the training method used during the arc simply hadn’t been considered before due to the impracticality of a normal person trying to speed things up by dividing their chakra among shadow clones. Only someone with a massive amount of chakra available to them could have even considered such a thing, yet said amounts of chakra often come with a less than cooperative biju, impacting chakra control, to say nothing of having to actually know how to use the shadow clone technique in the first place.

Some of these issues fit into my next topic of interest.

Things that Sucked: Telling, not Showing
A rather bad habit Kishimoto has is his tendency to tell rather than show. All fledgling writers learn early on that one of the hallmarks of quality writing is the ability to show rather than tell. For example, rather than going into a detailed back-story on how hard the life of a particular character is, one might instead show this by depicting the psychological effects of said life on that character, or even display physical traces of this back-story. If said character is a traumatized soldier for example, the author might include details such as a thousand yard stare and various battle scars. Or if a character is said to be a good influence on a certain person, this should be illustrated by showing how their shared interactions are rubbing off positively on that particular person. The point is, when writing, one must show rather than tell, as failing to do so is both poor and lazy writing.

There are plenty of examples, including the fact that the “elite” ANBU are often turned into chew toys for elite opponents, but one example that stood out in the earlier stages of Part II of Naruto is the level of skill possessed by the main character. Early on into the time skip, Naruto is constantly being praised as having grown stronger, which is shown in what little is seen of his displays during the second bell test. However, Kishimoto went overboard and made it so that other characters were not only saying that Naruto had gotten stronger, but went as far as to imply that he was quickly becoming an elite ninja. The reader gets statement after statement saying that Naruto is altogether amazing, even though what is seen fails to communicate this for the most part.

It felt particularly atrocious after the first training session during this arc, as after somehow overcoming Kakuzu with a basic trick and learning a new jutsu (along with the fundamentals of chakra shape and elemental manipulation), Kakashi started exclaiming that Naruto had perhaps surpassed him. This in spite of the fact that while one shiny big jutsu is a pretty awesome addition to any character’s arsenal, it doesn’t change the fact that fundamentally speaking, it did not seem that Naruto had surpassed his teacher. An amateur basketball player might be able to dunk on par with Jordan, but it means little if said amateur is lacking in the fundamentals compared to the professional player he’s having a one on one game against, especially if said professional is skilled enough in all areas that, while he may not be Michael Jordan, he is good enough to school said amateur in all other aspects of the game.

I know that Kishimoto had to rush that arc, and as a result, this ended up making a lot of things look odd, including Naruto’s sudden development into a ninja on par with Konoha’s best jonin as well as Hidan’s being a one trick pony despite being a member of the frigging Akatsuki. I just wish that, as rushed as Kishimoto was, Naruto was portrayed as developing in all areas of being a ninja, such that when he did take down Kakuzu, it was clear to even the most casual readers that he had truly grown.

This may have had side effects later on, as Kishimoto proceeded to rush Naruto’s skill development by having him master both Sage Mode and use of biju chakra in a ridiculously short time frame, both in-story and on a meta level. The first of those in turn led to another moment where characters stated that Naruto had surpassed his benchmarks; this time, they were referring to Jiraiya and Minato. I can understand the former to some extent given Naruto’s mastery of Sage mode even if his other skills were comparatively lacking, but the latter? We hadn’t even really seen the Fourth in action up to that point, so the claim fell rather flat.

Things that Rocked: World Building
If I did appreciate something about the arc, it was the way it served to expand readers’ understanding of the world. Two things stand out: the elucidation on the various chakra elements and the sociopolitical landscape of the five great nations.

The nature of chakra affinities, the five primary elements available to the general population and the mixes that required a genetic predisposition, were all rather fascinating. There was even a hint at the concept of yin and yang manipulation. While there was some retconning of the mokuton element given earlier implications that it was a secret technique limited to the First Hokage, on the whole it did serve to crystallize the nature of chakra affinities and the limitations of an individual shinobi’s skills.

Meanwhile, we also learned quite a bit about the current situation on the continent courtesy of Pain’s monologue. The explanation of the issues that arise when a group of war-based economies finds itself forced to adapt to an increasingly stable geopolitical situation in a way reflects many real life issues surrounding military-industrial complexes and the ever changing nature of warfare over the past century. Elements like this not only relate the one of the ever present conflicts of the story, but also serve to breathe further life into a fictional world. It’s a shame then that aside from foreshadowing some of Amegakure’s grievances and being brought up at the Kage Summit later, the issue wasn’t really explored again. It’s also a shame that the later War Arc proceeded the way it did, given that if Tobi had thought about it, he could have set up a situation where mercenaries and smaller villages might jump at a chance to get back at the larger countries that were content to bleed their livelihoods dry (kind of like how the legacies of past foreign policies and colonialism by wealthier nations have fed into a backlash highly visible in today’s geopolitical landscape).

Conclusion
After the hot garbage that was the previous arc, readers needed an arc that was at the very least readable to not immediately dump the series. What they got was an arc with some very clear flaws and wasn’t all that great, but at the same time managed to get some things right in a manner that differed from the previous format of Part II. It was a sign of hope, a light in the wilderness. Little did readers know that darker times lay ahead, and while this arc wasn’t a complete waste, it was but an indication that Naruto was long past its prime, even if it didn’t seem that way at the time.

What followed this arc was an event that split the fandom, an event some would call THE YEAR OF SASUKE.

P.S. As you may have noticed, for some reason, I peppered this review with references to Star Wars. That wasn’t intentional. It’s everywhere, and it’s even planted itself into my thoughts. In fact, I blame Disney for saturating every single little thing with the franchise. I’m a fan of the series, but geez, at this point I’m on the verge of running off into the woods just so those damn marketers will stop getting into my head and infecting my brain with the desire to see the new movie and buy the new merchandi—AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!

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5 thoughts on “Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: The Akatsuki Suppression Mission Arc

  1. I think some of your issues with Naruto’s development during this arc is due to the confusion of his Elemental Rasengan training, also you’re forgetting just how big a of an achievement completing the rasengan was. The rasengan was already stated to be the pinnacle of chakra control, a jutsu so advanced it didn’t need hand-signs, and something even Kakashi and even Minato couldn’t complete, so him adding an element to it is a sign of him surpassing them in some ways.

    However Naruto not only does that by creating the Wind release Rasengan, he goes beyond and invents the Rasenshuriken, which is a jutsu on the level not even Kakuzu has seen before. Kakuzu the one who was just shooting out jutsu the size of football fields. And yeah it was impractical when first created but the shear power of that jutsu more than makes up for it, and Naruto cleverly knows it’s weaknesses and uses his clones and feints to counteract them.

    Your basketball comparison wasn’t apt, by this point Naruto isn’t an amateur and he hasn’t really been for a while. He was someone on the cusp of overtaking the previous generation of ninja with a few exceptions (talking about Kakashi’s generation here). Remember, Neji was already a Jonin before Naruto showed up, the K11 and Naruto being on the levels of their senseis isn’t that far fetched. Which is also another point about the Team 10 vs Kakuzu and Hidan fight.

    Shikamaru was confident his team could not only handle Kakuzu while he fought Hidan, but he probably fully believed Choji could defeat Kakuzu. Yet Choji’s passive attitude gets in the way in this fight and he’s barely able to do anything. If he was as resolved as he was during the war Kakuzu wouldn’t stand a chance.

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    • The problem with that argument is manifold. First is the most obvious one as relates to storytelling: showing versus telling. Kishimoto kept trying to talk the audience into believing that Naruto had not just improved on his fundamentals, but was also someone capable of hanging with the best, only to disappoint in that regard by either not showing readers much, or by having outside circumstances intrude (e.g. relying on the fox while fighting Orochimaru, still being weakened from the previous while encountering Sasuke for the first time). So when we get Naruto supposedly surpassing Kakashi, it was harder to buy because we hadn’t seen him training in ways other than improving his fine chakra control and using clones to expedite the process of creating a new jutsu. Remember how Kishimoto had Naruto and Sakura talking about how skilled Kakashi was even compared to them at that point during the second bell test? There was no moment to really reflect Naruto’s growth for readers, and unlike say, Star Wars, where a time skip and Luke undergoing character development between films is used to reflect his martial and spiritual growth the next time he confronts Vader, there wasn’t really much of either (well, maybe the second due to the clone thing) to reflect on Naruto’s growth (yeah, he resolves to save Sasuke again, but not too long afterward, he starts moping again).

      As for the Choji thing, I would have liked a lot more hints at confidence being the key factor in why he was able to advance so far by the War Arc. Yeah, we had comments by Shikamaru and Asuma, but at the same time, readers already knew that Akatsuki members were elites in the underworld, and that even weakened duplicates could pressure whole teams of skilled ninja. It didn’t help that Akatsuki duos were always divided into pairs where it was clear that one member was the superior (Itachi>Kisame, Sasori>Deidara, Kakuzu>Hidan, Pain>Konan) to an already extremely dangerous partner. As hinted in the previous sentence, Kakuzu was clearly the stronger of the two “immortals,” so expectations were higher for him than say, Hidan, meaning that any hints of Choji’s potential should have been clearer so that any fighting in Kakuzu’s favor should have moments where Choji could have turned the tide.

      As for the new Rasengan thing, it would have been way more impressive if not for the fact that even the author seemed to forget how amazing a development this was. Aside from the impracticality of such a technique given that we later see other large-scale destructive jutsu that rival, if not outright surpass the FRS in terms of practicality (the War Arc was not good for power scaling), there were also similar and clearly superior jutsu wielded by characters such as Kaguya (the whole multi-elemental attack near the end of that confrontation wasn’t even treated with all that much gravitas).

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      • I thin your putting the Akatsuki members on too high of a pedestal. There isn’t that much of a gap in strength between them and the main cast at the start of Shippuden. They shows this, they’re sending Team Kakashi and Naruto out to deal with them and rescue Gaara. The first two Akatsuki we see in the start off Shippuden where Dedeira and Sasori, Sasori was killed by Sakura and Chiyo and Dedeira barely escaped Naruto and Kakashi. The Akastuki majority weren’t dangerous because of their overwhelming power or speed compared to the main characters, but due to how bizarre and mysterious their jutsu where.

        Shikamaru knew Kakuzu was more than likely stronger than Hidan, and he still felt confident that just Ino and Choji could handle him. That alone speaks for Choji’s potential.

        I don’t see you’re view point on the Rasenshuriken, especially after it’s evolved so much before the war arc. We really don’t see any other jutsu that aren’t either Biju,dojutsu, wood style, or other KKG or KKM that can compare with the rasenshuriken. Even during the war Temari remarks on how amazing it is when he uses it on the Raikage. And as things ramp up in the war the jutsu also advances, becoming a technique capable of clearing mountain ranges by the end.

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      • I think it’s easy, after so much disappointment and time, to forget just how huge the Akatsuki were from the moment of their introduction. While not invincible, the fact that the organization’s members had once included Orochimaru and the dominance they displayed against some of Konoha’s best was testament to just how dangerous the group was as a whole to be considered a potentially global threat if mobilized. Keep in mind that Naruto’s team was expecting back-up from Sunagakure as a whole due to that mission being one, something that tied two allied villages together, and two, the fact that Tsunade saw fit to work with the bond between Naruto and Gaara. While Konoha itself couldn’t do too much due to not wanting to risk its own security, Sunagakure could have theoretically afforded to send more troops (which they eventually did after some delays due to internal security concerns).

        Sasori himself was capable of threatening entire countries, and it’s heavily implied that he might have let himself die either consciously or subconsciously. Chiyo herself was one of the elites of her village, having in her prime prepared poisons against the likes of Tsunade and gone toe-to-toe with Hanzo. Without the assistance of the other, neither Chiyo nor Sakura could have hoped to last too long against Sasori, who, based on his feats and his confidence in possibly encountering Orochimaru, was likely one of the stronger Akatsuki members. Deidara was short an arm, low on clay, had spent the previous three days assisting in removing the Shukaku, and found himself surprised by Kakashi’s use of the MS. That he even lasted that long, and succeeded in faking his death (as well as almost taking out everyone there) speaks to just how skilled he was. In fact, in addition to being bizarre and mysterious, overwhelming power was a constant whenever it came several of the Akatsuki even before the final arcs. Itachi was on a whole different level in terms of pure talent, and once he brought out the big guns, chances were that the fight was over. Kisame’s whole shtick was being overwhelming and messing with other characters’ chakra. Konan could, with planning, prepare a trap that dwarfed many other offensive techniques in the series while also preparing paper clones powerful enough to take out several ninja on their own home turf. Pain was practically a physical god. Kakuzu was experienced and was for the most part smart enough to use what he had to its potential. As for Hidan, well, it’s a good thing he was an idiot, because while skilled enough to go up against Asuma, himself a pretty skilled ninja, that jutsu of his could have been pretty dangerous if prepared by anyone with decent planning skills.

        As for the Choji thing, keep in mind that Kakashi, arguably Konoha’s best non-Hokage soldier, was leading the group. If anything, that’s a testament to having faith in Kakashi figuring something out (and it’s revealed that Kakashi was on the verge of using the MS to even the odds against Kakuzu before backup arrived).

        As for the FRS, remember the sheer scale of techniques like those of Sasori or Kisame? Or the mountain-creating jutsu by Kitsuchi? Or the brute force of the Akimichi, the 8 Gates, or Tsunade? Sheer raw power like the FRS offers is nice, so long as one can throw it. Otherwise, it’s not all that cost efficient (as under normal circumstances it requires more than one body molding chakra, be it a clone or a partner). Although in hindsight, it does raise the question of why the tree didn’t simply absorb the chakra as it had done otherwise up to then (in fact, what was even the point of cutting down the tree?). That last arc was a mess.

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