After the less than stellar arcs that made up the so-called ‘Year of Sasuke,’ readers were more than a little eager to get back to Naruto, figuring that maybe the manga might find its footing once more with a shift back to its titular character. This chance at salvation seemingly came in the form of Pain’s direct attack on Konoha, a decision that must have taken major balls given that the alternative was to sneak into Konoha with disguises like actual ninja. But I digress.
So did the arc redeem the manga?
This arc was, contrary to what some might try to argue, actually pretty terrible. Let’s get into the details of just how terrible.
Things that Rocked: Seven Against Konoha
Before getting into the things that sucked, let’s start with one of the positives of the arc, namely the opening moments of the assault. Kishimoto has a talent for hyping up huge events before they’re actually underway, and it was no different when Pain proceeded to almost literally catapult himself (and Konan’s paper clone) into Konoha before splitting up to lay waste to the village that had played such a huge role in his life. It’s not a long sequence, but I enjoyed it enough to wish that I could recut the anime’s rendition of it and sync it to “Immigrant Song.”
Things that Bugged Me: Transporting Nagato
Given his inability to walk and the cumbersome appearance of his transportation device, I’m more than a little curious about just how Nagato managed to move all that way out of Amegakure, through foreign lands, and to the top of one of the mountains near Konoha. I can imagine that was in itself probably a long and tedious story we never got to see. Couldn’t have been much worse than what we got.
Things that Sucked: Konan Still Doesn’t Get to Do Much
As with before, despite the fact that she was supposed to be a member of the Akatsuki, readers again didn’t get to see much from Konan aside from using her paper to manhandle people and getting told off by a surprisingly memorable nameless extra. Unlike the other Akatsuki that had been featured as arc villains, Konan was relegated mostly to the sidelines and made to look like someone who was only part of the group because of her connections. Even when Naruto is exhausted yet eager to take down Nagato, all she can do is act as a human shield. Once again, it was clear that Kishimoto’s talent for writing decent female characters is close to nonexistent.
Things that Bugged Me: Tsunade is a Dumb Blonde Drunkard
Yet another thing that bothered me during this arc was the clear divide between good sense and what the author intended. While it was understandable that there was a need to continue the theme of the current generation of youths taking up where their predecessors left off, as well as the importance of the latter entrusting their responsibilities to the former, as with too many other things in the story, the execution was rather lacking.
First of all, the whole point of sending Naruto off was to not only give him a chance to train under the frogs, but to also ensure that he was kept safe from the threat of the Akatsuki. Instead, it was the duty of the village to ensure that their enemies would not be able to get at one of their most important assets. In fact, as Hokage, Tsunade should have been the last line of defense. While it was nice that she used her expertise to heal people, given Pain’s power, it would have behooved her to attempt to confront him directly with whatever backup she could get instead of waiting for him to come to her after she was in already in the process of tiring herself out. But to be fair, she functions best as a support ninja that keeps her allies in fighting shape. So no big deal on this one. The second issue however, cannot be so easily brushed aside.
Second, while it was nice of her to place so much faith in Naruto, and while there was precedent for Naruto exceeding peoples’ expectations before, there is also quite the difference between figuring out a difficult jutsu and suddenly becoming both skilled and powerful enough to handle an opponent that had previously succeeded in not only heading an organization of the world’s most dangerous criminals, but also singlehandedly ending a civil war and killing one of Konoha’s best ninja. How long did Naruto train anyway that growing as much as he did in so short a time was a likely possibility? Was the plan to have him fight Pain (risky) while backed up by the village? If so, then that should have happened when he did actually confront Pain.
As with the earlier mission to meet up with Sasori’s spy, what the story wanted to convey went against what was most sensible to anyone with some degree of rationality. It was clear at this point that the characters in the story were only as bright as the conveniences of the plot allowed them to be.
Things that Sucked: Konohamaru Takes Out a Path
One of the low points of the earlier parts of the arc was when Konohamaru was inexplicably able to surprise and deal some damage to one of the Paths. It was even worse than when Naruto took down Kabuto way back. While the execution of that moment wasn’t great, the idea behind the scene was that it would illustrate Naruto’s growth over the course of the series, his determination, and his ability to continually surprise those who thought him nothing but a failure. Here, we had some awkwardly placed comic relief in the form of Konohamaru’s flashback, the ridiculousness of Konohamaru taking down the nominal head of the Akatsuki (or at least one of his bodies, but still, it somewhat took away from Pain’s image given the amount of effort it took to fight just one body for other characters), and a lack of any fulfillment for the audience since, one, said audience had not witnessed Konohamaru’s growth in any real detail, and two, because he did not appear often enough to become someone readers could grow highly attached to (it also didn’t help that when he did appear, he wasn’t really doing anything of actual consequence).
Because of this one scene, audiences had to bear with jarring shifts in tone during what should have been an intense and dramatic section of the story, a villain who suddenly seemed a lot less menacing and thus seemingly less satisfying an opponent for the story’s hero to handle personally, and a side character whose moment of triumph wasn’t really worth rooting for because of how poorly said character had been handled until the point.
Things that Bugged Me: The Contrived Coincidence
I would be lying if I said that this little detail bugged me a lot more than it should have, even if so contrived a coincidence was somehow necessary to moving the story forward by getting Naruto back to Konoha as soon as possible.
Anyway, so it turns out that Ma has to go pick up some groceries—I figure that she either has to gather materials in a certain area or there are vendors that market their goods to talking animals—and in the process finds herself fairly close to Konoha, thus allowing her to see that the situation there is FUBAR.
Let’s not even get into the whole concept of portal pools and their potential applications.
Things that Sucked: The Pain Fight
Issue 1: The Momentum of the Battle
A good fight should have tension in it. This fight didn’t.
When Naruto arrived, the first thing he did was take a huge early advantage. A few chapters in, Pain looked like the underdog and the Rinnegan didn’t look so shiny compared to Sage Mode. You can’t have this in a battle designed to serve as the arc’s climax. When two characters are destined to have an epic battle, you need to create suspense for the reader. Seeing Naruto take the lead right off the bat robbed readers of this opportunity.
Then, partway through the fight, the pendulum suddenly swung the other way, and Pain had Naruto dead to rights. Unfortunately, the duration of this consisted of one and a half chapters of Pain winning, some panels to show what witnesses were seeing, a chapter of talking by Pain (though I will admit that it was pretty decent a speech, more on that below), and Hinata coming in (more on this later).
The time where it felt Naruto had Pain on the ropes felt longer (and it actually was) and more significant than the opposite. As a result, any tension this fight could have had was gone.
When Naruto powered up after a pep talk from his dad (more on this soon), readers already knew that there was no way Pain could fight evenly, much less at an advantage, at that point.
Hell, the closest thing there was to tension was the internal battle Naruto had in regards to how to approach Nagato, and even that lost whatever power it could have had due to the overly long flashback and the conclusion of the fight (more on these two things too).
Issue 2: The Scale
This fight was schizophrenic to say the least. It was supposed to be a battle of legendary proportions, but a good part of the early fight seemed awfully mundane, and it wasn’t until after the fox came out to play that the fight took on the scale it deserved.
Early on in the fight, many of the panels remained of a modest size, while the battle itself was not quite on a large scale except for some moves. Pain was using small-scale abilities and tactics. Naruto was using fundamental shinobi skills mixed in with high powered attacks. When we did get large panels and spreads, it was to showcase Naruto’s newly achieved powers. I wouldn’t really mind so much had Pain not been shafted in this regard. When he did do something impressive, the attention paid to it was unfitting.
A good example is when he takes out all three large toads with one move. We get some panels to build it up, yet once the Deva Path does its thing, we get one larger than average panel showing everything from a distant bird’s eye view. The result of this is that what should have been a moment to showcase just how godlike Naruto’s latest opponent was, thereby increasing the fight’s tension, was instead made mundane. There’s no one page spread, or at least a sense of the attack’s scale. It did not even have to be a two page spread, Kishimoto could have easily taken a page out of Oda’s book and have that one large panel cross over to the opposite page.
Speaking of the toads, their inclusion was meant to increase the scale of the battle from the start. Naturally, given that these were toads the size of a building, you would expect the fight’s feel to match their size. Unfortunately, because of the fact that said toads were so large, they needed opponents of matching size to fight them, otherwise they mostly stood on the sidelines. We got a bit of this with Pain’s summons, but those were quickly handled, with most of them getting taken down to some extent either by Naruto or the Sage couple. The boss summons were there only to finish the job. And when the big guys did try to do something relevant, doing their damnedest to squash the Paths, this led to awkward long shots where it was hard to make out the Paths. The shifts in scale weren’t applied as they would be in a competently made film, where human sized characters would remain visible as we got a good look at just how large the boss summons were.
As if to make up for this, Kishimoto tried to make even the most mundane events seem epic, with a hand to hand skirmish somehow causing rocks to be flung from the ground.*
* This last issue reached a whole new level of hilarious later during the war arc, when the act of Sasori being pulled to the ground (albeit from a higher spot) caused a sizable crack and cratering of the spot he landed on. Compare this to earlier parts of the story, where a character falling from a similar height might have left a slight dent in the ground. When Sai kicked his brother, it could be excused with the possibility that Sai had used chakra to enhance the strength of his kick. Here, somehow getting pulled was enough to replicate the effect of a Rasengan from above.
Issue 3: Inaction Sequences
Like a lot of fights in the anime version of Dragon Ball, there were several inaction sequences during the fight in the original Naruto manga, which only made the pacing problems worse.
The most ludicrous example comes after Pain takes out the boss summons. Naruto and the Sage couple are able to have a full conversation before Pain finds his footing, gets straight to the point, and tries to capture Naruto. Good, good, we might actually be getting somewhere. Pain then proceeds to ignore the toads completely, focusing instead on Naruto, despite having two bodies to handle this sort of thing.
During this time, the Sage couple is building up their chakra so that they might use their Frog Song.
You would not believe how thankful I was to see Pain realize how dumb this was and skewer Fukasaku.
A Much Needed Interruption: The Thing that Didn’t Suck About the Pain Fight
For the moment, allow me an aside away from the constant criticism of the battle between Jiraiya’s disciples. As fun as criticism can be, it can be a rather wearying experience, and I am sure anyone reading this feels similarly. So let’s get into what was actually decent about the fight: Pain’s speech.
Now Pain is no stranger to decent monologues, so this was not too big a surprise. However, what made this special was that it served to expand upon his earlier talks with the Akatsuki and Jiraiya by examining just what happens to smaller countries when they are surrounded by superpowers able to go to war or dominate by other means with near impunity.
It gave the audience a perspective that had otherwise only been hinted at of the Narutoverse, and served as a great callback to the down to earth motivations behind the Hidden Sand Village’s alliance with Orochimaru. Pain was no longer a mere man with a god complex droning on about the nature of humanity, but someone with legitimate grievances against the existing system. Suddenly, it made a lot more sense as to why he’d reacted so poorly when Tsunade talked back to him earlier in the arc.
Things were no longer black and white. It wasn’t a simple matter of taking down the bad guy to save the day anymore. Now, Naruto understood that even his enemies had their reasons for doing what they did, and that even his home wasn’t some shining city on a hill. Pain’s plan might seem mad, and it might not really work as well as it otherwise seemed, but one could at least see where he was coming from.
It was a thought-provoking chapter that almost single-handedly redeemed so many of the fight’s flaws; a callback to the days when even a silly manga like Naruto could make readers sit back and think.
And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Issue 4: Hinata
Hinata already had the unfortunate distinction of being a textbook shallowly written love interest, but here, Kishimoto made things even more annoying by turning her into a plot coupon.
We see her jump into the fight without a well thought out plan, figuring that she’ll just have to do her best to save our hero, who has been both psychologically and physically defeated. We see her spend a whole chapter on a confession that further slows down the battle. We see her get smacked down hilariously quickly, so quickly that, instead of horror, the moment evoked awkward chuckles.
Then Naruto loses complete control. Granted, this last part here was foreshadowed earlier in the fight when Naruto took on more and more of the physical traits associated with him going berserk. The fact that Hinata’s sole purpose was to help Kishimoto get from Point A to Point B is what makes her usage so…so…well, stupid.
Issue 5: Daddy ex Machina
I hated this development. I really did. I didn’t mind that Minato had installed a failsafe in his seal. It gave Naruto and the reader an excuse to see him in the present day. What is annoying about this matter is that it took away from what was supposed to be Naruto’s fight. Instead of overcoming his own demons, he ended up needing to go to Daddy for advice mid-fight, lest everything go to shit. Meanwhile, Kurama was the one actually doing real damage to the Deva Path and forcing Nagato to strain himself.
To make matters worse, it slowed down what was already feeling like an overlong battle.
Issue 6: Pain’s Brain Drain
So after Daddy pulls his fat from the fire, somehow allowing Naruto to exit the chakra shroud without any visible ill effects, he continues his fight against the Deva Path and wins in a manner that’s poorly thought out on the part of the venerable author.
First of all, we have Pain decide to first engage Naruto in close combat. This is in spite of knowing full well that engaging in a taijutsu match against an opponent who is using Sage Mode happens to be a really bad idea.
So anyway, Nagato had two choices.
Option 1: Engage Naruto from a distance until his sage chakra runs out, at which point it should be safer to come in for the kill. Consider effective and intelligent applications of Shinra Tensei and Bansho Tennin to repel/attract him depending on the circumstances. Use the Rinnegan to check around for any traps he might have planned.
Option 2: Don’t learn a damn thing from past experience and try to stab Naruto with a chakra rod all the while ignoring your surroundings.
Now perhaps Pain was acting out of desperation, having expended a lot of chakra. The problem is, we don’t see any indication that this factored into his decision. I get the sense that Kishimoto went for this decision less for any rational reason than because he simply needed a way for Naruto to track down Nagato, hence Pain’s brilliant thinking there.
Anyway, the second thing that stands out is the placement of Naruto’s clones. You would think that the Rinnegan, which had earlier been able to see Konoha’s barrier, would allow him to notice that all those rocks around him weren’t rocks.
It wasn’t a good moment for intelligent writing.
Issue 7: The Flashback
Afterward, Naruto confronts Nagato in person, and the latter relates his tale of woe.
Now, before I delve into the meat of the flashback itself, I’d like to discuss the mystery that was Nagato’s past up to this point. Nagato’s back story was implied to be something so horrifically tragic that it was able to warp the troubled but good-natured kid we saw in Jiraiya’s flashback’s into ninja Keyser Soze. Hell, his repeated references to it every single damn time he could make some gave readers an idea that whatever he’d gone through was bad enough to blow all the other sob stories completely out of the water.
Instead, we got, well, let’s get into it.
Nagato’s flashbacks start off with the day his parents were killed in front of him. Okay, tragic stuff right there. I admit that the artistic decision Kishimoto made that chapter, shading everything in a chiaroscuro style lent a certain grimness to the proceedings that fit the intended mood. It was, visually speaking, not a bad start at getting a good look at the horrors of war.
Unfortunately, the writing was not up to par with the art. Seeing Nagato’s parents die as they did failed to elicit any real emotional response. We’d just met them and we knew nothing about them. As a result, it is difficult to identify with the pain (no pun intended) Nagato feels during that sequence, with the panel of Nagato awakening his Rinnegan lacking any of the power it should have had. It came off as a purely perfunctory attempt at a sad flashback.
The following chapter ups the poor writing by having Nagato befriend a dog. A dog that is killed off in the same chapter in which it first appears.
What makes this funny, in combination with the lack of connection readers might feel with the dog, is the fact that it’s like something out of a joke. I distinctly recall someone once making a joke prior to the spoilers coming out about how, if Kishimoto wanted us to feel even more sorry for Nagato, he’d have someone kill his dog. It was a bad joke meant to mock poor attempts to make us sympathize with a character’s sad past. Unfortunately, Kishimoto played this completely straight.
And it was hilarious.
Moving on to the next bit of stupidity: Yahiko killing himself. This was dumb. Not just dumb in the context of this being poor writing, this was dumb in the context that I couldn’t help but wonder how Yahiko even functioned.
First of all, a guy holding your girl hostage says that he’ll trade her for your life. How can you even trust him considering that he earlier betrayed you by taking said girl hostage after having previously acted like he was willing to work with your group? I mean, I don’t know if you noticed, but the paranoid dictator with a kunai to your girl’s throat probably is not the most trustworthy guy. Hell, even his eyes look shifty.
Second of all, by killing yourself, you ensure that your friend has to live with a truckload of guilt. Which makes it perfectly logical for you to impale yourself on the kunai in his hand.
I mean, it’s not like Hanzo will then order your friend killed only for said friend to use his Rinnegan powers—you know, those powers that Konan at least seems to be somewhat aware of—to take out every enemy there not named Hanzo singlehandedly (suggesting that he could have done the same or better if he’d had you to back him up instead). And it’s not like he won’t go off the deep end and turn the Akatsuki into a terrorist organization capable of posing a threat to the entire world.
Oh wait, that did happen. Good job, dumbass. Once more, characters acted in an entirely illogical manner that made the audience wonder if they had IQs in the single digits.
Things that Sucked: Nagato’s Conversion
Issue 1: The Manner of the Conversion
Remember way back when Naruto completely lost patience with Zabuza over his perceived mistreatment of and seeming indifference toward Haku? Remember how we witnessed Naruto losing more and more of his composure as he told Zabuza just how much he had meant to Haku, and then wondering outright if Zabuza was so heartless, and whether this applied to all powerful ninja? Remember how the real kicker came right afterward as we saw up close just how much Zabuza was actually hurting at those words?
The reveal of Zabuza’s face works because there was enough actual buildup for the payoff to elicit genuine emotional impact. Later on, during Part II, Kishimoto tried and often failed to replicate this effect, such as when he devoted large panels to Naruto making dramatic statements.
The problem in those scenes is that they lack the same build-up that allows for the proper catharsis when we get to the huge close-up panel. There is no real juxtaposition, and the conflicts leading up to these moments just aren’t as pressing. How can you compare Naruto trying to comprehend Zabuza, and by extension the entire shinobi world’s seeming heartlessness with Naruto trying to push forward during a training arc? Sure, there is some background tension, but it feels distant in the context of the scene due to the need to switch settings. Naruto is not in the thick of things in either moment. It’s just not the same thing.
As for the nature of Zabuza’s conversion, the reason why it comes across as less hackneyed, than say, Nagato’s is that while both antagonists are set up with similar bloody backgrounds in order to emphasize how each tried to subsume his humanity in favor of ruthless ambition, Zabuza’s works because it is not a complete 180 of his characterization. We get little hints that Zabuza and Haku share a bond, and when Naruto appeals to him, he’s not convincing Zabuza that he should become a peace-loving hippie. Rather, Zabuza knew he’d already lost the battle on the bridge, and so whatever ambitions he had would either have to wait or were already impossible to achieve. Instead, Naruto appeals to his sense of humanity in regards to his bond with Haku. Zabuza isn’t saying “I’m not gonna try to take over Kirigakure anymore,” he’s saying “you’re right, I’m human, and despite everything I ever said to the contrary, I actually gave a damn about Haku.”
With Nagato, on the other hand, Kishimoto attempted to do the same thing to lesser returns. As mentioned above, he even brought up a horrifying backstory when it came to disturbing behavior on the part of the person he was trying to appeal to (slaughtering an entire class for Zabuza, playing ninja Keyser Soze for Nagato). Rather than appealing to Nagato’s humanity through his bonds though, Naruto instead appeals to his ideals. And that’s where it falls flat. Naruto failed to fight the battle of ideals as it should be fought, with rhetoric of the rational kind. Instead, he appealed to Nagato in a manner more befitting of Zabuza and Gaara’s situations, by appealing to their humanity. Sure, there was a battle of ideals for all three cases. But even then, Naruto appealed to Zabuza’s humanity by bringing up his bond with Haku, and in Gaara’s case, he not only frightened and awed his fellow jinchuriki, but also proved the value of Yashamaru’s words. In the case of Nagato, all he did was repeat Jiraiya’s words without adding any real substance to them, as he had in the other two cases. Naruto’s answer wasn’t a real answer. It was something a politician might say if confronted with a genuinely tough question. In fact, I would argue that Nagato could have easily repudiated Naruto by questioning whether he was sparing Nagato out of a desire to hold onto his sensei’s ideals or merely attempting to spite him by withholding his vengeance simply to go against what Nagato claimed. He even references a work of fiction by Jiraiya despite Nagato having previously criticized such beliefs in the past due to his experiences.
Horrifyingly enough, judging by Nagato’s recalling of the book and his final words, Naruto might have instead appealed to the Akatsuki leader’s fatalism. This in a story that at one point seemed to propose fighting one’s seemingly predetermined path in life.
So when Nagato did decide to believe in Naruto, with his line about faith being better than any plan, I shook my head, chuckled, and walked around from my computer screen knowing at this point that the manga was beyond all hope.
Issue 2: Pain’s “Heart of Blades” Turns Blunt
Going back to the first major arc of the story is also relevant in understanding yet another way the story missed a chance at exploring its own themes.
Pain’s heart of blades was a culmination of themes and conflicts first introduced in the Wave Arc. It was rather fitting that the so-called Chosen One who would either save or destroy the system was in a way the logical extreme of the shinobi ideal. With his Heart of Blades he had transcended humanity and became a “god” that would do anything for the sake of his mission. Said Chosen One would thus perpetuate the system by doing what has always been done on a much grander scale. Naruto’s rebuke could have been a way of overcoming this fate and making a choice away from it. Which leads into my next point.
Issue 3: A Missed Opportunity to Revisit the Conflict between Free Will and Fate
Going back to something I went over in a previous post, the whole Chosen One concept really hurt the story. However, when considering how Naruto had seemingly represented the triumph of the human spirit over a preset fate earlier in the story, I can’t help but feel that Kishimoto missed an easy opportunity to further that concept. By that, I mean that Nagato should have been the only chosen one.
Think about it this way: as the wielder of the Rinnegan, Nagato seemed to be the second coming of the father of all ninja. Naturally, one could see him as destined to either save the world or destroy it, with it seeming that he was going to walk down the latter path in his attempts at the former. However, if Kishimoto had used this as a chance to revisit Naruto’s battle against Neji, he would have written out a situation where fate’s embodiment would come into conflict with a young man who once more would represent the power of free will. Had Naruto been written in such a way, his victory over the closest thing the series had to a god in human form, the very embodiment of Heaven’s will, would have been all the more meaningful, as it would represent the ultimate victory of the individual over that of the status quo and fate.
Instead, we got an old frog talking up Naruto’s role as the destined child that Jiraiya had chosen, so I guess free will prevailed, except it was thanks to Jiraiya, because Naruto was just the choice that had to be plugged in for the prophecy to work. This wouldn’t be the only occasion where Kishimoto missed a chance to revisit ideas that had been brought up earlier in the story.
Issue 4: Deus Ex Machina, Literally
I really should have seen this last bit coming. I mean, there was Nagato, a self-proclaimed god who needed to get around with a weird looking machine. In addition, it had been made clear that the Rinnegan had some sort of power over life and death.
It does not excuse the fact that this was a clumsy way to end the arc. The arc up to this point had appeared to be an opportunity to really look at the human cost of war, to see Naruto’s generation try to cope with what those who came before them constantly had to. It was an opportunity to weaken Konoha enough that other villages and Danzo might try to take advantage of the situation. And Kishimoto simply swept it all away as if it had never happened.
Not only that, but it made the reveal that Hinata was still alive utterly pointless. Why not kill her off at that moment then? That way, there’s an added poignancy to Naruto’s reply to Nagato, as well as to Hinata’s sacrifice.
It was the crappy cherry on top of the shit sundae that was the fight against Pain, and what makes it worse is that as much as I hated it, I could understand the reasons for going in this direction, as will become clear later in this review.
Things That Bugged Me: Pain’s Characterization in General
I can’t help but feel like Kishimoto moved through multiple stages when conceiving Pain’s character. Aside from the Rinnegan seeming to come out of nowhere, Pain went from a diabolical mastermind with a somewhat snarky attitude to a humorless emo with a god complex (which in hindsight made his conversations with Hidan rather amusing). Rereading his interactions with the other members before his reveal suggests a character that is willing to either shrug off what others say or trade barbs with people who annoy him. The way he talks to Hidan is almost reminiscent of how Kishimoto would characterize Tobi, as if it was decided to split the Akatsuki leader into two different characters at some point (only for Tobi to himself become overly seriously after he was outed as the real Akatsuki string-puller).
Personally, I could have done without overwrought drama when it came to Pain. I’ve already covered why Tobi’s reveal wasn’t the greatest bit of writing, and how readers could have done without Pain being revealed as being the nominal leader of the Akatsuki. I honestly wish that Kishimoto had kept the sardonic attitude instead of replacing it with endless bitching and preaching on the subjects of pain and war, to say nothing of the fact that he was yet another in a long line of stoic villains who took themselves too seriously. His speech on Akatsuki’s “goal” was a great exercise in highlighting how knowledgeable and manipulative the “AL” was about international politics and economics. It certainly was more interesting than the peace through mutually assured destruction plan. Fuck it; it definitely was better than the whole reflecting a jutsu off the moon idea.
Another problem I have with Pain’s characterization has to do with his antagonistic relationship with Naruto. The core of the Naruto-Pain dynamic lay in their shared relationship with Jiraiya, and how their own particular conflict paralleled that of Itachi and Sasuke. The problem with this was, as is becoming a pattern with the series, the execution.
Itachi and Sasuke’s troubled relationship was foreshadowed since early on in the story, and the turbulence of this relationship is conveyed over a few hundred chapters, giving readers incentive to feel invested in their eventual showdown and its aftermath. Those last two events served as a turning point for Sasuke’s character, as they marked the moment when Sasuke went from a morally ambiguous antihero to an almost legitimate antagonist (who seems to fail almost every time he wants to do something really bad just to make Naruto’s job easier).
With Jiraiya’s death and the aftermath of the battle against Pain, Kishimoto tried to parallel the relationship between these Nagato and Naruto, as their meeting was an important turning point for the latter’s character and the direction the story took. Unfortunately, there was little emotional resonance here than that which characterized the bond between say, Naruto and Gaara, much less that of Itachi and Sasuke.
The relationship instead came off as highly compressed, and as a result, it just did not connect with readers as strongly as the bond between brothers did. In addition, prior to their confrontation, Nagato and Naruto had a very tenuous connection, as they knew little about one another aside from the most basic of information (Naruto didn’t even know that they had shared the same master until after they had started fighting).
This ties in to how the Rain orphans were shoehorned into the plot. Had Kishimoto done something like foreshadow the existence of Nagato by say, having Jiraiya make comments about how Minato was not the only student of his who Naruto reminds him of, and about how his dream of peace relates to someone he used to know, a greater connection could have been made between the two characters. Perhaps more flashbacks before Pain’s reveal would have actually made it all the more heartbreaking for readers.
When Jiraiya meets Pain and Konan in their modern iterations, it’s clear that he feels disappointment in what he sees. Unfortunately, there is little more than that because the audience has no idea at that point of just what sort of relationship these characters had with one another. If they had been foreshadowed sooner, the scene would have actually meant something to readers.
Had Kishimoto found ways to further link Pain to Naruto, their confrontation would have carried an even greater emotional weight, which may have in turn made Nagato’s conversion easier to swallow. But he did not, so we got what we got.
Things that Rocked: Naruto Finally Gets Recognition
Looking back on the whole thing, it seems almost as if this fight would have served as a decent finale of sorts for the story. Everything about it, from the fight itself to the heartwarming moment when Naruto saw just how far he’d come in the eyes of the village (complete with a hug from his crush) felt rather climactic in scale and overall tone, even if the latter was somewhat offset by signs that this still wasn’t the end of the story. However, what really made this feel like a climax within the series was how Naruto had gone from the village’s pariah to its greatest hero.
Early on, Naruto had made clear that while becoming Hokage was his apparent goal, the true meaning of that dream was not with the intent of attaining the position being an end in itself, but rather as a sign of his finally grasping the one thing he desired more than anything: the acknowledgment of everyone around him.
Naruto was always looking for acknowledgment regardless of the form it took. Early on, it was through playing the role of the clown. However, as the story went on, the blonde jester began to not only criticize the flaws of the shinobi system with his words, but also earned the respect of those around him with his actions. By this arc, his fellow Konoha ninja were willing to defend him at the cost of their own lives. The seeming culmination of this is when Naruto succeeds in winning over Nagato to his ideals—the resulting hero’s welcome he receives from the village is rewarding for both him and the audience.
As a result, I’m actually rather torn about the whole matter of Nagato reviving the people who died in his attack. Had people actually stayed dead, then others might not feel grateful so much as resentful of the kid that had brought Pain to Konoha. Had the villagers stayed dead, Naruto would have just been another powerful ninja who’d taken down an enemy rather than someone who had done the impossible: save everyone in the village.
Things that Sucked: Telling but Not Showing Enough
Of course, that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t have been better if readers had seen more of the changes in how the villagers saw Naruto in the actual story before this arc. While it was sweet to see Naruto’s hard work pay off, it would have been much more fulfilling to actually see the progression in the village’s attitude play out during the actual story instead of through Ebisu’s flashbacks. Given how central gaining the respect of the village was in Naruto’s characterization, this detail should have been given more attention instead of seemingly going nowhere after Naruto had befriended the other ninja of his generation (and a few other important figures) only to suddenly pop up again during this arc.
Despite the claims of some readers, this arc was not the last good arc (that honor belongs to the earliest parts of Part II, if not the very end of Part I). In fact, based on my most recent reading of it, Pain’s Assault is actually terrible in many respects. It merely seemed to be a decent arc in hindsight due to how bad the story got afterward, just like getting stabbed with a knife feels better than being sawed in half with a chainsaw. This arc mostly sucked, plain and simple. And I won’t kid you, things only continued to get worse from here.