Starting with the initial skirmishes against the vanguard of Kabuto’s forces and ending with the reveal of the real Uchiha Madara, the first part of the war managed to be one of the most disappointing in a series that was long in decline. What should have been exciting was instead often dull and, to paraphrase the Bard, full of sound and fury, all the while signifying nothing.
Things That Sucked: Sasori and Deidara are Pointlessly Humiliated
This was hilarious in how bad it was. Sasori and Deidara were among the greatest criminals to have ever come out of the five great nations, with Sasori having assassinated a Kazekage after leaving behind a famed career in the service of Sunagakure’s Puppet Corps, while Deidara was an artistic prodigy who had studied under Ohnoki himself. Furthermore, in their time as living members of the Akatsuki, each had impressed in their respective showings. Naturally, one would expect them to factor strongly in the opening stages of the war.
Having become an undead corpse under Kabuto’s spell, Sasori had finally achieved his goal of becoming an immortal puppet, the ideal towards which he had unsuccessfully strived for in life. In a sequence that was otherwise poorly executed, this was a nice little detail.
I could understand why the two didn’t fight to their full potential. Deidara had always been arrogant, and in undeath this arrogance caused him to flat out avoid any defensive maneuvers, having come to the conclusion that all enemy attacks were pointless anyhow. Sasori was without any of his trademark puppets, and as a result, unable to use his most powerful Secret Red techniques (although considering how much access Kabuto had to items relating to his undead army, it’s strange that he wasn’t able to even scrounge up a couple of puppets, much less a storage scroll).
What happened to the two however, was beyond humiliating.
Despite being outnumbered, Sasori and Deidara were able to fight a brief skirmish against the commandos making up the Surprise Attack Division, although they failed to take out a single one of them. However, Sai was able to somehow get behind them and successfully knock them off the clay bird they had been standing on, in spite of the fact that they were supposed to be top class ninja and his having been right in front of and below them just a moment ago.
Prior to this point, Sasori had easily been one of the best characterized villains, and his shared back story with Chiyo had been one of the stronger elements of Part II. So to see him so quickly converted to Kankuro’s way of thinking after being bested (contrary to what Kankuro claimed, the younger puppeteer did not display all that much to suggest he’d surpassed Sasori) and then give a short speech did not sit well with me.
Had there been more to the speech, and had the two characters possessed a stronger connection other than both being puppeteers who’d briefly met before, I wouldn’t have minded. Perhaps if Kishimoto had given us more about whatever admiration Kankuro had for Sasori, there might have been something. Unfortunately, there was nothing more to the short talk Kankuro gave Sasori, and their connection was rather tenuous. If say, Chiyo had given him a speech, I could see Sasori having a change of heart the way he did.
As for Deidara, well, as arrogant as he was being, you would still expect better and smarter from a guy who was good enough to be a part of the Akatsuki. It was one thing for him to get up close with his clay bird the first time. But after having the ground raised from under him once, wouldn’t it have been smarter for the guy to elevate himself so that he and Sasori wouldn’t get knocked off their perch?
Things That Were Meh: The Seven Swordsmen Look Pretty
I’ll admit that I was kind of hyped when the rest of the Swordsmen got summoned. Really, I was. I mean, sure the designs were kind of derivative of Kisame and Zabuza’s, but I figured that it was more to show either Mist or group traditions.
And I admit to being a bit disappointed though with the nature of the swords. Samehada stood out because it was a sentient being that consumed chakra that it would then share with its wielder. Hiramekarei can shape chakra into whatever form the user wishes. And it was revealed later that Kubikiribōchō was capable of fixing itself by using the iron found in blood (a fucking vampire sword! Granted, the science behind this makes no sense, but fuck that, Zabuza sword can’t be beat!). The rest of the swords felt rather mundane next to them (although as is implied, I thought it was cool how Zabuza didn’t need any superpowers, just a sword he could always rely on). I suppose Kiba (not to be confused with the character of the same name) being capable of naturally emitting electricity to increase its cutting power was okay, but considering how many characters can use chakra streaming on their weapons; it’s not all that special. Nuibari is a giant needle and thread that sews people together. That’s not really a power, although I guess it’s kind of suggested that it has amazing piercing power. Kabutowari is simply a hammer attached to an axe. Again, not really a special ability given that it’s just a hammer and an axe. And Shibuki, well it’s also kind of mundane, what with simply being a big ass sword with an unfolding scroll containing explosive tags on the side. Not a special ability so much as an impressive, if slightly impractical, bit of technological innovation. But I’ll admit, it’s pretty fucking awesome.
Still, of all the designs and swords, Jinpachi’s was easily my favorite. Just look at the guy. It’s like he was designed to be the most fucking awesome guy ever. Is he a ninja or a pirate? Ninja pirate or pirate ninja? Fuck if I know but it’s fucking awesome (yes, I doubt that he was a pirate, but fuck you, let a guy dream). And his sword looks like something Michael Bay would design. Hey, how do you improve upon a big fucking sword? You add some big fucking explosions, that’s what! And so it was, we got a sword that blows your fucking ass up when it’s swung at you. Holy shitfuck that is awesome.
So anyway, after we got all hyped up, Kishimoto gave us a retread of Haku and Zabuza’s story, although since things were rehashed, and the outline of it so overused in filler and bad fanfiction, it simply lacked the emotional punch that it deserved. I knew I should care, but I simply couldn’t summon any enthusiasm for this particular part of the story despite having been hooked into Naruto by that earlier arc.
So after Haku and Zabuza got sealed, we got Kakashi implying that he was going to go on a rampage. Cool! Then we switched to another scene. Not cool.
I can’t say that this part of the story sucked entirely, because there was an element to it that I liked, that element being seeing the Swordsmen in action. I also did like how Suigetsu’s little expository speech was intercut with that part. I fucking love Jinpachi and his sword. But I also didn’t care for everything else, but didn’t really hate it all that much. Hence the meh score.
But as disappointing as this part was, at least it wasn’t as horrid as what was to follow.
Things That Sucked: Forgettable Side Characters
The Gold and Silver Brothers are among the more forgettable characters introduced in the series. While the audience is given their history, there is little depth to them other than their being dishonest, egotistic brutes. Unlike villains in the past, there was little time to get to know them, and what little we did know was so wholly unappealing that in a story with so many interesting villains, these two were utterly forgettable.
During this time, we were also introduced to Atsui, whose gimmick basically came down to being a stupid braggart. Granted, in his limited screen time he was as much a character as Samui, that is, barely, despite her having been introduced about a hundred chapters beforehand. As a result of this lack of depth and time with which to get attached to them, when the two got sucked into the gourd, no one cared (it didn’t help that Atsui was a dumbass of epic proportions).
This last bit feels all the worse considering how much the importance of bonds and the tragedies of war are emphasized in the story, so to have two characters the reader has no reason to care about suffer weakens what should have been an emotional moment for Darui. (plus, the two of them are rescued from the gourd later on anyhow)
As for Darui, well, what’s to say? He didn’t get much fleshing out during his introductory arc, and while Kishimoto tried to provide some depth to him during his fight, there was just so little for readers to work with that it becomes difficult to feel any emotional investment in this part of the story. Having to read through these chapters back when they were first coming out week by week was even worse.
Between the forgettable bad guys and the forgettable good guys, there was little reason to give a damn about anything that happened here. Part of what makes a good fight scene is the emotion behind it, as well as the audience’s investment in the characters involved. Since each of the characters involved had so little depth to them, there is little tension as one goes through the fight. If not for the twins’ possession of Kyubi chakra, the story could have easily done without them.
Things That Were Meh: Seeing Side Characters with Little Depth Fight
I didn’t hate Mifune’s fight. I still don’t hate it even after rereading it a couple of times in print format. I wish I could like it. I really do. I mean, we got a short but sweet skirmish. We got to see a samurai look badass. We got a hint of Hanzo’s true power. We got a good look at Mifune’s worldview and how it relates to the pursuit of peace and dreams. We even got a really brief Pain flashback.
I just can’t muster up much of an opinion of the entire thing because of how little we know the characters involved. As I said before, and I will say it again, although you should know the drill by now, when we see characters in a story fight, we are drawn in by the choreography and the actual fighting, but what allow fights to really affect us are the emotional factors that go into them, i.e. the characters.
Previously, as with Darui, we were introduced to Mifune during the summit, but he was not really given much characterization. As with Darui, Mifune was fleshed out in the course of his moment in the spotlight. There just wasn’t all that much depth to him.
In contrast to the Gold and Silver Brothers though, Hanzo was a potentially interesting character (his name is Hanzo for crying out loud!). As a young man, he had been idealistic, believing that with his strength, he might someday succeed in uniting the disparate lands of the shinobi world. Eventually he became dictator of a small isolated nation that was constantly the site of various conflicts fought by larger nations. As a dictator, he would need strength and brutality in order to maintain power and order. This need to hold on to power by any means necessary would leech away at his ideals, and the paranoia associated with being a military strongman eventually caused him to go from an ambitious and highly gifted shinobi to a cynical, ruthless old man eager to hide away and rest on his laurels. As a result, his skills stagnated, easing his downfall and final defeat at Mifune’s hands.
While I wasn’t the biggest fan of how quickly Hanzo was beaten (especially in the light of how hyped he was), as the previous paragraph indicates, I could understand the reasoning behind his underwhelming performance. I also didn’t care too much for how he arranged for his capture and sealing by committing seppuku, although that might have more to do with my surprise and bemusement at the revelation that underneath his flak jacket he was dressed like Sai. While already an old man.
Things That Sucked: Chōji Gets Pointless Attention
Poor, poor Chōji. After initially being introduced back in Part I’s second major arc as a stereotypical big fat guy who likes eating, he was given greater depth during the attempted Sasuke retrieval and even managed to get a good fight out of it. This moment in the spotlight not only made him more than the cliché he originally fulfilled in the story, but also served as a fine example of the potential to be found in the story’s supporting cast, whose own fictional lives added much to the story. Then Part II happened.
Chōji was, like his fellow peers of Naruto, shunted off to the side for the most part, with his purpose story-wise being more along the lines of moving scenery than an actual character. He did little during his earlier appearances in Part II, and when he did appear, his emotional connection (along with Ino’s) to Asuma was given far less emphasis than Shikamaru’s. However, this was to change somewhat during the war, as supporting characters were finally given some screen time, and even characters like Ino, who up to that point had been a mostly useless female cast member, were given a chance to shine. Unfortunately, Chōji’s second moment in the spotlight was not to be as well executed as his first.
By all means the battle between Asuma and his former team should have been more than it was. In contrast to earlier skirmishes during the war, there was an emotional connection between the characters, and this had been and was still clear to even the audience. Unfortunately Chōji’s role was what kept it from being a great scene.
What happened to Chōji was entirely unnecessary, given how his character arc up to this point had previously had him developing into a braver, stronger person who was willing to stick up for his loved ones. Sadly for Chōji, Kishimoto decided to have the poor bastard act like a scaredy cat during the opening stages of the war, as it suddenly became his job to be that one character who’s all afraid before shit goes down and he has to man up. Then, when fighting Asuma, he turned into a load.
It’s one thing to have a character unable to fight at their full potential against a loved one who is moving against their will. It’s a whole other thing to have a character not only unable to fight at their full potential, but act like a whiny little bitch to the extent where other good guys are at risk for more than a couple of chapters when prior character development would imply that they wouldn’t be acting this way if not for the fact that for some reason the plot required he act as such.
So Chōji finally gets his requisite man up moment, powers up into a butterfly form without needing that pill labeled “do not ingest because all potential unlocked comes at cost of life” (because fuck logical power ups and onscreen training), kicks Asuma’s ass, and then proceeds to aid in the off-paneling of no less than Hizashi and fucking Kakuzu (poor guy just can’t get a break).
I’m sorry, but Kishimoto went through the trouble of making us go through an unnecessary man the fuck up moment just so Chōji could have a crowning moment of awesome that was left off screen. It was Kakashi’s rampage all over again, except even crappier.
Things that Sucked: Why Making a Theme of a Shonen Battle Manga “War is Hell” is Stupid
The acclaimed filmmaker François Truffaut once alleged that it is impossible to make an anti-war film. Basically, the idea is that it is impossible to make an anti-war film if said film involves a war being shown. If a movie has a message, it runs the risk of implicitly saying the opposite of what was intended as what is said comes into conflict with what is actually portrayed.
This sentiment not only applies to Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto, which is most assuredly not a movie, but is actually magnified by the constraints of the genre, said genre being the shonen battle manga. The very essence of any decent battle manga is to wow the reader with spectacular fights.
Since the days of Barefoot Gen, which actually did run in Shonen Jump, believe it or not, it appears that manga aimed at the shonen demographic have been becoming more and more censored in some ways as time goes on. As a result, violence in such manga appears to be less horrifying then it was in Gen. This has the impact of lessening the harm that war does to people. Instead of being shown a man with his intestines flopping all over the place while he bleeds out from the stumps that used to be his legs, characters are shown with a bit of blood and bandages on them, if we get that much. This results in a lack of impact about the costs of war.
But going back to the main topic of this section, the bread and butter of shonen fighting manga is the spectacular nature of the battles. Because of that, instead of war being a tragic waste of human life, characters are shown instead being brave and having their own individual moments of glory. Rather than vilifying war, shonen manga authors end up glorifying it. In this way then, attempting to criticize wars in such stories is nothing more than a fool’s errand.
This is a problem that I have seen with not only One Piece, but also Naruto in its current form. If one wishes to make a point, it’s best to ensure that both the medium and execution suit said point well. Otherwise one simply proves Truffaut right.
One of the more prominent themes of the manga as it went on is the futility and heavy costs of war. The use of bloodline users in conflicts caused reprisals among the populace of the Land of Water. A desire to gain an edge in military strength led to the creation of village jinchuriki, the potential costs of which are best illustrated in the character of Gaara. Konoha’s victory against the Sound and Sand was not without its costs. Tsunade wound up losing the people she loved—her grandfather, great uncle, brother, and lover—over the course of multiple Shinobi World Wars. Kakashi’s gaiden illustrated this theme up close when it showed readers the tragedy behind Kakashi’s current philosophy and Sharingan. Itachi became obsessed with preserving peace at all costs due to being traumatized by the human costs of battle. Nagato’s entire life was defined by the effects war had on him. Aside from a few individuals, much of the political maneuvering in the story has involved disparate attempts to preserve the peace, often in a harsh manner. The price of war has had its influence on various characters and events, and for this heavy a theme to be tackled in a shonen battle manga of all things would suggest that the climactic war arc continue this pattern in some shape or form (Nagato had even suggested this in his final monologue prior to his death, warning Naruto about war’s costs, and how this might affect a generation that had grown up in times of peace).
So when Kishimoto proceeded to for the most part toss this theme aside, it was a slap in the face. The depiction of the war was far from the hell that Kishimoto continually made such conflicts out to be. Instead of focusing on the costs, readers were instead been treated to scenes of heroism and side characters finally getting a chance to shine. I’m sorry, but it’s hard to consider the tragic consequences of war when a character who hasn’t had significant panel time in years, if ever, is finally doing something awesome. Instead of focusing on how war has and will affect the people involved, we instead were treated to its positive side effects, namely the unification of previously warring peoples against a common foe. Instead of relating the war to the thematic conflict against old hatreds (and how said hatreds beget new ones), there was nothing of actual substance other than half-hearted attempts to connect Uchiha Madara and Kaguya with a fantastical history that was hard for anyone to relate to and move past. The enemy was made up of a bunch of synthetic plant men lacking any depth other than acting as Tobi’s personal drones, zombified legends of the past that had little to contribute to the theme, and a bunch of all-out villains.
Visible injuries were at a minimum. At best, you might see a bleeding guy (and it’s almost always a guy) lying on the ground and covered in marks and dust. What’s so horrifying about that?
And there was little in the way of meaningful collateral damage. Every battle took place on an untamed piece of land free of any civilians. As soon as the good guys were victorious, the residents of the affected countries probably went right back to business. Remember when Pain detailed how the people of Amegakure were stuck in a warzone because the great nations didn’t want to fight on their own home territory? Yeah, apparently this little issue would have been too heavy for the final battle against evil. I mean, it’s not like the emotional core of the story revolved less around epic fights than it did the lives of characters and how they shaped, and were in turn shaped by the environment they grew up in.
Just because it’s shonen is not an excuse for Kishimoto to suddenly wimp out when it comes to exploring one of his story’s long running themes. He didn’t have to be as graphic as the examples given, but he could have at least given us something. Because just about anything would have been more than what we actually got.
I believe it’s safe to say that Kishimoto really dropped the ball on this particular matter, unless you want to make the argument that he made war seem less appealing to his audience by making it boring as hell. In which case, he succeeded admirably; as I doubt the impressionable young men and women reading this manga over in Japan would want to start a war knowing just how boring it would be.
Things That Sucked: A Lack of Pathos
After the end of the first day of fighting, Kishimoto decided to engage in more telling rather than showing—one that connects to my earlier point about the issue with exploring the high cost of war in a manga like Naruto. In this case, after a harsh series of opening battles, the plot slowed down a bit so as to give us the details on just what the numbers were. Unfortunately, due to a lack of emotional connection with the events going on, and by extension a lack of genuine tension, this moment fell flat. What makes it worse is the absurd number of casualties, which is cartoonish in its extravagance. It seems to suggest the high command of each side is pretty damn incompetent in matters of basic military strategy. I guess I could understand the huge losses for the villains, as we were consistently shown a number of Zetsu getting themselves killed onscreen as the resurrected ninja were sealed one by one. Unfortunately, because we didn’t get all that much of the same for the good guys save for Tobi’s rampage, it was hard to really connect the day’s events with the high number of casualties.
To do such a thing right means giving the audience an emotional connection with the events to which they are witness. Take that series of moments at the end of the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan. The contrast between the loud and chaotic battle scenes and the melancholy and quiet of the closing moments of that opening allows the tragedy of the entire thing sink into the viewers’ heads. If you haven’t seen that film, then what about that moment in say, the last Rambo (2008), which, after a gory but surprisingly awesome battle sequence, slows down to show the costs of the good guys’ victory, be it the loss of innocence, the loss of friends, or even the realization that in order to protect what is good, deeds which could be construed as evil must sometimes be committed.
For a comics based example, one can even look to—SPOILER ALERT: SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED—that particular scene in Watchmen, after Veidt successfully launches his strike on New York. Several pages are devoted not only to the “alien” creature that caused the massive destruction, but also to illustrating the carnage resulting from its arrival. Background characters that the reader has had a chance to form some attachment to are left killed off in the back and foreground of the scene. It’s simultaneously depressing, shocking, and horrific in its scale.
Now, bringing up the numbers by itself isn’t entirely or even necessarily a bad thing. In many a war story, after the chaos of the battle comes to an end onscreen, what is sometimes done is that narration or some sort of text is used to inform the audience of the actual number of casualties. Done right, this can lend an even greater degree of emotion to a story. Unfortunately, Kishimoto failed in this regard.
For a manga based example, I’ll bring up a certain moment in the manga Tokyo ESP (SPOILER ALERT: SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED). In that manga, the villains successfully manage to drop a ship (a tanker to be precise) in the middle of a city. Unlike most other stories in the genre, the effects of this are made clear. Many panels (and by extension a few pages) are devoted to illustrating the scale of the damage done by the attack. The following chapters go further by not only bringing up the statistics on the actual number of casualties, but also the fallout from the attack, be it political, social, or even on a more personal level.
Kishimoto tried to add a human element to the mostly unnamed and undeveloped members of the Allied forces, but unfortunately, such attempts fell flat for the most part. First of all, aside from Kankuro, Sai, Kakashi and Team Ten, much of the focus was on side characters with little detail to them. As a result, it was hard feeling anything about their situations.
Darui and Mifune had only been recently introduced, and as a result, were mostly unknown quantities. Atsui was a dumbass on par with Jar Jar Binks who I didn’t really mind seeing getting sealed away, while Samui was such a nonentity that I didn’t really give a shit what happened to her. Also, there was that guy who got fodderized by that bakuton user.
Tajiki’s death didn’t mean spit to the audience simply because he had been introduced only to die at that very moment. Because of that, readers could not connect to either him or his friend. I know Kishimoto wanted to show that the story is so much bigger than the named characters it focuses on, unfortunately, because characters like Taijki and his friend are given exactly zero depth or detail, it becomes impossible to develop any empathy for them.
Anyway, due to this lack of pathos, the war up to this point had failed to communicate the idea that war is hellish, tragic, and wasteful.
Things That Sucked: Naruto Goes All Kung Fu Jesus on Us
So starting the first night of war, the Zetsu army finally began fighting smart and decided to engage the enemy by using their ability to replicate the appearance and chakras of those they had come into contact with. In doing so, they were able to sneak around and attack the good guys while in their midst. You know, like real ninjas would.
Unfortunately, Kishimoto never really made the Zetsu seem as big a threat as they should have. While it was nice that we got one whole chapter of Zetsu being sneaky, after that the number of Zetsu attacks shown dropped tremendously, to the point where the threat of them was all but forgotten. As a result, the suspense that should have been built up vanished, and we were left with a bunch of plant men doing shit off-panel.
Zetsu appeared even less impressive once Naruto entered the battlefield and starting offing these guys like it was going out of style. I know that Naruto was supposed to look really impressive there, but considering how easy it appeared for any random good guy to kill a Zetsu, Naruto’s actions looked more like overkill than anything, even if his sensory abilities were a godsend.
We then got a hope spot in the form of Itachi and Nagato confronting Naruto and Bee. Naturally, everyone was hyped. And naturally, with Kishimoto being Kishimoto, the fight was handled quickly and in a manner most unsatisfying. That is all I will say about it.
Anyway, what made this part of the story suck was just how well it illustrated just how relatively unimportant all the side characters became in Part II. In Part I, there was a sense that Naruto’s story was but one important part of a much larger world, as while his actions held great influence over the course of things, they were still occurring within the context of something much greater. When Suna and Oto invaded Konoha, Naruto’s actions helped ensure that Suna’s trump card failed to wreak too much havoc, while other characters, particularly Sarutobi, ensured that the Leaf would triumph. During the last arc of Part I, the primary source of tension was Naruto’s bond with Sasuke, and their inevitable clash. However, what added to this was the role played by each of Naruto’s team mates and the Sand Siblings in allowing him to get that far.
Here, we just had Naruto vow to fix everything himself before he proceeded to almost singlehandedly fuck up Tobi’s army and a bunch of undead ninja. It made what the side characters had done up to that point seem utterly insignificant and pointless, and also made a bunch of his opponents look bad, as they were taken out by shadow clones, regardless of whether or not they were Zetsu or resurrected ninja. Granted shadow clones are just as capable as the original, albeit with a limited chakra supply, but even so, it left a bad taste in my mouth to see a legendary ninja from ages past get taken down by mere shadow clones.
Things That Rocked: Kicking It Old School
Things that Failed to Rock: Gaara’s Dad: Massive Disappointment or Massive Disappointment?
I’m not particularly fond of this guy, whether in terms of his character, how he interacted with Gaara, or the contents of his fight.
The dude was an asshole, but we knew that since we first learned Gaara’s history. What was underwhelming about the guy though was his lack of a personality, especially compared to the larger than life figures who accompanied him during the war. I understand that the importance of his appearance here had to do with his interactions with Gaara, but even then, aside from his patriotism and regret, there was so little to his character that I couldn’t really get much of an impression from the man.
I also didn’t care much for the revelations shown in his flashbacks, particularly the role he played in Yashamaru’s demise. Gaara’s backstory was meant to be one of the single most tragic things in the series, and this tragedy served to not only set him up as a foil to Naruto, but to also lend a theme to his own character arc, namely the pursuit and attainment of love by a person whose life up to that point had been devoid of it. In order to develop as a human being, he had to overcome his loveless background and face the future with the intent of reaching out instead of engaging in solipsistic destruction. This constructive approach was the new way in which he was then able to define his existence through his bonds rather than the indeterminate self he failed to recognize in his dying moments, was best exemplified in the gathering of Sand nin after his resurrection early in Part II.
To reveal that Gaara was loved by both his mother and his uncle (at least it seems so) felt like a copout, and needlessly sentimental (and it made the deceased Kazekage seem like an even bigger jackass than he had to be considering how poorly he was already viewed). Had his father’s acknowledgment been the main idea here, I wouldn’t have minded in the least, as it would have been enough to prove that Gaara was now a figure worthy of being treated as a person, and not the failure of a monster his father had deemed him.
The fight between the former Kazekage and Gaara was also rather underwhelming, as it was basically two stationary fighters manipulating particles of sand/gold. Not only that, but the fight went by quickly and without much fanfare, making the former Kazekage a rather lackluster threat physically speaking.
Things that Were Meh: Ma-Mi-Mu
Mu was an improvement over the Fourth Kazekage, although that is not really saying much. While he was far less memorable than the two kage who have yet to be discussed, he at least wasn’t a total waste of space.
I still don’t see why Ohnoki had to be the one to confront Mu. While I could understand the whole master-student thing that they had going on, the reasoning behind the matchup still doesn’t quite work. Ohnoki claimed that only a fellow jinton user could confront Mu, but why is that? Gaara was able to help him just fine, and Naruto didn’t have too much difficulty slamming a giant ball of chakra into the guy’s torso. It wasn’t like Mu had unique abilities that could only be countered by Ohnoki, save for knowledge of his fighting style.
While Mu didn’t have much of a personality, and he didn’t get all that much of a chance to do anything onscreen save for summoning Madara and giving minor side characters something to do, he was still an improvement over Gaara’s dad, even if slight.
Things that Rocked: I’m the Raikage, Bitch!
After the less than impressive performances of the previous two kage, something had to give. The two remaining guys had less of a connection to the characters fighting and had been caught in Gaara’s sand, something that had been avoided by Mu and briefly countered by the Fourth Kazekage. In order to make up for this disappointing early going, the they needed to put on a strong showing. They didn’t disappoint.
The Sandaime Raikage, A’s father, was basically the most over the top character to ever come out of Kumogakure. And that is saying something considering just how over the top major characters from Kumo seem to be. It’s like their village’s hat. Konoha is full of noble good guys or douchey villains. Kiri is full of badasses. Suna is made up of no-nonsense pros. Iwa has fodder (even their kages get beaten up to show how tough someone is). And Kumo is crazy awesome.
The guy died after fighting an army comprising of what was likely the majority of Iwagakure’s military forces for three days. By himself. His flesh was like steel. His blood like iron. He somehow managed to get the Hachibi to acknowledge him in order to seal it into a pot every single time it went nuts. Black lightning was supposedly his thing, even if he never used it during the war. He only needed a finger to ruin your day. And the only thing that could hurt him was himself.
The guy was less of a character than he was just a plain old folk hero come to life.
And sometimes, in a series that often tried (and failed) to present walking tanks as actual characters, seeing a walking tank who was clearly presented as nothing more was a nice change. I didn’t need to see any personality from the Third Raikage to like him, because he didn’t really have any. All I needed was for him to kick ass and take names. And that he did.
Things that Rocked: Trololololol
I’ll be honest here. I fucking loved the Second Mizukage. In what little screen time he had, he not only was more amusing than his fellow kage, but among the various Mizukages revealed, he was by far the most memorable. I like the character so much that I was tempted to simply post a collage of his best moments in lieu of writing an entry out.
Aside from being the single most entertaining new character introduced during the war, he also added a certain lightness that actually brightened things up quite a bit in an otherwise grim (or at least it was supposed to be grim) situation. Comedy has never been one of Kishimoto’s strengths, and attempts at humor in Naruto have been more miss than hit for as long as the manga has been running. I’ve cringed at more than a few jokes, with the armadillo dick being a particular low point for myself. Seeing the Mizukage make all sorts of comments and expressions that actually got a chuckle out of me was a breath of fresh air. Even when cornered in a pyramid made of sand, his only response was to turn it into a game of whack-a-mole.
It was also good to see an effective genjutsu user who wasn’t an Uchiha, with the presentation of the giant clam summon (granted, the mythology behind it makes sense) adding more ludicrousness to what was already an odd character.
Even the name of his trump card was humorous: I believe (I might be wrong though) “Jokey Boy” is the phonetic pronunciation, and the bizarre physics behind the jutsu was just the cherry on top of what was simultaneously an impressive, yet very strange looking technique.
So of the four resurrected kage, we got one miss, one so-so effort, and two memorable characters. While things started off poorly with Gaara’s dad and Mu’s mostly unseen (no pun intended) efforts, the other two undead ninja more than made up for it, easily making their sequences some of the best parts of the entire war arc.
Things That Sucked: Feeling No Tension
To call Bleach’s Winter War one-sided is to state the obvious. Part of the reason the arc is so maligned has to do with the lack of suspense that was clear from the start of that so called “war.” Tite Kubo started things off poorly by setting a precedent with his opening battles, namely having side characters win their battles with no major losses. This continued throughout the arc as none of the good guys died while the enemy army was whittled down to just Aizen and Gin. Aizen then proceeded to whoop ass in the most obnoxious of ways, and even then failed to kill anyone fighting for the good guys. As a result, by the time the climax of that arc came around, there was little tension in the proceedings, as there was no sense of peril whatsoever, considering that all the good guys needed was a little healing while the villains were down to one.
The Fourth Ninja World War proceeded in a similar manner. There was zero dramatic tension to speak of. As with the Bleach example, none of the losses suffered by the Alliance were all that significant to the readers. Remember the lack of pathos I discusssed? Yeah, there’s your first problem right there.
If at least a couple of characters that the readers cared about prior to this war were at serious risk from a dramatic standpoint, or at least suffered some sort of debilitation, then maybe this wouldn’t be a problem. Even fucking Bleach had good guys losing limbs. Here, the only injuries were maybe some superficial cuts and bruises.
Even when the Zetsu were behaving like ninja, we never saw them as a genuine threat to named characters. In open battle they were basically fodder to be mowed down by the thousands, and those people they did kill we had known only for a couple of panels, tops. Judging from the establishing shots of the medic compound, Kishimoto wanted to suggest the paranoid atmosphere as doppelgangers killed off good guys, but was mostly left off-screen for extended periods, removing any suspense that might have been felt.
A good battle sequence has tension. Remember the battle of Yavin in Star Wars? One by one Luke’s fellow rebels were taken out of the battle, and the newcomer to these events so much greater in scale than he could previously imagine was now left in the position of having to save the day. Those moments where Luke decides to trust in the force while Vader centers his targeting computer on the kid’s fighter are fraught with the purest of tension. If Luke fails, then all the Rebels are dead. There’s an emotional connection between the viewer, Luke, and the rest of the characters watching things from the Rebel base. We care about the characters at risk and genuinely worry about what might happen to them.
And because of this relative lack of tension in Naruto, instead of feeling emotionally invested in what was going on and eagerly anticipating the next chapter, I was simply counting the number of chapters until the war would reach its climax.
This arc served as payoff for some of Kishimoto’s blunders throughout the story. First of all, by attempting to tackle the costs of war, the author found himself having to deal with the problem of communicating such a message in a series was centered around glorious combat. Second was the issue of not giving proper time to his supporting cast, which resulted in an arc that failed in many respects to make readers care about what was going on. Third was his tendency to sacrifice characterization for the sake of the plot, which in turn led to what should have been Chōji’s moment turning into a farce.
Naruto had become visibly poorly written, although if there was any comfort to take from this arc, it was that at least the series was seemingly nearing its end. Or so readers thought.