Following the first act of the war were a series that could be summed up as the good guys fight Madara, Obito, and the Ten Tails for a while, and then Obito tries to become a god. Normally, this might serve as the climax of a story, and the title of the arc as per the anime might imply just that, but unfortunately, it was like waiting in line for a ride at an amusement park. You get there and think it’s going to be a lot of fun, but the wait is so long that by the time you finally get on the ride you can’t help but feel like you could have done a lot in all that time you wasted. Kind of like life in general.
But brief moments of existential angst aside, yeah, this arc was the very opposite of a climax. You keep waiting for something to happen, and it features a lot of buildup and junk that does not really go anywhere, and yet despite going on for as long as it does, for some inexplicable reason, the story keeps going with no end in sight. It was a whole new kind of suck for those who continued to torture themselves as they followed a series once worth reading.
Things that Rocked (Sort Of): The Nature of the Biju (With Some Caveats)
Let me get this first thing out of the way: I fucking hated the whole Jubi revelation. It was stupid. It was so stupid that the last time I saw something so stupid related to a story set in the Naruto universe, I was reading a bad piece of fanfiction. In fact, bad fanfiction was the first place where I saw the idea of a ten-tailed beast. It wasn’t even properly foreshadowed, with its inclusion in bad fanfiction prior to becoming canon arguably making a bad writing decision even worse. I’m surprised it didn’t get more of a reaction, considering that it happened within a few months of us learning that the Espada weren’t ranked from one to ten.
My second caveat lies in the presentation of the young biju. I understand that the Sage split the Ten Tail’s chakra into nine separate beings, and that Kishimoto wanted us to sympathize, but did we really need to see the biju as newly born babes? It just felt awkward as hell to see these beings of mass destruction portrayed as such. Furthermore, it raises questions like: so if the biju grow bigger, does their chakra grow with them? If biju age, can they die of old age? What happens if they die of old age, do they just reform into a newborn? These are some serious questions that wouldn’t be an issue if the story had stuck with its original conception of the tailed beasts as masses of chakra stemming from unknown or mystical origins like the previous backstory for the Shukaku.
But I digress. If there was one good thing I took from the revelation about the tailed beasts’ true nature, it lay in how this development related to the themes of this manga, particularly those about conflict, revenge, and peace.
I rather like how the biju were in the end rather benign beings, not wild animals, but sapient creatures that were capable of understanding the world around them. It put past descriptions of their behavior in a whole new light. The creatures were not the mindless purveyors of destruction that we thought they were, but simply powerful beings exploited by humans eager to use the abilities they possessed.
It suggested that rather than being acted upon by outside forces, human beings are in the end the ones who are often to blame for their own tragedies.
Knowledge of how to split an atom is itself potentially beneficial or harmful, and in the end, all knowledge’s effects lie not in the nature of that knowledge, but in its application. Even then, such knowledge must be proceeded with using the utmost caution. It is the same with the tailed beasts, who act as the closest thing in the story to nuclear weapons. It’s not a perfect analogy, atoms aren’t capable of emotion and free will, at least last I checked, but the sentiment is there: people who wage war are ultimately the ones at risk of self-destruction.
Things That Sucked: Kurama’s Conversion
This one really annoys me. It does. I should be more annoyed than I actually am with it considering how important a development we all knew this was going to be, but by that point, I was just so used to being disappointed that I was able to for the most part shrug it off. Just to be clear, I’m talking about the moment when a certain nine-tailed fox ceased to be an antagonist, and instead made peace with the blonde protagonist it was sealed into.
Working in tandem with Kurama was something that had been highly anticipated from the moment that the series began. Having been sealed in him when he was just a newborn baptized in the blood of his parents, the fox acted as Naruto’s darker side, his inner demon. Due to the massive amount of power it possessed, Kurama was both a boon and a bane to Naruto, acting as an inner demon that tempted the hero with promises of easy power, though at the cost of control over his sanity and actions. It was made evident however, that while Naruto would need to resist its temptations, the fox’s power would be necessary for him to fulfill his destiny. Sooner or later Naruto was going to have to cease being a mere borrower of its chakra, and actively master it so that he might finally achieve the potential we all had been aware he’d possessed since the beginning.
Naturally, something this important to both the plot and the development of the involved characters would have to be finely written, given that as far as plotlines go, it definitely ranks among the most prominent goals of the main character, as it in turn relates to the other goals he gains over the course of the story. Not only that, but in order for Naruto to confront the Kyubi, he would have to tame his other demons, namely those negative emotions that allowed it to influence him as he accessed its chakra. As a result, it was fair for readers to expect Kishimoto to put a lot of effort into writing this part out.
What we got however was Naruto saying a nice thing after besting the Kyubi, and then, less than sixty chapters later, becoming all buddy-buddy with it. I’m not even trying to make this sound worse than it actually is, it really was that sloppy.
Kishimoto should have started developing the change in Naruto and Kurama’s relationship during Part I, and had it continue throughout the story at regular intervals so that their bond would be as strong as would be necessary when they did begin to work together. Kurama was a demonic figure during Part I and early Part II, serving to tempt Naruto into taking the easy path to power. As a result, his presence was often shrouded, highlighting his mystique and devilish nature.
This probably went on for way too long, as by the time Naruto finally got around to confronting his inner demon, it was over 400 chapters into the story. A relationship this important needed a foundation to build from, and for Kishimoto to cheat by simply having Kurama experience a chapter’s worth of flashbacks was lazy as it gets.
It would have been better to have Kurama acknowledge Naruto’s achievements as the story progressed, and if their relationship had undergone a slow transformation, from mutual resentment to a grudging respect (Kurama for Naruto’s insane determination, Naruto for Kurama’s power and intelligence for a “mindless beast”), to one of concern on the part of Naruto (his promise not to harm Kurama after besting him), and then to one of an equal partnership.
Like a great many other things in the story, this just happened to be given less attention than it truly deserved, as by this point in time it was clear that Kishimoto had failed to properly plan out the plot and characters.
Things that Sucked: Meeting the Other Hosts
If there is one major flaw in particular about Tobi’s fight that I feel I should start with, it’s the way that Naruto’s meeting with the biju and their former hosts was executed. Not only does it interrupt what was supposed to be one of the arc’s major battles, but it also adds an unnecessary and pathetic sentimentality to one of the major motifs in the story: that between a tailed beast and its host, and how this relationship in turn affects how the world at large perceives said host.
Naruto’s fellow hosts were described as for the most part being ostracized to varying extents due to what they had sealed within them. Thus, seeing the hosts and the beasts all sitting hunky dory with one another in a circle (why not just have them sing “Kumbaya,” Kishimoto?) and getting all friendly with Naruto was one of the single most moronic parts of the entire manga. While I’m sure that the spirits of the deceased hosts and the beasts did have quite a bit of time to themselves before the fight, the breezy positivity and clichéd words of courage just took away from the aforementioned scene. In addition, due to the lack of proper development and characterization that could have been afforded to the hosts earlier in the story (it’s hard to feel much of any emotional impact seeing a colored spread of the hosts when we barely know them), there was nothing to really connect Naruto to the other hosts or beasts whatsoever (at least fucking Studio Pierrot, of all people, had the presence of mind to have Naruto interact with one his fellow hosts in a filler arc). An element that needed to be treated with gravitas was instead handled the same way one would write a bad animated PSA about how we need to treat one another with love and kindness—horribly.
Things That Sucked: The Only Threatening Enemies (or Supporting Characters of Relevance) Were Uchiha
I don’t really consider the Uchiha characters themselves to be as major a problem as some fans do. In fact, I consider them sort of a bunch of scapegoats in many ways, kind of like Jar Jar Binks was in relation to The Phantom Menace. Yes, the characters are overexposed and oftentimes obnoxious, but if you’ve been following this series of critiques, then you will realize that my gripes with the series revolve around a whole mess of other things, of which the Uchiha are merely symptomatic of to some extent.
At the same time, this war arc singlehandedly provided a simulacrum for a problem that started way back during the much maligned Year of Sasuke. That problem being the manner in which the Uchiha (and by extension anything related to the Sage of Six Paths) consumed the entire plot.
I think Kishimoto tried to present the Uchiha as the Narutoverse equivalent to the Sith, except the clan comes off more as a bunch of douchebags with popped collars than they do a group of dangerous warriors out for power. It’s apparent in his descriptions of the clan’s past as well as the legend explaining their origins. The thing is, where the Sith had mystique, the Uchiha have high collars. Where the Sith had Vader and the Emperor, the Uchiha had an overexposed deuteragonist, a once cool but now overexposed genius, some uncharismatic guy in a mask, and a zombie with a man crush on his deceased nemesis.
The problem with Itachi saving the day is that while this does redeem his earlier actions somewhat, it also exemplifies just how unimportant the rest of the cast is next to the Uchiha plotline. Side characters of all shape and size engaged in actions that were seemingly less important after Itachi fixed the whole problem of the zombie army.
Kabuto was incompetent throughout the arc, and only Tobi actually managed to do some damage to the good guys before Madara got around to dropping meteors on people. Even Sasuke, with his little subplot with Naruto, is worth a hell of a lot more dramatic attention than the rest of what went on during the war, which was basically glorified fanservice.
To make a long story short, the Uchiha became the plot, and considering how this was done, it was to the detriment to the story’s quality.
Things That Sucked: The Rookies Make Vows and I Don’t Give a Fuck
Remember Naruto’s peers? You know, those guys and girls (and Tenten) in his relative age group who also took the chunin exams way back in Part I?
Anyway, one of the problems with Part II was the overall negligence Kishimoto exercised when it came to using the supporting cast.
I’m not one of those guys who thinks that Part II sucks just because a bunch of side characters didn’t do much, but I do feel that one of the war’s weaknesses has been the relative absence of these characters from the story for so long.
Even when reading the story in volume form, one of the things that is rather noticeable about Part II is the fact that not only do the other Rookies make uncommon appearances, but when they do appear, they are for the most part nothing more than walking scenery. One of Part I’s greatest strengths was the use of interesting, sympathetic, and relatable supporting characters to add depth to the fictional world of Naruto. In Part II, aside from Shikamaru, the Rookies were for the most part ignored in favor of focusing on Naruto’s very personal quest to save Sasuke and his conflict with the Akatsuki, with the Uchiha plotline kicking in about midway through.
As a result of this lack of relevance however, in both real time and in-story time, a disconnection was created between the audience and the characters. While the characters are familiar, the fact that readers didn’t really get a chance to learn more about what happened to them over the course of the time skip makes them less familiar, and as a result, less sympathetic. It also doesn’t help that for the most part, the interactions these side characters have with Naruto have been lacking.
When I got to the part where the various Rookies made their vows to help Naruto and his friends fight Tobi, I honestly didn’t feel anything. I know that it was supposed to be an emotional moment, that it was a grand sequence detailing the coming together of disparate people for the sake of one common goal, but honestly, due to my sudden inability to care about these characters that had long been ignored by the author, I just could not give a single fuck.
These characters who had at one point seemed so familiar, and thus so easy to relate to were now strangers to me, and I just couldn’t find it in myself to feel even the slightest emotion at their vows. Or rather, I could not feel the right emotions. Critics call it bathos. TV Tropes calls it narm.
And it was bathetic. It was amusing looking at Hinata’s stiffly drawn face as she made clear her status as a shallow love interest. It was laughable when Kiba called Naruto his rival. It was gut-bustingly hilarious that Tenten got a moment to give her inner monologue but Neji, who had been deeply affected by Naruto in the past, did not, perhaps because Kishimoto was saving his big speech for the upcoming death scene.
As with Kurama’s conversion and Naruto’s subsequent team up with him, what could have been a moment of gravitas was ruined by the events leading up to it.
Things that Sucked: ‘Nobody’
I don’t have much to criticize in regards to Tobi’s decision making throughout the fight. He went to the big guns early by having six undead jinchuriki and their corresponding biju fight under his thrall. How was he supposed to foresee Naruto suddenly being able to communicate with the other hosts and tailed beasts on a spiritual level? He decided to hold back from fighting on the front lines and let his pawns do the fighting for him, getting close only when he saw an opening with which to end things quickly. How was he supposed to expect the sudden appearance of Kakashi and Guy? When the biju were released from his control, he acted fast, sealing them back into the Gedo Statue without letting the situation get too out of control, and then using said statue to fight Killer Bee on (at the very least) an even level. He made all the right moves, but the plot didn’t even let him win a minor victory, which only hurt my ability to take the fight seriously.
The early parts of the fight were marred by just how disconnected the combatants felt from one another despite the connection between Tobi, Kakashi, and Naruto. Up to this point, there wasn’t really any hint at Tobi having a particular relationship with Kakashi except for theories about Tobito that proved true, while Naruto was surprisingly chill in the presence of the man who almost singlehandedly (Minato’s not getting off free for his role) ruined his early life. This lack of emotional tension robbed the fight of much of its dramatic potential.
Furthermore, as a villain, Tobi was a disappointment. He started off as a bit of a joke character, and among fans, his role as the Akatsuki’s comic relief led to him becoming a minor fan favorite. Needless to say, his transformation into the story’s Big Bad was rather jarring, regardless of the lack of foreshadowing. Afterward, he became a sarcastic, grim diabolical mastermind. The problem, as is a theme with this series of reviews, was how his character was executed.
He never comes off as either all that funny or all that intimidating. His quips to Minato and Konan are painful (at least in the Viz translations), and when he does try to be intimidating, he manages to only look unimpressive. Against Danzo’s barely there bodyguards, he managed to lose an arm. Against Minato, he got pwned hard despite Minato’s claims about “the masked man’s” power. And against Konan, he had to bring out an extremely haxx technique. All this while using only one jutsu for the most part.
Perhaps it would have been preferred if Kishimoto had focused on either Tobi’s jester or mastermind personas. In his attempt to characterize Tobi as both, he has failed to deliver for the most part. I admit, it would be hilarious to have a troll of a villain who managed to make me laugh, but it probably wouldn’t do for a big bad in this kind of story. And diabolical masterminds are good, but they are defined less by their personalities (which in the hands of the average writer tend toward the dull) than by the scope of their plans (and the Moon’s Eye Plan isn’t what I’d call great). If there is a character who does manage to be a great example of both, it’s the Joker from Batman, and Tobi is no Joker. Not even Cesar Romano.
It doesn’t help that masked villains are meant to have a certain allure and mystique. Unfortunately, Tobi’s behavior failed to keep up with his machinations. He never comes across as mysterious in a vaguely threatening way. Sure, he turned out to be behind all sorts of important events. Sure, his identity was actually a mystery. But his unimpressive performance as a villain and lacking personality keep him from being a truly great masked maniac.
Darth Vader succeeds in being a threatening villain who retains his mystique for a good chunk of the story (unless of course, you watched the prequels first). He does so by actually posing a threat instead of merely being implied to be one (showing rather than telling). The character possesses an aura of menace, and even at his most sympathetic prior to his redemption, he still serves as the major physical, emotional, and spiritual threat to Luke. Tobi tries to be menacing, but as I said earlier, he never really succeeds in matching the hype whenever he’s onscreen.
I admit that the scene where Tobi is informed of the real Madara’s appearance and then starts saying that he himself is “no one” actually rectifies this somewhat. While that revelation did rob him of some of the mystique that he had built up, it also served to illustrate in many ways (or at least until the reveal, but more on that soon enough) that Tobi was the ideal ninja—having sacrificed all sense of self in favor of his mission. It calls back to the moment in the Penis Arc when Sai states (wrongly) that he is no one, he is without identity, acting only as a tool in the service of Danzo. Tobi’s sudden turn for the subtly deranged (just look at his body language as he reacts to Naruto’s words) did manage to redeem him somewhat, though it was a bit late in the game.
Things that Sucked: The Gokage versus Madara
One of the problems I have with Madara is that his characterization was so delayed. Early on, Kishimoto tried to create a Sauron type of character whose very name inspires dread and who manages to cast a presence even without physically appearing in the story. However, where Sauron was a somewhat abstract figure who maintained his mystique by remaining out of the story entirely, the true Madara finally appeared during the arc’s climax as Kabuto’s trump card.
Based on his hype, one would expect Madara to be not only powerful, but in possession of a character worth fearing. Instead, we got John Kreese with superpowers and a hard-on for a guy who was sealed away a few hundred chapters ago. Also, 80s hair.
His personality aside (and by God is it hilarious to see Madara act like an elitist he man woman hater who may or may not be a total closet case), I have to admit, as ridiculous as I found his move set, at least he felt like the closest thing in this war to an actual threat. The whole dropping a meteor on Gaara’s division was pretty damn over the top, but I have to admit, it was pretty cool. The walking Susanoo made multiple was also pretty interesting. And while I thought it odd that his perfected Susanoo is so huge and capable of destruction on par with a biju (makes the whole thing about capturing one for the purpose of strengthening a village’s military capacity seem less rational when it’d arguably be easier to just stock up on Uchiha and Senju and doing all that could be done to avoid alienating them), I will concede that the design and sheer insanity of the thing to at least be great eye candy.
Another thing I found hilarious was the Hashirama face grafted onto Madara’s left breast, if only because of how much it looks like something out of Kuso Miso Technique.
One issue of characterization not involving Madara that stands out is Ohnoki’s transition into the wizened leader of the kage. While this is in itself definitely not a bad thing, far from it actually, the execution of the process could have been, like much of the writing in Part II, better. It all started when for some inexplicable reason, one decent verbal comeback from Gaara was enough to get Ohnoki to reconsider his entire life.
It came off as sudden and clumsily handled, as the reader was not privy to whatever inner conflicts and bouts of characterization Ohnoki was supposed to be having. We see him going from a cynical, crotchety old man to a newly hopeful, crotchety old man in between Gaara’s verbal smack down and his first appearance after the summit. There’s no proper transition for the audience to connect to the character’s rediscovery of his youthful ideals. And this only hurts the moment where Ohnoki flashes back to his youth and thinks about what the first Tsuchikage told him. Had this scene been earlier foreshadowed or hinted at when Ohnoki had his ass verbally handed to him, the actual moment would have been powerful. Instead, it just comes off as the typical use of a flashback somehow motivating a character to not give up, except without the proper buildup. Compare this to when Jiraiya thinks back to his memories of Naruto before he wills himself back to life; the difference in quality is evident due to the audience being aware of the bond between the two characters as well as readers having witnessed much of what was shown in Jiraiya’s memories. Another thing to compare this character arc unfavorably to is Sarutobi’s time in the spotlight prior to his genuinely sad demise. Like Ohnoki, Sarutobi had flashbacks to his youth when making his last stand. However, because of his emotional connections to other characters in the story, be they the recently unveiled founding Hokage, to his former students, or to the younger citizens of his village, which had been built up not only prior to that fight, but also during it, Sarutobi’s time to shine was able to connect with the audience on a level that Ohnoki’s never could.
My main beef with this battle however, has to do with the efforts of the five kage against Madara. While it was nice to see good old fashioned teamwork for the purpose of fighting a superior opponent, it’s kind of sad that in the end, they came out of the fight looking rather pathetic. Had they lost but still managed to deal a significant enough blow that was nullified only by Madara’s immortality, then there wouldn’t be as much issue. Instead, it was made clear that all their efforts were for naught, as Madara stopped playing around and made clear that he could have crushed them whenever he felt like it. Not only that, but there were no lasting impacts from this battle, which was in hindsight, padding for an already bloated story. It’s pretty disheartening to see Kishimoto make it clear that all the willpower in the world is no substitute for good old fashioned power, and by extension that the only people who matter are descendants of the Sage (and even Tsunade falls short because her skills are but a pale shadow of Hashirama’s). It also does not help that it made Ohnoki’s vows to hold the line and take down Madara look pointless in hindsight.
Things that Sucked: When a Flashback is Better Than the Fight It Ungracefully Interrupts
This is easily the worst of the three battles that took place during the war’s climax, between the poor pacing, Kabuto turning out to be another disappointment of an antagonist, Itachi getting shilled hard, and the fact that once again, the Uchiha plotline turned out to be more relevant to the story on an emotional level than that surrounding Naruto.
As I’ve mentioned, this fight was poorly paced. It was like rereading the Penis arc, except the characters involved were a lot less interesting at this point. These two pages happened within three chapters of each other, and in that time, not much happened during the fight. We got a crappy flashback that tried to add emotion to the battle, but the problem was that it came out of nowhere, and served as a lame justification for why Sasuke’s Susanoo had a bow and arrow set. Had there been some buildup to this flashback’s playing out, there wouldn’t be a problem, but since it was clumsily inserted into the plot, we got yet another moment where Kishimoto went for pathos, and came out with a steaming lump of bathos instead. In fact, if you take into account the contents of Itachi’s Izanami, you come to realize that when it comes down to it, very little action actually occurred during the fight.
Kabuto himself isn’t much of a villain, being more of an Orochimaru wannabe than anything. I get that he was supposed to mirror Tobi in that he was a being without an identity searching for one, while Tobi is pretty much the opposite, but while this theme of his character is in itself not a bad thing, the attempts to make him a legitimate antagonist were. While he had heaps of potential, having trained off-panel to become a ninja on par with any of the kage even without Edo Tensei, he had the bad luck of having his debut in battle be against the Brothers Uchiha, one of whom has a borderline unbreakable plot shield, the other being Itachi. Furthermore, his use of Edo Tensei was in the end, pretty weak sauce, as a fair chunk of his army was quickly sealed away, and when he did take complete control, Kabuto still found ways to screw up. Only Madara actually threatened to do anything of consequence, a shame considering how much anticipation there was to see the zombie army in action. Poor bastard never had a chance to look good.
Itachi is part of the fight’s weakness, but it has less to do with his power than his role in the plot. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Itachi is an intentional invocation of a God Mode Sue. Like Minato, he’s always been designed as a benchmark to surpass, and as a result, his talents and abilities were intentionally executed in a manner that gives him an aura of invincibility (while also showing just how he could have come to the conclusion that he was capable of singlehandedly fixing everything himself). The problem with Itachi in the context of this battle was that Kishimoto had effectively overused him by this point. When he served as the primary element in Nagato’s defeat during the war, it was irksome, because the two had little connection other than being former associates, and Itachi’s continued glory came at the cost of Naruto and Bee’s apparent levels of competence. When Itachi almost singlehandedly dealt with Kabuto by revealing Izanami, that was when it was apparent that Kishimoto had officially overdone it with Itachi. Again, it’s not his level of power that bothers me; it’s the execution of his role in the plot. In Rurouni Kenshin, a similar type of character, Hiko Seijuro XIII, was intentionally given a minor role in the story, as the author realized that someone as powerful and memorable as he would only overshadow the other characters if given too much screen time. Kishimoto failed with Itachi by giving him so much screen time and so large a role that he effectively became one of the main characters, and arguably the most competent of the good guys.
There wasn’t really much teamwork to speak of either. As with the fight against Nagato, Itachi was made to shine at the expense of his partner’s image. Sasuke did contribute a bit, but even then, on more than one occasion, Itachi had to protect him, at one point at the cost of his own safety. As a result, the same character that is meant to be Naruto’s final and most personal challenge was made to look like a common noob, even after having shown of the power of his new EMS. If Kishimoto wanted to temper some of the hype for that battle, he succeeded.
Another problem with this fight is that it serves as the emotional center of the war’s climax, given that Naruto wasn’t having all that emotional a battle against Tobi, and the kage hadn’t really displayed anything all that generally relatable given their relative lack of screen time. The problem with this is that it continues a pattern that started during the Year of Sasuke: the fact that the story is more about Sasuke and the Sage’s descendants than it is about Naruto. Once again, he is meant to serve the most important role as the destined child, yet, as far as the emotional context of the story is concerned, Naruto is the secondary protagonist.
I will say this though, for all its faults, at least the fight was interrupted by an interesting flashback. It was nice to see Orochimaru remind us of what an interesting villain looks like, and while I wasn’t able to emotionally connect with Kabuto’s situation, I did appreciate the hidden details of the shinobi world that his past revealed.
Things That Sucked: Tobito
This was crap. It was so crap that I almost marked this revelation as my synonym for suck. But now I realize that simply saying “Tobito” is another way of saying suck, just as one can use either the terms “rectify” or “correct” in a sentence where either could fit. “Kaguya” and “Tobito” are interchangeable as synonyms for the kind of suck that we got in the later chapters of Naruto. Sometimes I really wonder how this series could disappoint me so much, but then I remember what the Star Wars prequels did to me.
All right, all of you know about this “twist,” which a lot of people had predicted ever since Tobi was first introduced and a lot of others, including myself, had wished was not meant to be for a variety of reasons. But you know what, he turned out to be Obito, and the forums were down for a while. Now on to why it sucked.
Why It Sucked: Failing as a Foil
Part of the whole Obito being evil thing’s “appeal” was supposed to lie in the fact that he was similar to Naruto and thus an ideal foil as an opponent, you know, like Nagato had already done before him. And Gaara before that. But this was different because young Obito was basically a brunette Naruto. Well, if that was what Kishimoto was going for, he failed harder than I did the last time I tried to make myself shepherd’s pie.
Obito falls flat as Naruto’s foil because he lacks the depth that Naruto offered as a character. Naruto is defined by a lonely childhood as an orphan hated for something he had no control over because his father was a fucking dumbass. Despite this tragic life, he kept trying to make things better for himself and sought the acknowledgment of others so that he could prove to others, and to himself, that he existed, and that perhaps he deserved to exist. That’s an interesting bit of characterization right there. So what does Obito bring to the table?
Obito turns out to be an orphan with no friends except for Rin. Except we only learn that he was an orphan long after he was introduced (which makes it even weirder that this was never brought up during his earlier appearances when it might have been relevant; an example of this being his developing bond with Kakashi during the Gaiden). Furthermore, we don’t really see him interact with others that much. As a result, he comes off as a rather flat character whose bonds are rather loosely written, making it all the harder to identify his character with Naruto’s. When he does suffer loss (more on that soon enough), his reaction is stunningly over the top, especially given that Naruto never indicated he would slide down the slippery slope nearly as quickly.
If you’re going to compare and contrast two characters so explicitly within a story, you have to draw the lines of similarity and difference between them with the proper detail. Obito being so shallowly written kind of takes away from that.
Why It Sucked: Your Motivation Sucks
The second reason why this twist sucked? Obito’s motivation.
Obito, as Naruto’s foil, clearly needed something to set him apart from previous villains and their tragic backstories. After all, previous foils had included horrifically abusive childhoods, seeing loved ones die, and the tragedies that abound in a world defined by its commitment to waging war. After Gaara and Pain, we needed to see something that was fitting of a villain posing as Naruto’s ultimate shadow archetype during the most spectacular part of the story. Kishimoto needed a home run to top his base hits.
He went for a sacrifice bunt. Instead he screwed even that up and got tagged out before he could move away from the plate.
Obito turns into a nihilistic psycho with solipsistic dreams simply because his crush died. It wasn’t even a matter of her being killed by the guy he had come to see as both his rival and best friend. It was because his crush died. All this shit that happened? The attack on Konoha? Capturing jinchuriki? Starting wars? Because his crush died in a really, really stupid way. This was supposed to be Naruto’s ultimate foil? The guy whose crush died? It’d be like if Sakura died and Naruto went all Pain on the world in spite of the fact that there were people who cared about him other than her. Obito had the potential to meet up with his teacher or Kakashi or whoever the fuck he bonded with. Instead, he goes all emo teen and lets Kakashi stew in his guilt and ruins what should have been the happiest day of Minato’s life. What a little bitch.
Furthermore, sometime after the reveal, in a blatant attempt to make Obito’s reasoning look less ridiculous, Kishimoto reveals that Obito learned later what events led up to Rin’s death. Unfortunately, given that we know for a fact that Obito snapped when he saw Rin die, this just comes off as a lame attempt at justifying Obito’s rapid turnaround.
What makes it worse is that Kishimoto tried to explain this by revealing that, through Tobirama, that Uchihas just love so hard that they go batshit insane when they suffer loss. It’s like the whole thing with Saiyans becoming stronger after near-death experiences, except really, really stupid.
Why It Sucked: What is Does to the Gaiden
The third reason why the twist sucked is because of what it does to the Gaiden from earlier in the manga. That side-story serves to illustrate just how Kakashi went from a stick in the mud haunted by his father’s fall from grace to someone willing to bend the rules for the sake of doing what’s right. Despite Kakashi being the character that grows the most, it is Obito who is the true protagonist of the side-story because in the end, he leaves Kakashi with legacies physical, philosophical, and emotional. Obito represented the defining element of Kakashi’s character. When we see him visit the memorial at different points in the manga, we come to understand just how strongly this impacted him. And while Kishimoto did a decent job showing just how badly he took the revelation, he also failed to consider what it did to the message passed by the Gaiden.
When you think about it, Kakashi was right when he originally opted to leave Rin behind. Had his father carried out the mission without falling into sentiment, things might not have gone so badly for Konoha afterward. Had Kakashi carried out his mission regardless of what Obito did, the Uchiha would have probably been killed along with Rin, but at fucking least he wouldn’t have grown up to be a mass murdering maniac out to reunite himself with an illusory version of his childhood crush. People like to say that things happen for a reason, but you know what? If Kakashi had never learned his lesson, maybe a lot of the crap that happened in the story could have been avoided. It’s not like Madara could easily leave his hideout (although one wonders how he implanted his eyes into Nagato). Maybe Black Zetsu could have come up with an alternative plan, but the fact is, doing the right thing caused a lot of potentially avoidable pain and sorrow.
Why It Sucked: Who Wants Redemption?
Another issue with the twist is the way it was handled, or rather, how Obito’s redemption was handled later on. Naruto shrugs off the fact that this guy is the one who left him an orphan. The one who started a war. The one who is directly responsible for a bunch of peoples’ deaths, and indirectly responsible for a hell of a lot more. So for Naruto to be so forgiving is one thing, even if I would have liked these details to have made more of an emotional impact on him, but what makes it worse is that Naruto seems to brush them over after Obito sacrifices himself to save him. The fact is, one realization of his life’s errors is not enough to change the fact that he screwed the pooch in the first place. Simply being “similar” to Naruto in his youth is not enough. He was not a cool or awesome guy. He was a fuck up who tried to do something decent in his final moments. But Naruto couldn’t even get that right.
And when Obito gets to the afterlife, how does Rin greet him? By saying that he did good. I’m sorry, but one act of sacrifice while he was already in the process of dying is not nearly enough to completely discount the fact that it’s kind of his fault shit got this bad in the first place. A moment of good doesn’t immediately undo over a decade of sin.
Atonement is great. When done right, it serves as a way of saying that anyone can become a better person if they are committed to it. When a character genuinely feels contrition for the things they’ve done though, they have to realize that atonement isn’t a destination, but a never ending path. You don’t get rewarded for one good deed at the end of your life (unless of course, you’re Anakin Skywalker, but that’s a whole different topic to discuss altogether). You keep trying to make things better for everyone else regardless of the fact that you’ll never be able to fully make up for what you did. And Kishimoto didn’t seem to realize that.
So How Could This Have Possibly Been Fixed or At Least Made to Suck Less?
Now I’m going to take a step back from my usual format to look at what Obito could have been assuming that Kishimoto had always intended for him to be Tobi. Before that, I would like to bring up something that I actually did when discussing the treatment of Hidan and Kakuzu.
Sakumo’s story raises questions about the story’s themes and the ideals espoused by Konoha, namely whether it is worth it to save one’s loved ones and comrades if sacrificing them would be in the name of a greater good, and also whether such sacrifices might in turn imply that the greater good might not be worth it in the end. By acting in a manner that would be applauded by the narrative and the younger characters in the story, Sakumo only managed to ruin his life and career. Is it really worth it to protect your comrades when doing so only nets you scorn and dishonor? By making the village the main priority, as even an idealist like Hashirama came to do, is the individual sacrificed? If the people of the village are aware of such things but do nothing about the status quo, does that make them worth protecting? The importance of these questions becomes clearer in the context of my argument in this post once I point out Obito’s admiration of the White Fang.
During the Gaiden, Obito at one point, when told by Kakashi just what an ideal shinobi is supposed to be like given the system, rebuts his teammate’s argument by pointing out that not only did he agree with Sakumo’s decision, but that he was willing to crush the idea of what it meant to be a shinobi if said idea was so heartless. Already one can see the potential for an interesting villain if done right. To have Kakashi be the one to kill Rin, and then to have Obito learn unsavory details connected to this incident would thus create a backstory for a different kind of villain from what we actually got. Given what happened to Rin and Sakumo, Obito could have easily been written as having become disenchanted by the shinobi system, and thus obsessed with crushing it rather than becoming a nihilist out to put everyone in a world of dreams. The horrific stories of the Uchiha clan, Kakuzu, the perpetual war zone that was Pain’s homeland, Kisame’s experience with betrayal in the Mist, and even the discrimination against jinchuriki could have provided more ammo for a character convinced that the current system needed to go. It would even add a new dimension to the Akatsuki’s originally revealed goal of attaining a monopoly and crowding out the hidden villages. By turning the group into a strong competitor, the villages’ strength would be destabilized on an economic level.
This would be a rather topical antagonist to depict in the story given that people in real life have grown somewhat disenchanted with the status quo. Other works have already done similar things with masked revolutionaries, a particular favorite being Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. Like V, Obito would be dedicated solely to the idea of taking down what he viewed as a corrupt and unjust establishment, with even his identity being subsumed into his cause. By having Naruto unmask him and the person behind the mask, Kishimoto could have written himself a rebuttal to works like V by pointing out the personal psychologies that lead to people becoming like Tobi while still acknowledging his arguments.
By giving him a more fleshed out and foreshadowed motivation, as well as a less far-out plan, Kishimoto could have actually made Obito into an interesting villain. Unfortunately, we got what we did, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.
Things That Rocked: Kakashi’s Reaction to Tobito
If there’s one thing that was done right, it was Kakashi’s response to seeing his friend and idol on the other side of the battlefield. As much as the reveal sucked, Kakashi’s reaction was great. The large panels with his shocked and disturbed face successfully conveyed just how much this impacted him. Obito wasn’t just the friend he had made too late; he was the reason why he became a better person. Obito was a symbol of what Kakashi strived to be, and his difficulty processing this inconvenient truth was well done.
I also admit to rather liking Kakashi’s speech to Obito after the latter had been defeated. While Kakashi had always been somewhat enigmatic despite our knowing his backstory, the revelation that he was a self-admitted nihilist who sought a higher purpose was both heartbreaking and inspiring. He could have easily become something horrible like many villains in the story, but instead he decided to act constructively. All this in spite of having a pretty horrible backstory in his own right. Granted, he’s no messiah like his student. However, he did serve as a symbol of how a person unconnected to prophecies could overcome hardship and emerge from it a better, stronger (albeit broken) person.
Things That Could Have Been Better: The Ten-Tailed Beast Revived
Okay, so the Ten-Tails is revived, and shit looks bad. I admit to chuckling when it simply flicked Bee’s attack right back at him. Still, you would think that it shouldn’t be so easy to physically flick away what is supposed to be a ball of destructive energy. But oh well.
Contrary to what some thought, I felt that the creature’s designs were okay. Not the greatest, but not horrible. It looks kind of like a Bulbasaur gone bad with the bud on its back, foreshadowing its connection to the World Tree. If anything though, I question why it needed to transform. Anyway, the first form looks properly monstrous, if a tad plain for something that was supposedly the biggest threat in the universe. The second form was a bit better, with its facial features being warped in a way that called to mind the three monkeys. However, the tails that were actually hands looked kind of ridiculous, and when the creature bulked up, it looked rather silly rather than threatening. If anything though, I would have preferred that if Kishimoto was going to include a rabbit demon in the story, he would have hinted at that by making sure his designs included aspects of such an appearance.
I’ll go into greater detail in another post, but one issue I had with the pinnacle of tailed beasts was its disappointing performance during the war. This was supposed to be the closest thing the world had to a god, with Kaguya being its true identity, yet it continually found itself underperforming to expectations. I expected its ability to manipulate the environment itself to be enough to overwhelm the average human. However, merely being gifted with a tailed beast cloak was enough to keep the Alliance going. And later on, the Uchiha proceeded to easily handle the beast when they became its jinchuriki. I don’t know about Madara, but in the case of Obito, I could at least comprehend how his single-minded obsession was enough to overcome Kaguya’s will.
Things That Sucked: Neji’s Sacrifice
It was so bad that when the chapter came out, I started a thread in the Naruto Forums Telegrams.
So Neji, a character who’s been out of the spotlight for so long that I almost forgot about him finally gets a day in the limelight. You know what that means, kids! That’s right, he dies after Naruto suddenly goes all derp and tires out from an injury, a bit of writing that made little sense but was necessary to create contrived drama. Hinata, being the dumbass she is, decides to shield him with her body instead of something more productive. Neji, being an even bigger dumbass, decides to shield her with his body! So he dies protecting the main branch. Like his father did. Out of his own free will. So he escaped his fate as a member of the cadet branch? But then his father escaped his fate by making a sacrifice based out of familial love rather than duty to the clan. And Neji…it was a little ambiguous.
Anyway, so we get some more symbolism of a flying free bird (play it!), a callback to the caged bird motif associated with Neji since Part I. So far so good. But then, as if to really make it sink in that this is a tragic event that deserves our precious tears, the bird gets impaled by a wooden spike.
Shit. Is. Hilarious.
What should have been a tragic moment came off instead as bad comedy. To wit, Kishimoto set up a visibly contrived situation, and then proceeded to overdo the drama in order to make up for the fact that his setting up of the event was piss-poor in its execution. Had Neji remained a part of the cast focus on a somewhat consistent basis, readers would have better retained their connection to him. However, because he was for the most part ignored for so long, the bond between reader and character was interrupted, making it harder to feel anything about what happened to him. Furthermore, by having the bird die in the manner it did, suddenly, and at the end of the chapter, it invokes only bathos, appearing less like a summation of tragedy than it does a punchline to some very sick joke.
Then, to add to the suck, we get the reactions to it. It’s one thing for Naruto and Neji’s peers to show shock and sadness. It’s another thing entirely for the entire Alliance to grieve for this one guy and then rally around his sacrifice. I mean, how many other people died during that war? Don’t they get a moment to shine by having people rally around them? Does this only apply to Naruto’s loved ones? Is the entire world really trying to bend over backwards that far for some kid?
It also comes off poorly compared to a similarly executed scene in One Piece, when Ace fell in battle. In that series, the scene worked because one, Ace’s bond with Luffy had been built up prior to and during the arc, two, there was an established camaraderie among Whitebeard’s crew, and three, because Ace was one of the focal points of said arc. Readers could understand why the crew mourned along with Luffy because all of them had a bond with Ace. Furthermore, because rescuing Ace had been one of their shared goals, having him die served as a punch to the gut for both the characters and the reader. Neji was close to Naruto, his clan, and his peers, and that’s it. He wasn’t the focus of the war. As a result, this scene just looks even worse when laid side by side with the one in One Piece.
Things That Sucked: Orochimaru Defanged
At least in Kabuto’s flashbacks, Orochimaru had some dignity. Post-resurrection, he underwent the same fate as Kurama: he was pussified. The same Orochimaru who had once thrown away subordinates once they’d ceased to be useful, the same Orochimaru who had struck fear into the good guys and killed off Hiruzen, the same Orochimaru who had committed dastardly deeds like it was going out of style, was played for laughs! Like a fucking episode of Rock Lee’s Springtime of Youth! And later, when probed about his goals, Orochimaru reveals that upon looking at Kabuto, he began to reevaluate his priorities, and that he wished to see what Sasuke was capable of. The guy who wanted to be the master of everything through immortality! The manipulative fuck who convinced Sasuke to go rogue! What the shit!?
Things That Bugged Me: Incoherent Storytelling
So Sasuke’s group stops by an abandoned temple on the outskirts of Konoha. Funny that this was never mentioned anywhere in the story before. Said temple houses masks and assorted other items that were used by the Uzumaki clan. Where the fuck did this come from? Seriously. A place with a connection to the main fucking character of the series was never fucking brought up before? What the fuck am I even reading? Okay, so they get a mask that turns out to be a means of turning its wearer into a medium by which one can summon the Shinigami. Oh, that’s pretty fucking awesome. Why did Kishimoto waste so much time with broken-ass ocular jutsu and Hot Topic-brand angst when he could have been writing about kick-ass onmyodo inspired jutsu? The only thing I don’t like about this last bit is how it leads to the invalidation of Hiruzen’s sacrifice. But oh well, I would expect Orochimaru to look into ways to get his arms back.
The group then proceeds to sneak into the village, which presumably has lax security due to most of the troops going off to war. Fair enough? But then they don’t even make any attempts to hide their identities, which sets off some alarm bells because you would expect at least one fucking person to recognize frigging Orochimaru and Sasuke! What kind of crappy ass security and apathetic citizenry are we even looking at here? The gang may as well throw a fucking parade for all the responses it might get.
At this point, I think it’s safe to say that Kishimoto just wanted the story to go in a particular direction and could not care less about whether or not it made sense in how this came about. To be fair though, you could say that about a lot of the previous chapters.
Things That Sucked: The Uchiha Curse
The revelation about the true curse of hatred associated with the Uchiha clan was brought up during this arc, and boy was it the epitome of shitty writing. First of all, it turns the Uchiha clan into an entire family of lunatics. I’m sorry, but if this was supposed to make them more sympathetic (“it’s not his fault, it’s his genetics”), all it did was convince me that the elders had the right idea keeping a close watch on the clan. If these guys could go nanners simply from suffering a simple tragedy, then that meant that they were a danger to anyone around them if they were to get close to anyone, especially important given that they were a family geared toward ninja work. It made Obito go from pathetic sad sack to pathetic sad sack with a mental illness. This was literally a clan of little bitches. It was canon. The Uchiha are a clan of little bitches! It’s bad enough that Kishimoto expects readers to sympathize with the Uchiha regardless of how far they fall, but for him to go out of his way to make up a genetic excuse for their behavior? Is this really the same guy who wrote a bunch of arcs I was praising in other posts not so long ago? In short, this was a fucking stupid twist and the fact that Sasuke was allowed to breed is highly disturbing.
Things That Were Not All That Bad: Hashirama’s Flashback
You know, I don’t hate Hashirama’s flashback. I thought that it addressed a point that needed to be made: that in the end, the main conceit of the series’ premise was that we were reading a story about child soldiers. Sure, they were raised in an environment where the next battle always appears to be around the corner and there is much to be said about the way that they are raised to put their duty to their homelands first. But in the end, for all the niceties and moments praising such sacrifice, they are in the end children being raised to fight and die for their villages. It ties nicely back to the grittier aspects of Part I, even if the series tends to find itself in conflict over whether it wants to glorify death during war or show how pointless such things are. In fact, if anything though, I thought that this particular element of the flashback was great, and a reminder that this series could be something better than what we’ve gotten lately.
I would in fact argue that part of the problem with the series is that it sometimes does remind us that Kishimoto is or at least was capable of genuinely good writing, and that the disappointment of many is made worse by this realization. Had Kishimoto been a mediocrity from the start, it would have been tolerable. We could have just moved on. But to show flashes of brilliance only draws us back in when we should know better.
The rest of the flashback isn’t that bad either. Hashirama and Madara’s childhood friendship does get some needed panel time, and it’s nice to see these two kids away from the battlefield and just plain acting like a couple of kids. Such inanity actually makes their relationship feel more sincere, and it all the more painful when fate intervenes. We see the roots (no pun intended) of what would become the modern shinobi system, as well as the good intentions behind it. It serves to illustrate that even the most well-intentioned plan has to make compromises when it meets with the realities of human nature.
If there is a weakness though, it is that Madara changes too suddenly and Hashirama seems kind of like a pushover. Yeah, he realizes what he must do at the end (as well as the compromises he must make), but at the same time, he seems overly naïve, and the story seems unwilling to punish him for it as much as it should. His willingness to die in order to earn Madara’s trust is a bit overdone, and raises too many questions to count. His preference for making Madara Hokage shows that he doesn’t understand politics nearly as much as he understands the battlefield. As for Madara, it would have been nice to get a more gradual transformation. A longer flashback would have served to better illustrate how a shared dream could go so wrong. For Madara to go from anxious ally to sneering villain in so short a span story-wise is far too jarring for those interested in better understanding the characters and their bond.
Hell, if anyone comes out of this looking good, it’s Tobirama. Yes, he’s a bit of a jerk, and a more than a little harsh, but his logic is sound, and I can’t help but wonder about the anti-intellectual undertones of this manga at times.
Things That Bugged Me: Karin
Last but not least, we come to Karin. Oh Karin. For a moment you looked smarter than Sakura, deciding to move on from Sasuke once it became clear that he saw you as nothing but expendable. But nope, you just had to suck more than should be possible by crawling back to him after a half-assed excuse and having this moment played for laughs. What is wrong with the women in this series? Speaking of which…
Things That Sucked: Sakura
So after several hundred chapters of relegating Sakura to moving scenery and token damsel who only appears useful because she heals irrelevant characters, what does Kishimoto do? He brings her out by revealing that Sakura actually spent the past couple of years building up enough chakra in the Yin seal on her forehead for the purpose of pulling a Tsunade.
Normally, this would be awesome. However, given how much crap we had to put up with involving Sakura before this point, it just came off as a last minute power-up. Furthermore, Sakura’s training had been left entirely off-screen, meaning that it was impossible to truly appreciate and comprehend her growth, unlike in the case of Sasuke when he first appeared in Part II, as his unusual growth at that point highlighted the sheer difficulty of Naruto’s quest and was hinted to be in part due to Orochimaru’s less than healthy experiments. With Sakura, on the other hand, we were left with a sense that since so many people were complaining about her lack of usefulness, Kishimoto had decided to pull something out of his ass.
A second issue with this particular development is the questions it raises. If Sakura really had this sort of potential the entire time, why the hell didn’t she stop sending part of her chakra to the seal instead of allowing herself to be put at mortal risk during the fight against Sasori or against Sasuke in the Land of Iron? It just makes her look stupid.
Third, after Sakura gets her moment in the spotlight, Kishimoto seemingly mocks her by having one of the Juubi Juniors attack her from behind, resulting in her two teammates saving her ass and making her look silly in the process. It kind of undermines a character’s moment of glory if they have to have their asses saved right after the author and other characters tried to make said character look awesome.
Fourth, there’s the shilling. Suddenly, characters are talking about OMG, how awesome Sakura has become. This violates “show, don’t tell.” If you need to tell us a character is badass, they might not actually be all that badass. The forced parallels with the Sannin didn’t help.
Parallels aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Like any other tool of the trade, they must be used properly. Unfortunately, I can’t say that for the developments here. Sasuke and Naruto had already moved beyond their mentors by going past snakes and toads/frogs, toward the legacy of the Sage and even new abilities and/or summons that had nothing to do with their mentors’ styles. It also makes Sakura look even worse given that not only was she still a clone of Tsunade, but she didn’t even have a new summon to call her own.
Things That Bugged Me: Minato Sucks, But We All Knew That
Anyway, Minato reveals during this arc that he still had hiraishin markings on Obito’s body, meaning that he could have actually solved a lot of problems by not only sealing Kurama into Naruto using means other than a fatal sealing jutsu like other villages had done, but also using his jutsu to track and take down the mysterious masked man before he continued to wreak havoc. Damn it, Minato, could you be any dumber?
Things That Bugged Me: Pointless Fanservice
Anyway, for the sake of throwing a bone to fans of the supporting cast and the video game developers, Kishimoto revealed that the rest of the Konoha group had developed new special moves of their own over the years. It’s a shame then that we didn’t really get to see them grow as people or ninjas, but fuck it, because fanservice.
At least Shino’s was actually pretty gruesome, so there’s that.
This arc was bad. It was horrible. It was crap. It was somehow worse than all the junk that came before. It flat out sucked. Look at just how much stuff I talked about that fell under the category of “Things that Sucked.” It’s actually kind of amazing how a manga that was once so good could fall so, so far. Going over all my old notes and rereading this part of the series actually made me feel tired and almost sick even. Part of the reason this post took so long to finish, aside from real life intruding, was because I had to force myself to get through the arc to rework my original posts on it. Unfortunately, the suckfest that that Naruto had devolved into was not yet over.