Things That Sucked in Naruto: Sakura

Congrats to Haruno Sakura, who managed to suck harder than Tobito and Kaguya. She will now take her place as the highest form of suckage. Sakura is officially the single worst female lead I’ve come across since Bella Swan. If I still liked this series, I’d cry in a corner.

After several stalled attempts at developing into something useful, Sakura finally resolved to work together with Naruto in order to bring Sasuke back. The beginning of Part II saw her seemingly take the first big steps to fulfilling her promise, only for later arcs to feature her character development sliding backwards massively.

Granted, she would get a power-up and a couple of nice moments, but as detailed before, these felt half-assed and come off as something to tell readers “See? Sakura’s not completely useless after all.” These token attempts to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse only made her failures stand out all the more, especially in regards to the goal she made after seemingly going from useless twat who fantasizes about the hot guy on her team to devoted friend and team mate who wants her team back together and is willing to work for it.

When it comes to actually bringing Sasuke back, it’s Naruto who is left to do all the heavy lifting, and Sakura is there to reap the spoils. Granted, one of the issues with the story is how redeemed antagonists seem to come back without anyone really remarking on the fact that they once were pretty bad people (the most Gaara gets is when Lee shows some unease at his return at the end of Part I). This is pretty bad given that a huge part of her aforementioned character development involved learning new skills and getting stronger so that she could be a part of the whole Team 7 reunification process.

Instead, all she does is cry and annoy the hell out of everyone. Her character development can pretty much be compared to walking in place, that’s how pointless it was. And to put the rotten cherry on the shit sundae, once Sasuke is good again, she disregards the fact that he was willing to let her die less than a day ago. In fact, after a brief time skip, her response to his leaving to find himself was to ask if she could go with him.

Cripes, this character is a waste of ink.

And if you don’t like what I have to say about her, well then fuck you and the white horse you rode the fuck in on.

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Things That Rocked, Things That Sucked: The Final Chapters

With Kaguya sealed away and Madara dying his final death, Sasuke declared his intentions of creating a better world by assassinating the sleeping Gokage and acting as the enemy that would unite the world against him. As Sasuke’s first target, Naruto made clear that while he would not allow Sasuke to do whatever he wished, he would be sure to stop him without killing him. So began the final few chapters of Naruto.

 
Things that Sucked: Why It Was So Hard to Care About What Should Have Been the Most Anticipated Fight in the Story
After nearly 500 chapters, Naruto and Sasuke were finally having their rematch. Their first fight was a culmination of tensions that readers had witnessed between the two erstwhile teammates, rivals, and friends, and it managed to combine spectacle with genuine emotion, resulting in one of the high points of the entire story. This second battle was about more than emotions and bonds, it was also about their respective ideals and the legacy passed down by Hagoromo’s fateful choices way back when. So why does it seem to fall flat despite having every reason to be the most exciting thing in the entire story? A variety of reasons actually, ranging from issues with story structure, repetitive plotting, and less than stellar characterization.

First of all, let us be reminded that this fight follows directly on the heels of the war, which resolved the overarching myth arc pertaining to the legacy of Kaguya and its impact upon the rest of the world. Already the series will have to top what was up to this point the most over the top spectacle in the entire story. Granted, this should be possible with the right emotional content, but we will be getting to that later. Another issue in this vein is the way everything has been paced, namely, that it goes against the standard rules for creating tension through rising action followed by a falling action and climax that lead into a resolution.

When building suspense, a story has to set up details that will come into play later, ramping up tension as it introduces characters and conflicts. The overarching plotlines of this series did this for the myth arc and the conflict between Naruto and Sasuke, tying them together while keeping them somewhat separated. As I mentioned above, the former plotlines were tied up with the defeats of Obito, Madara, and Kaguya, leaving room for Sasuke to take his place as the most personal of Naruto’s antagonists. The problem however, is the pacing.

Sasuke isn’t just becoming the main problem for Naruto after those three; he is becoming the main problem right after, as in just a minute later within the story itself. As a result of this, there is less room for the story to breathe and allow for the reader to not only digest past events, but to also build up tension toward the fight with Sasuke. What makes the climax and falling action so cathartic an experience is that it is the equivalent of letting the air out of the balloon after inflating it to the point where it is on the verge of bursting. For Sasuke to follow so quickly afterward keeps readers from not only moving past the other resolutions, but also from being able to actually feel as much tension despite the story having tried to build him up for so long beforehand. This ties into another issue, the repetitive plotting.

The final arcs of the manga had featured a series of rehashed villains within a rather short period of time. First we had Obito, a hybrid of Senju and Uchiha DNA who became the jinchuriki of the Ten-Tailed Beast and was in an ideological conflict with Naruto. Then, we had Madara (Sasuke’s predecessor as incarnations of Indra), a hybrid of Senju and Uchiha DNA who became the jinchuriki of the Ten-Tailed Beast who was in ideological conflict with Hashirama (Naruto’s predecessor as incarnations of Ashura). Next, we had Kaguya, the origin of the Sage’s bloodlines who turned out to be the Ten-Tailed Beast, having merged with the World Tree, and in conflict with everyone who does not look forward to being turned into a plant-human hybrid incapable of defecation. Finally, we had Sasuke, the latest of Indra’s incarnations with the power of the Sage’s eyes who is in ideological conflict with Naruto. Once again, we had a member of the Sage’s line using ocular powers to enforce their ideals. All of this within a relatively short time both within and outside of the story. It does not help that these repetitive “climaxes” thus wound up sapping the readers’ energy, leaving them spent just when the story had reached the point when they should have been at a high point of stored tension, resulting in diminishing returns in terms of actual emotional impact.

The final issue with the fight as it is now happens to be the two characters themselves. Since their fight at the end of Part I, Naruto and Sasuke have become less interesting characters as a whole, although one could argue that this extends to the rest of the cast as well. Naruto has lost much of the fire that defined his earlier self, and while this can be taken as a sign of his growing maturity, it is disconcerting to see him expressing less passion against people he should be less than happy with than he did earlier in the story. When he lashed out at Sasuke earlier on, it made sense because he was a young man desperate to save his friend from his own self-destructive nature. It added a reason for readers to care about what was at stake. Here, Naruto wants to save his friend and keep his promise to Sakura and those who tasked him with saving the shinobi world, but there is a surprising lack of emotion to make his struggle more relatable. There’s only calm even when witnessing Sasuke use a painful illusion on Sakura and hearing of his plans to destroy the old system in the most destructive manner possible.

Meanwhile, Sasuke has been one of the most awkwardly handled elements of the entire story. While he deliberately made himself an enigma in the earlier sections of Part II, later sections of the plot saw him swing this way and that as a character, as Kishimoto clearly had little handle of the character. One moment saw him find strength in the power of his bonds by thinking back to his time with Team 7, only for him to pull a 180 not much later in the Land of Iron. After that, he lacked any real sort of conviction, and only appeared to settle as a character after Itachi’s departure and his talk with the Hokage. It became much harder to comprehend his character as a whole, and this in turn exacerbated reader apathy toward him, as he became harder and harder to sympathize with in spite of the story’s ham-fisted attempts to give him an out for his misdeeds.

Taking things further is the problem with each character’s approach to solving the world’s problems. Naruto’s approach is less a plan than a Hallmark card, and while a little idealism goes a long way, it goes so much better when there is something cohesive to back it up. At the same time, Sasuke’s is naïve in its own way, and is in the end just a short-term solution, except this Band-Aid is going to pull out more than hair.

A well-executed fight is more than choreography and spectacle. It is also about the externalization of internal tensions as they boil over from the realm of the mental and emotional to the outright physical. The fight at the end of Part I did just that, as it took the growing tensions between Naruto and Sasuke to their logical conclusion. It should mean something here, but with the characters as they are now, there is little to work with. We know that there are ingredients for tension, but we don’t really feel these ingredients.

Due to the poor story construction, the repetitive storytelling, and the less than likeable characters, what should have been by all means the highlight of this series feels tepid and nothing more than a period to end the sentence rather than the exclamation mark that signifies its position as the story’s true climax. Much has been said about the decline of Naruto over the years, but if one were to take but one section of the story as an example of this rotting, one need only look at the execution of what is meant to be the decisive battle between Naruto and Sasuke.

 
Things That Sucked: The Beginning of the Fight
Yay, more attacks that make the stuff that came before this look small-scale. It’s amazing how a manga that once brought up the limitations of jutsu and their associated costs managed to turn into Dragon Ball. But at least it led into

 
Things That Weren’t All That Bad Actually: The Fight’s Final Two Chapters
Once the fight became a matter of two exhausted young men engaging each other with basic tools and taijutsu, things took a turn for the better. Where fighting with mechas made out of chakra feels impersonal and ridiculous, fighting with one’s own fists, legs, and even head feels intimate and “real.” Only by engaging each other at such a personal level could Naruto and Sasuke properly show readers the culmination of their emotional struggle after all these years in both real and the manga’s time. Their final clash, with an Amaterasu-empowered Chidori on Sasuke’s end and a Rasengan on Naruto’s, echoed a familiar visual motif in their battles, with both of the characters’ arms blown off below the elbows. They had been literally and figuratively disarmed, and with their weapons cast aside, now was the time to communicate and fight whatever battle there was left to be fought with words.

This conversation was a surprisingly heartfelt one. Sasuke admitted to his insecurities and just why he was so rough with Naruto (although I think that this could have been hinted at earlier, but foreshadowing wasn’t exactly Kishimoto’s strong suit after a certain point). Sasuke was forced to acknowledge that he had always respected and envied his closest rival and friend, admitting defeat even as his former team mate continued to claim that he was still aiming to beat him down. Having finally met an immovable object, Sasuke’s hatred-fueled path was forced to a complete stop.

While this moment could have been so much more powerful if the writing leading up to it had been more stellar, what we got wasn’t half-bad—a breath of fresh air in a sea of mediocrity. At this point, things seemed to be taking a turn for the better. I actually felt hope that Kishimoto would be able to end his series on a high note after an extended period of horrendous writing. Let’s face it; you can’t disappoint people if you don’t get their hopes up beforehand.

 
Things That Didn’t Suck Entirely: Wrapping Things Up
I have to admit that I almost felt something reading these last two chapters. Certain things aside, I did think Sasuke’s chapter was decent enough, even if Orochimaru and Kabuto wound up disappearing and Spiral Zetsu literally fell to pieces for some reason. The next chapter is similar in that it evokes feelings of nostalgia that are countered by moments where readers can’t help but go “what the fuck am I reading?”

While it was actually nice to see the story come to a close, there were some rather perplexing developments there. First of all, fat Anko. Fat Anko. Yes, the first woman in this series you might have considered masturbating to got fat. Probably from all that dango. Then there’s the woman Choji married and had a child with. Karui. Really. Did they even have a conversation during the main storyline? On the other hand, at least it subverted clichés about how childhood romances lead to lifelong relationships. Speaking of marriage, isn’t it strange how the two couples involving Team 7’s core members featured no interaction between partners whatsoever? Also, in attempting to parallel his ending chapter with the very first one, Kishimoto decides to have Naruto’s son vandalize the Hokage monument. The problem with this is a similar one to that pointed out by Red Letter Media when discussing the use of parallels and call forwards in the Star Wars prequels, namely that the author seems to have failed to understand the significance of the original scenes.

In Chapter 1, Naruto vandalizes the monument because it is but one of his usual cries for attention. He does this because he’s an orphan and has no friends or family to speak of. Furthermore, the adults hate him for a reason he has no control over, with their kids not treating him that much better. What seems to initially be the work of a childish (well, he was a kid) prankster turns into something a bit more tragic. In Chapter 700, his son does the same thing, and it is implied that his father is an absent figure in his life. This is rather strange given that he has the chakra reserves to have a shadow clone or two hang out with his kid while he’s busy with work on occasion, although he might just want to avoid the mental strain. Why is Naruto such a poor father? Yeah, he’s often busy with work, but you would think that he would be aware (on a very personal level) of what neglect does to a child. You would think that he wouldn’t leave Hinata to handle the child rearing. You would think that he’d do better than be annoyed at how his kid’s behavior reflects on him. Well, you apparently thought wrong. Well, it’s not like Sasuke’s any better as a parent judging by his daughter’s thoughts (so is the Uchiha curse still a thing, or can we not have to worry too much about a future Uchiha going nanners when their crush dies?).

It’s also a tad concerning that no follow-up was ever made to Naruto’s being made to understand just how negatively the actions of the superpowers had impacted smaller countries. We never did find out what happened to Rain after Konan died. In fact, not one mention is made of the smaller nations in this final chapter despite their resentment playing a part in what was the Akatsuki’s public plan.

 
Conclusion
This finale capped off a series that should have ended years ago. It’s not all bad, with certain parts of the final battle actually working and the final two chapters having their good points. The problem is that readers could not appreciate what they got as much as they otherwise could have due to so much poor writing going on beforehand.

Still, even with all I’ve written so far, there is still more to be said about Naruto and its weaknesses. You should see what I mean soon enough.

Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: Kaguya Ōtsutsuki Strikes

With this arc, the story finally began to go somewhere as Madara initiated the Moon’s Eye Plan only to find himself betrayed by Black Zetsu, who revealed that he was actually working on behalf of Kaguya, mother of the Sage of Six Paths and his brother (note that two of those characters were never so much as brought up in any shape or form until the final stages of the war). With this, Kaguya was revived and the true nature of the Moon’s Eye Plan was—oh fuck it, it’s all dreck. To make a long story short: newly introduced progenitor of chakra users was behind everything and wants to turn everyone into White Zetsu for reasons. Good guys finally get a chance to beat up a woman. They do.

In case you haven’t figured out by this point, it was clear that Naruto just plain sucked to read due to the writing having increasingly taken a turn for the worse over several years, with each arc seemingly attempting to outdo the last in how bad things could get. If one could take solace in anything, it was that at least the story was nearly over.

 
Things That Rocked: Black Zetsu Entertains Us
I will say this about the arc, if one was to name the real star of it, Black Zetsu would be a serious candidate by virtue of his constant fucking with people. Let’s look at how he proceeded to screw with Obito, Minato, and Madara, in that order.

First up, Obito was about to piss off readers by becoming even more of a Nagato clone, sacrificing his life to use Rinne Tensei in order to revive all the people he’d killed during the war. It was a disappointing but not altogether unexpected development given expectations after Neji died in light of Obito being yet another foil to Naruto. But what’s this? Black Zetsu enters the scene, having escaped Chojuro’s notice with ease, takes over Obito’s body (somewhat), and resurrects Madara instead! Holy shit, yes! Thank you, Based Black Zetsu!

Then, when Minato decided that he’d be a good father for once in his pathetic existence, he had a convenient flashback to set the mood as he transferred the other half of Kurama’s chakra into Naruto (weird that he somehow managed to master using said chakra despite dying right after the sealing). As with that really dumb moment near the end of the first Matrix movie where Trinity doesn’t know when to save the spiel until after the good guys are out of the Matrix, this bought Black Zetsu enough time to fucking snatch that shit away at the last moment. That’s right! Just as Minato holds out his hand to transfer Kurama’s other half, Black Zetsu jumps up in between him and Naruto’s dying body, and fucking snatches that shit. Granted, Obito would fight back soon afterward, but that was still funny, and yet another mark on Minato’s record of constant failure.

Finally, when Madara stood victorious, having initiated the Infinite Tsukuyomi and preparing to take out Team 7, guess who stabs him in the back. Three guesses, first two don’t count. Black fucking Zetsu, that’s who!

Black Zetsu, take a bow.

 
Things that Sucked: A Dumb Way to Handle Madara
But don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that the story handled Madara’s defeat well. The guy was a poorly written villain that was so powerful and given so many outs that it was clear that only the author could save the characters. So how do you find a way to have the good guys beat him? First came another one of them last minute powerups that Kishimoto saw fit to keep giving his two main characters. However, when that didn’t prove enough, he decided to have Black Zetsu fuck over Madara for the sake of Kaguya’s revival. No satisfying victory ripped from the jaws of defeat over the smug villain here, just an excuse for Kishimoto to have the good guys beat up a cardboard cutout of an antagonist. Speaking of which…

 
Things that Sucked: Kaguya
How much can a character who was introduced into the backstory within the very same and overlong arc and then shoehorned into the main plot suck?

Masashi Kishimoto attempts to answer this difficult question by revealing that Kaguya, a character who was not revealed until near the endgame, was actually behind Black Zetsu, who was in turn the true mastermind of the clusterfuck that is this manga’s villainous schemes.

Despite it seeming that Madara was the real mastermind behind everything that was going on, wait for it, he was actually being manipulated this entire time by Black Zetsu. Who was pretending to be a homunculus created by Madara’s will. When in reality he was created by Kaguya, the mother of the Sage of Six Paths. The very same Kaguya who was only introduced into the when Madara was talking about what he discovered when he read the tablet. Apparently, she was a tyrannical bitch who manifested the Ten Tails to reclaim her chakra from her sons. Also, Zetsu was actually behind the Uchiha madness, going from Uchiha to Uchiha in order to corrupt them in order to bring about the conditions necessary to revive Kaguya. Retcons galore! Shocking swerves galore!

There are so many things wrong with this particular development. First of all, look at all the information it retcons. Now, retcons by themselves aren’t necessarily a bad thing. However, retconning details that had only become relevant within this very arc on the other hand, is near the height of stupidly bad writing. You can’t reveal that previously revealed information was inaccurate and expect it to hit the reader when said information was relatively recent in its conveyance.

Second, it continues a pattern of Kishimoto failing to write decent female characters. Kaguya is a completely flat character with little personality other than wanting her power back at all costs. She doesn’t speak much, her tactical thinking sucks, and everything she has to say or do depends on what exposition Black Zetsu has to offer. She’s nothing more than an antagonistic entity without any character. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some antagonists without much character can work because they serve as blank slates for viewpoint characters to play off. Moby Dick has no real personality by virtue of being a whale, but it is Ahab’s obsession that drives the conflict. Lovecraftian horrors could care less about humanity, but this indifference is part of what makes cosmic horror as a genre so damned terrifying on an existential level. Kaguya does not offer any of these things. She’s there to be an antagonist. She doesn’t feel like a force of nature. She doesn’t feel like a god given how quickly Naruto and company turn things around. And she most definitely doesn’t provide much space for anyone to frigging project anything onto. She’s wallpaper.

Third, it’s simply a twist for the sake of having a twist. It wasn’t properly foreshadowed. The character has little connection to current events or people. And it further pads what was already a heavily bloated arc. You don’t just foreshadow a huge twist within a short arc and expect it to work. Otherwise you wind up with the Espada twist all over again. Kaguya has no real relationship with any of the characters. As a result of that, there’s little emotional investment and character interaction for Kishimoto to work with. At least Madara and Obito—hugely flawed in their execution as they were—had some connection to the main story. Meanwhile, this climax continues long past the point where it was somewhat interesting. This is the equivalent of expanding the final battle sequence in The Avengers into something as long as the rest of the movie. Do you know how old what was an otherwise awesome, if slightly long climax like that would have gotten? The war arc had up to this point gone on for nearly 200 chapters. A story can’t breathe if the frigging climax keeps going and going and going like the fucking Energizer Bunny.

Fourth, it introduces extraterrestrials into the story. Introducing aliens and/or time travel into a plot that has never so much as hinted at either is usually a good sign that an author is out of ideas. It was worse than the whole Ten Tails thing because this is the sort of thing that people joke about when discussing just how bad a story can possibly get. And yet, here it was.

What makes it worse is that it absolves the system, the system of people who thought myopically in spite of their good intentions, the system whose existence created the incredibly flawed world of Naruto, the system that was implied to be the biggest enemy of those who sought reform, the system whose existence led to both heroes and villains coming up with plans to change it, of any and all blame. All the bad things that have happened? Blame the Uchiha, who were in turn being used by Zetsu, who was in turn created by Kaguya for the purpose of coming back to life.

Kaguya, thy name is suck.

 
Things that Sucked: The Fight
The battle itself was another problem with the arc given its poor structure and some of the odder elements of the fight.

First off, there was little in the way of real strategy and hackneyed attempts at teamwork. We had Naruto try to use a feint, but that didn’t really amount to anything, and for the most part, the fight involved each side to trying to overwhelm the other with brute force. Black Zetsu did all the thinking for Kaguya, who used her teleportation skills rather poorly given the potential applications, and only wound up harming her own cause at one point (see the results of the high gravity environment). Meanwhile, Team 7’s group effort at the end didn’t feel all that earned given what had happened shortly before and what would happen shortly after the fight.

A second issue was that the battle lacked much in the way of in-story logic. By this, I refer to Obito somehow managing to intervene all the way from the afterlife despite the lack of precedent in this sort of thing throughout the series, which had for the most part been somewhat ambiguous about the nature of the great hereafter aside from the glimpse offered by Kakashi’s meeting with Sakumo earlier in the story. Instead of being satisfying, it was merely distracting and an excuse for Kishimoto to throw the video game developers another bone.

 
Things that Sucked: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Filler
Another issue with this battle is that it ultimately came off as glorified filler. Think of it this way: aside from offering a solution for dealing with Madara, what actually changed in the greater context of the story once Kaguya and her plans were revealed? I guess Black Zetsu was dealt with, but even he wasn’t really the major threat in the arc. Obito did die, but he was dying one way or another.

Let’s face it: aside from some mostly minor details (and Madara), Kaguya had no real lasting impact save for the stuff that comes up in sequels set after the series proper, and Sasuke was going to do what he did anyway.

 
Things that Bugged Me: Why Were the Kage Necessary for the Summoning?
No really, why were the ghosts of all the previous Gokage necessary to summon our heroes back to their dimension? I could understand needing assistance to summon them and perhaps skill in controlling their chakras along with deep knowledge of such a technique, but were these the best choices? I guess it was fanservice, really.

 
Conclusion
The best part of the arc, Black Zetsu’s antics aside, was when it ended. It was basically poorly written filler revolving around a crappy twist that was used to get the story from Point A (the problem of Madara) to Point C (the defeat of Madara and Black Zetsu). Unfortunately, unlike most content used to pad out stories, this arc proved relevant to sequels and spinoff material. On the other hand, you can do what I do whenever I come across most of said material: ignore it completely and chuckle at all the poor stupid bastards still spending money on this franchise.

 

Things That Rocked, Things That Sucked: Birth of the Ten-Tails’ Jinchūriki

After the interminable battle against the three antagonists that went nowhere for Jashin knows how long, something finally happened when Obito made himself the ten-tails’ jinchūriki. The fight against him was followed by another against Madara, who repeated his protégé’s actions before successfully initiating the Moon’s Eye Plan. Spoiler alert: the arc continued the pattern of sucking established by previous ones.

 
Things That Sucked: What Was the Point of Obito?
What exactly was the point of Obito’s character? He came off as unnecessary padding when he was revealed as Tobi, and kind of stole Nagato’s thunder as Naruto’s foil by being the exact same thing. Not only that, but his battle stretched out the story to the point of ridiculousness, not helped at all by how one-note his character wound up being and how lacking he was in posing a credible threat. The fight against him could basically be described as “Obito does something. The other side counters without taking significant damage. Obito does something. The other side counters without taking significant damage. Rinse and repeat until Obito is defeated.” Hell, his very presence afterward was borderline unneeded given that we could have had Kakashi taking much of his role in the fight against Kaguya.

It doesn’t help that Rin’s death was so stupid. I mean, why couldn’t she escape and have someone skilled with seals help her? Why did she feel the need to traumatize Kakashi? Kishimoto’s attempt to justify her lack of intelligence just raised the question of how in the hell Madara could have planned ahead so far without being able to see into the future.

His defeat only made things worse. Why was it that only Naruto’s Konoha peers could get power-ups to help him take down Obito? Did the other villages simply not matter in the end? Oh wait, they got a chance to contribute to the whole chakra tug-of-war thing that was set up since Naruto took on Kurama. Shame that it didn’t really feel as dramatic as it should have given that the readers weren’t given much of an opportunity to bond with these side characters.

Going back to Obito proper, just what was the point of him? Was he meant to be Kishimoto’s attempt at offering social commentary on otaku obsessed with fantasy worlds with young cute girls that they can spend all their time adoring? Is that why Obito was trying to ignore reality while acting with a childish sense of justice and fairness that he tried to cover up with edgy cynicism? Am I just reading too much into this in a pathetic attempt at trying to find something that redeems the shitfest that was Obito’s character?

 
Things That Didn’t Blow Entirely: The First Kage Summit
As boring and pointless as Hashirama’s speech felt due to the fact that this fight just went on and on and on without Obito actually coming off as a credible threat, at least it introduced us to the first kage from each of the other villages, so yay for minor world building.

The designs weren’t half bad either. The two Kazekage looked awesome: one had the appearance of a cool professional who’s always dressed in his military attire, while the other looked like a gang member (who was not to be confused with that one samurai). The first Raikage looked like Hendrix and it would be sweet as hell if it turned out he used an electric guitar as his personal weapon. This detail also gives readers an idea of the design motifs of Kumogakure, as they went from the Hendrix and Blaxploitation era (judging by the appearance of the second Raikage) to a more wrestling and rap-laden one (subtle, Kishimoto). I wonder what motifs a future Kumogakure would go with. In regards to Iwagakure’s representatives, we’d already seen these characters, and honestly, Mu looks better with the Edo Tensei eyes, at least in my opinion. As for the Mizukage, it was odd seeing the first and third lords there, but I figure that maybe Trollkage was left behind to keep the village safe. Or based on my head canon, it was because they were afraid he’d be himself and start a war or something at the summit. Anyway, it also suggests that the second lord wasn’t Mizukage for long, based on the fact that one of his peers wound up leading the village.

As for Konoha, Hashirama came off as overly naïve, making it harder to take him seriously as a leader. You would expect someone like him to have some modicum of a statesman’s attitude as the founder and leader of the greatest village. I get that there was supposed to be a parallel between him and Naruto, but you would expect the founding leader of a shinobi village to maintain some level of dignity and rationality.

 
Things That Sucked: To Be Sung to the Tune of “The Song That Never Ends”
This is the arc that doesn’t end,
yes it goes on and on my friend.
Some people started reading it,

not knowing what it was,
and they’ll continue reading it forever just because

This is the arc that doesn’t end,
yes it goes on and on my friend.
The Alliance wasn’t worth shit

cause shit was all it was,
and these pointless characters stayed useless just because

This is the arc that doesn’t end,
yes it goes on and on my friend.
Obito started talking shit
and that’s just what it was,
and we just kept on reading this total shit just because

This is the arc that doesn’t end,
yes it goes on and on my friend.
Minato said something stupid,

calling the boys the stars,
while the audience wasted their time reading just because

This is the arc that doesn’t end,
yes it goes on and on my friend.
The plot just kept repeating, as

Kishi wrote from his arse,
and it seemed that there was no end to this farce just because

This is the arc that doesn’t end,
yes it goes on and on my friend.
Insert your own lyrics right here,
If you feel the need to vent,
And I would not blame you if you feel the need just because

This is the arc that doesn’t end,
yes it goes on and on my friend…

 
Things That Sucked: Here We Go Again
After the interminable experience that was dealing with Obito, Kishimoto decided to have Madara do pretty much the same thing, except go much further, because your plots can only get so repetitive. It didn’t help that Madara came off as overpowered once he was revived. The guy casually laid waste to the Alliance and all nine biju, quickly sealing them away in seconds, a task that required days for nine members of the Akatsuki working together, but fuck it, the story had ceased to engage in any sort of coherence and consistency some arcs back. He also used Susano’o without having any eyes, and took down the first two Hokage like it was nothing despite only having one of his Rinnegan at the time. It was clear that the author cared as much about the story as the average reader did by this point.

 
Things That Kind-Of Rocked: At Least He’s Threatening
I will say this about Madara though: at least he managed to seem threatening compared to Obito (although that’s not exactly difficult). He actually succeeded in dealing fatal wounds to Naruto and Sasuke, who were saved only by the almighty power of the plot. A shame then that they were then revived in a hilariously cheap manner (more on that below).

 
Things That Sucked: The Biju Suck
Once freed, the biju decided to handle the brunt of the work against Madara. However, after a promising start that had them smack him around like he was a pinball, they proved useless in spite of their supposedly immense power, getting humiliated and sealed away by their one-eyed opponent.

It’s kind of hard to believe that these things were so feared given how quickly they became irrelevant as anything other than chakra batteries. This was repeated right after the fight against Princess Blandface, when Sasuke hypnotized them and placed them in miniature satellites. Isn’t it amazing how insane the power levels became that even the tailed beasts became pointless?

 
Things That Rocked: Holy Shit, Sakura!
As much of a disappointment as Sakura has been throughout this series, I will admit to being impressed by the emergency treatment she gave Naruto after Kurama was extracted from him. I mean, holy shit, she cut into his side, through his ribs, just so she could manually pump his heart. All the while, she had to focus on breathing air into his lungs using CPR! Damn!

I have to give her some kudos here. Shame Kishimoto couldn’t let her do anything nearly as impressive in the couple hundred chapters before that one.

 
Things That Sucked: Karin, WTF?
Meanwhile, Karin proceeded to show off the fact that she was an Uzumaki, somehow manifesting the chakra chains characteristic of the clan to assist in taking down Spiral Zetsu. The problem with this is one question: where the fuck did this even come from?!

You would think that Karin would use this sort of jutsu in other dangerous situations, like back when Danzo had Sasuke dead to rights. But no, let’s give the video game developers a new technique to work with by giving her fucking chakra chains. This was yet another detail proving that Kishimoto just didn’t care anymore.
 
 
Things That Sucked: Yet Another Unearned Power-Up
So Naruto and Sasuke wind up in some sort of limbo, where the separately come across the Sage of Six Paths! He then proceeded to remind readers just why a certain scene in the second Matrix movie pissed them off so much by dumping exposition on them. Oh, and he also revealed that once again, hard work doesn’t mean shit compared to being descended from the origin of all chakra.

The problem with info dumps like this is that they slow down a story and grant a false reprieve from the rising action of the story. It’s one thing to end an arc and then have exposition delivered to the reader, because then the action is at a low point, allowing readers a chance to absorb information readily instead of wanting to get back to the action.

It also didn’t help that this was the umpteenth power-up that Naruto had gotten during the arc, as it shat on both power levels and previous training and power-ups. In the past, at least the growth of the characters was paralleled with their growth as ninjas. Here, it was just the latest in a long line of handouts after the previous super-duper power-up proved lacking.

 
Things That Rocked: The Eighth Gate
In order to distract readers from how crappy this series has become, Kishimoto brought put a big gun: he had Guy make a heroic sacrifice in order to hold off Madara. That meant unleashing the power of the…dramatic pause…EIGHTH GATE!

The fabled eighth gate that had been foreshadowed since early in Part One! The fabled eighth gate that was said to grant users ability surpassing the kage! The fabled eighth gate that was here to reward readers for sticking around this long!

Guy then proceeded to open up a can of whoop-ass that almost made me forgive Kishimoto’s previous transgressions. While the nature of his earlier attacks didn’t really strike a chord due to being yet another example of huge attack equals some variant of lasers and long-range strikes, once he started getting up close and warping space and fucking smashing Madara’s torso in, things got fucking awesome! It wasn’t enough to win, but just enough to buy time, making it so that Guy went out with a bang.

It sucks though that Naruto’s latest power-up completely invalidated the drama of this event.

 
Things That Bugged Me: Eye Surgery is Easy
So Naruto proceeded to reverse the fatal effects of opening the final gate, allowing Guy to live. Meh, but I suppose you have to show off the power of the Yang end of the Sage’s line somehow. But in an act that made Sakura even more useless than she was before, he also somehow regenerates an entire eye after Madara plucked the Sharingan away for his own personal use.

Meanwhile, Madara somehow can just use people’s eyes after plucking them out of their sockets and sticking them into his own. That’s actually a thing after Kakashi’s backstory made it so that someone trained in medicine and surgery had to be around to make sure the organ transplant worked.

Anyway, Madara took Obito’s eye, warped to the Kamui realm, proceeded to take back his other Rinnegan, and then gave the other eye back to Obito who was being possessed by Black Zetsu. Who for some stupid reason didn’t get rid of Obito even though he probably didn’t need him alive after Madara won his little temporary victory.

 
Conclusion
After the other arc reviews, this one might seem quite short. The reason for that is obvious: there wasn’t much of interest to say, and what I did have to say tended toward the negative. By this point, it’s hard to sustain an extended review when it’s comprised mostly of bile. Furthermore, to be honest, by this point, my enthusiasm for the story was so low that it was difficult to muster up the energy to want to write anything about this crap. At least the series was almost over at this point.

Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: The Fourth Shinobi World War: Climax

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.

 

Conclusion

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.

Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: The Fourth Shinobi World War: Countdown Arc

After a string of disappointing turns in the plot, the story finally entered its final act with the lead-up to the Fourth Shinobi World War. Surprisingly enough, it was not as bad as what had come before it entirely. Now that’s not to say it was good, after all, given what faint praise the previous sentence was. But there was more to like here than in previous arcs.

 
Things that Sucked: The Falls of Truth
This could have been something interesting, but as with a lot of other interesting concepts in the manga, the actual execution left a lot to be desired. First of all, despite seemingly serving as a means by which Naruto could confront and overcome the darkness within himself, it failed to actually do that, as soon became evident when Naruto confronted the fox (see below), as well as later on when our main character would once again find himself on the verge of succumbing to despair. Furthermore, because such inner conflicts would be revisited again, they only served to make this particular part feel redundant and mostly pointless in hindsight.

Second of all, the parts about making peace with oneself were handled rather clumsily and shallowly. Naruto was by his very nature a fascinating character to analyze by that point in time. While happy-go-lucky on the outside, his own history and inner thoughts revealed great insecurity and lingering feelings of resentment despite the upturn his life had taken in recent years. This could have been a great opportunity to really look at the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of Naruto, to see just who he had been and who he had become from a new angle as he cemented his transition from unpolished protagonist to a hero worthy of his own tale.

Instead, readers were barely given anything, and the resolution to the whole thing, while somewhat understandable, just came off as anticlimactic enough that it seemed even the author had little interest in the whole exercise (it didn’t help that the brief digression with Motoi, while shedding some light on Kumogakure and Killer B, didn’t feel as properly fleshed out as it could have).

 
Things that Sucked: Showdown with the Fox
This is something that really should not have been so disappointing given its seeming importance to the story. Expectations were that aside from his rivalry with Sasuke and a showdown with whoever the main villain was supposed to be, Naruto’s greatest conflict was with the demon fox sealed inside him. The fox not only represented the source of Naruto’s own troubled history, but also acted as a metaphor for his inner darkness that needed to be overcome in order to come out of the experience a stronger person. A being of what appeared to be pure malice (until later events softened him up), the fox was Naruto’s Shadow, a malevolent beast that personified the negative hidden parts of his personality, as well as what the rest of the village had originally believed him to be. My flowery language aside, this was a confrontation that deserved to be treated with the proper gravitas and time. As you might have guessed by now, it was not.

First of all, why was it portrayed in such a banal manner? While the idea of a tug-of-war between chakras was interesting and made sense, the rest of the confrontation took the form of a standard physical confrontation. This makes little sense given that this battle was a mental and spiritual one between chakras, meaning that the limits of the body should not have applied here. In fact, if anything, Kishimoto missed out on a chance to really go nuts with the abstract imagery, as neither character should have been tied down to anything other than their own mental and spiritual limits. Bringing in natural energy (given its emphasis on serenity with the world around oneself) to serve as a thematic counterbalance to Kurama (given his own emphasis on internal chaos) made a lot of sense. Taijutsu, shadow clones, and jumping around like one would in the physical world? Not so much.

Second, why was Naruto’s opponent, the demon fox himself, so unimpressive? While I get that Naruto had become stronger over the course of the series, this was supposedly a being that at less than its full power had been able to break free from Pain’s technique (and that is not taking into account the various statements made throughout the manga about its overwhelming potential). One might have expected this battle to have been less about raw power, due to Naruto supposedly being at a massive disadvantage there, than about one’s will and other intangible factors. Instead, Naruto, after some relatively minor hiccups, manages to best it in a ‘physical’ match before beginning to succumb to the negative emotions it sends his way.

Third, it failed to really do much to challenge Naruto as a character. The battle at one point sees Naruto being confronted by the hatred of both the fox and its victims, which in itself could have served as an opportunity to portray a battle of wills (wherein a future leader and hero should find a way to overcome such a heavy weight and shoulder the burdens of his position), but instead came off as illustrating that Naruto was in the end unable to truly shoulder his own inner darkness. It was supposed to illustrate the importance of bonds, I understand, but at the same time he comes off as lacking in the inner strength that defines a hero. In fact, despite seemingly overcoming this challenge, he would again falter down the line (in fact, this challenge itself comes after he’d seemingly cleared his head regarding the Sasuke question), so once again, this moment of growth feels unjustified. The fact that it immediately followed a similar internal battle against what was supposed to be Naruto’s own inner darkness also made the whole thing feel redundant.

 
Things that Rocked: Kushina
Some years ago, on a rainy evening, I saw that the spoilers for the then-upcoming chapter had been released. I clicked the link, and lo and behold, there was a spoiler image.

No text.

Just frigging Kushina.

And I was fucking ecstatic. Among all the remaining mysteries of the story at that time, the issue of Kushina tended to weigh heavily on me. It wasn’t a matter of how this might relate to the overall plot or the Sage. What mattered to me was that any revelations regarding her would be revelations regarding Naruto and the Kyubi attack that kicked off the story.

And it was so central to the main character’s potential development and fleshing out that I cared a lot about whatever we might get.

So where was I?

Oh yeah, I was fucking ecstatic.

I actually hopped up from my seat and thought, “holy shit, Kushina!”

Even with my continually wavering interest in the manga’s going-ons, this actually managed to get me excited. I actually couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

And for the most part, I wasn’t that disappointed. Yeah granted it was a bit odd that she was never brought up until over 300 chapters into the story, or that her clan and its symbol were never even hinted as being so important until she became an actual character. And yeah, I’m a bit annoyed that despite Naruto taking after her personality and brawling style of combat, she was relegated to being a damsel in distress for Minato to rescue twice in flashbacks.

But that crap aside, I actually liked her.

Despite appearing for only a few chapters in the grand context of the story, she actually came off as one of the better female characters. In fact, I find the “parallels” that shippers used to compare Sakura and Hinata to her a bit insulting, given that one’s the example of how not to write a female lead, and the other is the very epitome of a shallow love interest.

She had spirit. She had a spine. She had a personality. She overcame so much adversity only to lose everything on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life. And most importantly, for me at least, she was likeable. I actually looked forward to seeing chapters where she played a part. And that’s saying something considering the usual state of female characters in the story.

Of all the supporting characters introduced in Part II that weren’t villains, Kushina might actually be one of my favorites. And I mean that in the best way.

 
Things that Bugged Me: The Flashback and Kishimoto
Now this doesn’t have to do with the story itself entirely, but rather with some comments made by the author (although keep in mind that the above quote is translated, and one also has to consider just how accurate any translation is, along with the fact that quoted texts might themselves fail to capture the nuance of a person’s actual comments).

Anyway, at one point in 2012, Kishimoto gave an interview in which he said the following:

I was initially going to make the flashback about Naruto’s parents very short. But learning about his parents became crucial so that Naruto could become aware of his identity. Though his parents were no longer in this world, they were able to use their chakra to tell Naruto how they felt about him. His parents sealed the Nine-Tailed Fox inside of him to bring peace to the world. They believed in him so strongly that they thought he would be able to handle the responsibility.

Read that first sentence there. Apparently, the author himself wanted to make the flashback “very short.” The flashback depicting the events brought up at the very beginning of the story. The events that provide the background to the most important part of the main character’s history. The author wanted to make this very important history lesson very short.

Now, if I could ask Kishimoto one question about this, I would ask him the following: what the fuck is wrong with you?

This very important flashback was something you wanted to make very short, but it’s okay for you to keep bringing up flashbacks to the Uchiha massacre? I mean, holy shit, is that a sign of the author losing focus of what was truly important in his own story or what? The fucking deuteragonist’s history and family gets more prominence and effort from the author himself.

This right here might actually explain a lot about just how the story fell so far.

 
Things that Bugged Me: Where Were the Uchiha?
Really, where were the Uchiha during the flashback? It was even given some attention through Itachi’s comment about his parents being gone, and yet there was never any actual follow-up in the story itself.

 
Things That Sucked: Plotting at the Expense of Characterization

“Idiot plot: A plot that requires all the characters to be idiots. If they weren’t, they’d immediately figure out everything and the movie would be over.”
Roger Ebert

A bad habit that Kishimoto developed over the years was his tendency to sacrifice his characters for the sake of advancing the plot. What this means is that that if Kishimoto needed something to happen, he would have a character act in a manner that might not necessarily fit their established personality in order to move things along as he desired.

A notable set of examples lies in the usage of Naruto’s peers over the course of Part II. One example that particularly stands out to me at least, is that between Lee and Gaara. In Part I, both wind up fighting each other at the Chunin Exams, with Gaara putting Lee’s future as a ninja at risk, while Lee’s relationship with Guy clearly affects the future Kazekage. Later, when the two meet again, there’s clearly an awkwardness that reflects the continuity in their interactions. Later however, when they’re within a few feet of each other in the first arc of Part II, we get nothing. Naruto is the one who does all the bonding with Gaara (granted, he was the most important person there when it came to understanding him), but still, you would think that Lee and the Kazekage would each take a moment to acknowledge the other.

Regardless, what happens is that these side characters with their intriguing personalities are reduced to moving props. Remember when Lee was a so-called loser determined to prove his doubters wrong? Or when Hinata’s characterization involved something other than her crush on Naruto? Or perhaps you might recall Sakura’s sudden turn toward stupidity during the previous arc. In order to make the meeting with the original members of Team 7 happen, Kishimoto needed a catalyst for putting all these characters in one place. He did this by having Sakura come up with a moronic plan to take out Sasuke, and had her behave in a manner that was contrary to how she had been developed prior to that point.

Anyway, if there is one that really gets on my nerves every time I so much as see an image of the characters involved, it’s Minato’s decision-making on the night of Tobi’s attack. To be more precise, I’m stumped at the insane troll logic involved in Minato’s decision to use the Death God Sealing jutsu.

Had said jutsu been the only way to seal Kurama into Naruto, I wouldn’t have had any problems with it. The problem is that it had been made clear that there are other ways of sealing biju into humans that aren’t nearly as lethal to the caster.

And yet Minato decides to use the jutsu anyway, because he wants Kushina to have an opportunity to see her son in the future. Furthermore, he decides to leave his infant son without parents and susceptible to social ostracism, further justifying this decision by saying that her guidance is not only something a mother can provide, but also will prove useful in helping Naruto tame his inner biju.

While this seemingly works out from an in-story standpoint, it fails hard if you take a moment to think about it on even the most basic level.

First of all, he’s still leaving his son without parental guidance and susceptible to that social ostracism I mentioned earlier. I mean, it’s not like a person has a much better chance of controlling their biju if they’re emotionally sta—oh.

Second of all, it reveals Minato for what he is, an immature pussy of a man. I’m sorry, but sacrificing yourself just so your wife can do what you as a man with your dangly bits cannot? Fuck you. Fuck you in your androgynous face, you selfish fuck. I’m sorry, but if there’s anything that really pisses me off here, it’s how crappy a father Minato was. It’s not even funny how much this pissed me off when I first read this. Oh I’m a man; I can’t possibly give my son the special attention he needs. Better he be an orphan who meets his long dead parents once he gets into big trouble with the monster sealed into him rather than some relatively well adjusted kid who has at least one person who cares for him.

Third, it shows that Minato was a total fuck-up as the village’s political leader. I mean, there’s a guy out there who’s potentially an international threat, and yet you kill yourself and all living witnesses to that terrorist’s actions, without leaving a message or anything. No, you go and kill yourself, leaving your kid to grow up lonely and emotionally unstable, all the while granting that guy who may or may not be Uchiha Madara the perfect opportunity to go on doing his thing.

Good thinking there, dumbass.

So yeah, long story short, fuck sacrificing your characters and their intelligence for the sake of making your idiot plot work. Because otherwise you write shit like what I just outlined above.

 
Things That Sucked: Konan
Konan was, until her introduction, one of the more mysterious members of the Akatsuki. When we did meet her for the first time, she was a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Unfortunately, that was about the extent of her character, as it turned out.

She was basically the Sakura of the Rain Trio, acting less as her own person and being more of a supporter of her team, being in love with one of her fellow team members, and being an utter disappointment.

Even when given the chance to shine, Konan was not much of a character, as everything about her was based around supporting her two boys. We never got much of about her own personal life (aside from the origami hobby), her other goals, or even her personality.

Her battle against Tobi was, to put it kindly, filler. I shit you not, that was filler.

Don’t believe me? Read it again.

We had here a character with little plot relevance outside of Nagato, although she might have foreshadowed having Amegakure support Naruto in the future.

No wait, nothing ever came out of that.

Wait, she promised to protect Nagato’s eyes at all-

Oh.

Her plot relevance was zero. Since the village of Amegakure ceased to be of any relevance after her death, Konan may have been the single most pointless character in the story.

If you took her out of the story, nothing would change. Tobi would have the Rinnegan and Amegakure would still be shunted off to the side. Hell, if she got killed off during Nagato’s flashback, it probably wouldn’t have really changed the amount of angst he had in the present day all that much.

In a way then, it’s rather fitting that she is meant to be Sakura’s dark counterpart. If neither existed, the story wouldn’t change much. It might actually be better.

At least she was hot.

 
Things that Bugged Me: Manda II
During this arc, the readers learn that Kabuto managed to create his own Manda, with his own improvements to what the original had to offer, only for the summon to never appear in the story after this one appearance. Why even introduce the character into the story then?

 
Things That Rocked: Get Hype
If there is one thing I will admit Kishimoto does well, it’s hyping things up. The lead-up to the invasion of Konoha by Oto and Suna managed to draw out the tension the reader felt as they came to realize that the stakes went beyond a mere promotion to what could potentially become an all-out war. Once Orochimaru made his intentions clear, the focus shifted from Team 7’s attempts at passing the exam to watching as the denizens of each village responded to the threat of the Suna-Oto alliance. Naturally, when Sasuke and Gaara’s fight was finally interrupted, it was genuinely exciting, as all these various plot threads brought up during the arc finally were placed front and center and the tension brought to a fever pitch. The first time I read that chapter, I was able to envision it animated (I never did watch that part of the Naruto anime), and could actually see how a director might edit the various scenes together.

Kishimoto would replicate this effect in his build up toward the Fourth Ninja World War. After gathering all five village leaders together in one room, he proceeded to have Tobi wage war on them, necessitating preparations for battle on the part of all the parties involved. As with the earlier Chunin Exams Arc, revelations of every shape and size occurred, with the standouts being the true purpose of Zetsu and Kabuto’s return to relevance.

Given Tobi’s actions at the summit it had become clear that in order for him to fight his little war, he would need an army. The Akatsuki had been severely weakened, and by the time the war had started, there were only two living members. Furthermore, the organization had not been shown to have had all that many employees other than the core group (it says something that one of its tougher fighters acted as their accountant), and it appeared to lack the resources, troops, and connections that Pain had earlier made clear were necessary for the group to properly take over the world (we can thank Pain and Sasuke for catching the major villages’ attention).

Previously, Zetsu had been an undefined character, acting mostly as a bagman and spy among the Akatsuki, with it later becoming clear that he was the closest thing Tobi had to a right hand man. But with the shinobi world on the verge of war, Tobi revealed his resourcefulness, having created an army of white Zetsu clones, which, while not the greatest of fighters, were still numerous enough to swarm over the Allied Forces.

Meanwhile, Kabuto did something that appears to be relatively uncommon for villains who are not involved in the story for extended periods. He actually engaged in a little self-improvement, and in the process, went from being Kakashi’s match in battle to one of the major players in the game, with several stolen bloodline techniques, Sage Mode, improved versions of Orochimaru’s jutsu, and a small army of undead legends. To say that he’d suddenly become a dark horse candidate for the position of Big Bad was an understatement. It also helped that he was not born a descendent of the Sage, giving the villains some variety.

Meanwhile, the good guys gathered their forces in Kumogakure, and I’d be lying if I said that shots of commanders overseeing an entire army in military formation from a high vantage point don’t tend to impress me.

So yeah, color me impressed by the build up to the war.

 
Conclusion
This prelude to war led to an arc that, while not all bad, could best be described as a dead cat bounce. Although certainly an improvement on what had come beforehand, there were too many signs of it not really boding well for the future. The writing was often clumsy and the characters handled poorly. Despite that, there were things about it I did like, namely Kushina and the buildup to the actual war itself. All in all, it was a minor respite from the utter dreck that the manga was by this point in time.

Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: The Five Kage Summit Arc

As if the story couldn’t get any worse, it somehow managed to do so during the Five Kage Summit Arc, which started promisingly enough only to fall victim to many of the same issues that had plagued previous arcs. It really shouldn’t have turned out this way. The world was finally getting expanded upon in a big way with greater exposure to the other major hidden villages, and the villains seemed to finally be open to revealing their grand master plans. Not only that, but Naruto was finally able to come to a decision about how he was going to approach the matter of Sasuke. If anything, it should have been a seminal arc, the final part of the story’s second act. Instead, it was nothing but more of the same old junk.

 
Things that Bugged Me: It’s a Small World After All
It was this arc that, in spite of its attempts to expand the world of Naruto, only started to make it feel a lot smaller in more ways than one. First of all, it felt overly convenient that everyone was somehow within the same general area. I could understand the the main stars of the arc needing to be within a certain proximity of one another, but was the same necessary for Killer B and his music teacher? What were the chances that these characters would just so happen to be in that region despite B not being directly involved in the whole summit?

Then there is the matter of travel time. Remember how it took the characters several days just to get around between Konoha, Suna, and the Land of Rivers and how that played into a race against time to rescue Gaara? Remember the brief travel montage that followed a modified Team 7 spending a night at an inn while on the way to meet with Sasori’s inside man? During this arc, there was an early attempt at creating a sense of scale by showing, to some extent, the different amounts of time required for each village’s representatives to reach the meeting place. Unfortunately, that was thrown out the window for the rest of the arc, most obviously when seeing how quickly Sakura managed to track down and reach Sasuke (and how easy it was for Kakashi and Naruto to follow).

Another issue was how the world-building didn’t really mean anything. Yeah, we got a little bit of insight into how other villages ticked, but for the most part, that insight failed to go anywhere. Furthermore, despite the Land of Iron suddenly being introduced as a neutral site capable of giving even the reigning superpowers trouble (on top of being an entire country of samurai, to contrast with the series’ focus on ninja), none of the characters from there really did anything to stand out, with most of them being faceless masses for everyone else to mow down.

 
Things that Sucked: The Assassination of Haruno Sakura’s Character by the Author Kishimoto Masashi
For a change of pace, let’s try to approach this particular gripe from a different angle than the usual.

Kishimoto: Hey, Sakura!

Sakura: Yes, Kishimoto?

Kishimoto: I’m about to make you relevant again! Just wait for your cue.

Sakura: Yay! I haven’t had a chance to shine in about 200 chapters! Will I get a fight scene?

Omoi and Karui enter. Omoi jump kicks Sakura in the face.

Karui: Hey! Aren’t you the chick with a crush on that Sasuke guy?! Well, he’s now working with the Akatsuki! Just last week he attacked several Kumo citizens, captured my master, and wore a shirt with a popped collar! Just a head’s up! BTW, what do you see in that guy?!

Karui and Omoi leave. Sakura cries. Sai enters.

Sai: Hey, Sakura? You know that romance subplot you’re a part of? Well, you’re really going to hate this.

Sakura: What? Why?

Sai: You’ll see in a moment. But anyway, you realize that Naruto has feelings for you?

Sakura: OMG, I did not realize such a thing despite the fact that my team mate, who I work with almost every day, is not the least bit subtle about his interest in me.

Sai: Also, I’m here to remind you that for someone who promised to work with Naruto to save Sasuke, you’ve been awfully willing to let him shoulder the burden. Seriously, what have you done lately? BTW, it gets worse for your character.

Sakura cries some more.

Sakura: Oh God, am I crying again? As if my haters don’t have enough of that to mock me till Doomsday! Tell me it gets better for me throughout this arc!

Sai: …

Shikamaru enters.

Shikamaru: Hey, we’ve all decided that since Sasuke has made himself an international issue, we’re all gonna kill him, m’kay? Now listen to my bloated and moronic explanation of how Kumogakure killing Sasuke would set off a cycle of revenge that could be easily rectified if you, Ino, and Naruto had the brains to realize that it would be really, really stupid to attack a Kumo nin for carrying out the law. Oh, and also, Kishimoto’s going to really shit all over your character for the rest of the arc.

Shikamaru, having made his less than stellar case, leaves.

Sakura: Oh well, time to recruit some guys to tell Naruto what’s up. All right, Sai aside, I’m going to need a couple of dumbasses to track Sasuke without being smart enough to realize I’m planning something.

Kiba and Lee enter.

Kiba, Lee: Did someone say that they needed a couple of dumbasses?

Sakura: Perfect.

Naruto enters.

Sakura: Hey, Naruto!

Naruto: Yeah?

Sakura: I need to talk to you. It involves the romance subplot sticking its head out in the most awkward manner possible.

Naruto: Oh. Fuck.

Sakura: Yeah. Anyway, I like you and don’t have feelings for Sasuke and am totally not hiding anything from you involving the childhood crush I just can’t shut up about so please believe everything I say.

Naruto: Wow, aren’t you giving Meryl Streep a run for her money?

Lee: I am now posing in a manner that matches the reaction of anyone reading this scene.

Sakura: Oh FFS, later!

Naruto leaves.

Kiba: Well, that was an awkward scene that totally pissed off a bunch of shippers. So, why are you acting like a stupid bitch, exactly?

Sakura: Because this is apparently Kishimoto’s idea of a heroine.

Kiba: That dude has issues. Hey, I’ve tracked Sasuke! And he’s with that masked Akatsuki guy. Let’s take them on despite the fact that one, Sasuke alone managed to outclass you, Naruto, Sai, and Yamato just a few arcs back, and two, that each individual Akatsuki fought so far required either a highly skilled team or elite ninja to beat!

Lee: Good idea!

Sakura: Now!

Sai: Not so fast. I know that Sakura here is planning on gassing us and taking out Sasuke by herself.

Lee: Holyshitwhatthefuck?!

Kiba: RAWR! Imma act like a dumbass despite showing a surprising amount of intelligence earlier and give Sakura an opportunity to gas us!

Sakura gasses them.

Sakura: Thank God for dumbasses.

Sai: Must…breathe in fumes…instead…of getting out…of range…despite…being a highly skilled…ROOT…operative.

Sakura: Now to deal with Sasuke. I hope Kishimoto wrote me a plan so brilliant that readers will be talking about it for years.

Sasuke enters. Karin also enters, except she’s lying on the ground covered in her own blood.

Sakura: Sasuke! Imma join up with joo now! Nothing suspicious about all this!

Sasuke: Has anyone ever told you that you’re a modern day Sarah Bernhardt? In fact, your performance is so bad that it makes me want to put a hole in your head. Eh, why not?

Sasuke, ever the critic, tries to put a hole in her head. Just as he’s about to make the arc a little less painful to read, Kakashi enters the scene like a boss.

Kakashi: Surprise, motherfucker! Damn, I’m awesome.

Karin: Damn, that guy is awesome.

Sakura: Damn, Kakashi is awesome.

Sasuke: Damn, he has a nice ass…I mean, damn you, Konoha assholes! Maniacal laugh!

Kakashi: Sakura, you’re irrelevant to the main plot right now except as walking scenery. Get over there in the kitchen and make me a sandwich. No wait, I’ve had your sandwiches, so no go on that. I’ll make my own damn sandwich. Actually, if you do want to make yourself useful, you can heal this chick here.

Sakura: Damn it, my character’s relevance can’t end here! Not like this! I know! I’ll take out Sasuke myself! That should restore some of my lost dignity.

Sakura proceeds to act like an actual fucking ninja and prepares to stab Sasuke from behind.

Kishimoto: What the? A female character looking cooler than a male in the same scene? Oh no you don’t! Flashback no jutsu!

Sakura: Fuck! It’s a bunch of flashbacks that don’t really justify the depth of whatever feelings the author says I have for Sasuke.

Sasuke: Wow, this is so sad that I think it best to put you out of your misery right here.

Sakura: Please do. You know what would really suck? If you were about to finish me off and the moment was used to portray me as a damsel in distress that needed rescu-

Naruto enters the scene with an epic save.

Naruto: EPIC SAVE!

Sakura: Well, fuck.

Naruto: Sakura, I think you should stand back and let the relevant characters speak.

Sakura: Wow, after hundreds of chapters in which it was foreshadowed that I would surpass Tsunade and play an important role in saving Sasuke, I am now expected to relegate myself to cheerleader status. What the hell does that make me?

Kishimoto: A heroine!

Sakura: Go fuck yourself.

Kakashi: Hey Sakura, hate to distract you from that conversation you’re having with the author, but we need you to humiliate yourself for the sake of some ill-timed slapstick.

Sakura: And there goes the last shred of my dignity.

 
Things that Sucked: The Pointlessness of Team Samui
In a previous arc, a trio of new characters was introduced, complete with splash panel: Team Samui. The designs for these characters were actually pretty interesting, with each of them having a defining quirk, plus they inverted the usual team structure by having two girls and a guy. In addition, it was a chance to meet young characters from outside Konoha and Sunagakure, in effect a chance at world-building on Kishimoto’s part. Here was an opportunity for Kishimoto to really do something with the world he had created, a chance to make us care about people other than those he had introduced back in Part I. He took his chance, and dropped the ball.

When next we saw Team Samui, they arrived at the village after Pain’s attack was concluded, and shortly afterward got into a minor skirmish with Team 7 where the Cloud ninja showed that they were a force to be reckoned with even compared to our main characters. Tensions were high between the two groups, especially in light of Karui’s interrogation of Naruto. They even got a color page showing the two groups facing off against each other.

So what happened with Team Samui after that? Nothing. They just faded back into the background for the most part.

Masashi Kishimoto actually managed to waste a frigging color page! And I’m saying he really wasted it. It wasn’t just a typical “what if” spread or a stylistic splash panel, it was something that hinted at future plot developments that came to nothing. You may as well have had a color spread featuring Tenten facing off against Tenchu for all the plot relevance this spread had to future events.

Things that Sucked: Again with Sasuke
Let me make clear that I don’t hate Sasuke. I believe it a point worth making before someone accuses me of being a “hater” and spamming “haters gonna hate” images (which is among the stupidest memes the Internet has ever given birth too). Seriously though, no, I do not hate Sasuke. In fact, I liked the moments in the spotlight he got in Part I, and even thought him a worthy foil to Naruto.

I just hate the way he was used during Part II, especially after going through the BS that was the Year of Sasuke. At this point, readers were for the most part tired of Sasuke’s personal subplot, which, while necessary, was overlong. So after the relatively short Pain’s Assault Arc, the Five Kage Summit Arc once again saw a huge focus on Sasuke’s activities compared to Naruto’s.

Naturally, this resulted in a bit of backlash that was made worse by some rather questionable writing decisions, namely Sasuke’s sudden shift toward darkness. After a hint at a return to his old self during Taka’s attempt to capture Killer Bee, Kishimoto suddenly had Sasuke take a turn for the worse that seemed oddly out of character given the story’s progression (it’s made worse if you read everything back to back, as this sudden development becomes all the more jarring).

It also does not help that at this point, Sasuke was the story’s emotional focal point, with characters such as Naruto and Sakura, among others (including the villains) focusing much of their motivations around him, often to the audience’s consternation. At that point, the manga may as well have been renamed “Sasuke,” and that wouldn’t have seemed out of place.

 
Things That Sucked: Danzo and Wasted Potential
During the Penis Arc, the character of Danzo and his secret organization (well, as secret as a publicly known secret among ninja can be, anyhow) ROOT, was introduced with great promise. We got hints that these guys made up the darker parts of Konoha’s military, and Danzo served to illustrate that the politics of the Hidden Leaf weren’t nearly as simple as they might have initially appeared. A war hawk even among ninja, Danzo was a mysterious figure that seemed to be involved in all sorts of shady business. Even Orochimaru didn’t seem to care much for him.

Later on, prior to leaving for Amegakure, Jiraiya reminded Tsunade about the threat ROOT was to her regime, and this seemed to suggest that the organization, along with the Akatsuki, would serve as the biggest threats to the safety of Konoha.

Not long afterward, Tobi revealed that Danzo and the other elders had been complicit in allowing the Uchiha Massacre to happen, illustrating just how harsh his methods were and adding to his implied importance in the grand scheme of things.

When Pain attacked Konoha, Danzo intentionally delayed Naruto’s return, and went underground with his followers, all in an attempt to destabilize the Leaf and discredit Tsunade. Shortly after that, it was revealed that the man had played a role in the creation of Pain, showing just how major a player he was on even an international scale. After the mess with Nagato was sorted out, Danzo was able to seize the nominal Hokage title.

Between this rise to power and the foreshadowing that had been going on, it appeared that the problem that was ROOT would be a major one in the story to come. At the very least, they had to be arc villains, right?

Wrong. Danzo made a fool of himself at the Kage Summit, and then, to add insult to injury, got himself killed by Sasuke. All without doing much to leave a lasting effect on the rest of the plot. Once Danzo is gone, the ROOT subplot goes with him. Sai just tells one of his former colleagues that ROOT is now under Kakashi’s authority (at least until Tsunade wakes from her coma), and that’s the last we hear of the group.

Danzo was, at least until his demise, a bit of a cipher. He claimed to be interested in the greater good of the village, yet his actions were exceedingly self-serving. So when his death did come, it was a genuine surprise to see that while he really was selfish, this selfishness was borne out of a sincere belief that what he was doing—the work no one else was willing to do but needed to be done anyway—was the right thing. That he needed to be in charge, because for all the hypocritical idealism displayed as fronts by some, he was the only one willing to get down to the nitty gritty.

While this is not the case in such an idealistic story, it still served to show how a seemingly villainous character might view himself as righteous, as Danzo managed to die still believing that he’d done the right thing.

Unfortunately, a while later, we learned what role Danzo played in the corruption of Kabuto, along with just how he treated those who might know too much. The problem with showing all these flashbacks at that point however, is that they might have held more meaning if the guy was still alive at the time. These little bits of the past do serve to characterize all the parties involved, but the problem with Danzo is that they make him out to be the cause of much of the sorrow in the ninja world. The problem is, he’s dead and gone.

If Kabuto’s history had come out before Danzo’s demise, it would have served to further illustrate how the man had earned his moniker, and the contrast between this and the genuinely noble intentions he’d had would have been all the greater in the eyes of the reader.

There was so much wasted potential here in the treatment of Danzo, a man who wanted to defend the village he loved the way he believed was best. He was a product of the old generation’s mindset, and his methods resembled what people tend to picture when thinking of actual ninja.

It was a great contrast with Naruto, who was the perfect example of the up and coming generation and the new idealism associated with it. And yet, despite this difference, both characters had their similarities: a desire to succeed despite being in the shadow of a more talented rival and a dream of becoming Hokage.

To have these two characters with similar mindsets that approached the same problems in different ways go against each other would have been perfect in manifesting the battle between the ninja world’s past and its present. It would not necessarily have had to be a physical battle; but rather one between ideologies that would determine the future of their world.

It was also a shame given the additional depths Danzo was implied to have as a character. Take for example his centering his fighting style around Izanagi. Given that Danzo believes in the ideal of self-sacrifice and his own failure to live up to it in the past, it is rather interesting to see him utilize a jutsu that allows him to die repeatedly. Is it a reflection of his cowardice or perhaps a means for him to get used to the idea of dying so that he might overcome what he considers his own biggest shortcoming as a ninja?
Apparently, all that stuff with Danzo and ROOT was not what the intended audience would want, so instead, we got more Uchiha focus. Thanks Kishimoto.

 
Things that Bugged Me: Tobi is a Fucking Idiot
I won’t get into the details of Tobi’s true identity, although that in itself will be covered alongside other things in a future post, so instead, I’ll just talk about how, for a so-called criminal mastermind, Tobi seemed awfully stupid when it came to making important decisions (in hindsight, Zetsu was probably the one doing all the thinking).

Issue one, alienating everyone at the summit by having Sasuke attack them and admitting that he arranged said attack. Pain calling attention to the Akatsuki by blowing up Konoha was bad enough, but things could have been salvaged to an extent if Tobi had decided to be patient and lain low for a short while. Maybe even round up some new members to capture and seal the remaining tailed beasts or fight a war against the large villages sometime in the future. Instead, Tobi decided to make himself the enemy of the world’s major powers by having an associate attack them while they were having a meeting. Any strategist worth their salt would realize the importance of making sure that your enemies don’t gang up on you.

Issue two, the Moon’s Eye Plan. As stupid as the actual Plan is (*cough* NGE rip-off *cough*), what makes it worse is the way Tobi decided to present it to the shinobi world’s leaders. First though, I’d like to take a brief detour before I get into the specifics.

During World War II, Nazi Germany was kicking ass. They managed to blitz Poland, rolled over France, and drove the English back to their own home front. Then Hitler did something that had fucked up conquerors like Charles XII and Napoleon: he invaded Russia from the west. Now, the thing to note about Soviet Russia was that things there weren’t so great there considering that Stalin was in charge. When he wasn’t repressing people, he was purging the shit out of them. Naturally, the average Russian wasn’t too keen about all this and if Hitler played his cards right, he could have worked out a strategy that would have made Russia easier for the taking. Unfortunately for Hitler, and fortunately for the rest of the world, the Nazis were bat-fuck crazy.

You see, the Nazis had this little policy of promoting the superiority of the Aryan race, and found the idea of subjugating and/or eliminating inferior peoples just peachy. Naturally, this only served to alienate most of the people they met, in effect uniting an otherwise ragtag country of hard, perpetually pissed off people against the German invaders. As a result, the Eastern front of the European side of the war played a huge role in allowing the Allies to turn the tide and win it.

Had the Nazis actually communicated a message that promised something to the people they were approaching, they would not have alienated them as badly, and perhaps not suffered the defeat they did (or at least not as quickly). Instead, they communicated a message that alienated a lot of potential allies. It is the same with the Moon’s Eye Plan.

Tobi could have offered something to the various shinobi powers or even those countries finding themselves getting the short end of the stick as villages began to dismantle their military forces (as was suggested by Pain’s speech many chapters ago). What he did do was the worst possible thing: he offered everyone an option that no one in their right mind could desire. No one in the shinobi world, be they members of the five major powers or of the lesser nations, could possibly find the Plan acceptable unless they were crazy or emo teens.

The third reason to call Tobi an idiot is his usage of Kisame. Now, I’m not going to criticize his decision to send an Akatsuki agent into Kumogakure as a spy, that’s just basic information gathering (although one questions how successful such a mission might be when the village was preparing for war and thus increasing its security). The problem however, is that the plan was needlessly convoluted.

First of all, he wasted a chance to capture B. Capturing him right there could have done a number on the Alliance’s military resources, and would have severely set back Naruto’s training. Furthermore, nabbing B would have added to the Akatsuki’s own military force another tailed beast’s worth of chakra, bringing him another step closer to the completion of the Moon’s Eye Plan.

Second, why send Kisame, his top biju snatcher, when he could have sent his best spy? Sure, Kisame could have tried capturing Bee and Naruto from behind enemy lines, but considering how outnumbered and outgunned he would be in such circumstances, there would have been only a small chance of him completing the mission and getting out alive.

And what do you know, while the Alliance’s plans were revealed to Tobi, he lost one of his best subordinates and failed to capture either jinchuriki.

 
Things that Sucked: Ten Tails
Fucking Ten Tails. Just fucking Ten Tails. I didn’t care much for the whole Sage of the Six Paths background mythology that was added to the story, and I most definitely do not like the whole Ten Tails thing for the simple reason that it is stupid. Incredibly, horrendously, most incompetently stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.

Kishimoto took a concept that had appeared in more badly written fanfiction than I can count and made it canon. Seriously, do a search on stories where a ten-tailed beast was revealed to exist in some shape or form. It was made worse by the fact that this revelation came just a few months after Bleach had its own twist involving digits between 1 and 10.

Let’s just move on because I’d rather not waste any more words talking about this right now.

 
Things that Sucked: It All Comes Down to Hatred (Really?)
One of the little things I rather liked about Part I of the manga was how Kishimoto managed to mix in more intimate, personal issues with hints at underlying issues inherent in a much larger system. While characters like Naruto, Haku, and Gaara were shown to have their own share of problems, these in turn tied in with the way the shinobi system was run. We had discussions on the purpose of shinobi, and despite the somewhat light tone taken thus far with Konoha, were shown just how badly the system pressed on otherwise normal individuals (like the embodiment of human weakness and relative normalcy that Sakura represented in the dysfunctional group that was Team 7).

At the same time, there was a purposeful contrast between these two zones of interest, as what was personal was kept that way, while what was more universal was used to suggest things about the world Kishimoto was building. Even way back in the opening chapters, there was a marked contrast between the more self-absorbed goals of the three leading genin and the concerns of their squad leader when he talked about the heroes whose names were carved on the memorial stone. While the wannabe chunin were focused on passing the exam and receiving promotions, Orochimaru was planning on starting a war, Sunagakure’s leadership was concerned about the economic realities their village was facing, and even Sarutobi took some time to discuss the sinister logic behind the chunin exams. As a result, one got the impression that while the story itself was focused on more childish matters, the reality of the fictional world created therein was far more complicated.

Kishimoto tried to unify these two separate issues, but the execution, as is to be expected for regular readers of this series of posts, was rather lacking. It was in many ways inevitable that as the characters grew up, so to would the focus of the story. This has happened before in other series such as Toy Story (which, while accessible to all audiences, grew up with its original viewers) or Harry Potter (which saw things taking much darker and less whimsical turns as the plot progressed and its characters aged), and I can understand the intentions behind the increased focus on themes of war and hatred. Unfortunately, while the characters aged (at least physically, one could argue that their actual growth, at least at the start of Part II, was stunted for the most part), and the topics explored did the same, the storytelling did not. Kishimoto wanted to write something that grew with its audience, but because the manner he told the story in failed to do the same, the story faltered as a result.

One need only observe the way hatred and war are explored to see this problem up close. As mentioned above, when bringing up the matter of war, Kishimoto had suggested a certain complexity, bringing up not only the inherent moral shortcomings of the shinobi system, but also the economic and political realities of the situation between hidden villages. Even the chunin exams, for all their pomp, were in reality a small-scale war simulation used to set market prices and measure the relative military strength among villages. Alliances were simply treaties of non-aggression inevitably broken once the international situation changed enough. Pain’s speech to the Akatsuki about the organization’s “plan” also took the time to explore these issues in a manner consistent with the way it was presented in Part I. Danzo’s modus operandi was an exaggerated form of realpolitik. The slowly improving relationship between Sunagakure and Konohagakure as a result of Naruto’s intervention and the revelations about Orochimaru’s actual involvement were meant to contrast with this standard, showing that there was room for a better future, even if the players had to start small. This intimate relationship between jinchuriki, and the theme about how younger generations eventually must supplant their elders served to illustrate just how such personal relationships would prove key to altering the system. While Chiyo in her more cynical moments made some good points, it was clear that with Naruto and Gaara poised to take leading roles in the shinobi world, they might just be able to bring about something better.

Had Kishimoto taken off from there and built up strong relationships between characters of the various villages through competent writing and proper development, this could have been a great way for the story to grow up. Instead, he did something foolish: he dumbed down the story.

Now granted, a shonen manga cannot be too complex for fear of alienating its target audience. At the same time however, one should be wary of going to the opposite extreme and patronizing said audience.

When the character of Pain was introduced in full, Kishimoto sacrificed the character’s depth for the sake of ease in writing the plot, and as a result, a sinister figure who had previously understood the various motivations that went into conflicts between the various tribes of humanity became focused solely on two of those motivations: pain (as should be expected) and hatred. One needs only to reread his speech to Hidan and the rest of the organization; then compare it to the way he was written after being unveiled to see what I mean.

Instead of acknowledging the genuine complexity of the problems that lead to human conflict, Kishimoto continued to further oversimplify exploration of this theme, even tying it in with the goals of Jiraiya and the Sage of Six Paths. The result was a turn from a world of conflict that was colored in shades of gray to one that could be better illustrated in black and white. The richness of previous looks at the world of the manga was sacrificed for catchiness and marketability. Instead of a gradual change in paradigms achieved through mutual understanding while acknowledging certain realities of the world, everything other than the hatred shared by the various villages was completely ignored for the sake of making Naruto’s job easier.

The villages found themselves united by a common enemy, and the sudden willingness between former enemies to cooperate with such friendliness is jarring considering the harshness of the relationships as outlined in Part I (even if Kishimoto tried to rectify this through Onoki’s character development). The moment when Gaara stops a fight between two members of the Allied army with a pretty speech, while clear in its message, should not have been enough to rally all troops toward one common will. At least, it would probably not be so if this was still Part I of the manga.

This also extends to the subplot between Naruto and Sasuke, as Kishimoto began to tie it in with the larger themes of the manga. What happened throughout Part II was an increasingly, and unintentionally, comically ludicrous attempt to justify Naruto’s desire to save a fallen friend. The oversimplification of the themes of hatred and love that surround Naruto and Sasuke only served to weaken the ability of their relationship to appeal on both emotional and literary levels. Naruto’s insistence of Sasuke simply being misunderstood and confused began to take on a foolish tone as his former friend continued to slip deeper into moral darkness, culminating in his becoming a killer (despite his earlier desire to not bloody his hands against those who did not deserve such treatment) and internationally despised criminal.

Had Kishimoto’s writing grown up with his themes, and had he not in turn allowed the exploration of said themes to become so overly simplified, the manga may have been truly deserving of being called one of the great mainstream shonen manga that ran in Shonen Jump. Instead, it became nothing more than yet another generic action manga that fancied itself something better.

 
Things that Didn’t Suck: The Fights
One thing that didn’t suck all that bad: the fights. The battles between Sasuke and the various kage (save Danzo) were a tad short and lacking in anything special, but they at least hinted at what each of the village leaders were capable of (although it is a shame that Kishimoto did not really expand much on their abilities later on considering what one would expect from the strongest ninja from each village).

The battle between B and Kisame was a bit disappointing, especially in light of the fact that for a fight between two skilled swordsmen, there wasn’t much in the way of swordsmanship. While I’ve already talked about the way Kisame was used this arc, I still wish that there had been more to the battle other than charging up chakra and sucking it out (that came out dirtier than I expected).

I would even say that the showcase fight between Danzo and Sasuke was decent, not great, but not terrible either. It was not too long (as the battles against Akatsuki were at times), and showcased some interesting jutsu from Danzo.

 
Things that Didn’t Suck: Unintentional Humor
Also, if there were any parts of this arc that genuinely amused me, it would be the stuff that amused me for all the wrong reasons.

 
Conclusion
This arc sucked. No buts about it, there wasn’t much to like. The characters took a turn for the worse, especially Sasuke and Sakura, the handling of the story’s themes continued to become clumsier and clunkier, and conflicts were resolved lazily. It served to show that Naruto was past the point of no return, and confirmed that sometimes, the things you love turn on you by starting to suck horribly, like a relationship gone sour.

And yet this was only a prelude to something far, far worse.

Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: Pain’s Assault

After the less than stellar arcs that made up the so-called ‘Year of Sasuke,’ readers were more than a little eager to get back to Naruto, figuring that maybe the manga might find its footing once more with a shift back to its titular character. This chance at salvation seemingly came in the form of Pain’s direct attack on Konoha, a decision that must have taken major balls given that the alternative was to sneak into Konoha with disguises like actual ninja. But I digress.

So did the arc redeem the manga?

Well, no.

This arc was, contrary to what some might try to argue, actually pretty terrible. Let’s get into the details of just how terrible.

 
Things that Rocked: Seven Against Konoha
Before getting into the things that sucked, let’s start with one of the positives of the arc, namely the opening moments of the assault. Kishimoto has a talent for hyping up huge events before they’re actually underway, and it was no different when Pain proceeded to almost literally catapult himself (and Konan’s paper clone) into Konoha before splitting up to lay waste to the village that had played such a huge role in his life. It’s not a long sequence, but I enjoyed it enough to wish that I could recut the anime’s rendition of it and sync it to “Immigrant Song.”

 
Things that Bugged Me: Transporting Nagato
Given his inability to walk and the cumbersome appearance of his transportation device, I’m more than a little curious about just how Nagato managed to move all that way out of Amegakure, through foreign lands, and to the top of one of the mountains near Konoha. I can imagine that was in itself probably a long and tedious story we never got to see. Couldn’t have been much worse than what we got.

 
Things that Sucked: Konan Still Doesn’t Get to Do Much
As with before, despite the fact that she was supposed to be a member of the Akatsuki, readers again didn’t get to see much from Konan aside from using her paper to manhandle people and getting told off by a surprisingly memorable nameless extra. Unlike the other Akatsuki that had been featured as arc villains, Konan was relegated mostly to the sidelines and made to look like someone who was only part of the group because of her connections. Even when Naruto is exhausted yet eager to take down Nagato, all she can do is act as a human shield. Once again, it was clear that Kishimoto’s talent for writing decent female characters is close to nonexistent.

 
Things that Bugged Me: Tsunade is a Dumb Blonde Drunkard
Yet another thing that bothered me during this arc was the clear divide between good sense and what the author intended. While it was understandable that there was a need to continue the theme of the current generation of youths taking up where their predecessors left off, as well as the importance of the latter entrusting their responsibilities to the former, as with too many other things in the story, the execution was rather lacking.

First of all, the whole point of sending Naruto off was to not only give him a chance to train under the frogs, but to also ensure that he was kept safe from the threat of the Akatsuki. Instead, it was the duty of the village to ensure that their enemies would not be able to get at one of their most important assets. In fact, as Hokage, Tsunade should have been the last line of defense. While it was nice that she used her expertise to heal people, given Pain’s power, it would have behooved her to attempt to confront him directly with whatever backup she could get instead of waiting for him to come to her after she was in already in the process of tiring herself out. But to be fair, she functions best as a support ninja that keeps her allies in fighting shape. So no big deal on this one. The second issue however, cannot be so easily brushed aside.

Second, while it was nice of her to place so much faith in Naruto, and while there was precedent for Naruto exceeding peoples’ expectations before, there is also quite the difference between figuring out a difficult jutsu and suddenly becoming both skilled and powerful enough to handle an opponent that had previously succeeded in not only heading an organization of the world’s most dangerous criminals, but also singlehandedly ending a civil war and killing one of Konoha’s best ninja. How long did Naruto train anyway that growing as much as he did in so short a time was a likely possibility? Was the plan to have him fight Pain (risky) while backed up by the village? If so, then that should have happened when he did actually confront Pain.

As with the earlier mission to meet up with Sasori’s spy, what the story wanted to convey went against what was most sensible to anyone with some degree of rationality. It was clear at this point that the characters in the story were only as bright as the conveniences of the plot allowed them to be.

 
Things that Sucked: Konohamaru Takes Out a Path
One of the low points of the earlier parts of the arc was when Konohamaru was inexplicably able to surprise and deal some damage to one of the Paths. It was even worse than when Naruto took down Kabuto way back. While the execution of that moment wasn’t great, the idea behind the scene was that it would illustrate Naruto’s growth over the course of the series, his determination, and his ability to continually surprise those who thought him nothing but a failure. Here, we had some awkwardly placed comic relief in the form of Konohamaru’s flashback, the ridiculousness of Konohamaru taking down the nominal head of the Akatsuki (or at least one of his bodies, but still, it somewhat took away from Pain’s image given the amount of effort it took to fight just one body for other characters), and a lack of any fulfillment for the audience since, one, said audience had not witnessed Konohamaru’s growth in any real detail, and two, because he did not appear often enough to become someone readers could grow highly attached to (it also didn’t help that when he did appear, he wasn’t really doing anything of actual consequence).

Because of this one scene, audiences had to bear with jarring shifts in tone during what should have been an intense and dramatic section of the story, a villain who suddenly seemed a lot less menacing and thus seemingly less satisfying an opponent for the story’s hero to handle personally, and a side character whose moment of triumph wasn’t really worth rooting for because of how poorly said character had been handled until the point.

 
Things that Bugged Me: The Contrived Coincidence
I would be lying if I said that this little detail bugged me a lot more than it should have, even if so contrived a coincidence was somehow necessary to moving the story forward by getting Naruto back to Konoha as soon as possible.

Anyway, so it turns out that Ma has to go pick up some groceries—I figure that she either has to gather materials in a certain area or there are vendors that market their goods to talking animals—and in the process finds herself fairly close to Konoha, thus allowing her to see that the situation there is FUBAR.

Let’s not even get into the whole concept of portal pools and their potential applications.

 
Things that Sucked: The Pain Fight

Issue 1: The Momentum of the Battle
A good fight should have tension in it. This fight didn’t.

When Naruto arrived, the first thing he did was take a huge early advantage. A few chapters in, Pain looked like the underdog and the Rinnegan didn’t look so shiny compared to Sage Mode. You can’t have this in a battle designed to serve as the arc’s climax. When two characters are destined to have an epic battle, you need to create suspense for the reader. Seeing Naruto take the lead right off the bat robbed readers of this opportunity.

Then, partway through the fight, the pendulum suddenly swung the other way, and Pain had Naruto dead to rights. Unfortunately, the duration of this consisted of one and a half chapters of Pain winning, some panels to show what witnesses were seeing, a chapter of talking by Pain (though I will admit that it was pretty decent a speech, more on that below), and Hinata coming in (more on this later).

The time where it felt Naruto had Pain on the ropes felt longer (and it actually was) and more significant than the opposite. As a result, any tension this fight could have had was gone.

When Naruto powered up after a pep talk from his dad (more on this soon), readers already knew that there was no way Pain could fight evenly, much less at an advantage, at that point.

Hell, the closest thing there was to tension was the internal battle Naruto had in regards to how to approach Nagato, and even that lost whatever power it could have had due to the overly long flashback and the conclusion of the fight (more on these two things too).

Issue 2: The Scale
This fight was schizophrenic to say the least. It was supposed to be a battle of legendary proportions, but a good part of the early fight seemed awfully mundane, and it wasn’t until after the fox came out to play that the fight took on the scale it deserved.

Early on in the fight, many of the panels remained of a modest size, while the battle itself was not quite on a large scale except for some moves. Pain was using small-scale abilities and tactics. Naruto was using fundamental shinobi skills mixed in with high powered attacks. When we did get large panels and spreads, it was to showcase Naruto’s newly achieved powers. I wouldn’t really mind so much had Pain not been shafted in this regard. When he did do something impressive, the attention paid to it was unfitting.

A good example is when he takes out all three large toads with one move. We get some panels to build it up, yet once the Deva Path does its thing, we get one larger than average panel showing everything from a distant bird’s eye view. The result of this is that what should have been a moment to showcase just how godlike Naruto’s latest opponent was, thereby increasing the fight’s tension, was instead made mundane. There’s no one page spread, or at least a sense of the attack’s scale. It did not even have to be a two page spread, Kishimoto could have easily taken a page out of Oda’s book and have that one large panel cross over to the opposite page.

Speaking of the toads, their inclusion was meant to increase the scale of the battle from the start. Naturally, given that these were toads the size of a building, you would expect the fight’s feel to match their size. Unfortunately, because of the fact that said toads were so large, they needed opponents of matching size to fight them, otherwise they mostly stood on the sidelines. We got a bit of this with Pain’s summons, but those were quickly handled, with most of them getting taken down to some extent either by Naruto or the Sage couple. The boss summons were there only to finish the job. And when the big guys did try to do something relevant, doing their damnedest to squash the Paths, this led to awkward long shots where it was hard to make out the Paths. The shifts in scale weren’t applied as they would be in a competently made film, where human sized characters would remain visible as we got a good look at just how large the boss summons were.

As if to make up for this, Kishimoto tried to make even the most mundane events seem epic, with a hand to hand skirmish somehow causing rocks to be flung from the ground.*

* This last issue reached a whole new level of hilarious later during the war arc, when the act of Sasori being pulled to the ground (albeit from a higher spot) caused a sizable crack and cratering of the spot he landed on. Compare this to earlier parts of the story, where a character falling from a similar height might have left a slight dent in the ground. When Sai kicked his brother, it could be excused with the possibility that Sai had used chakra to enhance the strength of his kick. Here, somehow getting pulled was enough to replicate the effect of a Rasengan from above.

Issue 3: Inaction Sequences
Like a lot of fights in the anime version of Dragon Ball, there were several inaction sequences during the fight in the original Naruto manga, which only made the pacing problems worse.

The most ludicrous example comes after Pain takes out the boss summons. Naruto and the Sage couple are able to have a full conversation before Pain finds his footing, gets straight to the point, and tries to capture Naruto. Good, good, we might actually be getting somewhere. Pain then proceeds to ignore the toads completely, focusing instead on Naruto, despite having two bodies to handle this sort of thing.

Wait, what?

During this time, the Sage couple is building up their chakra so that they might use their Frog Song.

Really, Pain?

You would not believe how thankful I was to see Pain realize how dumb this was and skewer Fukasaku.

 
A Much Needed Interruption: The Thing that Didn’t Suck About the Pain Fight
For the moment, allow me an aside away from the constant criticism of the battle between Jiraiya’s disciples. As fun as criticism can be, it can be a rather wearying experience, and I am sure anyone reading this feels similarly. So let’s get into what was actually decent about the fight: Pain’s speech.

Now Pain is no stranger to decent monologues, so this was not too big a surprise. However, what made this special was that it served to expand upon his earlier talks with the Akatsuki and Jiraiya by examining just what happens to smaller countries when they are surrounded by superpowers able to go to war or dominate by other means with near impunity.

It gave the audience a perspective that had otherwise only been hinted at of the Narutoverse, and served as a great callback to the down to earth motivations behind the Hidden Sand Village’s alliance with Orochimaru. Pain was no longer a mere man with a god complex droning on about the nature of humanity, but someone with legitimate grievances against the existing system. Suddenly, it made a lot more sense as to why he’d reacted so poorly when Tsunade talked back to him earlier in the arc.

Things were no longer black and white. It wasn’t a simple matter of taking down the bad guy to save the day anymore. Now, Naruto understood that even his enemies had their reasons for doing what they did, and that even his home wasn’t some shining city on a hill. Pain’s plan might seem mad, and it might not really work as well as it otherwise seemed, but one could at least see where he was coming from.

It was a thought-provoking chapter that almost single-handedly redeemed so many of the fight’s flaws; a callback to the days when even a silly manga like Naruto could make readers sit back and think.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

 
Issue 4: Hinata
Hinata already had the unfortunate distinction of being a textbook shallowly written love interest, but here, Kishimoto made things even more annoying by turning her into a plot coupon.

We see her jump into the fight without a well thought out plan, figuring that she’ll just have to do her best to save our hero, who has been both psychologically and physically defeated. We see her spend a whole chapter on a confession that further slows down the battle. We see her get smacked down hilariously quickly, so quickly that, instead of horror, the moment evoked awkward chuckles.

Then Naruto loses complete control. Granted, this last part here was foreshadowed earlier in the fight when Naruto took on more and more of the physical traits associated with him going berserk. The fact that Hinata’s sole purpose was to help Kishimoto get from Point A to Point B is what makes her usage so…so…well, stupid.

Issue 5: Daddy ex Machina
I hated this development. I really did. I didn’t mind that Minato had installed a failsafe in his seal. It gave Naruto and the reader an excuse to see him in the present day. What is annoying about this matter is that it took away from what was supposed to be Naruto’s fight. Instead of overcoming his own demons, he ended up needing to go to Daddy for advice mid-fight, lest everything go to shit. Meanwhile, Kurama was the one actually doing real damage to the Deva Path and forcing Nagato to strain himself.

To make matters worse, it slowed down what was already feeling like an overlong battle.

Issue 6: Pain’s Brain Drain
So after Daddy pulls his fat from the fire, somehow allowing Naruto to exit the chakra shroud without any visible ill effects, he continues his fight against the Deva Path and wins in a manner that’s poorly thought out on the part of the venerable author.

First of all, we have Pain decide to first engage Naruto in close combat. This is in spite of knowing full well that engaging in a taijutsu match against an opponent who is using Sage Mode happens to be a really bad idea.

I mean, it’s not like the first time this happened, against Jiraiya, the Human Path was blinded.

Or that the next time it happened, the Preta Path’s neck was broken.

Or that not long afterward, the Deva Path managed to get kicked a fair distance despite blocking the blow with both arms.

So anyway, Nagato had two choices.

Option 1: Engage Naruto from a distance until his sage chakra runs out, at which point it should be safer to come in for the kill. Consider effective and intelligent applications of Shinra Tensei and Bansho Tennin to repel/attract him depending on the circumstances. Use the Rinnegan to check around for any traps he might have planned.

Option 2: Don’t learn a damn thing from past experience and try to stab Naruto with a chakra rod all the while ignoring your surroundings.

Naturally, the right choice was made.

Now perhaps Pain was acting out of desperation, having expended a lot of chakra. The problem is, we don’t see any indication that this factored into his decision. I get the sense that Kishimoto went for this decision less for any rational reason than because he simply needed a way for Naruto to track down Nagato, hence Pain’s brilliant thinking there.

Anyway, the second thing that stands out is the placement of Naruto’s clones. You would think that the Rinnegan, which had earlier been able to see Konoha’s barrier, would allow him to notice that all those rocks around him weren’t rocks.

It wasn’t a good moment for intelligent writing.

Issue 7: The Flashback
Afterward, Naruto confronts Nagato in person, and the latter relates his tale of woe.

Now, before I delve into the meat of the flashback itself, I’d like to discuss the mystery that was Nagato’s past up to this point. Nagato’s back story was implied to be something so horrifically tragic that it was able to warp the troubled but good-natured kid we saw in Jiraiya’s flashback’s into ninja Keyser Soze. Hell, his repeated references to it every single damn time he could make some gave readers an idea that whatever he’d gone through was bad enough to blow all the other sob stories completely out of the water.

Instead, we got, well, let’s get into it.

Nagato’s flashbacks start off with the day his parents were killed in front of him. Okay, tragic stuff right there. I admit that the artistic decision Kishimoto made that chapter, shading everything in a chiaroscuro style lent a certain grimness to the proceedings that fit the intended mood. It was, visually speaking, not a bad start at getting a good look at the horrors of war.

Unfortunately, the writing was not up to par with the art. Seeing Nagato’s parents die as they did failed to elicit any real emotional response. We’d just met them and we knew nothing about them. As a result, it is difficult to identify with the pain (no pun intended) Nagato feels during that sequence, with the panel of Nagato awakening his Rinnegan lacking any of the power it should have had. It came off as a purely perfunctory attempt at a sad flashback.

The following chapter ups the poor writing by having Nagato befriend a dog. A dog that is killed off in the same chapter in which it first appears.

What makes this funny, in combination with the lack of connection readers might feel with the dog, is the fact that it’s like something out of a joke. I distinctly recall someone once making a joke prior to the spoilers coming out about how, if Kishimoto wanted us to feel even more sorry for Nagato, he’d have someone kill his dog. It was a bad joke meant to mock poor attempts to make us sympathize with a character’s sad past. Unfortunately, Kishimoto played this completely straight.

And it was hilarious.

Moving on to the next bit of stupidity: Yahiko killing himself. This was dumb. Not just dumb in the context of this being poor writing, this was dumb in the context that I couldn’t help but wonder how Yahiko even functioned.

First of all, a guy holding your girl hostage says that he’ll trade her for your life. How can you even trust him considering that he earlier betrayed you by taking said girl hostage after having previously acted like he was willing to work with your group? I mean, I don’t know if you noticed, but the paranoid dictator with a kunai to your girl’s throat probably is not the most trustworthy guy. Hell, even his eyes look shifty.

Second of all, by killing yourself, you ensure that your friend has to live with a truckload of guilt. Which makes it perfectly logical for you to impale yourself on the kunai in his hand.

I mean, it’s not like Hanzo will then order your friend killed only for said friend to use his Rinnegan powers—you know, those powers that Konan at least seems to be somewhat aware of—to take out every enemy there not named Hanzo singlehandedly (suggesting that he could have done the same or better if he’d had you to back him up instead). And it’s not like he won’t go off the deep end and turn the Akatsuki into a terrorist organization capable of posing a threat to the entire world.

Oh wait, that did happen. Good job, dumbass. Once more, characters acted in an entirely illogical manner that made the audience wonder if they had IQs in the single digits.

 
Things that Sucked: Nagato’s Conversion

Issue 1: The Manner of the Conversion
Remember way back when Naruto completely lost patience with Zabuza over his perceived mistreatment of and seeming indifference toward Haku? Remember how we witnessed Naruto losing more and more of his composure as he told Zabuza just how much he had meant to Haku, and then wondering outright if Zabuza was so heartless, and whether this applied to all powerful ninja? Remember how the real kicker came right afterward as we saw up close just how much Zabuza was actually hurting at those words?
The reveal of Zabuza’s face works because there was enough actual buildup for the payoff to elicit genuine emotional impact. Later on, during Part II, Kishimoto tried and often failed to replicate this effect, such as when he devoted large panels to Naruto making dramatic statements.

The problem in those scenes is that they lack the same build-up that allows for the proper catharsis when we get to the huge close-up panel. There is no real juxtaposition, and the conflicts leading up to these moments just aren’t as pressing. How can you compare Naruto trying to comprehend Zabuza, and by extension the entire shinobi world’s seeming heartlessness with Naruto trying to push forward during a training arc? Sure, there is some background tension, but it feels distant in the context of the scene due to the need to switch settings. Naruto is not in the thick of things in either moment. It’s just not the same thing.

As for the nature of Zabuza’s conversion, the reason why it comes across as less hackneyed, than say, Nagato’s is that while both antagonists are set up with similar bloody backgrounds in order to emphasize how each tried to subsume his humanity in favor of ruthless ambition, Zabuza’s works because it is not a complete 180 of his characterization. We get little hints that Zabuza and Haku share a bond, and when Naruto appeals to him, he’s not convincing Zabuza that he should become a peace-loving hippie. Rather, Zabuza knew he’d already lost the battle on the bridge, and so whatever ambitions he had would either have to wait or were already impossible to achieve. Instead, Naruto appeals to his sense of humanity in regards to his bond with Haku. Zabuza isn’t saying “I’m not gonna try to take over Kirigakure anymore,” he’s saying “you’re right, I’m human, and despite everything I ever said to the contrary, I actually gave a damn about Haku.”

With Nagato, on the other hand, Kishimoto attempted to do the same thing to lesser returns. As mentioned above, he even brought up a horrifying backstory when it came to disturbing behavior on the part of the person he was trying to appeal to (slaughtering an entire class for Zabuza, playing ninja Keyser Soze for Nagato). Rather than appealing to Nagato’s humanity through his bonds though, Naruto instead appeals to his ideals. And that’s where it falls flat. Naruto failed to fight the battle of ideals as it should be fought, with rhetoric of the rational kind. Instead, he appealed to Nagato in a manner more befitting of Zabuza and Gaara’s situations, by appealing to their humanity. Sure, there was a battle of ideals for all three cases. But even then, Naruto appealed to Zabuza’s humanity by bringing up his bond with Haku, and in Gaara’s case, he not only frightened and awed his fellow jinchuriki, but also proved the value of Yashamaru’s words. In the case of Nagato, all he did was repeat Jiraiya’s words without adding any real substance to them, as he had in the other two cases. Naruto’s answer wasn’t a real answer. It was something a politician might say if confronted with a genuinely tough question. In fact, I would argue that Nagato could have easily repudiated Naruto by questioning whether he was sparing Nagato out of a desire to hold onto his sensei’s ideals or merely attempting to spite him by withholding his vengeance simply to go against what Nagato claimed. He even references a work of fiction by Jiraiya despite Nagato having previously criticized such beliefs in the past due to his experiences.

Horrifyingly enough, judging by Nagato’s recalling of the book and his final words, Naruto might have instead appealed to the Akatsuki leader’s fatalism. This in a story that at one point seemed to propose fighting one’s seemingly predetermined path in life.

So when Nagato did decide to believe in Naruto, with his line about faith being better than any plan, I shook my head, chuckled, and walked around from my computer screen knowing at this point that the manga was beyond all hope.

Issue 2: Pain’s “Heart of Blades” Turns Blunt
Going back to the first major arc of the story is also relevant in understanding yet another way the story missed a chance at exploring its own themes.

Pain’s heart of blades was a culmination of themes and conflicts first introduced in the Wave Arc. It was rather fitting that the so-called Chosen One who would either save or destroy the system was in a way the logical extreme of the shinobi ideal. With his Heart of Blades he had transcended humanity and became a “god” that would do anything for the sake of his mission. Said Chosen One would thus perpetuate the system by doing what has always been done on a much grander scale. Naruto’s rebuke could have been a way of overcoming this fate and making a choice away from it. Which leads into my next point.

Issue 3: A Missed Opportunity to Revisit the Conflict between Free Will and Fate
Going back to something I went over in a previous post, the whole Chosen One concept really hurt the story. However, when considering how Naruto had seemingly represented the triumph of the human spirit over a preset fate earlier in the story, I can’t help but feel that Kishimoto missed an easy opportunity to further that concept. By that, I mean that Nagato should have been the only chosen one.

Think about it this way: as the wielder of the Rinnegan, Nagato seemed to be the second coming of the father of all ninja. Naturally, one could see him as destined to either save the world or destroy it, with it seeming that he was going to walk down the latter path in his attempts at the former. However, if Kishimoto had used this as a chance to revisit Naruto’s battle against Neji, he would have written out a situation where fate’s embodiment would come into conflict with a young man who once more would represent the power of free will. Had Naruto been written in such a way, his victory over the closest thing the series had to a god in human form, the very embodiment of Heaven’s will, would have been all the more meaningful, as it would represent the ultimate victory of the individual over that of the status quo and fate.

Instead, we got an old frog talking up Naruto’s role as the destined child that Jiraiya had chosen, so I guess free will prevailed, except it was thanks to Jiraiya, because Naruto was just the choice that had to be plugged in for the prophecy to work. This wouldn’t be the only occasion where Kishimoto missed a chance to revisit ideas that had been brought up earlier in the story.

Issue 4: Deus Ex Machina, Literally
I really should have seen this last bit coming. I mean, there was Nagato, a self-proclaimed god who needed to get around with a weird looking machine. In addition, it had been made clear that the Rinnegan had some sort of power over life and death.

It does not excuse the fact that this was a clumsy way to end the arc. The arc up to this point had appeared to be an opportunity to really look at the human cost of war, to see Naruto’s generation try to cope with what those who came before them constantly had to. It was an opportunity to weaken Konoha enough that other villages and Danzo might try to take advantage of the situation. And Kishimoto simply swept it all away as if it had never happened.

Not only that, but it made the reveal that Hinata was still alive utterly pointless. Why not kill her off at that moment then? That way, there’s an added poignancy to Naruto’s reply to Nagato, as well as to Hinata’s sacrifice.

It was the crappy cherry on top of the shit sundae that was the fight against Pain, and what makes it worse is that as much as I hated it, I could understand the reasons for going in this direction, as will become clear later in this review.

 
Things That Bugged Me: Pain’s Characterization in General
I can’t help but feel like Kishimoto moved through multiple stages when conceiving Pain’s character. Aside from the Rinnegan seeming to come out of nowhere, Pain went from a diabolical mastermind with a somewhat snarky attitude to a humorless emo with a god complex (which in hindsight made his conversations with Hidan rather amusing). Rereading his interactions with the other members before his reveal suggests a character that is willing to either shrug off what others say or trade barbs with people who annoy him. The way he talks to Hidan is almost reminiscent of how Kishimoto would characterize Tobi, as if it was decided to split the Akatsuki leader into two different characters at some point (only for Tobi to himself become overly seriously after he was outed as the real Akatsuki string-puller).

Personally, I could have done without overwrought drama when it came to Pain. I’ve already covered why Tobi’s reveal wasn’t the greatest bit of writing, and how readers could have done without Pain being revealed as being the nominal leader of the Akatsuki. I honestly wish that Kishimoto had kept the sardonic attitude instead of replacing it with endless bitching and preaching on the subjects of pain and war, to say nothing of the fact that he was yet another in a long line of stoic villains who took themselves too seriously. His speech on Akatsuki’s “goal” was a great exercise in highlighting how knowledgeable and manipulative the “AL” was about international politics and economics. It certainly was more interesting than the peace through mutually assured destruction plan. Fuck it; it definitely was better than the whole reflecting a jutsu off the moon idea.

Another problem I have with Pain’s characterization has to do with his antagonistic relationship with Naruto. The core of the Naruto-Pain dynamic lay in their shared relationship with Jiraiya, and how their own particular conflict paralleled that of Itachi and Sasuke. The problem with this was, as is becoming a pattern with the series, the execution.

Itachi and Sasuke’s troubled relationship was foreshadowed since early on in the story, and the turbulence of this relationship is conveyed over a few hundred chapters, giving readers incentive to feel invested in their eventual showdown and its aftermath. Those last two events served as a turning point for Sasuke’s character, as they marked the moment when Sasuke went from a morally ambiguous antihero to an almost legitimate antagonist (who seems to fail almost every time he wants to do something really bad just to make Naruto’s job easier).

With Jiraiya’s death and the aftermath of the battle against Pain, Kishimoto tried to parallel the relationship between these Nagato and Naruto, as their meeting was an important turning point for the latter’s character and the direction the story took. Unfortunately, there was little emotional resonance here than that which characterized the bond between say, Naruto and Gaara, much less that of Itachi and Sasuke.

The relationship instead came off as highly compressed, and as a result, it just did not connect with readers as strongly as the bond between brothers did. In addition, prior to their confrontation, Nagato and Naruto had a very tenuous connection, as they knew little about one another aside from the most basic of information (Naruto didn’t even know that they had shared the same master until after they had started fighting).

This ties in to how the Rain orphans were shoehorned into the plot. Had Kishimoto done something like foreshadow the existence of Nagato by say, having Jiraiya make comments about how Minato was not the only student of his who Naruto reminds him of, and about how his dream of peace relates to someone he used to know, a greater connection could have been made between the two characters. Perhaps more flashbacks before Pain’s reveal would have actually made it all the more heartbreaking for readers.

When Jiraiya meets Pain and Konan in their modern iterations, it’s clear that he feels disappointment in what he sees. Unfortunately, there is little more than that because the audience has no idea at that point of just what sort of relationship these characters had with one another. If they had been foreshadowed sooner, the scene would have actually meant something to readers.

Had Kishimoto found ways to further link Pain to Naruto, their confrontation would have carried an even greater emotional weight, which may have in turn made Nagato’s conversion easier to swallow. But he did not, so we got what we got.

 
Things that Rocked: Naruto Finally Gets Recognition
Looking back on the whole thing, it seems almost as if this fight would have served as a decent finale of sorts for the story. Everything about it, from the fight itself to the heartwarming moment when Naruto saw just how far he’d come in the eyes of the village (complete with a hug from his crush) felt rather climactic in scale and overall tone, even if the latter was somewhat offset by signs that this still wasn’t the end of the story. However, what really made this feel like a climax within the series was how Naruto had gone from the village’s pariah to its greatest hero.

Early on, Naruto had made clear that while becoming Hokage was his apparent goal, the true meaning of that dream was not with the intent of attaining the position being an end in itself, but rather as a sign of his finally grasping the one thing he desired more than anything: the acknowledgment of everyone around him.

Naruto was always looking for acknowledgment regardless of the form it took. Early on, it was through playing the role of the clown. However, as the story went on, the blonde jester began to not only criticize the flaws of the shinobi system with his words, but also earned the respect of those around him with his actions. By this arc, his fellow Konoha ninja were willing to defend him at the cost of their own lives. The seeming culmination of this is when Naruto succeeds in winning over Nagato to his ideals—the resulting hero’s welcome he receives from the village is rewarding for both him and the audience.

As a result, I’m actually rather torn about the whole matter of Nagato reviving the people who died in his attack. Had people actually stayed dead, then others might not feel grateful so much as resentful of the kid that had brought Pain to Konoha. Had the villagers stayed dead, Naruto would have just been another powerful ninja who’d taken down an enemy rather than someone who had done the impossible: save everyone in the village.

 
Things that Sucked: Telling but Not Showing Enough
Of course, that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t have been better if readers had seen more of the changes in how the villagers saw Naruto in the actual story before this arc. While it was sweet to see Naruto’s hard work pay off, it would have been much more fulfilling to actually see the progression in the village’s attitude play out during the actual story instead of through Ebisu’s flashbacks. Given how central gaining the respect of the village was in Naruto’s characterization, this detail should have been given more attention instead of seemingly going nowhere after Naruto had befriended the other ninja of his generation (and a few other important figures) only to suddenly pop up again during this arc.

 
Conclusion
Despite the claims of some readers, this arc was not the last good arc (that honor belongs to the earliest parts of Part II, if not the very end of Part I). In fact, based on my most recent reading of it, Pain’s Assault is actually terrible in many respects. It merely seemed to be a decent arc in hindsight due to how bad the story got afterward, just like getting stabbed with a knife feels better than being sawed in half with a chainsaw. This arc mostly sucked, plain and simple. And I won’t kid you, things only continued to get worse from here.

Things that Rocked, Things that Sucked: The Year of Sasuke

With another victory under their belts, it appeared that Konoha was making some leeway in the battle against the Akatsuki. Naruto had finally become powerful enough to rediscover some of the confidence he had lost in the earlier disaster of an attempt to bring back his former team mate. Meanwhile, in another part of the world, Sasuke’s amazing growth continued to show results, pleasing Orochimaru greatly, as his current vessel was reaching its limits.

Thus began a series of arcs that would comprise a period known to some fans as the “Year of Sasuke,” during which the errant member of Team 7 finally received focus after so much time out of the spotlight, even if his presence could be keenly felt in terms of the effects his absence had on other characters. At last readers could see just what had happened to Sasuke after he’d left Konoha.

Unfortunately, the resulting storylines were often lacking in quality, and polarizing in their reception, to say the least. The arcs that comprised this post’s focus were so bad that not only did a lot of readers find themselves quitting or on the verge of quitting the manga, but they also served to foreshadow the depths to which the series would later plunge.

 
PART I. THE ITACHI PURSUIT MISSION

Things that Sucked: Sasuke Finally Gets Panel Time, Proceeds to Wear Out His Welcome
A major issue I have with these arcs is the focus on Sasuke. Now, I don’t mean that Sasuke sucks and that he should not have gotten a chance in the limelight. Far from it. What I do take issue with is actually the amount of time devoted to him. A deuteragonist like Sasuke does need his own subplot. He’d been MIA since the Penis Arc, and was thus in need of panel time devoted to his story. Normally, when this is done right, the supporting lead is given just enough panel time that their story is properly explored while at the same time ensuring that the plot does not lose focus of what is important—the actual lead of the story. Unfortunately, Kishimoto wound up giving Sasuke too much time in the spotlight, and this only served to not only alienate many readers, but also revealed exactly why Sasuke is not the main character.

Sasuke lacks the strength as a character to support the story on his own. With Naruto, we get a hint of darkness, but we’re also shown that he’s growing as an individual; all the while trying to find his way in the world he’s grown up in (at least it was until he went all Messiah on us). He was (emphasis on “was”) a dynamic, three-dimensional character that we were actually interested in following (it also helped that he had a supporting cast that could help shoulder the burden of maintaining the audience’s interest). Sasuke, on the other hand, revolves around one theme—vengeance. Furthermore, as a brooding loner, he’s not the most charismatic of leads. In addition to that, his depth and dynamism as a character are comparatively lacking when given enough panel time. And it’s not his fault, it’s Kishimoto’s for failing to recognize this.

Prior to the Year of Sasuke, I actually enjoyed reading chapters with Sasuke in them. While he wasn’t on my list of favorite characters, I always appreciated how his storyline compared and contrasted with Naruto’s as their paths intertwined and branched off. I also liked his style of fighting, and how it utilized finesse and his entire body. Watching him in action was actually a great contrast to the archetypically shone mannerisms of Naruto. In a way, it’s a lot like how people view Wolverine. In small doses, he’s awesome. But once he starts dominating the plot for extended periods of time, he gets old fast. Such is the problem with Sasuke taking the lead for such a long time. Too much of anything just has a way of ruining that thing for people, and Sasuke is no exception.

So when we finally seemed to be getting back to Naruto, only to shift to Sasuke again during the Kage Summit, it became difficult to read those chapters without feeling a little irked.

 
Things that Sucked: Naruto’s Stagnation
After finally getting to see some growth on Naruto’s part, Kishimoto decided to follow up on this by doing what was obvious, having him engage in yet another wild goose chase for Sasuke while doing absolutely nothing of consequence except get humiliated by Tobi. This arc could have meant something for Naruto if say, the book Kabuto had left the group had been relevant somehow to the story, but like a good many other things, this little detail went nowhere, so not only was Naruto’s presence completely pointless, but as should soon become clear enough, he began to play second fiddle in his own series.

 
Things that Sucked: Ass Pulls Galore
When writing, one should take care to avoid pulling new elements out of nowhere. Such “ass pulls” are jarring when they occur, and in contrast to organic storytelling, are a sure sign of an author writing by the seat of their pants.

The first ass pull that comes to mind is the revelation that Tobi is the Akatsuki mastermind. Normally, I don’t mind a twist about there being a man behind the man. Done right, it can come off as a rather brilliant surprise. The problem with Tobi’s reveal, however, is that it was poorly foreshadowed. Yes, we had Kurama make a statement about Madara. Yes, we never saw Tobi do much other than run away and make claims about how skilled he supposedly was. Yes, we saw him get right back up unharmed after apparently being cut through by Sasuke. The thing is, aside from that first part with Madara, the rest of the foreshadowing was half-assed. There was little to suggest that there was far more to Tobi than what we’d seen before. Suddenly revealing that he has the ability to turn intangible about ten chapters before the reveal is not good foreshadowing. Good foreshadowing involves little hints sprinkled here and there, be they obvious or subtle, but they have to be there. Bad foreshadowing is when a character hints at something just a few chapters before the twist. There was no hint up to then that the Akatsuki’s leadership was only a front, and that Tobi was somehow connected to it. No hint whatsoever that despite his goofball behavior, Tobi was somehow connected to something grander in the background.

But a lack of proper foreshadowing isn’t enough to kill this sort of twist. Even Bleach (of all things) had an effective example that was originally unplanned by the author, as Kubo managed to pull it off for the most part by linking previous events in a way that actually made some sense (albeit a loose sort of sense). Unfortunately, Kishimoto was unable to do the same, especially when you consider Tobi’s behavior in his very first appearance! Despite the presence of Zetsu, who was in on everything, Tobi still put on his persona for some inexplicable reason. Had this klutziness been a part of Obito’s personality as an adult once he was revealed, then maybe the twist could have worked. Given all these issues, the twist just comes out of nowhere, and the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. A good twist is one that seems to come out of nowhere, but in hindsight makes perfect sense.

This mess of an arc also includes what is now known by the infamous moniker of the Great Snake Escape. Enough has been said about this that I’d just be going over tread ground, but let’s all admit this—it was definitely one of the manga’s low points. Heck, if Kishimoto had wanted, he could have just had Tobi be the one to save Sasuke. Make it so that Tobi used his teleportation/intangibility to save Sasuke, thereby better foreshadowing his reveal, all the while avoiding the stupidity of this particular moment. This was just a ridiculous bit of writing.

 
Things that Sucked: The Sharingan Gets Even More Ridiculously Overpowered
A common complaint as the story went on was just how poorly the Sharingan was handled. Initially written as a dojutsu that enabled users to see through and even replicate jutsu, it became something that allowed for great feats of genjutsu, with further upgrades including the Mangekyo Sharingan (which at least came with a heavy price to pay) and later on, the Rinnegan (boy am I going to have a field day once we get to those parts of the story). This arc brought about one particularly annoying addition to the Sharingan’s rapidly expanding oeuvre, namely the ability to somehow make the Byakugan even less relevant by allowing Sasuke to notice Deidara’s chakra at the cellular level. It was as if Kishimoto had suddenly stopped trying to have everything make sense, and instead had to make something up on the fly to justify Sasuke surviving a seemingly unwinnable situation (which would happen once more with the Great Snake Escape). What makes it even worse is that this ability never comes up again.

 
Things that Sucked: Deidara’s Character is Sacrificed to the Altar of the Plot
Another victim of questionable writing was Deidara. It is revealed out of nowhere that he has a grudge against Itachi and by extension all Sharingan wielders despite the fact that, you know, this hadn’t been foreshadowed in the slightest. Seriously, where did this even come from? Not once in his character interactions with Itachi or Kakashi had this been suggested in the slightest.

As a result of this grudge against the most overplayed dojutsu in the manga, he decides to take on Sasuke and, when it becomes clear that he is overmatched, go suicide bomber on him. Then we got the Great Snake Escape.

None of this made any sense. It was almost as if Kishimoto realized that the guy had nothing to do with his upcoming Uchiha plot and decided, “I’ll just kill him off. But how? Oh, I know, I’ll reveal out of the blue that he has a hate-on for anything Sharingan. That should do it.”

 
PART II: THE TALE OF JIRAIYA THE GALLANT

Things that Sucked: Konan
So let’s talk about yet another female character that Kishimoto dropped the ball with, Konan, the Akatsuki’s sole female member.

This arc was where she got to make her first impression upon readers. Prior introductions by major villains usually had them doing something impressive that clarified just how dangerous they were to the good guys while establishing their characters. In Konan’s case, we didn’t really get much out of her other than serving as Pain’s oldest friend and right hand woman, and when she did get a chance to show what she was capable of beyond recon work, Jiraiya made short work of her. Not exactly the strongest of first impressions, with later events failing to really pick up the slack. As a result, she managed to come off as quite possibly the least impressive member of the Akatsuki.

Trust me then when I say that this isn’t the end of my issues with how Konan was handled.

 
Things that Sucked: Defining Our Hero and the Matter of Lineage

Issue 1. The Pitfalls and Potential of the Hero’s Journey
With Sasuke at the center of things, Naruto suddenly seemed like an afterthought. No longer did he appear to be the main character, as everything relevant to the main plot began to revolve around Sasuke and the Uchiha. Instead, it felt like Naruto had become a supporting player in Sasuke’s story, rather than the other way around.

To rectify this, Kishimoto reached into his magical bag of old tropes and revealed a prophecy that detailed Naruto as its Chosen One. In doing so, he failed to do anything with a trope so overdone that rather than being curious to see how things turned out, readers were rolling their eyes at the crap they were reading.

It also didn’t help that prior to his battle against Pain, Naruto had been given only one real fight during Part II (as he was mostly chasing Deidara alongside Kakashi; while he was not actually conscious during the skirmish with Orochimaru; and against Kakuzu, he had backup and didn’t really do much except for pull off one hit to neutralize the threat). Needless to say, Naruto just didn’t feel all the prominent within the story regardless of what Kishimoto tried to claim.

In a way, the whole thing kind of says a lot about the pitfalls and potential of the Hero’s Journey. Take the earliest of known epic heroes, Gilgamesh. He starts off never being anything less than the Man from the very moment of his birth, being not only two-thirds god, but also being every bit as awe inspiring in his abilities as such a lineage would imply. Despite this however, he manages to have a character arc that reveals the costs and shortcomings of what makes him special. As a result of being the Man and king of his people, Gilgamesh winds up more than a little arrogant and prone to causing harm to his own subjects (because let’s face it, forcibly sleeping with the new wives of your kingdom isn’t the nicest of acts). Furthermore, it is only later on, when he has lost his friend Enkidu that Gilgamesh realizes that as great as he is, even he is going to die one day. And when he sets out on his quest to achieve immortality, what happens?

He fails. Big time.

While Gilgamesh does learn some important lessons from his experiences that resonate with modern audiences today, it is also telling that the epic serves to illustrate that in the end, even the greatest among human beings and heroes can only come to terms with what is for humanity as a whole an unwinnable battle. It is through his exaggerated, larger than life nature that Gilgamesh, like a caricature, serves to embody the vices and virtues of humanity. Rather than feeling like something unfamiliar and beyond our understanding, audiences could and still can appreciate and comprehend Gilgamesh, whose story thus sets an example for those who come across it.

There’s a reason why the most memorable of epic heroes have a tendency to experience tragic ends. As great as they are, it is through their greatness that they become familiar to even the most common of us, and when they fail, they become all the more recognizable. Epic heroes are us magnified, full of potential, but also victims to the limits that define us.

Now compare this to more modern tales that follow so-called losers and everymen who turn out to be special. Unlike many of the epic heroes of the past, these modern heroes tend toward not displaying any particular talents or signs of great lineage until the point it becomes relevant to the story. Such characters are attempts to ground a traditional hero in a more modest and thus “realistic” background. As a result, I would argue that they are in some ways, interestingly enough, less relatable to the average person, who likely possesses neither a great lineage nor a great destiny, than the traditional hero.

In the end, it all comes down to the premise of the thing. The traditional hero comes with great expectations, and we are thus more willing to accept that such a character will have a lineage of distinction and a fate befitting such a person. The more modern attempts at such try to do the same while playing at making their heroes merely humble beings that strive for greatness despite their unimpressive background, only to cower at such a prospect and the proceed to apply the old traditions to the new in manners often most unfitting.

That is why Naruto being some Chosen One turned out to be such a failure from its very conception. One such example of this comes when during Naruto’s battle with Neji during the chunin exams. Neji believed that people are born into their fates, which they are thus helpless to alter. By defeating Neji using a technique that he was originally unskilled at using, Naruto was able to subvert this concept. The loser kid with no talent managed to prove himself more than a loser, and that he did have some talent (in order to completely master a jutsu whose fundamentals were originally beyond him), or at the very least some very impressive drive. All was well and good until the prophecy came along. Once that particular development came about, along with the reveal of just who Naruto’s parents were (although many fans saw that one coming), it appears that Neji may have had a point after all.

Neji believed that, as a genius who was a member of the Hyuga clan, Konoha’s strongest clan by virtue of the Uchiha and Senju becoming nonentities, he had every advantage over the kid without fate on his side. However, Naruto turned out to be descended not only from the Sage himself through his mother, but also was fathered by none other than one of the greatest geniuses to have ever come out of Konoha. Later on, readers would also learn that Naruto was also part of a much larger chain of destiny stemming from the conflict between the Sage’s two sons. In short, his lineage had shaped his destiny from the very beginning. Even his cherished values of hard work and bonds were merely a continuation of a preexisting theme within previous incarnations. In other words, Neji never stood a chance.

To make a long story short, in a story where a child of seeming irrelevance grew into a great hero through hard work and his bonds with others, it soon became clear that the initial premise was but an illusion, and that the author was more interested in a traditional heroic narrative, a choice that would not have been an issue had that simply been clear from the start. Either Kishimoto did not think this out when he outlined the story, or he was simply making things up as he went along because he did not know where he was going. Given a certain detail near the beginning of the manga, it might be the latter. In an early chapter cover Naruto is shown in front of a banner that reads (according to the Viz volumes in my possession): “Don’t lose to DNA!” Perhaps that banner should have read “You lose to my DNA!”

Issue 2. The Growing Prominence of Lineage as an Indicator of Relevance
Speaking of DNA, as the story went on; it became more and more clear that the most important sign of a character’s relevance was their lineage. The Uchiha are the most prominent example of this, as is Naruto by extension by virtue of his being an Uzumaki, with the two Senju brothers also playing important roles later on. This explains how Sasuke and Naruto were able to surpass their masters (Orochimaru and Jiraiya) at such a young age, and in turn suggests that Sakura, with her relative lack of genetic gold, may never truly be able to step out of Tsunade’s shadow as her teammates did their own masters (depressing, isn’t it?).

Going back to Neji’s spiel from earlier in the story, one can see then that he may have had a point when making the suggestion that where a person came from would define where they were going to go. Naruto and Sasuke were meant to be special from the moments they were born, and by the end of the series, the only way to keep up with the final threats was to possess abilities stemming from the Sage’s bloodline.

The issue would not be too much of a problem is one of the points of the story was to offer ambiguity as to whether people could create their own destinies or were resigned to living out their intended fates. However, in a story that fails to suggest such a thing, it serves to weaken the overall narrative. As a result, Naruto became less a story about hard work and determination allowing a person to achieve their dreams than it did a story about how certain people are destined to be better than everyone else.

Issue 3. The Introduction of the Rinnegan and the Sage of Six Paths
Among the more questionable developments in Part II was the revelation of the third great dojutsu and the founder of the shinobi world. In theory, this works, as a parallel to En no Gyoja, a famous sage who founded the Shugendo religious sect, which combined elements of animism, Buddhism, Taoism, and even Shinto, elements that provided a basis for various concepts in the manga.

Anyway, the fact that there would be a legendary figure who acted as the origin of ninjutsu normally wouldn’t be a problem, and aside from the whole matter of a certain prophecy, it wasn’t. What was happened to be the execution.

Let’s start with something that must first be brought up: the way the Sage was introduced. Over 300 chapters in, Jiraiya suddenly has a flashback where the Rinnegan is introduced as the greatest dojutsu. After so many chapters of seeing Pain’s silhouette and not having anyone remark on this among the Akatsuki, Jiraiya waxes poetic about these eyes and the man who made them famous.

I suppose that Kishimoto wanted to counter the hype that the Sharingan and its variants were getting (at least until it turned out that the Rinnegan was merely the final stage of the Sharingan’s possible progressions), and decided to introduce a new dojutsu, but then proceeded to handle it rather clumsily. What makes this particularly egregious is that it comes after Pain is revealed to be Tobi’s underling. In other words, Kishimoto managed to take some of the air out of the Rinnegan right before he even started to hype it up.

It would have been nice if readers had been given hints as to the significance of the eyes and the Sage beforehand. Maybe sprinkle in some background images featuring imagery of either of these things to suggest their importance, all the while building up the mystery that was the Akatsuki leader.

Issue 4. From the Ordinary to the Extraordinary
This all leads into the final problem I have with this development, it changed the focus of the plot. Before the Sage and all that business relating to him became the plot, Naruto was as down to earth a story set in a fantasy world of highly visible ninja could be.

While things were always somewhat over the top in Naruto, the story was kept grounded by the fact that characters had human motivations and, with the exception of Orochimaru, realistic aims. The Sand attacks Konoha in Part I not with the aim of ultimate power, but simply because to not do so would run the risk of continuing the village on its then current path to financial ruin. The various shinobi leaders were concerned with keeping the peace, even at the highest costs, as is evident in the Hyuga affair. Gato wanted to financially and politically dominate the Land of Waves. Zabuza wanted enough resources to launch a second coup attempt. Sasuke wanted revenge on his brother. Naruto wanted to be acknowledged. These were goals that could easily be identified with our reality.

With the introduction of the Rinnegan and Juubi, the story started focusing on villains whose goals included mass hypnosis and godlike power. Meanwhile, Naruto wanted to bring about world peace and with that, every single good guy suddenly turned into a hippie and every villain a strawman.* The realistic and often opposing aims of various groups apparently vanished into thin air just so that Kishimoto could make Naruto’s ideal go smoothly as possible. Goals that reflected reality fell to the wayside as the story. A fantasy with roots in reality became nothing more than a standard cartoonish farce that often came off as silly utopian propaganda.

Stories which have fantastical elements, be they pure fantasy or science fiction, can often use the devices present in their make believe worlds to reflect ideas that impact their audience in real life. Naruto’s story became schizophrenic – one moment it was a fantasy rooted in reality, the next it was a pure fantasy with purely fantastical conflicts.

Looking back on what I’ve written here, I think it’s safe to say that the prophecy and everything to do with the Sage made quite a mess of things.

 
Things that Sucked: Pulling Backstories Out of His Behind, Kishimoto Is
This brings up another issue, and I can’t believe I forgot about it until now, and that is the introduction of Nagato into the story. It comes straight out of nowhere. We knew that Jiraiya had previously trained a genin team that included Minato, and prior to the Rain Trio being revealed, I remember people wondering if the other two members of Jiraiya’s team grew up to be the nominal heads of Akatsuki. Instead, it turns out that he trained some foreign kids for a couple of years.

Wait, what?

I guess one way to make it feel less awkward would have been to foreshadow the Rain Trio before they appeared so that readers could put two and two together regarding “Blue” and the “AL.” Maybe make it so that Jiraiya carries around a keepsake of his time with them, or have little hints that his genin team wasn’t the only trio he trained. Or maybe have Tsunade bring up the kids when the matter of Amegakure was brought up shortly before Jiraiya left. I don’t know, something other revealing out of nowhere that Jiraiya had trained a trio of orphans from a foreign land.

 
Things that Bugged Me: Where Exactly Did the Fight Take Place?
Something that bugged me a lot in hindsight was the matter of the exact locations of where the battle between Jiraiya and Pain took place. It starts inside Pain’s tower, then moves outside a bit as the summons come into play, then moves into a building (the tower?), before moving toward a body of water closely connected to the ocean (enough that Jiraiya’s body was lost, despite the country being landlocked at that). Weren’t there witnesses? Didn’t anyone want to get a good look at what was going on and if Pain was involved (it never ceases to amuse me that the ninja in this series are for the most part as subtle as a standard car alarm)?

 
Things that Rocked: The World Building that Didn’t Blow
You might figure that after all the negativity I’ve expressed in regards to Kishimoto’s attempts at world building that I might have outright hated every element of it. Well, for the sake of lightening the mood a bit, you are, thankfully in this case, wrong.

I actually appreciated the expansion upon elements of the ninja world hinted at by Pain’s earlier speech to the Akatsuki. It was one thing to hear about how smaller nations were impacted by the machinations of larger countries, but to actually see an example in the form of Amegakure’s host state, as well as the famous figures who existed outside the five great nations, was a tasty enough treat to somewhat offset the terrible flavor of the more clumsy attempts at expanding the world.

I also admit to rather liking Amegakure’s design. It made me think of Blade Runner as imagined in a somewhat feudal Japanese setting. It was basically the final stage of a video game before things went cosmic (which, as it turns out, wasn’t too far off the mark). The village was exotic yet familiar, and, with the help of the local weather, actually rather gloomy and atmospheric. It’s kind of a shame then that we didn’t really see much of the city after this arc.

 
PART III. THE FATED BATTLE BETWEEN BROTHERS

Things that Might Have Rocked or Maybe I’m Just Kidding Myself: The Battle
In hindsight, the way that the Uchiha fight was written begins to make some sense. Despite being hyped up and filled to the brim with emotions both subtle and ebullient, it came off as anticlimactic, and unsatisfying.

Itachi didn’t fight to his full potential for various reasons, while fight itself was overlong and filled with odd twists and turns, leading to a result that failed to match the hype both fans and the story had given it.

And that’s the brilliance of the fight: it denies both Sasuke and the reader the catharsis that it otherwise would provide. There’s only the emptiness that Kakashi spoke of all those chapters ago, and a realization that in the end, allowing revenge to consume you only leads to a self-destructive habit that’s hard to kick because said habit defines your entire existence.

In addition, this lack of catharsis served to hint at the fact that this was not to be the climax of Sasuke’s subplot. If it had matched the hype, Kishimoto would have been hard pressed to maintain the readers’ interest in Sasuke’s story.
Of course, I could be giving Kishimoto too much credit.

 
Things that Sucked: Certain Lesser Details
Of course, regardless of one’s own opinion of the fated clash between brothers, one can see a few minor issues that detracted from it.

The first was its timing. Make no mistake; the battle between the brothers was possibly the most anticipated fight in the entire story up to that point. However, what weakened its actual impact was the timing of it, namely the fact that for whatever reason, Kishimoto saw fit to feature it right after readers had just gotten bits of a clash between Jiraiya and Pain, two of the heavier hitters in the series. Given the recent dissolution of tension following the end of that battle, it was rather questionable for another fight, even one as anticipated as that between the brothers Uchiha, to start immediately afterward instead of being delayed a bit for the sake of not having to impress a recently exhausted audience.

The second issue has to do with the inclusion of Kirin. The technique was hinted at way back during the Penis Arc when Sasuke seemed prepared to use it against his former team mates. However, it is shown here that as powerful as the jutsu is, it requires quite a bit of preparation before it becomes practical in an actual battle. Somehow, Sasuke expected to call down lightning without any visible attempts at that. Another issue is the fact that after this arc, Kirin becomes completely irrelevant. Despite its power, it never shows up again in spite of Sasuke fighting more and more dangerous opponents. It was almost as if it was a cool looking jutsu that was intended for a single use simply so that the merchandise based around the manga, like say, the video games, could include it among Sasuke’s arsenal as a selling point. Hey, money’s money.

 
Things that Sucked: The Twist Makes Questionable Sense
Despite claims that the twist was planned all along, much of it doesn’t quite work upon closer inspection.

First of all, while the nature of the Uchiha’s genetics is given an explanation of sorts later (and boy howdy, what an explanation that turned out to be), Itachi’s treatment of Sasuke makes little sense. Instead of making sure that his brother might be able to move forward with his life, Itachi traumatizes Sasuke repeatedly and sets him on a path that would most likely result in a troubled wreck of a person. Somehow the prodigy who is repeatedly praised for his good sense couldn’t recognize this.

Then, there’s the lack of any real hints at this. While some might claim that Itachi’s actions hinted at something more, as the above paragraph shows, his behavior makes such claims highly questionable. Furthermore, it would have been wiser then for Kishimoto to sprinkle other hints here and there that there was something more going on. Considering Danzo’s role in the plot, surely that could have come into play somehow.

Also, one wonders just where the Uchiha were during the attack on Konoha 16 years ago. And don’t tell me to read the guides or books or whatever media that aren’t the original manga. If the detail is prominent and relevant enough in the original story, it deserves to be explained in the original story.

 
Things that Sucked: The Uchiha Mess
This is when the cracks really started to show in the plot, and overlaps quite a bit with my earlier comments about the growing prominence of lineage as an indicator of prominence. The Uchiha were always going to play a role in the story, but up to a certain point, the Uchiha were relegated to their own subplot revolving around Sasuke. And that was fine. Itachi was a member of Akatsuki, which was itself enough to tie Sasuke’s story to the main plot. However, Kishimoto went overboard and made it such that everything in the plot revolved around the Uchiha, the suddenly introduced Senju, and their famous ancestor.

As mentioned above, Sasuke became the center of the plot. He was the core of Naruto’s motivation. He was the target of Tobi’s scheming. The story had shifted so that everything seemed to revolve around him.

To make matters worse, the Sharingan became highly overexposed, with ocular power after ocular power being added on, and, as mentioned earlier, this culminated in the reveal that under the right circumstances, you could level up a Sharingan into the Rinnegan.

 
Things that Sucked: Everything Orochimaru
Poor, poor Orochimaru. The main antagonist of Part I was reduced to a joke during this arc. While his initial defeat to Sasuke was anticlimactic, at least there was room for him to return in some form. Then, when he did appear in grand fashion during the Uchiha fight, he pulled out a cool new jutsu, prepared the Kusanagi…

…and got sealed by Itachi within that very chapter. You can’t make this shit up. This is the sort of thing you might see in badly written fanfic:

“Then the bad guy who was a major villain up to this point got up to fight but then he, like, totally got pwned by the other, more handsome and talented guy before he could do anything.”

You see that shit? What the fuck was Kishimoto smoking? Is the intended audience made up of such a bunch of shallow pussies that they can’t appreciate an evil, none bishonen villain? I’ve never been a fan of Orochimaru, but I could see why readers thought him a fine villain. At the very least, he was a better one than many of the lame attempts at creating a cool antagonist that would come afterward.

 
Things that Sucked: Taka
Taka is one of the odder additions into the manga. A sort of morally bankrupt version of Team 7, the group had potential for some interesting interplay with Sasuke. At the same time, it was clear that Kishimoto had little interest in Taka. We got introduced to them, they showed off a couple of their skills, and then Sasuke went to fight Itachi.

The fight against B brought about some much needed fleshing out of the characters, and actually expanded on their relationship with Sasuke, even if it wasn’t exactly clear just why Suigetsu felt close enough to the others that he was willing to risk his life to defend them from a rampaging jinchuriki. I guess a sadist with a reputation for carving people up from a messed up village might be the sort to interpret arguments and beatings as forms of affection.

When Sasuke eventually abandoned the other members, it all fell flat on an emotional level. Readers never really got to see much in the way of scenes depicting a growing sense of camaraderie among the members of Taka, so his betrayal of them lacked the emotional impact that it did.

 
Things that Sucked: Supporting Characters Still Didn’t Get to Do Much
Remember what I said about the inclusion of Team Guy back during the Kazekage Rescue Mission Arc being pointless fanservice? Well that continued here with the treatment of Team 8, who all appeared for the sole purpose of ensuring that their fans would buy these particular volumes. While they were given some hints of growth (Hinata could see further, Kiba could smell better than a dog, and Shino could prepare even larger scale attacks with his bugs), in the end, it didn’t really amount to much. Where the growth of the main characters in Team 7 proved relevant to the plot, the so-called growth of these characters didn’t really do anything other than waste panels. It was a shame too, given that one of the major strengths of the series prior to Part II was the interesting supporting cast.

 
Things that Were Cathartic: Killer B Smacks Taka Around, Proceeds to Humiliate Them
Now this technically is part of the next arc, but since it occurred before Pain’s invasion really got underway, I like to think of it as being the tail end of the Year of Sasuke.

After waiting through seemingly endless chapters of the lugubrious Sasuke stealing the spotlight, it was more than a little cathartic to see Killer B, a jovial and upbeat fellow, humiliate Taka repeatedly. Nab the Kubikiribōchō? Check. Off-panel Juugo? Check. Smack around Sasuke? Check. Overcome the otherwise broken genjutsu of a Sharingan user? Check. Tear Sasuke a new asshole? Double check! And when seemingly beaten, set up a decoy body that makes a mockery of Taka and Akatsuki both? It was a moment so beautiful that even Zetsu couldn’t help himself.

The only negative was that in order to help Sasuke retain some dignity, Kishimoto had B call the at that point irritatingly overexposed character the strongest opponent he’d ever fought, and reveal that Sasuke hadn’t been fighting at 100 percent due to his wounds.

Fans…Fuck ‘em.

 
Conclusion
The Year of Sasuke was further evidence for many longtime readers that the relative mediocrity of much of Part II (to say nothing of the much reviled Penis Arc) was not a mere fluke, but in fact an overall trend indicating that all was not well with the manga.

Some attribute this decline to the change in editors partway through the manga, but upon closer inspection, one can see, based on Kishimoto’s comments about editorial mandates (regarding the rushing of the previous arc) and the fact that Kosuke Yahagi was present as Kishimoto’s editor during periods in which the series was clearly no longer reaching the heights it once did, it is likely that blame can be laid at the feet of the author, the very editor who had earlier overseen Naruto’s golden age, and maybe even Shueisha or whoever was piling pressure on the story’s progression.

A major issue that became more noticeable after this arc was the Uchiha clan’s commandeering of the plot. Up to this point, the clan’s drama, while a major part of the story, was not its defining element, being but one piece of the larger puzzle. However, Naruto’s seeming irrelevance and the clumsy manner in which this issue was ‘rectified’ combined with more revelations about the Uchiha’s importance to transform the story from one about the complexities of the ninja world as a whole into one centered mostly around an ancient family drama.

If earlier arcs were a portent of things to come, this one was the sounding of the manga’s death knell. Readers just didn’t know it at the time, believing that as bad as things were, surely they couldn’t get much worse.

They were wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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