Things That Sucked in ‘Naruto’: World Building

When J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, he was engaging in a process that involved not only the creation of characters and nations, but also entire cultures and histories, the most famous collection of which was published as The Silmarillion. Even now, as fantasy franchise after fantasy franchise opts to do the same, Tolkien’s work remains the gold standard in this regard due to its thoroughness and the author’s keen understanding of cultural myths.

Masashi Kishimoto also attempted to build an entire fictional world with its own histories and cultures. Unfortunately, he came up short rather often in this regard.

For the first few hundred chapters of the manga, Kishimoto was content to limit the reader’s exposure of the Naruto world to the Land of Fire, the Land of the Waves, and the Land of Wind. In the case of the latter country’s ninja village, we had little moments to build up a separate culture from the Leaf through its architecture, its fashions, its rituals (remember when we saw Gaara’s dad sitting behind a screen giving orders like some old school feudal lord?), and the motivations of characters from the village. However, as the story went on, Kishimoto focused less and less on what made that particular village unique (perhaps a side effect from its improving relations with Konoha?) to the point where Sunagakure was basically Konoha in the desert.

As for the other major villages, despite claims to highly divergent cultures made early on in the manga, there was little to differentiate the villages. It was made even worse by the fact that, aside from some minor details (the importance of power in Kumogakure, the bloodiness of Yagura’s regime, and the Will of Stone), little exposure was given to any characteristics that would make them distinct cultures. I suppose that works if you want to show that deep down, all people are the same, but it fails when you try to build a living, breathing fictional world.

In fact, aside from a bit of meager characterization, there isn’t much to say about the good guys from the other hidden villages. Ōnoki is full of regret at abandoning his youthful idealism and is a grouchy old fart. Okay, not too bad. Shame there’s no other fleshed out character from his village. Mei…wants to get married. Ao…is nostalgic for the ninja of his youth. Chojuro…is shy and likes older women. There’s so little to work with, and as a result, Kishimoto’s attempts to humanize each of these villages fall flat compared to what they could have been had he taken the time to go into detail about each of them.

The world of Naruto feels awfully small, and not just because whatever maps we’ve been given are clearly showing only a portion of the entire planet.

Contrast this with One Piece. One criticism that is often voiced in regards to the manga is that the plot is repetitive. What happens is that the Straw Hat Pirates will reach their newest destination, and there, engage in a series of misadventures that are relevant to at the moment current arc, with some of the events taking place having bearing on later plot developments.

While there certainly is a case to be made for criticizing this mode of storytelling, there are also clear benefits to it. What these story arcs do is build up Oda’s world. Because they are mostly self-contained, they serve to create the impression that each individual location has its own story, its own way of life going on. This adds a sense of verisimilitude to what is otherwise a rather surreal world.

At the same time, because each of these arcs take place at particular locations, they serve to justify the sense that the main characters’ actions will influence their world in the near future (as they already have, and still will, judging by the amount of foreshadowing that has gone on).

Geography also plays a part in why the scale of the story never quite feels right later on. Earlier in the series, it took time for characters to get from place to place, especially given that even with the advantages of being a ninja, they still were trying to traverse large distances by foot. Early on in Part II, we even get a travel montage as the modified Team Seven is preparing to meet with Sasori’s mole in Orochimaru’s organization. By the time of the final war arc however, characters were getting from place to place fairly quickly in spite of the fact that the war was being fought on multiple fronts some distance away from each other. It’s similar to an issue with the later seasons of Game of Thrones, as a story that used to emphasize distance and how such isolation hampers communications came to abandon an element that gave its setting a sense of scale and verisimilitude.

Another issue with the world building in Part II is that everything comes back to the Uchiha and Naruto’s pursuit of Sasuke. How can you feel like you’re living in a huge world with independent characters if everything comes back to a particular group of people descended from the creators of the ninja world?

Part of the criticism of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia (in contrast to Middle Earth) is that it never feels as huge and lived in as everything important is centered around a particular group of characters in each book. In Tolkien’s work, the world felt huge. Journeys were long and the battles the reader got to witness were but a fraction of the full war against Sauron, whose campaign was but the latest iteration of conflicts going all the way back to the creation of the world. That is what separates an epic from a standard pulp melodrama, and unfortunately, Kishimoto, in attempting to craft an epic (if pulpy and melodramatic) tale, scaled back too far and thus lost readers who appreciated the sheer scale of the story during the Chunin Exams Arc.

To make a long story short, while Kishimoto has tried to build his fictional world by offering histories and revealing some characters, his sparse characterization of the villages and their denizens only serves to hinder his attempts to realistically create a living breathing world on the cusp of revolution. On top of that, he lost track of the setting’s scale and focus, shrinking a globe that he should have been working to inflate for the readers. If you seek to find a strong example of cohesive world building, it is best you seek it in other stories.


TTR/TTS: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Because fuck it, I may as well get this off my mind, and what better way than writing it out so I don’t have to think about a movie that came out several months ago anymore.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi managed to divide fans of the franchise in ways unseen since the prequels. However, was it really anything worth getting so pissy about? The first time I saw it, my impression of the movie was that it was unevenly made, with much to dislike and some things to think were fine at the very least. However, a second viewing caused me to rethink my opinion a bit, so I figure I may as well lay those thoughts out here. Note that I tried to avoid going into too much detail, because that would have lengthened the review even more, so I focused on areas of which I felt most strongly regarding the movie. As is my habit, there will be spoilers.

Things that Rocked: Luke’s Last Hurrah
Regardless of my ambivalence about Luke’s treatment as a whole, if one thing was done well in regards to his character, it was how he went out, as it was true to the ethos of the Jedi and to what he has always represented within the context of the saga.

Based on what Yoda emphasized in the original trilogy, the Jedi were supposed to the Force not to attack, but for knowledge and defense. Luke’s big moment at the end lived up to this. While some might be disappointed at him not coming in to save the day to kick ass, it was fitting for the greatest of the Jedi to do what he needed to without committing violence, a fitting contrast with his earlier failure to do so leading to the current events of the story. By doing what he did, he managed to not only buy much needed time for the Resistance, but also successfully humiliated his nephew even as he made clear that there was still hope for him, even if it was not obvious at the time.

Speaking of hope, this was the second reason why Luke’s behavior worked for him as a character. The earlier movies emphasized time and again that Luke was the best hope for good to triumph over evil, and that his very actions inspired it in others. It’s Luke who represents the last hope of a free galaxy and the Jedi by the end of the prequels, and it is Luke who restores hope when he blows up the Death Star. It’s Luke who draws Vader away from the darkness in which the latter steeped himself, and it’s Luke again who manages to, through the righteousness of his character, triumph over everything Palpatine represented. If hope could be personified, here lay its great champion. To know that Luke’s sacrifice not only bought the Resistance another day, that his actions would inspire those hearing of the event through secondhand sources, was as fitting an exit as it gets for him.

Things that Rocked: The Esoteric Force
Another detail I appreciated was how the Force was returned to its mystical roots. With midichlorians, Lucas had attempted to scientifically quantify the nature of what had been a vague, all-pervading existence that surrounded and bound all things, which in many respects was in conflict with the mythical nature of the story up to that point.

It was also rather decent of the movie to also give viewers a better idea of the nature of the Force. The island and the water mural both served to illustrate the interplay between the Light and the Dark, with neither side so much in a perfect 50-50 balance as constantly shifting back and forth like waves, this interaction in turn creating the energy field known as the Force.

I also thought the sequence with Rey in the cave was actually a visually striking one that added more insight into the nature of the Dark Side. Rather than being evil in itself, the Dark seems to offer insight into the self, including some of the harsher truths of the individual. If anything, the problem with the Dark Side is that those who try to use this introspective part of the Force for their own purposes become obsessed with the self to the point of losing all regard for everyone and everything else, not helped at all by how the Dark is connected to the more destructive aspects of nature.

In short, the Force works similar to a mix of Yin-Yang and Christian morality. Nature has Light and Dark, with neither having anything to do with morality in themselves, but it’s when people try to use them that morality becomes involved. It also averts the trap of ‘grey’ by indicating that balance isn’t using both sides of the Force, but in mastering the self in order to achieve true benevolent selflessness.

Things that Bugged Me: Rey in the Dark
As much as I did appreciate the attempts to explore the Force in a mystical manner, something that did irk me was that there was little sense of the Dark Side tempting Rey despite her not even bothering to resist its pull on the island. While it did reveal an important truth to her, it also failed to live up to its usual standard of offering some form of internal conflict for the character to work past. This kind of contributes to the idea that Rey is just plain bland, even compared to the previously idealistic Luke, in that there’s just nothing to hint at her potentially falling (it doesn’t help that she is shown getting emotionally worked up during battles yet this doesn’t seem to ever go anywhere). Maybe it was so that it would be easier for Kylo to take advantage of her emotional vulnerability?

Things that Bugged Me: An Odd Lack of Sensible Emoting
Another bit that stood out to me was Luke’s seeming lack of response to hearing of Han’s death, as well as his muted reaction to meeting Chewbacca for the first time in years. What should have been an emotional beat was quickly passed over, even if there was a hint of something more when Luke sneaks onto the Falcon and handles the dice. It was all the more striking given how much more visibly touched he was to see R2-D2 again.

To be fair though, Luke wasn’t exactly showing much in the way of extended mourning behavior after his aunt and uncle got flash fried and Obi-Wan was struck down in front of him, so maybe this was just the result of maintaining a fast-paced pulp adventure with a light tone.

Things that Sucked: The Chase
One of the major plot lines of the movie involved the Resistance fleet being pursued by the First Order, with the former being unable to escape the latter due to their ability to track them through hyperspace. It was like watching Fury Road, except if the chase in that movie had been a low-speed chase completely lacking in tension and boring to watch. Cripes, I may as well have been watching the LAPD chase a white Bronco for all the ridiculous hype placed on such a tedious plot line. Had they wanted to do a continuous chase through the galaxy, it might have been better to take some cues from the far superior one in The Empire Strikes Back.

The problems with the chase’s execution should be clear to even the most casual viewer. First up is the fact that the chase possesses nothing in the way of a sense of speed. A good chase gives a sense of progress, and this often involves use of the surrounding environment. However, the only real environmental markers came in the form of the darkness of space and passing stars in the background. Whenever the ships are shown, there’s nothing to indicate rapid movement. It’s just one set of ships firing languidly at another just ahead of them.

The above wasn’t helped by Leia’s moment. You know the one. Look at that scene and stifle your chuckles a bit (I thought the idea of Leia getting a moment to use the Force was fine in concept, just terrible in execution). Notice that she’s drifting in space for a bit, yet manages to get back to a ship that is supposedly moving at top speed away from the scene.

The second reason why the chase sucks comes from how lacking in tension it is as a result of how monotonous the entire thing is. Much of it occurs off-screen, and what we do see is completely unexciting. There’s no use of editing or cinematography or what have you to make us feel the noose tightening around the Resistance. Sure, we see other ships get taken down, but it’s so brief and happens to characters we have no reason to care about. To add to this boredom, the fact that the entire chase hinged in part on limited fuel supplies was not supported by the fact that the movie’s other subplots failed to make events feel as compressed as they should have. Remember how Finn seems distracted once he sees the casino? That’s not exactly a great way to show a character who’s in a rush to save the Resistance. In fact, the chase felt like it took a few days or even a week when it should have felt like several hours or a day (although this does raise questions about how the hell Han got to Bespin without a hyperdrive).

Things that Sucked: The Idiot Plot
So let’s get to another thing that really drags this movie down for me: the fact that a lot of what happens only does so because characters act like morons. In this case, let’s point out the subplot involving Poe and Holdo.

With Leia out of commission following the First Order’s surprise attack early on, a new character who we’ve never so much as heard of in the movies takes command. Obviously, as an unknown factor, the point of this is so that the audience is able to more easily root for the recognizable faces and question both the competence and allegiance of Holdo. As you should know by this point, Holdo turns out to be on the up and up, and Poe winds up engaging in a foolish attempted mutiny. However, a closer analysis of this plot line reveals quite a few cracks.

First up is Holdo’s introduction. She’s obviously a little out of place given that she’s wearing a fancy dress in a military setting. Unlike Mon Mothma, she doesn’t appear to be a political leader, and even Leia, who was fine with wearing more formal wear in this movie, was also shown wearing more practical items in the context of her position. So Poe comes in and gives her a bunch of information without asking and consideration for the possibility that she herself might be privy to it and more given her position relative to his own. She also undermines him, which, while somewhat understandable, is done at the wrong time and perhaps a little more harshly than should be done during a desperate situation. Furthermore, when prodded for a plan, rather than at the very least offering some assurances as a good leader should, she merely pulls rank, an act which is not likely to earn an underling’s respect (which makes it seem that whoever wrote this had no idea how effective military hierarchies, for all their emphasis on a chain of command, work). It’s clear at this point that Holdo has effectively been promoted beyond her level of competence.

Later on, a visibly desperate Poe again asks Holdo if she has a plan. A capable superior officer would, recognizing low morale, work to alleviate this. Even if she were not to spill the beans, she could have at least assured him that there was a plan, and also engaged in actions that would have kept things from reaching a point where her underlings saw fit to stage a mutiny. Unfortuately, Captain Queeg there fails to do anything that is actually productive.

I get the sense that in an earlier draft of the story, there were fears of a spy among the Resistance, hence Holdo being so tight-lipped. Not only would this justify her secrecy, but it would also create a tense atmosphere that would have been alleviated only if the Resistance had figured out the secret behind the First Order’s ability to track them (the hyperspace tracker, which was instead revealed early on in the film).

Poe then finds out that Holdo intends to have everyone abandon ship, and because things have gotten this bad, Holdo is unable to explain things in time before the situation hits a breaking point.

As a result of the above, Poe stages a mutiny which quickly falls apart, and poor communication decisions cause the bad guys to get wind of their opponents’ escape plan. It was a poorly written plot that centered in part around a character we couldn’t help but hate because of her sheer incompetence. Killing herself and taking a chunk of the villains with her at least somewhat redeemed the character, even if it did cause new complaints among those who argued about the viability of simply striking military targets using hyperspace ramming.

Things that Sucked: The Unnecessary Subplot
Unfortunately, a lot of these issues surround the writing of the new character of Rose. When Finn and her are making their escape from Canto Bight, she takes the time to free the fathiers, considering this act the real victory of the day.

I get that this moment with the alien horse with the creepy uncanny valley face was meant to show the importance of small acts of kindness even among the greater conflicts going on, but the logic used there was rather poorly thought out. For one, they didn’t free the kids from their oppressive existences, and chances are that the fathiers would either be hunted down and returned to their previous roles, or the track owners would just find new ones. This sort of short-term thinking brings to mind the logic of a limousine liberal who engages in volunteer tourism and corporate charitable donations despite suggestions that such activities actually don’t do much good and in fact harm the locals, and then justifies themselves less out of a desire to help than to feel good about themselves. In that way, I can’t help but wonder how out of touch the writers in Hollywood must be to think this argument holds water.

And let’s not forget yet another dumb moment late in the film when Finn, eager to finally die for a cause he believes in, engages in what he expects to be a suicide run against a battering ram laser, only for Rose to slam her vehicle into his in order to save his life (good thing that the crash didn’t kill either of them), and then for the story to make this seem like a wise decision when as far as either of them were concerned, they and their comrades were about to be hunted down like animals. To make matters worse, Finn winds up having to drag her dumb ass all the way back to the Rebel hideout.

I feel bad for Rose’s actress. I truly do. She gets what should be her big break only to wind up playing a badly written character and then harassed for it by idiots when the only ones worth criticizing (not harassing) for anything other than the quality of her performance were the people who went ahead with the creative decisions surrounding the character.

Aside from Rose, another issue that bugged me was the whole thing they had about war profiteering. It was silly enough that the military industrial complex is the most lucrative in the galaxy, but the whole thing doesn’t really go anywhere. It feels like a jab at real world politics and a lame attempt to insert moral greyness into the story, and worse yet, the focus quickly returns to the black and white conflict between Rebels and Empire. The entire matter brings to mind George Lucas and his attempts at making the Clone Wars more complex by suggesting that the Separatists had legitimate gripes with the Republic, only to show none of this in the movies and to treat all the Separatist leaders as moustache twirling villains.

And let’s not forget that this entire plot thread with Finn and Rose takes its sweet time despite the fact that the two characters were supposedly in a rush.

Things that Sucked: Sticking to the Status Quo
Now here’s the original sin of the sequel trilogy: the fact that there is almost nothing new under the sun. The problem a lot of people had with The Force Awakens was that it was ultimately nothing more than a greatest hits album put to film of the original trilogy. You had a bunch or rebellious Rebels facing off against the Empire but not really with the intent of transporting an important MacGuffin while having to launch a ground assault in order to remove a shield in order to blow up a bigger Death Star while there was moral and martial conflict between parents and children. Throughout all this, the movie sought to remind you of things that evoked the original films, including a scene at a bar where a bunch of shady looking aliens hanged out. However, given the need to revive the franchise after the divisive nature of the prequels, this was understandable, and hopes were that the following episode would allow the sequel trilogy to form its own identity.

Unfortunately, The Last Jedi, despite claiming to be doing something different, merely evoked even more of the original trilogy in an attempt to subvert its expectations, all the while establishing a new status quo that looked eerily similar to the previous films.

Meanwhile, all this did not distract from the fact that the sequel trilogy made the original films seem completely pointless. Luke, who was the new hope of the Jedi and the galaxy at large turned out to be a failure in both regards despite previous movies (to say nothing of the ending of Revenge of the Sith) making clear that he was the person destined to make everything as it should be after his father went off the right path. The Jedi are all but extinct, and need yet another single person to revive the order. The galaxy is back to having an imperial superstate in charge that needs to be removed. Han moved on from his shady past, only to regress back into it once his family collapsed. Leia was able to combine her desire to fight for a cause with personal fulfillment, and then her son went bad, and her marriage collapsed, and her political career went down the shitter, and she went back to being a military leader of a rebellion. The result of this is that the original trilogy now has a fresh paint of futility applied to its coat after the fact. So much for idealism and happy endings.

And don’t give me that crap about how this reflects real life. This series was never meant to reflect real life in its complex entirety, but rather the fairy tales of myths of old that told their audiences that there were battles worth fighting and that evil could be vanquished, or at least beaten back. But now it’s just another gritty war story where happy endings are short-lived and idealism is not nearly enough to make the fight worth fighting in the grand scheme of things.

Things that Sucked: What is the Context?
Another one of the original sins of the new trilogy is the lack of context into which the audience was thrown. In this movie, despite knowing little about him, we finally got to meet Supreme Leader Snoke, and then his top half decided to get a closer look at the floor of his throne room.

Now you might argue that it was the same with the original trilogy. We didn’t know much about Palpatine, not even his name. He was just the emperor. The difference is that we didn’t need to know about him beyond what we got. The premise that was set up since the first film saw the heroes having to fight the Dark Side of the Force and the evil Empire that ruled the galaxy. We knew that there was an emperor who ruled it, and he made a brief appearance in the following film before appearing in person in Return of the Jedi. By that point, what we did know of him was what was important to know, namely, what he represented. As the emperor, he was the personification of the Empire and all its material and social evils. As Vader’s master, he was the personification of the spiritual evils that came from surrendering to the Dark Side. To confront him was to confront the one being that represented everything wrong that needed to be righted in the saga.

Now compare that to the situation we have in the sequel trilogy. As a continuation from previous films, the audience was thrust into a situation in which the seemingly happy ending of the previous movies was completely undone, and little explanation is given for why. The audience needs to know these details. The original trilogy could get away with it because it was a new story and the premise was all that was needed to start with. Meanwhile, because these films are sequels, actual context is required, and that includes information on this Snoke fellow, where he came from, and how he undid the heroes’ victory from earlier. To see him get cut down has no significant dramatic impact because he’s such a vague concept both as a symbol and as a character (to say nothing of the fact that he came off as a discount Palpatine).

Having gone through my thoughts on the film, I’d say that my opinion of it has shifted somewhat. After my first viewing, I was ambivalent about the whole thing, and thought it rather uneven. After a second viewing, I’ve come to find myself, while not hating the movie, leaning somewhat toward disliking it as a whole. It’s not the worst movie ever, but I would not consider it anywhere near the best of the Star Wars films. It probably didn’t help that I’m not sure that the choice of director was ideal for making the next Empire.

I’ve made no secret of my less than positive feelings toward mainstream films that are designed to get decent Rotten Tomatoes scores without necessarily being great films in their own right. At the same time, there’s a quote from Rian Johnson about this sort of thing that kind of worries me even as it seemingly captures what I wanted out of a mainstream blockbuster:

“I would be worried if everybody across the board was like ‘yeah, it was a good movie’ it’s much more exciting to me when you get a group of people who are coming up to you who are really really excited about it. Then there are other people who walk out literally saying ‘it’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen.’ Having those two extremes is the mark of the type of movie that I want to make.”

While it would at first seem that he is trying to do something special, look at the quote again. He wants it to be either a “good” movie or “the worst movie.” That’s where I have a problem with his reasoning. A creator aiming for something beyond the norm should strive to make something that inspires belief that it is one of the all time greats or one of the worst works ever. Merely being “good” means being relegated to being somewhat above average. Better to instead go big or go home, because at least serious critics will argue over the merits of your work long after you’re gone.

My hopes for the next movie at this point are simple: that they manage to at least stick the landing and make a worthy finale to the capstone of three separate trilogies. I hope that the characters are actually written well and that maybe Rey’s darkness is properly explored instead of being reduced to the generic and poorly handled “strong female character” that she started out as. I hope that there is actual tension instead of forced conflict. I hope that instead of wallowing in nostalgia, the final film can instead develop its own identity. I hope that the writers remember that the story is a morality tale, and that it is righteousness that wins the day rather than power levels. I also hope that John Williams turns in a stronger score, because while the music for the sequels thus far has been passable, it hasn’t lived up to what we would expect of a franchise praised for its music.

But then again, maybe it’s just time for the franchise to end.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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: Confrontation

Starting with the initial skirmishes against the vanguard of Kabuto’s forces and ending with the reveal of the real Uchiha Madara, the first part of the war managed to be one of the most disappointing in a series that was long in decline. What should have been exciting was instead often dull and, to paraphrase the Bard, full of sound and fury, all the while signifying nothing.

Things That Sucked: Sasori and Deidara are Pointlessly Humiliated
This was hilarious in how bad it was. Sasori and Deidara were among the greatest criminals to have ever come out of the five great nations, with Sasori having assassinated a Kazekage after leaving behind a famed career in the service of Sunagakure’s Puppet Corps, while Deidara was an artistic prodigy who had studied under Ohnoki himself. Furthermore, in their time as living members of the Akatsuki, each had impressed in their respective showings. Naturally, one would expect them to factor strongly in the opening stages of the war.

Having become an undead corpse under Kabuto’s spell, Sasori had finally achieved his goal of becoming an immortal puppet, the ideal towards which he had unsuccessfully strived for in life. In a sequence that was otherwise poorly executed, this was a nice little detail.

I could understand why the two didn’t fight to their full potential. Deidara had always been arrogant, and in undeath this arrogance caused him to flat out avoid any defensive maneuvers, having come to the conclusion that all enemy attacks were pointless anyhow. Sasori was without any of his trademark puppets, and as a result, unable to use his most powerful Secret Red techniques (although considering how much access Kabuto had to items relating to his undead army, it’s strange that he wasn’t able to even scrounge up a couple of puppets, much less a storage scroll).

What happened to the two however, was beyond humiliating.

Despite being outnumbered, Sasori and Deidara were able to fight a brief skirmish against the commandos making up the Surprise Attack Division, although they failed to take out a single one of them. However, Sai was able to somehow get behind them and successfully knock them off the clay bird they had been standing on, in spite of the fact that they were supposed to be top class ninja and his having been right in front of and below them just a moment ago.

Prior to this point, Sasori had easily been one of the best characterized villains, and his shared back story with Chiyo had been one of the stronger elements of Part II. So to see him so quickly converted to Kankuro’s way of thinking after being bested (contrary to what Kankuro claimed, the younger puppeteer did not display all that much to suggest he’d surpassed Sasori) and then give a short speech did not sit well with me.

Had there been more to the speech, and had the two characters possessed a stronger connection other than both being puppeteers who’d briefly met before, I wouldn’t have minded. Perhaps if Kishimoto had given us more about whatever admiration Kankuro had for Sasori, there might have been something. Unfortunately, there was nothing more to the short talk Kankuro gave Sasori, and their connection was rather tenuous. If say, Chiyo had given him a speech, I could see Sasori having a change of heart the way he did.

As for Deidara, well, as arrogant as he was being, you would still expect better and smarter from a guy who was good enough to be a part of the Akatsuki. It was one thing for him to get up close with his clay bird the first time. But after having the ground raised from under him once, wouldn’t it have been smarter for the guy to elevate himself so that he and Sasori wouldn’t get knocked off their perch?

Things That Were Meh: The Seven Swordsmen Look Pretty
I’ll admit that I was kind of hyped when the rest of the Swordsmen got summoned. Really, I was. I mean, sure the designs were kind of derivative of Kisame and Zabuza’s, but I figured that it was more to show either Mist or group traditions.

And I admit to being a bit disappointed though with the nature of the swords. Samehada stood out because it was a sentient being that consumed chakra that it would then share with its wielder. Hiramekarei can shape chakra into whatever form the user wishes. And it was revealed later that Kubikiribōchō was capable of fixing itself by using the iron found in blood (a fucking vampire sword! Granted, the science behind this makes no sense, but fuck that, Zabuza sword can’t be beat!). The rest of the swords felt rather mundane next to them (although as is implied, I thought it was cool how Zabuza didn’t need any superpowers, just a sword he could always rely on). I suppose Kiba (not to be confused with the character of the same name) being capable of naturally emitting electricity to increase its cutting power was okay, but considering how many characters can use chakra streaming on their weapons; it’s not all that special. Nuibari is a giant needle and thread that sews people together. That’s not really a power, although I guess it’s kind of suggested that it has amazing piercing power. Kabutowari is simply a hammer attached to an axe. Again, not really a special ability given that it’s just a hammer and an axe. And Shibuki, well it’s also kind of mundane, what with simply being a big ass sword with an unfolding scroll containing explosive tags on the side. Not a special ability so much as an impressive, if slightly impractical, bit of technological innovation. But I’ll admit, it’s pretty fucking awesome.

Still, of all the designs and swords, Jinpachi’s was easily my favorite. Just look at the guy. It’s like he was designed to be the most fucking awesome guy ever. Is he a ninja or a pirate? Ninja pirate or pirate ninja? Fuck if I know but it’s fucking awesome (yes, I doubt that he was a pirate, but fuck you, let a guy dream). And his sword looks like something Michael Bay would design. Hey, how do you improve upon a big fucking sword? You add some big fucking explosions, that’s what! And so it was, we got a sword that blows your fucking ass up when it’s swung at you. Holy shitfuck that is awesome.

So anyway, after we got all hyped up, Kishimoto gave us a retread of Haku and Zabuza’s story, although since things were rehashed, and the outline of it so overused in filler and bad fanfiction, it simply lacked the emotional punch that it deserved. I knew I should care, but I simply couldn’t summon any enthusiasm for this particular part of the story despite having been hooked into Naruto by that earlier arc.

So after Haku and Zabuza got sealed, we got Kakashi implying that he was going to go on a rampage. Cool! Then we switched to another scene. Not cool.

I can’t say that this part of the story sucked entirely, because there was an element to it that I liked, that element being seeing the Swordsmen in action. I also did like how Suigetsu’s little expository speech was intercut with that part. I fucking love Jinpachi and his sword. But I also didn’t care for everything else, but didn’t really hate it all that much. Hence the meh score.

But as disappointing as this part was, at least it wasn’t as horrid as what was to follow.

Things That Sucked: Forgettable Side Characters
The Gold and Silver Brothers are among the more forgettable characters introduced in the series. While the audience is given their history, there is little depth to them other than their being dishonest, egotistic brutes. Unlike villains in the past, there was little time to get to know them, and what little we did know was so wholly unappealing that in a story with so many interesting villains, these two were utterly forgettable.

During this time, we were also introduced to Atsui, whose gimmick basically came down to being a stupid braggart. Granted, in his limited screen time he was as much a character as Samui, that is, barely, despite her having been introduced about a hundred chapters beforehand. As a result of this lack of depth and time with which to get attached to them, when the two got sucked into the gourd, no one cared (it didn’t help that Atsui was a dumbass of epic proportions).

This last bit feels all the worse considering how much the importance of bonds and the tragedies of war are emphasized in the story, so to have two characters the reader has no reason to care about suffer weakens what should have been an emotional moment for Darui. (plus, the two of them are rescued from the gourd later on anyhow)

As for Darui, well, what’s to say? He didn’t get much fleshing out during his introductory arc, and while Kishimoto tried to provide some depth to him during his fight, there was just so little for readers to work with that it becomes difficult to feel any emotional investment in this part of the story. Having to read through these chapters back when they were first coming out week by week was even worse.

Between the forgettable bad guys and the forgettable good guys, there was little reason to give a damn about anything that happened here. Part of what makes a good fight scene is the emotion behind it, as well as the audience’s investment in the characters involved. Since each of the characters involved had so little depth to them, there is little tension as one goes through the fight. If not for the twins’ possession of Kyubi chakra, the story could have easily done without them.

Things That Were Meh: Seeing Side Characters with Little Depth Fight
I didn’t hate Mifune’s fight. I still don’t hate it even after rereading it a couple of times in print format. I wish I could like it. I really do. I mean, we got a short but sweet skirmish. We got to see a samurai look badass. We got a hint of Hanzo’s true power. We got a good look at Mifune’s worldview and how it relates to the pursuit of peace and dreams. We even got a really brief Pain flashback.

I just can’t muster up much of an opinion of the entire thing because of how little we know the characters involved. As I said before, and I will say it again, although you should know the drill by now, when we see characters in a story fight, we are drawn in by the choreography and the actual fighting, but what allow fights to really affect us are the emotional factors that go into them, i.e. the characters.

Previously, as with Darui, we were introduced to Mifune during the summit, but he was not really given much characterization. As with Darui, Mifune was fleshed out in the course of his moment in the spotlight. There just wasn’t all that much depth to him.

In contrast to the Gold and Silver Brothers though, Hanzo was a potentially interesting character (his name is Hanzo for crying out loud!). As a young man, he had been idealistic, believing that with his strength, he might someday succeed in uniting the disparate lands of the shinobi world. Eventually he became dictator of a small isolated nation that was constantly the site of various conflicts fought by larger nations. As a dictator, he would need strength and brutality in order to maintain power and order. This need to hold on to power by any means necessary would leech away at his ideals, and the paranoia associated with being a military strongman eventually caused him to go from an ambitious and highly gifted shinobi to a cynical, ruthless old man eager to hide away and rest on his laurels. As a result, his skills stagnated, easing his downfall and final defeat at Mifune’s hands.

While I wasn’t the biggest fan of how quickly Hanzo was beaten (especially in the light of how hyped he was), as the previous paragraph indicates, I could understand the reasoning behind his underwhelming performance. I also didn’t care too much for how he arranged for his capture and sealing by committing seppuku, although that might have more to do with my surprise and bemusement at the revelation that underneath his flak jacket he was dressed like Sai. While already an old man.

Things That Sucked: Chōji Gets Pointless Attention
Poor, poor Chōji. After initially being introduced back in Part I’s second major arc as a stereotypical big fat guy who likes eating, he was given greater depth during the attempted Sasuke retrieval and even managed to get a good fight out of it. This moment in the spotlight not only made him more than the cliché he originally fulfilled in the story, but also served as a fine example of the potential to be found in the story’s supporting cast, whose own fictional lives added much to the story. Then Part II happened.

Chōji was, like his fellow peers of Naruto, shunted off to the side for the most part, with his purpose story-wise being more along the lines of moving scenery than an actual character. He did little during his earlier appearances in Part II, and when he did appear, his emotional connection (along with Ino’s) to Asuma was given far less emphasis than Shikamaru’s. However, this was to change somewhat during the war, as supporting characters were finally given some screen time, and even characters like Ino, who up to that point had been a mostly useless female cast member, were given a chance to shine. Unfortunately, Chōji’s second moment in the spotlight was not to be as well executed as his first.

By all means the battle between Asuma and his former team should have been more than it was. In contrast to earlier skirmishes during the war, there was an emotional connection between the characters, and this had been and was still clear to even the audience. Unfortunately Chōji’s role was what kept it from being a great scene.

What happened to Chōji was entirely unnecessary, given how his character arc up to this point had previously had him developing into a braver, stronger person who was willing to stick up for his loved ones. Sadly for Chōji, Kishimoto decided to have the poor bastard act like a scaredy cat during the opening stages of the war, as it suddenly became his job to be that one character who’s all afraid before shit goes down and he has to man up. Then, when fighting Asuma, he turned into a load.

It’s one thing to have a character unable to fight at their full potential against a loved one who is moving against their will. It’s a whole other thing to have a character not only unable to fight at their full potential, but act like a whiny little bitch to the extent where other good guys are at risk for more than a couple of chapters when prior character development would imply that they wouldn’t be acting this way if not for the fact that for some reason the plot required he act as such.

So Chōji finally gets his requisite man up moment, powers up into a butterfly form without needing that pill labeled “do not ingest because all potential unlocked comes at cost of life” (because fuck logical power ups and onscreen training), kicks Asuma’s ass, and then proceeds to aid in the off-paneling of no less than Hizashi and fucking Kakuzu (poor guy just can’t get a break).

I’m sorry, but Kishimoto went through the trouble of making us go through an unnecessary man the fuck up moment just so Chōji could have a crowning moment of awesome that was left off screen. It was Kakashi’s rampage all over again, except even crappier.

Things that Sucked: Why Making a Theme of a Shonen Battle Manga “War is Hell” is Stupid
The acclaimed filmmaker François Truffaut once alleged that it is impossible to make an anti-war film. Basically, the idea is that it is impossible to make an anti-war film if said film involves a war being shown. If a movie has a message, it runs the risk of implicitly saying the opposite of what was intended as what is said comes into conflict with what is actually portrayed.

This sentiment not only applies to Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto, which is most assuredly not a movie, but is actually magnified by the constraints of the genre, said genre being the shonen battle manga. The very essence of any decent battle manga is to wow the reader with spectacular fights.

Since the days of Barefoot Gen, which actually did run in Shonen Jump, believe it or not, it appears that manga aimed at the shonen demographic have been becoming more and more censored in some ways as time goes on. As a result, violence in such manga appears to be less horrifying then it was in Gen. This has the impact of lessening the harm that war does to people. Instead of being shown a man with his intestines flopping all over the place while he bleeds out from the stumps that used to be his legs, characters are shown with a bit of blood and bandages on them, if we get that much. This results in a lack of impact about the costs of war.

But going back to the main topic of this section, the bread and butter of shonen fighting manga is the spectacular nature of the battles. Because of that, instead of war being a tragic waste of human life, characters are shown instead being brave and having their own individual moments of glory. Rather than vilifying war, shonen manga authors end up glorifying it. In this way then, attempting to criticize wars in such stories is nothing more than a fool’s errand.

This is a problem that I have seen with not only One Piece, but also Naruto in its current form. If one wishes to make a point, it’s best to ensure that both the medium and execution suit said point well. Otherwise one simply proves Truffaut right.

One of the more prominent themes of the manga as it went on is the futility and heavy costs of war. The use of bloodline users in conflicts caused reprisals among the populace of the Land of Water. A desire to gain an edge in military strength led to the creation of village jinchuriki, the potential costs of which are best illustrated in the character of Gaara. Konoha’s victory against the Sound and Sand was not without its costs. Tsunade wound up losing the people she loved—her grandfather, great uncle, brother, and lover—over the course of multiple Shinobi World Wars. Kakashi’s gaiden illustrated this theme up close when it showed readers the tragedy behind Kakashi’s current philosophy and Sharingan. Itachi became obsessed with preserving peace at all costs due to being traumatized by the human costs of battle. Nagato’s entire life was defined by the effects war had on him. Aside from a few individuals, much of the political maneuvering in the story has involved disparate attempts to preserve the peace, often in a harsh manner. The price of war has had its influence on various characters and events, and for this heavy a theme to be tackled in a shonen battle manga of all things would suggest that the climactic war arc continue this pattern in some shape or form (Nagato had even suggested this in his final monologue prior to his death, warning Naruto about war’s costs, and how this might affect a generation that had grown up in times of peace).

So when Kishimoto proceeded to for the most part toss this theme aside, it was a slap in the face. The depiction of the war was far from the hell that Kishimoto continually made such conflicts out to be. Instead of focusing on the costs, readers were instead been treated to scenes of heroism and side characters finally getting a chance to shine. I’m sorry, but it’s hard to consider the tragic consequences of war when a character who hasn’t had significant panel time in years, if ever, is finally doing something awesome. Instead of focusing on how war has and will affect the people involved, we instead were treated to its positive side effects, namely the unification of previously warring peoples against a common foe. Instead of relating the war to the thematic conflict against old hatreds (and how said hatreds beget new ones), there was nothing of actual substance other than half-hearted attempts to connect Uchiha Madara and Kaguya with a fantastical history that was hard for anyone to relate to and move past. The enemy was made up of a bunch of synthetic plant men lacking any depth other than acting as Tobi’s personal drones, zombified legends of the past that had little to contribute to the theme, and a bunch of all-out villains.

Visible injuries were at a minimum. At best, you might see a bleeding guy (and it’s almost always a guy) lying on the ground and covered in marks and dust. What’s so horrifying about that?

And there was little in the way of meaningful collateral damage. Every battle took place on an untamed piece of land free of any civilians. As soon as the good guys were victorious, the residents of the affected countries probably went right back to business. Remember when Pain detailed how the people of Amegakure were stuck in a warzone because the great nations didn’t want to fight on their own home territory? Yeah, apparently this little issue would have been too heavy for the final battle against evil. I mean, it’s not like the emotional core of the story revolved less around epic fights than it did the lives of characters and how they shaped, and were in turn shaped by the environment they grew up in.

Just because it’s shonen is not an excuse for Kishimoto to suddenly wimp out when it comes to exploring one of his story’s long running themes. He didn’t have to be as graphic as the examples given, but he could have at least given us something. Because just about anything would have been more than what we actually got.

I believe it’s safe to say that Kishimoto really dropped the ball on this particular matter, unless you want to make the argument that he made war seem less appealing to his audience by making it boring as hell. In which case, he succeeded admirably; as I doubt the impressionable young men and women reading this manga over in Japan would want to start a war knowing just how boring it would be.

Things That Sucked: A Lack of Pathos
After the end of the first day of fighting, Kishimoto decided to engage in more telling rather than showing—one that connects to my earlier point about the issue with exploring the high cost of war in a manga like Naruto. In this case, after a harsh series of opening battles, the plot slowed down a bit so as to give us the details on just what the numbers were. Unfortunately, due to a lack of emotional connection with the events going on, and by extension a lack of genuine tension, this moment fell flat. What makes it worse is the absurd number of casualties, which is cartoonish in its extravagance. It seems to suggest the high command of each side is pretty damn incompetent in matters of basic military strategy. I guess I could understand the huge losses for the villains, as we were consistently shown a number of Zetsu getting themselves killed onscreen as the resurrected ninja were sealed one by one. Unfortunately, because we didn’t get all that much of the same for the good guys save for Tobi’s rampage, it was hard to really connect the day’s events with the high number of casualties.

To do such a thing right means giving the audience an emotional connection with the events to which they are witness. Take that series of moments at the end of the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan. The contrast between the loud and chaotic battle scenes and the melancholy and quiet of the closing moments of that opening allows the tragedy of the entire thing sink into the viewers’ heads. If you haven’t seen that film, then what about that moment in say, the last Rambo (2008), which, after a gory but surprisingly awesome battle sequence, slows down to show the costs of the good guys’ victory, be it the loss of innocence, the loss of friends, or even the realization that in order to protect what is good, deeds which could be construed as evil must sometimes be committed.

For a comics based example, one can even look to—SPOILER ALERT: SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED—that particular scene in Watchmen, after Veidt successfully launches his strike on New York. Several pages are devoted not only to the “alien” creature that caused the massive destruction, but also to illustrating the carnage resulting from its arrival. Background characters that the reader has had a chance to form some attachment to are left killed off in the back and foreground of the scene. It’s simultaneously depressing, shocking, and horrific in its scale.

Now, bringing up the numbers by itself isn’t entirely or even necessarily a bad thing. In many a war story, after the chaos of the battle comes to an end onscreen, what is sometimes done is that narration or some sort of text is used to inform the audience of the actual number of casualties. Done right, this can lend an even greater degree of emotion to a story. Unfortunately, Kishimoto failed in this regard.

For a manga based example, I’ll bring up a certain moment in the manga Tokyo ESP (SPOILER ALERT: SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED). In that manga, the villains successfully manage to drop a ship (a tanker to be precise) in the middle of a city. Unlike most other stories in the genre, the effects of this are made clear. Many panels (and by extension a few pages) are devoted to illustrating the scale of the damage done by the attack. The following chapters go further by not only bringing up the statistics on the actual number of casualties, but also the fallout from the attack, be it political, social, or even on a more personal level.

Kishimoto tried to add a human element to the mostly unnamed and undeveloped members of the Allied forces, but unfortunately, such attempts fell flat for the most part. First of all, aside from Kankuro, Sai, Kakashi and Team Ten, much of the focus was on side characters with little detail to them. As a result, it was hard feeling anything about their situations.

Darui and Mifune had only been recently introduced, and as a result, were mostly unknown quantities. Atsui was a dumbass on par with Jar Jar Binks who I didn’t really mind seeing getting sealed away, while Samui was such a nonentity that I didn’t really give a shit what happened to her. Also, there was that guy who got fodderized by that bakuton user.

Tajiki’s death didn’t mean spit to the audience simply because he had been introduced only to die at that very moment. Because of that, readers could not connect to either him or his friend. I know Kishimoto wanted to show that the story is so much bigger than the named characters it focuses on, unfortunately, because characters like Taijki and his friend are given exactly zero depth or detail, it becomes impossible to develop any empathy for them.

Anyway, due to this lack of pathos, the war up to this point had failed to communicate the idea that war is hellish, tragic, and wasteful.

Things That Sucked: Naruto Goes All Kung Fu Jesus on Us
So starting the first night of war, the Zetsu army finally began fighting smart and decided to engage the enemy by using their ability to replicate the appearance and chakras of those they had come into contact with. In doing so, they were able to sneak around and attack the good guys while in their midst. You know, like real ninjas would.

Unfortunately, Kishimoto never really made the Zetsu seem as big a threat as they should have. While it was nice that we got one whole chapter of Zetsu being sneaky, after that the number of Zetsu attacks shown dropped tremendously, to the point where the threat of them was all but forgotten. As a result, the suspense that should have been built up vanished, and we were left with a bunch of plant men doing shit off-panel.

Zetsu appeared even less impressive once Naruto entered the battlefield and starting offing these guys like it was going out of style. I know that Naruto was supposed to look really impressive there, but considering how easy it appeared for any random good guy to kill a Zetsu, Naruto’s actions looked more like overkill than anything, even if his sensory abilities were a godsend.

We then got a hope spot in the form of Itachi and Nagato confronting Naruto and Bee. Naturally, everyone was hyped. And naturally, with Kishimoto being Kishimoto, the fight was handled quickly and in a manner most unsatisfying. That is all I will say about it.

Anyway, what made this part of the story suck was just how well it illustrated just how relatively unimportant all the side characters became in Part II. In Part I, there was a sense that Naruto’s story was but one important part of a much larger world, as while his actions held great influence over the course of things, they were still occurring within the context of something much greater. When Suna and Oto invaded Konoha, Naruto’s actions helped ensure that Suna’s trump card failed to wreak too much havoc, while other characters, particularly Sarutobi, ensured that the Leaf would triumph. During the last arc of Part I, the primary source of tension was Naruto’s bond with Sasuke, and their inevitable clash. However, what added to this was the role played by each of Naruto’s team mates and the Sand Siblings in allowing him to get that far.

Here, we just had Naruto vow to fix everything himself before he proceeded to almost singlehandedly fuck up Tobi’s army and a bunch of undead ninja. It made what the side characters had done up to that point seem utterly insignificant and pointless, and also made a bunch of his opponents look bad, as they were taken out by shadow clones, regardless of whether or not they were Zetsu or resurrected ninja. Granted shadow clones are just as capable as the original, albeit with a limited chakra supply, but even so, it left a bad taste in my mouth to see a legendary ninja from ages past get taken down by mere shadow clones.

Things That Rocked: Kicking It Old School

Things that Failed to Rock: Gaara’s Dad: Massive Disappointment or Massive Disappointment?
I’m not particularly fond of this guy, whether in terms of his character, how he interacted with Gaara, or the contents of his fight.

The dude was an asshole, but we knew that since we first learned Gaara’s history. What was underwhelming about the guy though was his lack of a personality, especially compared to the larger than life figures who accompanied him during the war. I understand that the importance of his appearance here had to do with his interactions with Gaara, but even then, aside from his patriotism and regret, there was so little to his character that I couldn’t really get much of an impression from the man.

I also didn’t care much for the revelations shown in his flashbacks, particularly the role he played in Yashamaru’s demise. Gaara’s backstory was meant to be one of the single most tragic things in the series, and this tragedy served to not only set him up as a foil to Naruto, but to also lend a theme to his own character arc, namely the pursuit and attainment of love by a person whose life up to that point had been devoid of it. In order to develop as a human being, he had to overcome his loveless background and face the future with the intent of reaching out instead of engaging in solipsistic destruction. This constructive approach was the new way in which he was then able to define his existence through his bonds rather than the indeterminate self he failed to recognize in his dying moments, was best exemplified in the gathering of Sand nin after his resurrection early in Part II.

To reveal that Gaara was loved by both his mother and his uncle (at least it seems so) felt like a copout, and needlessly sentimental (and it made the deceased Kazekage seem like an even bigger jackass than he had to be considering how poorly he was already viewed). Had his father’s acknowledgment been the main idea here, I wouldn’t have minded in the least, as it would have been enough to prove that Gaara was now a figure worthy of being treated as a person, and not the failure of a monster his father had deemed him.

The fight between the former Kazekage and Gaara was also rather underwhelming, as it was basically two stationary fighters manipulating particles of sand/gold. Not only that, but the fight went by quickly and without much fanfare, making the former Kazekage a rather lackluster threat physically speaking.

Things that Were Meh: Ma-Mi-Mu
Mu was an improvement over the Fourth Kazekage, although that is not really saying much. While he was far less memorable than the two kage who have yet to be discussed, he at least wasn’t a total waste of space.

I still don’t see why Ohnoki had to be the one to confront Mu. While I could understand the whole master-student thing that they had going on, the reasoning behind the matchup still doesn’t quite work. Ohnoki claimed that only a fellow jinton user could confront Mu, but why is that? Gaara was able to help him just fine, and Naruto didn’t have too much difficulty slamming a giant ball of chakra into the guy’s torso. It wasn’t like Mu had unique abilities that could only be countered by Ohnoki, save for knowledge of his fighting style.

While Mu didn’t have much of a personality, and he didn’t get all that much of a chance to do anything onscreen save for summoning Madara and giving minor side characters something to do, he was still an improvement over Gaara’s dad, even if slight.

Things that Rocked: I’m the Raikage, Bitch!
After the less than impressive performances of the previous two kage, something had to give. The two remaining guys had less of a connection to the characters fighting and had been caught in Gaara’s sand, something that had been avoided by Mu and briefly countered by the Fourth Kazekage. In order to make up for this disappointing early going, the they needed to put on a strong showing. They didn’t disappoint.

The Sandaime Raikage, A’s father, was basically the most over the top character to ever come out of Kumogakure. And that is saying something considering just how over the top major characters from Kumo seem to be. It’s like their village’s hat. Konoha is full of noble good guys or douchey villains. Kiri is full of badasses. Suna is made up of no-nonsense pros. Iwa has fodder (even their kages get beaten up to show how tough someone is). And Kumo is crazy awesome.

The guy died after fighting an army comprising of what was likely the majority of Iwagakure’s military forces for three days. By himself. His flesh was like steel. His blood like iron. He somehow managed to get the Hachibi to acknowledge him in order to seal it into a pot every single time it went nuts. Black lightning was supposedly his thing, even if he never used it during the war. He only needed a finger to ruin your day. And the only thing that could hurt him was himself.

Holy shit.

The guy was less of a character than he was just a plain old folk hero come to life.
And sometimes, in a series that often tried (and failed) to present walking tanks as actual characters, seeing a walking tank who was clearly presented as nothing more was a nice change. I didn’t need to see any personality from the Third Raikage to like him, because he didn’t really have any. All I needed was for him to kick ass and take names. And that he did.

Things that Rocked: Trololololol
I’ll be honest here. I fucking loved the Second Mizukage. In what little screen time he had, he not only was more amusing than his fellow kage, but among the various Mizukages revealed, he was by far the most memorable. I like the character so much that I was tempted to simply post a collage of his best moments in lieu of writing an entry out.

Aside from being the single most entertaining new character introduced during the war, he also added a certain lightness that actually brightened things up quite a bit in an otherwise grim (or at least it was supposed to be grim) situation. Comedy has never been one of Kishimoto’s strengths, and attempts at humor in Naruto have been more miss than hit for as long as the manga has been running. I’ve cringed at more than a few jokes, with the armadillo dick being a particular low point for myself. Seeing the Mizukage make all sorts of comments and expressions that actually got a chuckle out of me was a breath of fresh air. Even when cornered in a pyramid made of sand, his only response was to turn it into a game of whack-a-mole.

It was also good to see an effective genjutsu user who wasn’t an Uchiha, with the presentation of the giant clam summon (granted, the mythology behind it makes sense) adding more ludicrousness to what was already an odd character.

Even the name of his trump card was humorous: I believe (I might be wrong though) “Jokey Boy” is the phonetic pronunciation, and the bizarre physics behind the jutsu was just the cherry on top of what was simultaneously an impressive, yet very strange looking technique.

So of the four resurrected kage, we got one miss, one so-so effort, and two memorable characters. While things started off poorly with Gaara’s dad and Mu’s mostly unseen (no pun intended) efforts, the other two undead ninja more than made up for it, easily making their sequences some of the best parts of the entire war arc.

Things That Sucked: Feeling No Tension
To call Bleach’s Winter War one-sided is to state the obvious. Part of the reason the arc is so maligned has to do with the lack of suspense that was clear from the start of that so called “war.” Tite Kubo started things off poorly by setting a precedent with his opening battles, namely having side characters win their battles with no major losses. This continued throughout the arc as none of the good guys died while the enemy army was whittled down to just Aizen and Gin. Aizen then proceeded to whoop ass in the most obnoxious of ways, and even then failed to kill anyone fighting for the good guys. As a result, by the time the climax of that arc came around, there was little tension in the proceedings, as there was no sense of peril whatsoever, considering that all the good guys needed was a little healing while the villains were down to one.

The Fourth Ninja World War proceeded in a similar manner. There was zero dramatic tension to speak of. As with the Bleach example, none of the losses suffered by the Alliance were all that significant to the readers. Remember the lack of pathos I discusssed? Yeah, there’s your first problem right there.

If at least a couple of characters that the readers cared about prior to this war were at serious risk from a dramatic standpoint, or at least suffered some sort of debilitation, then maybe this wouldn’t be a problem. Even fucking Bleach had good guys losing limbs. Here, the only injuries were maybe some superficial cuts and bruises.

Even when the Zetsu were behaving like ninja, we never saw them as a genuine threat to named characters. In open battle they were basically fodder to be mowed down by the thousands, and those people they did kill we had known only for a couple of panels, tops. Judging from the establishing shots of the medic compound, Kishimoto wanted to suggest the paranoid atmosphere as doppelgangers killed off good guys, but was mostly left off-screen for extended periods, removing any suspense that might have been felt.

A good battle sequence has tension. Remember the battle of Yavin in Star Wars? One by one Luke’s fellow rebels were taken out of the battle, and the newcomer to these events so much greater in scale than he could previously imagine was now left in the position of having to save the day. Those moments where Luke decides to trust in the force while Vader centers his targeting computer on the kid’s fighter are fraught with the purest of tension. If Luke fails, then all the Rebels are dead. There’s an emotional connection between the viewer, Luke, and the rest of the characters watching things from the Rebel base. We care about the characters at risk and genuinely worry about what might happen to them.

And because of this relative lack of tension in Naruto, instead of feeling emotionally invested in what was going on and eagerly anticipating the next chapter, I was simply counting the number of chapters until the war would reach its climax.

This arc served as payoff for some of Kishimoto’s blunders throughout the story. First of all, by attempting to tackle the costs of war, the author found himself having to deal with the problem of communicating such a message in a series was centered around glorious combat.  Second was the issue of not giving proper time to his supporting cast, which resulted in an arc that failed in many respects to make readers care about what was going on. Third was his tendency to sacrifice characterization for the sake of the plot, which in turn led to what should have been Chōji’s moment turning into a farce.

Naruto had become visibly poorly written, although if there was any comfort to take from this arc, it was that at least the series was seemingly nearing its end. Or so readers thought.

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-


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.

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.

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.

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.