Things That Sucked in Naruto: Sakura

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

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

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

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

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

Cripes, this character is a waste of ink.

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

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

Following the first act of the war were a series that could be summed up as the good guys fight Madara, Obito, and the Ten Tails for a while, and then Obito tries to become a god. Normally, this might serve as the climax of a story, and the title of the arc as per the anime might imply just that, but unfortunately, it was like waiting in line for a ride at an amusement park. You get there and think it’s going to be a lot of fun, but the wait is so long that by the time you finally get on the ride you can’t help but feel like you could have done a lot in all that time you wasted. Kind of like life in general.

But brief moments of existential angst aside, yeah, this arc was the very opposite of a climax. You keep waiting for something to happen, and it features a lot of buildup and junk that does not really go anywhere, and yet despite going on for as long as it does, for some inexplicable reason, the story keeps going with no end in sight. It was a whole new kind of suck for those who continued to torture themselves as they followed a series once worth reading.

 

Things that Rocked (Sort Of): The Nature of the Biju (With Some Caveats)

Let me get this first thing out of the way: I fucking hated the whole Jubi revelation. It was stupid. It was so stupid that the last time I saw something so stupid related to a story set in the Naruto universe, I was reading a bad piece of fanfiction. In fact, bad fanfiction was the first place where I saw the idea of a ten-tailed beast. It wasn’t even properly foreshadowed, with its inclusion in bad fanfiction prior to becoming canon arguably making a bad writing decision even worse. I’m surprised it didn’t get more of a reaction, considering that it happened within a few months of us learning that the Espada weren’t ranked from one to ten.

My second caveat lies in the presentation of the young biju. I understand that the Sage split the Ten Tail’s chakra into nine separate beings, and that Kishimoto wanted us to sympathize, but did we really need to see the biju as newly born babes? It just felt awkward as hell to see these beings of mass destruction portrayed as such. Furthermore, it raises questions like: so if the biju grow bigger, does their chakra grow with them? If biju age, can they die of old age? What happens if they die of old age, do they just reform into a newborn? These are some serious questions that wouldn’t be an issue if the story had stuck with its original conception of the tailed beasts as masses of chakra stemming from unknown or mystical origins like the previous backstory for the Shukaku.

But I digress. If there was one good thing I took from the revelation about the tailed beasts’ true nature, it lay in how this development related to the themes of this manga, particularly those about conflict, revenge, and peace.

I rather like how the biju were in the end rather benign beings, not wild animals, but sapient creatures that were capable of understanding the world around them. It put past descriptions of their behavior in a whole new light. The creatures were not the mindless purveyors of destruction that we thought they were, but simply powerful beings exploited by humans eager to use the abilities they possessed.

It suggested that rather than being acted upon by outside forces, human beings are in the end the ones who are often to blame for their own tragedies.

Knowledge of how to split an atom is itself potentially beneficial or harmful, and in the end, all knowledge’s effects lie not in the nature of that knowledge, but in its application. Even then, such knowledge must be proceeded with using the utmost caution. It is the same with the tailed beasts, who act as the closest thing in the story to nuclear weapons. It’s not a perfect analogy, atoms aren’t capable of emotion and free will, at least last I checked, but the sentiment is there: people who wage war are ultimately the ones at risk of self-destruction.

  

Things That Sucked: Kurama’s Conversion

This one really annoys me. It does. I should be more annoyed than I actually am with it considering how important a development we all knew this was going to be, but by that point, I was just so used to being disappointed that I was able to for the most part shrug it off. Just to be clear, I’m talking about the moment when a certain nine-tailed fox ceased to be an antagonist, and instead made peace with the blonde protagonist it was sealed into.

Working in tandem with Kurama was something that had been highly anticipated from the moment that the series began. Having been sealed in him when he was just a newborn baptized in the blood of his parents, the fox acted as Naruto’s darker side, his inner demon. Due to the massive amount of power it possessed, Kurama was both a boon and a bane to Naruto, acting as an inner demon that tempted the hero with promises of easy power, though at the cost of control over his sanity and actions. It was made evident however, that while Naruto would need to resist its temptations, the fox’s power would be necessary for him to fulfill his destiny. Sooner or later Naruto was going to have to cease being a mere borrower of its chakra, and actively master it so that he might finally achieve the potential we all had been aware he’d possessed since the beginning.

Naturally, something this important to both the plot and the development of the involved characters would have to be finely written, given that as far as plotlines go, it definitely ranks among the most prominent goals of the main character, as it in turn relates to the other goals he gains over the course of the story. Not only that, but in order for Naruto to confront the Kyubi, he would have to tame his other demons, namely those negative emotions that allowed it to influence him as he accessed its chakra. As a result, it was fair for readers to expect Kishimoto to put a lot of effort into writing this part out.

What we got however was Naruto saying a nice thing after besting the Kyubi, and then, less than sixty chapters later, becoming all buddy-buddy with it. I’m not even trying to make this sound worse than it actually is, it really was that sloppy.

Kishimoto should have started developing the change in Naruto and Kurama’s relationship during Part I, and had it continue throughout the story at regular intervals so that their bond would be as strong as would be necessary when they did begin to work together. Kurama was a demonic figure during Part I and early Part II, serving to tempt Naruto into taking the easy path to power. As a result, his presence was often shrouded, highlighting his mystique and devilish nature.

This probably went on for way too long, as by the time Naruto finally got around to confronting his inner demon, it was over 400 chapters into the story. A relationship this important needed a foundation to build from, and for Kishimoto to cheat by simply having Kurama experience a chapter’s worth of flashbacks was lazy as it gets.

It would have been better to have Kurama acknowledge Naruto’s achievements as the story progressed, and if their relationship had undergone a slow transformation, from mutual resentment to a grudging respect (Kurama for Naruto’s insane determination, Naruto for Kurama’s power and intelligence for a “mindless beast”), to one of concern on the part of Naruto (his promise not to harm Kurama after besting him), and then to one of an equal partnership.

Like a great many other things in the story, this just happened to be given less attention than it truly deserved, as by this point in time it was clear that Kishimoto had failed to properly plan out the plot and characters.

 

Things that Sucked: Meeting the Other Hosts

If there is one major flaw in particular about Tobi’s fight that I feel I should start with, it’s the way that Naruto’s meeting with the biju and their former hosts was executed. Not only does it interrupt what was supposed to be one of the arc’s major battles, but it also adds an unnecessary and pathetic sentimentality to one of the major motifs in the story: that between a tailed beast and its host, and how this relationship in turn affects how the world at large perceives said host.

Naruto’s fellow hosts were described as for the most part being ostracized to varying extents due to what they had sealed within them. Thus, seeing the hosts and the beasts all sitting hunky dory with one another in a circle (why not just have them sing “Kumbaya,” Kishimoto?) and getting all friendly with Naruto was one of the single most moronic parts of the entire manga. While I’m sure that the spirits of the deceased hosts and the beasts did have quite a bit of time to themselves before the fight, the breezy positivity and clichéd words of courage just took away from the aforementioned scene. In addition, due to the lack of proper development and characterization that could have been afforded to the hosts earlier in the story (it’s hard to feel much of any emotional impact seeing a colored spread of the hosts when we barely know them), there was nothing to really connect Naruto to the other hosts or beasts whatsoever (at least fucking Studio Pierrot, of all people, had the presence of mind to have Naruto interact with one his fellow hosts in a filler arc). An element that needed to be treated with gravitas was instead handled the same way one would write a bad animated PSA about how we need to treat one another with love and kindness—horribly.

 

Things That Sucked: The Only Threatening Enemies (or Supporting Characters of Relevance) Were Uchiha

I don’t really consider the Uchiha characters themselves to be as major a problem as some fans do. In fact, I consider them sort of a bunch of scapegoats in many ways, kind of like Jar Jar Binks was in relation to The Phantom Menace. Yes, the characters are overexposed and oftentimes obnoxious, but if you’ve been following this series of critiques, then you will realize that my gripes with the series revolve around a whole mess of other things, of which the Uchiha are merely symptomatic of to some extent.

At the same time, this war arc singlehandedly provided a simulacrum for a problem that started way back during the much maligned Year of Sasuke. That problem being the manner in which the Uchiha (and by extension anything related to the Sage of Six Paths) consumed the entire plot.

I think Kishimoto tried to present the Uchiha as the Narutoverse equivalent to the Sith, except the clan comes off more as a bunch of douchebags with popped collars than they do a group of dangerous warriors out for power. It’s apparent in his descriptions of the clan’s past as well as the legend explaining their origins. The thing is, where the Sith had mystique, the Uchiha have high collars. Where the Sith had Vader and the Emperor, the Uchiha had an overexposed deuteragonist, a once cool but now overexposed genius, some uncharismatic guy in a mask, and a zombie with a man crush on his deceased nemesis.

The problem with Itachi saving the day is that while this does redeem his earlier actions somewhat, it also exemplifies just how unimportant the rest of the cast is next to the Uchiha plotline. Side characters of all shape and size engaged in actions that were seemingly less important after Itachi fixed the whole problem of the zombie army.

Kabuto was incompetent throughout the arc, and only Tobi actually managed to do some damage to the good guys before Madara got around to dropping meteors on people. Even Sasuke, with his little subplot with Naruto, is worth a hell of a lot more dramatic attention than the rest of what went on during the war, which was basically glorified fanservice.

To make a long story short, the Uchiha became the plot, and considering how this was done, it was to the detriment to the story’s quality.

 

Things That Sucked: The Rookies Make Vows and I Don’t Give a Fuck

Remember Naruto’s peers? You know, those guys and girls (and Tenten) in his relative age group who also took the chunin exams way back in Part I?

Anyway, one of the problems with Part II was the overall negligence Kishimoto exercised when it came to using the supporting cast.

I’m not one of those guys who thinks that Part II sucks just because a bunch of side characters didn’t do much, but I do feel that one of the war’s weaknesses has been the relative absence of these characters from the story for so long.

Even when reading the story in volume form, one of the things that is rather noticeable about Part II is the fact that not only do the other Rookies make uncommon appearances, but when they do appear, they are for the most part nothing more than walking scenery. One of Part I’s greatest strengths was the use of interesting, sympathetic, and relatable supporting characters to add depth to the fictional world of Naruto. In Part II, aside from Shikamaru, the Rookies were for the most part ignored in favor of focusing on Naruto’s very personal quest to save Sasuke and his conflict with the Akatsuki, with the Uchiha plotline kicking in about midway through.

As a result of this lack of relevance however, in both real time and in-story time, a disconnection was created between the audience and the characters. While the characters are familiar, the fact that readers didn’t really get a chance to learn more about what happened to them over the course of the time skip makes them less familiar, and as a result, less sympathetic. It also doesn’t help that for the most part, the interactions these side characters have with Naruto have been lacking.

When I got to the part where the various Rookies made their vows to help Naruto and his friends fight Tobi, I honestly didn’t feel anything. I know that it was supposed to be an emotional moment, that it was a grand sequence detailing the coming together of disparate people for the sake of one common goal, but honestly, due to my sudden inability to care about these characters that had long been ignored by the author, I just could not give a single fuck.

These characters who had at one point seemed so familiar, and thus so easy to relate to were now strangers to me, and I just couldn’t find it in myself to feel even the slightest emotion at their vows. Or rather, I could not feel the right emotions. Critics call it bathos. TV Tropes calls it narm.

And it was bathetic. It was amusing looking at Hinata’s stiffly drawn face as she made clear her status as a shallow love interest. It was laughable when Kiba called Naruto his rival. It was gut-bustingly hilarious that Tenten got a moment to give her inner monologue but Neji, who had been deeply affected by Naruto in the past, did not, perhaps because Kishimoto was saving his big speech for the upcoming death scene.

As with Kurama’s conversion and Naruto’s subsequent team up with him, what could have been a moment of gravitas was ruined by the events leading up to it.

 

Things that Sucked: ‘Nobody’

I don’t have much to criticize in regards to Tobi’s decision making throughout the fight. He went to the big guns early by having six undead jinchuriki and their corresponding biju fight under his thrall. How was he supposed to foresee Naruto suddenly being able to communicate with the other hosts and tailed beasts on a spiritual level? He decided to hold back from fighting on the front lines and let his pawns do the fighting for him, getting close only when he saw an opening with which to end things quickly. How was he supposed to expect the sudden appearance of Kakashi and Guy? When the biju were released from his control, he acted fast, sealing them back into the Gedo Statue without letting the situation get too out of control, and then using said statue to fight Killer Bee on (at the very least) an even level. He made all the right moves, but the plot didn’t even let him win a minor victory, which only hurt my ability to take the fight seriously.

The early parts of the fight were marred by just how disconnected the combatants felt from one another despite the connection between Tobi, Kakashi, and Naruto. Up to this point, there wasn’t really any hint at Tobi having a particular relationship with Kakashi except for theories about Tobito that proved true, while Naruto was surprisingly chill in the presence of the man who almost singlehandedly (Minato’s not getting off free for his role) ruined his early life. This lack of emotional tension robbed the fight of much of its dramatic potential.

Furthermore, as a villain, Tobi was a disappointment. He started off as a bit of a joke character, and among fans, his role as the Akatsuki’s comic relief led to him becoming a minor fan favorite. Needless to say, his transformation into the story’s Big Bad was rather jarring, regardless of the lack of foreshadowing. Afterward, he became a sarcastic, grim diabolical mastermind. The problem, as is a theme with this series of reviews, was how his character was executed.

He never comes off as either all that funny or all that intimidating. His quips to Minato and Konan are painful (at least in the Viz translations), and when he does try to be intimidating, he manages to only look unimpressive. Against Danzo’s barely there bodyguards, he managed to lose an arm. Against Minato, he got pwned hard despite Minato’s claims about “the masked man’s” power. And against Konan, he had to bring out an extremely haxx technique. All this while using only one jutsu for the most part.

Perhaps it would have been preferred if Kishimoto had focused on either Tobi’s jester or mastermind personas. In his attempt to characterize Tobi as both, he has failed to deliver for the most part. I admit, it would be hilarious to have a troll of a villain who managed to make me laugh, but it probably wouldn’t do for a big bad in this kind of story. And diabolical masterminds are good, but they are defined less by their personalities (which in the hands of the average writer tend toward the dull) than by the scope of their plans (and the Moon’s Eye Plan isn’t what I’d call great). If there is a character who does manage to be a great example of both, it’s the Joker from Batman, and Tobi is no Joker. Not even Cesar Romano.

It doesn’t help that masked villains are meant to have a certain allure and mystique. Unfortunately, Tobi’s behavior failed to keep up with his machinations. He never comes across as mysterious in a vaguely threatening way. Sure, he turned out to be behind all sorts of important events. Sure, his identity was actually a mystery. But his unimpressive performance as a villain and lacking personality keep him from being a truly great masked maniac.

Darth Vader succeeds in being a threatening villain who retains his mystique for a good chunk of the story (unless of course, you watched the prequels first). He does so by actually posing a threat instead of merely being implied to be one (showing rather than telling). The character possesses an aura of menace, and even at his most sympathetic prior to his redemption, he still serves as the major physical, emotional, and spiritual threat to Luke. Tobi tries to be menacing, but as I said earlier, he never really succeeds in matching the hype whenever he’s onscreen.

I admit that the scene where Tobi is informed of the real Madara’s appearance and then starts saying that he himself is “no one” actually rectifies this somewhat. While that revelation did rob him of some of the mystique that he had built up, it also served to illustrate in many ways (or at least until the reveal, but more on that soon enough) that Tobi was the ideal ninja—having sacrificed all sense of self in favor of his mission. It calls back to the moment in the Penis Arc when Sai states (wrongly) that he is no one, he is without identity, acting only as a tool in the service of Danzo. Tobi’s sudden turn for the subtly deranged (just look at his body language as he reacts to Naruto’s words) did manage to redeem him somewhat, though it was a bit late in the game.

 

Things that Sucked: The Gokage versus Madara

One of the problems I have with Madara is that his characterization was so delayed. Early on, Kishimoto tried to create a Sauron type of character whose very name inspires dread and who manages to cast a presence even without physically appearing in the story. However, where Sauron was a somewhat abstract figure who maintained his mystique by remaining out of the story entirely, the true Madara finally appeared during the arc’s climax as Kabuto’s trump card.

Based on his hype, one would expect Madara to be not only powerful, but in possession of a character worth fearing. Instead, we got John Kreese with superpowers and a hard-on for a guy who was sealed away a few hundred chapters ago. Also, 80s hair.

His personality aside (and by God is it hilarious to see Madara act like an elitist he man woman hater who may or may not be a total closet case), I have to admit, as ridiculous as I found his move set, at least he felt like the closest thing in this war to an actual threat. The whole dropping a meteor on Gaara’s division was pretty damn over the top, but I have to admit, it was pretty cool. The walking Susanoo made multiple was also pretty interesting. And while I thought it odd that his perfected Susanoo is so huge and capable of destruction on par with a biju (makes the whole thing about capturing one for the purpose of strengthening a village’s military capacity seem less rational when it’d arguably be easier to just stock up on Uchiha and Senju and doing all that could be done to avoid alienating them), I will concede that the design and sheer insanity of the thing to at least be great eye candy.

Another thing I found hilarious was the Hashirama face grafted onto Madara’s left breast, if only because of how much it looks like something out of Kuso Miso Technique.

One issue of characterization not involving Madara that stands out is Ohnoki’s transition into the wizened leader of the kage. While this is in itself definitely not a bad thing, far from it actually, the execution of the process could have been, like much of the writing in Part II, better. It all started when for some inexplicable reason, one decent verbal comeback from Gaara was enough to get Ohnoki to reconsider his entire life.

It came off as sudden and clumsily handled, as the reader was not privy to whatever inner conflicts and bouts of characterization Ohnoki was supposed to be having. We see him going from a cynical, crotchety old man to a newly hopeful, crotchety old man in between Gaara’s verbal smack down and his first appearance after the summit. There’s no proper transition for the audience to connect to the character’s rediscovery of his youthful ideals. And this only hurts the moment where Ohnoki flashes back to his youth and thinks about what the first Tsuchikage told him. Had this scene been earlier foreshadowed or hinted at when Ohnoki had his ass verbally handed to him, the actual moment would have been powerful. Instead, it just comes off as the typical use of a flashback somehow motivating a character to not give up, except without the proper buildup. Compare this to when Jiraiya thinks back to his memories of Naruto before he wills himself back to life; the difference in quality is evident due to the audience being aware of the bond between the two characters as well as readers having witnessed much of what was shown in Jiraiya’s memories. Another thing to compare this character arc unfavorably to is Sarutobi’s time in the spotlight prior to his genuinely sad demise. Like Ohnoki, Sarutobi had flashbacks to his youth when making his last stand. However, because of his emotional connections to other characters in the story, be they the recently unveiled founding Hokage, to his former students, or to the younger citizens of his village, which had been built up not only prior to that fight, but also during it, Sarutobi’s time to shine was able to connect with the audience on a level that Ohnoki’s never could.

My main beef with this battle however, has to do with the efforts of the five kage against Madara. While it was nice to see good old fashioned teamwork for the purpose of fighting a superior opponent, it’s kind of sad that in the end, they came out of the fight looking rather pathetic. Had they lost but still managed to deal a significant enough blow that was nullified only by Madara’s immortality, then there wouldn’t be as much issue. Instead, it was made clear that all their efforts were for naught, as Madara stopped playing around and made clear that he could have crushed them whenever he felt like it. Not only that, but there were no lasting impacts from this battle, which was in hindsight, padding for an already bloated story. It’s pretty disheartening to see Kishimoto make it clear that all the willpower in the world is no substitute for good old fashioned power, and by extension that the only people who matter are descendants of the Sage (and even Tsunade falls short because her skills are but a pale shadow of Hashirama’s). It also does not help that it made Ohnoki’s vows to hold the line and take down Madara look pointless in hindsight.

 

Things that Sucked: When a Flashback is Better Than the Fight It Ungracefully Interrupts

This is easily the worst of the three battles that took place during the war’s climax, between the poor pacing, Kabuto turning out to be another disappointment of an antagonist, Itachi getting shilled hard, and the fact that once again, the Uchiha plotline turned out to be more relevant to the story on an emotional level than that surrounding Naruto.

As I’ve mentioned, this fight was poorly paced. It was like rereading the Penis arc, except the characters involved were a lot less interesting at this point. These two pages happened within three chapters of each other, and in that time, not much happened during the fight. We got a crappy flashback that tried to add emotion to the battle, but the problem was that it came out of nowhere, and served as a lame justification for why Sasuke’s Susanoo had a bow and arrow set. Had there been some buildup to this flashback’s playing out, there wouldn’t be a problem, but since it was clumsily inserted into the plot, we got yet another moment where Kishimoto went for pathos, and came out with a steaming lump of bathos instead. In fact, if you take into account the contents of Itachi’s Izanami, you come to realize that when it comes down to it, very little action actually occurred during the fight.

Kabuto himself isn’t much of a villain, being more of an Orochimaru wannabe than anything. I get that he was supposed to mirror Tobi in that he was a being without an identity searching for one, while Tobi is pretty much the opposite, but while this theme of his character is in itself not a bad thing, the attempts to make him a legitimate antagonist were. While he had heaps of potential, having trained off-panel to become a ninja on par with any of the kage even without Edo Tensei, he had the bad luck of having his debut in battle be against the Brothers Uchiha, one of whom has a borderline unbreakable plot shield, the other being Itachi. Furthermore, his use of Edo Tensei was in the end, pretty weak sauce, as a fair chunk of his army was quickly sealed away, and when he did take complete control, Kabuto still found ways to screw up. Only Madara actually threatened to do anything of consequence, a shame considering how much anticipation there was to see the zombie army in action. Poor bastard never had a chance to look good.

Itachi is part of the fight’s weakness, but it has less to do with his power than his role in the plot. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Itachi is an intentional invocation of a God Mode Sue. Like Minato, he’s always been designed as a benchmark to surpass, and as a result, his talents and abilities were intentionally executed in a manner that gives him an aura of invincibility (while also showing just how he could have come to the conclusion that he was capable of singlehandedly fixing everything himself). The problem with Itachi in the context of this battle was that Kishimoto had effectively overused him by this point. When he served as the primary element in Nagato’s defeat during the war, it was irksome, because the two had little connection other than being former associates, and Itachi’s continued glory came at the cost of Naruto and Bee’s apparent levels of competence. When Itachi almost singlehandedly dealt with Kabuto by revealing Izanami, that was when it was apparent that Kishimoto had officially overdone it with Itachi. Again, it’s not his level of power that bothers me; it’s the execution of his role in the plot. In Rurouni Kenshin, a similar type of character, Hiko Seijuro XIII, was intentionally given a minor role in the story, as the author realized that someone as powerful and memorable as he would only overshadow the other characters if given too much screen time. Kishimoto failed with Itachi by giving him so much screen time and so large a role that he effectively became one of the main characters, and arguably the most competent of the good guys.

There wasn’t really much teamwork to speak of either. As with the fight against Nagato, Itachi was made to shine at the expense of his partner’s image. Sasuke did contribute a bit, but even then, on more than one occasion, Itachi had to protect him, at one point at the cost of his own safety. As a result, the same character that is meant to be Naruto’s final and most personal challenge was made to look like a common noob, even after having shown of the power of his new EMS. If Kishimoto wanted to temper some of the hype for that battle, he succeeded.

Another problem with this fight is that it serves as the emotional center of the war’s climax, given that Naruto wasn’t having all that emotional a battle against Tobi, and the kage hadn’t really displayed anything all that generally relatable given their relative lack of screen time. The problem with this is that it continues a pattern that started during the Year of Sasuke: the fact that the story is more about Sasuke and the Sage’s descendants than it is about Naruto. Once again, he is meant to serve the most important role as the destined child, yet, as far as the emotional context of the story is concerned, Naruto is the secondary protagonist.

I will say this though, for all its faults, at least the fight was interrupted by an interesting flashback. It was nice to see Orochimaru remind us of what an interesting villain looks like, and while I wasn’t able to emotionally connect with Kabuto’s situation, I did appreciate the hidden details of the shinobi world that his past revealed.

 

Things That Sucked: Tobito

This was crap. It was so crap that I almost marked this revelation as my synonym for suck. But now I realize that simply saying “Tobito” is another way of saying suck, just as one can use either the terms “rectify” or “correct” in a sentence where either could fit. “Kaguya” and “Tobito” are interchangeable as synonyms for the kind of suck that we got in the later chapters of Naruto. Sometimes I really wonder how this series could disappoint me so much, but then I remember what the Star Wars prequels did to me.

All right, all of you know about this “twist,” which a lot of people had predicted ever since Tobi was first introduced and a lot of others, including myself, had wished was not meant to be for a variety of reasons. But you know what, he turned out to be Obito, and the forums were down for a while. Now on to why it sucked.

Why It Sucked: Failing as a Foil
Part of the whole Obito being evil thing’s “appeal” was supposed to lie in the fact that he was similar to Naruto and thus an ideal foil as an opponent, you know, like Nagato had already done before him. And Gaara before that. But this was different because young Obito was basically a brunette Naruto. Well, if that was what Kishimoto was going for, he failed harder than I did the last time I tried to make myself shepherd’s pie.

Obito falls flat as Naruto’s foil because he lacks the depth that Naruto offered as a character. Naruto is defined by a lonely childhood as an orphan hated for something he had no control over because his father was a fucking dumbass. Despite this tragic life, he kept trying to make things better for himself and sought the acknowledgment of others so that he could prove to others, and to himself, that he existed, and that perhaps he deserved to exist. That’s an interesting bit of characterization right there. So what does Obito bring to the table?

Obito turns out to be an orphan with no friends except for Rin. Except we only learn that he was an orphan long after he was introduced (which makes it even weirder that this was never brought up during his earlier appearances when it might have been relevant; an example of this being his developing bond with Kakashi during the Gaiden). Furthermore, we don’t really see him interact with others that much. As a result, he comes off as a rather flat character whose bonds are rather loosely written, making it all the harder to identify his character with Naruto’s. When he does suffer loss (more on that soon enough), his reaction is stunningly over the top, especially given that Naruto never indicated he would slide down the slippery slope nearly as quickly.

If you’re going to compare and contrast two characters so explicitly within a story, you have to draw the lines of similarity and difference between them with the proper detail. Obito being so shallowly written kind of takes away from that.

Why It Sucked: Your Motivation Sucks
The second reason why this twist sucked? Obito’s motivation.

Obito, as Naruto’s foil, clearly needed something to set him apart from previous villains and their tragic backstories. After all, previous foils had included horrifically abusive childhoods, seeing loved ones die, and the tragedies that abound in a world defined by its commitment to waging war. After Gaara and Pain, we needed to see something that was fitting of a villain posing as Naruto’s ultimate shadow archetype during the most spectacular part of the story. Kishimoto needed a home run to top his base hits.

He went for a sacrifice bunt. Instead he screwed even that up and got tagged out before he could move away from the plate.

Obito turns into a nihilistic psycho with solipsistic dreams simply because his crush died. It wasn’t even a matter of her being killed by the guy he had come to see as both his rival and best friend. It was because his crush died. All this shit that happened? The attack on Konoha? Capturing jinchuriki? Starting wars? Because his crush died in a really, really stupid way. This was supposed to be Naruto’s ultimate foil? The guy whose crush died? It’d be like if Sakura died and Naruto went all Pain on the world in spite of the fact that there were people who cared about him other than her. Obito had the potential to meet up with his teacher or Kakashi or whoever the fuck he bonded with. Instead, he goes all emo teen and lets Kakashi stew in his guilt and ruins what should have been the happiest day of Minato’s life. What a little bitch.

Furthermore, sometime after the reveal, in a blatant attempt to make Obito’s reasoning look less ridiculous, Kishimoto reveals that Obito learned later what events led up to Rin’s death. Unfortunately, given that we know for a fact that Obito snapped when he saw Rin die, this just comes off as a lame attempt at justifying Obito’s rapid turnaround.

What makes it worse is that Kishimoto tried to explain this by revealing that, through Tobirama, that Uchihas just love so hard that they go batshit insane when they suffer loss. It’s like the whole thing with Saiyans becoming stronger after near-death experiences, except really, really stupid.

Why It Sucked: What is Does to the Gaiden
The third reason why the twist sucked is because of what it does to the Gaiden from earlier in the manga. That side-story serves to illustrate just how Kakashi went from a stick in the mud haunted by his father’s fall from grace to someone willing to bend the rules for the sake of doing what’s right. Despite Kakashi being the character that grows the most, it is Obito who is the true protagonist of the side-story because in the end, he leaves Kakashi with legacies physical, philosophical, and emotional. Obito represented the defining element of Kakashi’s character. When we see him visit the memorial at different points in the manga, we come to understand just how strongly this impacted him. And while Kishimoto did a decent job showing just how badly he took the revelation, he also failed to consider what it did to the message passed by the Gaiden.

When you think about it, Kakashi was right when he originally opted to leave Rin behind. Had his father carried out the mission without falling into sentiment, things might not have gone so badly for Konoha afterward. Had Kakashi carried out his mission regardless of what Obito did, the Uchiha would have probably been killed along with Rin, but at fucking least he wouldn’t have grown up to be a mass murdering maniac out to reunite himself with an illusory version of his childhood crush. People like to say that things happen for a reason, but you know what? If Kakashi had never learned his lesson, maybe a lot of the crap that happened in the story could have been avoided. It’s not like Madara could easily leave his hideout (although one wonders how he implanted his eyes into Nagato). Maybe Black Zetsu could have come up with an alternative plan, but the fact is, doing the right thing caused a lot of potentially avoidable pain and sorrow.

Why It Sucked: Who Wants Redemption?
Another issue with the twist is the way it was handled, or rather, how Obito’s redemption was handled later on. Naruto shrugs off the fact that this guy is the one who left him an orphan. The one who started a war. The one who is directly responsible for a bunch of peoples’ deaths, and indirectly responsible for a hell of a lot more. So for Naruto to be so forgiving is one thing, even if I would have liked these details to have made more of an emotional impact on him, but what makes it worse is that Naruto seems to brush them over after Obito sacrifices himself to save him. The fact is, one realization of his life’s errors is not enough to change the fact that he screwed the pooch in the first place. Simply being “similar” to Naruto in his youth is not enough. He was not a cool or awesome guy. He was a fuck up who tried to do something decent in his final moments. But Naruto couldn’t even get that right.

And when Obito gets to the afterlife, how does Rin greet him? By saying that he did good. I’m sorry, but one act of sacrifice while he was already in the process of dying is not nearly enough to completely discount the fact that it’s kind of his fault shit got this bad in the first place. A moment of good doesn’t immediately undo over a decade of sin.

Atonement is great. When done right, it serves as a way of saying that anyone can become a better person if they are committed to it. When a character genuinely feels contrition for the things they’ve done though, they have to realize that atonement isn’t a destination, but a never ending path. You don’t get rewarded for one good deed at the end of your life (unless of course, you’re Anakin Skywalker, but that’s a whole different topic to discuss altogether). You keep trying to make things better for everyone else regardless of the fact that you’ll never be able to fully make up for what you did. And Kishimoto didn’t seem to realize that.

So How Could This Have Possibly Been Fixed or At Least Made to Suck Less?
Now I’m going to take a step back from my usual format to look at what Obito could have been assuming that Kishimoto had always intended for him to be Tobi. Before that, I would like to bring up something that I actually did when discussing the treatment of Hidan and Kakuzu.

Sakumo’s story raises questions about the story’s themes and the ideals espoused by Konoha, namely whether it is worth it to save one’s loved ones and comrades if sacrificing them would be in the name of a greater good, and also whether such sacrifices might in turn imply that the greater good might not be worth it in the end. By acting in a manner that would be applauded by the narrative and the younger characters in the story, Sakumo only managed to ruin his life and career. Is it really worth it to protect your comrades when doing so only nets you scorn and dishonor? By making the village the main priority, as even an idealist like Hashirama came to do, is the individual sacrificed? If the people of the village are aware of such things but do nothing about the status quo, does that make them worth protecting? The importance of these questions becomes clearer in the context of my argument in this post once I point out Obito’s admiration of the White Fang.

During the Gaiden, Obito at one point, when told by Kakashi just what an ideal shinobi is supposed to be like given the system, rebuts his teammate’s argument by pointing out that not only did he agree with Sakumo’s decision, but that he was willing to crush the idea of what it meant to be a shinobi if said idea was so heartless. Already one can see the potential for an interesting villain if done right. To have Kakashi be the one to kill Rin, and then to have Obito learn unsavory details connected to this incident would thus create a backstory for a different kind of villain from what we actually got. Given what happened to Rin and Sakumo, Obito could have easily been written as having become disenchanted by the shinobi system, and thus obsessed with crushing it rather than becoming a nihilist out to put everyone in a world of dreams. The horrific stories of the Uchiha clan, Kakuzu, the perpetual war zone that was Pain’s homeland, Kisame’s experience with betrayal in the Mist, and even the discrimination against jinchuriki could have provided more ammo for a character convinced that the current system needed to go. It would even add a new dimension to the Akatsuki’s originally revealed goal of attaining a monopoly and crowding out the hidden villages. By turning the group into a strong competitor, the villages’ strength would be destabilized on an economic level.

This would be a rather topical antagonist to depict in the story given that people in real life have grown somewhat disenchanted with the status quo. Other works have already done similar things with masked revolutionaries, a particular favorite being Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. Like V, Obito would be dedicated solely to the idea of taking down what he viewed as a corrupt and unjust establishment, with even his identity being subsumed into his cause. By having Naruto unmask him and the person behind the mask, Kishimoto could have written himself a rebuttal to works like V by pointing out the personal psychologies that lead to people becoming like Tobi while still acknowledging his arguments.

By giving him a more fleshed out and foreshadowed motivation, as well as a less far-out plan, Kishimoto could have actually made Obito into an interesting villain. Unfortunately, we got what we did, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.

  

Things That Rocked: Kakashi’s Reaction to Tobito

If there’s one thing that was done right, it was Kakashi’s response to seeing his friend and idol on the other side of the battlefield. As much as the reveal sucked, Kakashi’s reaction was great. The large panels with his shocked and disturbed face successfully conveyed just how much this impacted him. Obito wasn’t just the friend he had made too late; he was the reason why he became a better person. Obito was a symbol of what Kakashi strived to be, and his difficulty processing this inconvenient truth was well done.

I also admit to rather liking Kakashi’s speech to Obito after the latter had been defeated. While Kakashi had always been somewhat enigmatic despite our knowing his backstory, the revelation that he was a self-admitted nihilist who sought a higher purpose was both heartbreaking and inspiring. He could have easily become something horrible like many villains in the story, but instead he decided to act constructively. All this in spite of having a pretty horrible backstory in his own right. Granted, he’s no messiah like his student. However, he did serve as a symbol of how a person unconnected to prophecies could overcome hardship and emerge from it a better, stronger (albeit broken) person.

 

Things That Could Have Been Better: The Ten-Tailed Beast Revived

Okay, so the Ten-Tails is revived, and shit looks bad. I admit to chuckling when it simply flicked Bee’s attack right back at him. Still, you would think that it shouldn’t be so easy to physically flick away what is supposed to be a ball of destructive energy. But oh well.

Contrary to what some thought, I felt that the creature’s designs were okay. Not the greatest, but not horrible. It looks kind of like a Bulbasaur gone bad with the bud on its back, foreshadowing its connection to the World Tree. If anything though, I question why it needed to transform. Anyway, the first form looks properly monstrous, if a tad plain for something that was supposedly the biggest threat in the universe. The second form was a bit better, with its facial features being warped in a way that called to mind the three monkeys. However, the tails that were actually hands looked kind of ridiculous, and when the creature bulked up, it looked rather silly rather than threatening. If anything though, I would have preferred that if Kishimoto was going to include a rabbit demon in the story, he would have hinted at that by making sure his designs included aspects of such an appearance.

I’ll go into greater detail in another post, but one issue I had with the pinnacle of tailed beasts was its disappointing performance during the war. This was supposed to be the closest thing the world had to a god, with Kaguya being its true identity, yet it continually found itself underperforming to expectations. I expected its ability to manipulate the environment itself to be enough to overwhelm the average human. However, merely being gifted with a tailed beast cloak was enough to keep the Alliance going. And later on, the Uchiha proceeded to easily handle the beast when they became its jinchuriki. I don’t know about Madara, but in the case of Obito, I could at least comprehend how his single-minded obsession was enough to overcome Kaguya’s will.

 

Things That Sucked: Neji’s Sacrifice

It was so bad that when the chapter came out, I started a thread in the Naruto Forums Telegrams.

So Neji, a character who’s been out of the spotlight for so long that I almost forgot about him finally gets a day in the limelight. You know what that means, kids! That’s right, he dies after Naruto suddenly goes all derp and tires out from an injury, a bit of writing that made little sense but was necessary to create contrived drama. Hinata, being the dumbass she is, decides to shield him with her body instead of something more productive. Neji, being an even bigger dumbass, decides to shield her with his body! So he dies protecting the main branch. Like his father did. Out of his own free will. So he escaped his fate as a member of the cadet branch? But then his father escaped his fate by making a sacrifice based out of familial love rather than duty to the clan. And Neji…it was a little ambiguous.

Anyway, so we get some more symbolism of a flying free bird (play it!), a callback to the caged bird motif associated with Neji since Part I. So far so good. But then, as if to really make it sink in that this is a tragic event that deserves our precious tears, the bird gets impaled by a wooden spike.

Shit. Is. Hilarious.

What should have been a tragic moment came off instead as bad comedy. To wit, Kishimoto set up a visibly contrived situation, and then proceeded to overdo the drama in order to make up for the fact that his setting up of the event was piss-poor in its execution. Had Neji remained a part of the cast focus on a somewhat consistent basis, readers would have better retained their connection to him. However, because he was for the most part ignored for so long, the bond between reader and character was interrupted, making it harder to feel anything about what happened to him. Furthermore, by having the bird die in the manner it did, suddenly, and at the end of the chapter, it invokes only bathos, appearing less like a summation of tragedy than it does a punchline to some very sick joke.

Then, to add to the suck, we get the reactions to it. It’s one thing for Naruto and Neji’s peers to show shock and sadness. It’s another thing entirely for the entire Alliance to grieve for this one guy and then rally around his sacrifice. I mean, how many other people died during that war? Don’t they get a moment to shine by having people rally around them? Does this only apply to Naruto’s loved ones? Is the entire world really trying to bend over backwards that far for some kid?

It also comes off poorly compared to a similarly executed scene in One Piece, when Ace fell in battle. In that series, the scene worked because one, Ace’s bond with Luffy had been built up prior to and during the arc, two, there was an established camaraderie among Whitebeard’s crew, and three, because Ace was one of the focal points of said arc. Readers could understand why the crew mourned along with Luffy because all of them had a bond with Ace. Furthermore, because rescuing Ace had been one of their shared goals, having him die served as a punch to the gut for both the characters and the reader. Neji was close to Naruto, his clan, and his peers, and that’s it. He wasn’t the focus of the war. As a result, this scene just looks even worse when laid side by side with the one in One Piece.

 

Things That Sucked: Orochimaru Defanged

At least in Kabuto’s flashbacks, Orochimaru had some dignity. Post-resurrection, he underwent the same fate as Kurama: he was pussified. The same Orochimaru who had once thrown away subordinates once they’d ceased to be useful, the same Orochimaru who had struck fear into the good guys and killed off Hiruzen, the same Orochimaru who had committed dastardly deeds like it was going out of style, was played for laughs! Like a fucking episode of Rock Lee’s Springtime of Youth! And later, when probed about his goals, Orochimaru reveals that upon looking at Kabuto, he began to reevaluate his priorities, and that he wished to see what Sasuke was capable of. The guy who wanted to be the master of everything through immortality! The manipulative fuck who convinced Sasuke to go rogue! What the shit!?

 

Things That Bugged Me: Incoherent Storytelling

So Sasuke’s group stops by an abandoned temple on the outskirts of Konoha. Funny that this was never mentioned anywhere in the story before. Said temple houses masks and assorted other items that were used by the Uzumaki clan. Where the fuck did this come from? Seriously. A place with a connection to the main fucking character of the series was never fucking brought up before? What the fuck am I even reading? Okay, so they get a mask that turns out to be a means of turning its wearer into a medium by which one can summon the Shinigami. Oh, that’s pretty fucking awesome. Why did Kishimoto waste so much time with broken-ass ocular jutsu and Hot Topic-brand angst when he could have been writing about kick-ass onmyodo inspired jutsu? The only thing I don’t like about this last bit is how it leads to the invalidation of Hiruzen’s sacrifice. But oh well, I would expect Orochimaru to look into ways to get his arms back.

The group then proceeds to sneak into the village, which presumably has lax security due to most of the troops going off to war. Fair enough? But then they don’t even make any attempts to hide their identities, which sets off some alarm bells because you would expect at least one fucking person to recognize frigging Orochimaru and Sasuke! What kind of crappy ass security and apathetic citizenry are we even looking at here? The gang may as well throw a fucking parade for all the responses it might get.

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that Kishimoto just wanted the story to go in a particular direction and could not care less about whether or not it made sense in how this came about. To be fair though, you could say that about a lot of the previous chapters.

 

Things That Sucked: The Uchiha Curse

The revelation about the true curse of hatred associated with the Uchiha clan was brought up during this arc, and boy was it the epitome of shitty writing. First of all, it turns the Uchiha clan into an entire family of lunatics. I’m sorry, but if this was supposed to make them more sympathetic (“it’s not his fault, it’s his genetics”), all it did was convince me that the elders had the right idea keeping a close watch on the clan. If these guys could go nanners simply from suffering a simple tragedy, then that meant that they were a danger to anyone around them if they were to get close to anyone, especially important given that they were a family geared toward ninja work. It made Obito go from pathetic sad sack to pathetic sad sack with a mental illness. This was literally a clan of little bitches. It was canon. The Uchiha are a clan of little bitches! It’s bad enough that Kishimoto expects readers to sympathize with the Uchiha regardless of how far they fall, but for him to go out of his way to make up a genetic excuse for their behavior? Is this really the same guy who wrote a bunch of arcs I was praising in other posts not so long ago? In short, this was a fucking stupid twist and the fact that Sasuke was allowed to breed is highly disturbing.

 

Things That Were Not All That Bad: Hashirama’s Flashback

You know, I don’t hate Hashirama’s flashback. I thought that it addressed a point that needed to be made: that in the end, the main conceit of the series’ premise was that we were reading a story about child soldiers. Sure, they were raised in an environment where the next battle always appears to be around the corner and there is much to be said about the way that they are raised to put their duty to their homelands first. But in the end, for all the niceties and moments praising such sacrifice, they are in the end children being raised to fight and die for their villages. It ties nicely back to the grittier aspects of Part I, even if the series tends to find itself in conflict over whether it wants to glorify death during war or show how pointless such things are. In fact, if anything though, I thought that this particular element of the flashback was great, and a reminder that this series could be something better than what we’ve gotten lately.

I would in fact argue that part of the problem with the series is that it sometimes does remind us that Kishimoto is or at least was capable of genuinely good writing, and that the disappointment of many is made worse by this realization. Had Kishimoto been a mediocrity from the start, it would have been tolerable. We could have just moved on. But to show flashes of brilliance only draws us back in when we should know better.

The rest of the flashback isn’t that bad either. Hashirama and Madara’s childhood friendship does get some needed panel time, and it’s nice to see these two kids away from the battlefield and just plain acting like a couple of kids. Such inanity actually makes their relationship feel more sincere, and it all the more painful when fate intervenes. We see the roots (no pun intended) of what would become the modern shinobi system, as well as the good intentions behind it. It serves to illustrate that even the most well-intentioned plan has to make compromises when it meets with the realities of human nature.

If there is a weakness though, it is that Madara changes too suddenly and Hashirama seems kind of like a pushover. Yeah, he realizes what he must do at the end (as well as the compromises he must make), but at the same time, he seems overly naïve, and the story seems unwilling to punish him for it as much as it should. His willingness to die in order to earn Madara’s trust is a bit overdone, and raises too many questions to count. His preference for making Madara Hokage shows that he doesn’t understand politics nearly as much as he understands the battlefield. As for Madara, it would have been nice to get a more gradual transformation. A longer flashback would have served to better illustrate how a shared dream could go so wrong. For Madara to go from anxious ally to sneering villain in so short a span story-wise is far too jarring for those interested in better understanding the characters and their bond.

Hell, if anyone comes out of this looking good, it’s Tobirama. Yes, he’s a bit of a jerk, and a more than a little harsh, but his logic is sound, and I can’t help but wonder about the anti-intellectual undertones of this manga at times.

 

Things That Bugged Me: Karin

Last but not least, we come to Karin. Oh Karin. For a moment you looked smarter than Sakura, deciding to move on from Sasuke once it became clear that he saw you as nothing but expendable. But nope, you just had to suck more than should be possible by crawling back to him after a half-assed excuse and having this moment played for laughs. What is wrong with the women in this series? Speaking of which…

 

Things That Sucked: Sakura

So after several hundred chapters of relegating Sakura to moving scenery and token damsel who only appears useful because she heals irrelevant characters, what does Kishimoto do? He brings her out by revealing that Sakura actually spent the past couple of years building up enough chakra in the Yin seal on her forehead for the purpose of pulling a Tsunade.

Normally, this would be awesome. However, given how much crap we had to put up with involving Sakura before this point, it just came off as a last minute power-up. Furthermore, Sakura’s training had been left entirely off-screen, meaning that it was impossible to truly appreciate and comprehend her growth, unlike in the case of Sasuke when he first appeared in Part II, as his unusual growth at that point highlighted the sheer difficulty of Naruto’s quest and was hinted to be in part due to Orochimaru’s less than healthy experiments. With Sakura, on the other hand, we were left with a sense that since so many people were complaining about her lack of usefulness, Kishimoto had decided to pull something out of his ass.

A second issue with this particular development is the questions it raises. If Sakura really had this sort of potential the entire time, why the hell didn’t she stop sending part of her chakra to the seal instead of allowing herself to be put at mortal risk during the fight against Sasori or against Sasuke in the Land of Iron? It just makes her look stupid.

Third, after Sakura gets her moment in the spotlight, Kishimoto seemingly mocks her by having one of the Juubi Juniors attack her from behind, resulting in her two teammates saving her ass and making her look silly in the process. It kind of undermines a character’s moment of glory if they have to have their asses saved right after the author and other characters tried to make said character look awesome.

Fourth, there’s the shilling. Suddenly, characters are talking about OMG, how awesome Sakura has become. This violates “show, don’t tell.” If you need to tell us a character is badass, they might not actually be all that badass. The forced parallels with the Sannin didn’t help.

Parallels aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Like any other tool of the trade, they must be used properly. Unfortunately, I can’t say that for the developments here. Sasuke and Naruto had already moved beyond their mentors by going past snakes and toads/frogs, toward the legacy of the Sage and even new abilities and/or summons that had nothing to do with their mentors’ styles. It also makes Sakura look even worse given that not only was she still a clone of Tsunade, but she didn’t even have a new summon to call her own.

 

Things That Bugged Me: Minato Sucks, But We All Knew That

Anyway, Minato reveals during this arc that he still had hiraishin markings on Obito’s body, meaning that he could have actually solved a lot of problems by not only sealing Kurama into Naruto using means other than a fatal sealing jutsu like other villages had done, but also using his jutsu to track and take down the mysterious masked man before he continued to wreak havoc. Damn it, Minato, could you be any dumber?

 

Things That Bugged Me: Pointless Fanservice

Anyway, for the sake of throwing a bone to fans of the supporting cast and the video game developers, Kishimoto revealed that the rest of the Konoha group had developed new special moves of their own over the years. It’s a shame then that we didn’t really get to see them grow as people or ninjas, but fuck it, because fanservice.

At least Shino’s was actually pretty gruesome, so there’s that.

 

Conclusion

This arc was bad. It was horrible. It was crap. It was somehow worse than all the junk that came before. It flat out sucked. Look at just how much stuff I talked about that fell under the category of “Things that Sucked.” It’s actually kind of amazing how a manga that was once so good could fall so, so far. Going over all my old notes and rereading this part of the series actually made me feel tired and almost sick even. Part of the reason this post took so long to finish, aside from real life intruding, was because I had to force myself to get through the arc to rework my original posts on it. Unfortunately, the suckfest that that Naruto had devolved into was not yet over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kishimoto: Hey, Sakura!

Sakura: Yes, Kishimoto?

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

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

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

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

Karui and Omoi leave. Sakura cries. Sai enters.

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

Sakura: What? Why?

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

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

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

Sakura cries some more.

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

Sai: …

Shikamaru enters.

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

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

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

Kiba and Lee enter.

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

Sakura: Perfect.

Naruto enters.

Sakura: Hey, Naruto!

Naruto: Yeah?

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

Naruto: Oh. Fuck.

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

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

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

Sakura: Oh FFS, later!

Naruto leaves.

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

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

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

Lee: Good idea!

Sakura: Now!

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

Lee: Holyshitwhatthefuck?!

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

Sakura gasses them.

Sakura: Thank God for dumbasses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karin: Damn, that guy is awesome.

Sakura: Damn, Kakashi is awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naruto enters the scene with an epic save.

Naruto: EPIC SAVE!

Sakura: Well, fuck.

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

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

Kishimoto: A heroine!

Sakura: Go fuck yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TTR/TTS: The Kazekage Rescue Mission Arc

With this being the first of my post-script posts on areas that I wish in hindsight I’d covered in greater detail, I bring to you a review proper of the first arc of Part II of Naruto.

With Naruto returning to Konoha, he meets up with what remains of Team 7. No longer students in need of Kakashi’s mentorship, but peers to be collaborated with on missions, Naruto and Sakura have grown into their roles as shinobi. Meanwhile, Gaara, once a feared outcast among the ninja of Sunagakure, had redeemed himself in the eyes of his fellow villagers, becoming the fifth Kazekage.

However, the dreaded Akatsuki finally decides to commence operations openly, taking out Sunagakure’s village security before nabbing Gaara for some nefarious reason or another. Team 7 is chosen for their first mission together in years: rescuing the Kazekage.

After an explosive climax and a finale that hinted at greater things with the converging schedules of Orochimaru and the Akatsuki, it seemed that Part II would take what we loved about the series and bring it to new heights, with a greater focus on the wider world Kishimoto had created, kick-ass battles, and a scale unprecedented in the story. It quickly became clear however, that it was rather akin to the later Star Wars films in that it was a huge piece of crap that ranged from “I’d rather flay my dick” to mediocre. Of course, given that this is an excuse for me to flex my critical thinking capabilities; I may as well see if the first arc of the lesser part of Naruto is really all that bad.

Things That Rocked: The Tragic Tale of Chiyo and Sasori
I’ll say it right now: Chiyo and Sasori’s relationship was not only easily one of the best handled relationships among the supporting cast, it was one of the best written relationships in the series period. While other relationships in the story showed you everything, this one teased bits of detail at a time, slowly building up the bond between the two characters, and even then left you with some questions, resulting in a relationship that felt a lot more real than a lot the other ones that pop up throughout the manga. Furthermore, it served to explore the ideologies and relevant themes of the greater story, and in turn fed into what was a decent fight scene.

The bond between the two characters is not only tragic, but also serves to further put a human face on the poisonous effects of the shinobi world’s past and the flawed systems that permeate it. Once again, it is clear how war and culture destroy normal people, in this case a broken family whose survivors are themselves left damaged. Chiyo retired from public life and was content to lazily live out the rest of her days doing nothing, yet it became clear as the arc went on that she was full of regret over her past actions, and that despite her bravado in the face of the current generation’s “softness,” she had come to question the merits of the ideals that she lived by and tried to pass down. Sasori was a seemingly cool, consummate criminal that had mastered his art to its very limits, but he also was revealed to be little more than a lonely little boy all grown up and eager to replace fragile human bonds with something more permanent, something that would not leave him and the world behind.

It was also interesting to note that despite the heavy emphasis on the loss of his parents, Chiyo suggests that while this event heavily influenced Sasori’s worldview, the roots of it were much more complicated. It serves to subvert Kishimoto’s tendency to reduce a villain’s motivations to a single issue in that based on Chiyo’s comment, Sasori’s personal philosophy and the resulting “art” was actually the dehumanizing shinobi culture of Sunagakure taken to its logical extreme. Sasori no longer desired to be merely human and looked down on human concepts such as bonds and emotions. Like Haku before him, Sasori sought to kill his heart and turn it into one of swords, yet the truth of Sasori was symbolized by the fact that in the end, the only part of him that he could not turn replace with puppet parts was his heart. What brought him down, in fact, was his momentary hesitation upon seeing the puppets Mother and Father preparing to end him with a pincer attack, a grotesque parody of the warm embrace that he sought in vain from them after losing his parents. Once again, the system and the ideals it espouses come into conflict with the very human people each seek to influence.

I’ll get more into this topic in the very next section, where I discuss

Things That Rocked: Puppet Masters Duking It Out
Before I start, I would like to say this: the battle against Sasori is the in some respects one of my favorite battles in Part II. It does have its share of flaws: being overly drawn out and possessing noticeable gaps of inaction where the characters stand around like idiots talking to each other (taking their eyes of the enemy in the process!), interrupting the flow of the battle. But it also has so much to it that works: a strong emotional undercurrent surrounding Chiyo and Sasori, an epic scope with amazing jutsu, Sakura’s (at the time) admirable character development; it’s all there.

What I really admired about the battle was how it handled Chiyo and Sasori’s relationship. You could really sense a strong undercurrent of emotion and regret between the two characters in spite of Chiyo’s cool professionalism and Sasori’s claims to the contrary.

What makes a good fight isn’t simply flashy choreography or an epic scale. It’s the emotional aspect that draws the audience in, and makes the characters and their situation matter to them. Battles should not be gratuitous; rather, they should mirror a dialogue between characters. A well written battle is simultaneously symbolic and explicit. The explicit nature of a physical fight lies in the aforementioned internalization of the characters. The symbolic aspect relates to how this physical demonstration of these internalized characterizations represents an indirect form of communication between the involved parties. It serves as catharsis for both characters and audience.

As mentioned in the above section, Sasori’s situation and Chiyo’s past complacency highlighted the tragic effects of the traditional shinobi system. Sasori wasn’t some flat villain with generic motivations. He was a highly nuanced and haunted genius whose was twisted by the world he grew up in. Chiyo wasn’t a typical old master coming out of retirement. She was an old woman filled with regrets for actions she committed as both a ninja and a human being. By the end of it, you ended up feeling for both the villain and the supporting character. Seeing the bad guy lying dead in defeat didn’t bring about a sense of pride or joy. The only thing to feel was sadness at the culmination of a tragedy years in the making.

The eye candy aspects of the fight were also done well. We were given hints of the growing scale of jutsu that would be a trend throughout Part II while also witnessing the true nature of a battle between top class ninja. After Kankuro had showed readers just what puppeteers were capable of back in Part I, Kishimoto decided to take things to their natural conclusion with the two greatest puppet masters alive at the time, making the art of puppetry look pretty damn awesome in the process (which is why it kind of sucks that Kankuro’s growth in a later arc failed to come off as all that impressive in its context, but that’s a complaint to expand on later). Not only did we see some insane use of puppets, but we also got to see some pretty cool jutsu and tools in action. A lot of this stuff was so interesting that I’m surprised they didn’t really show up again later save for Sasori’s puppet body (you would think that the device Sakura used to seal said body would have come in handy during later arcs, like perhaps when she was fighting enemies who couldn’t be killed, but only sealed away).

The fight against Sasori is most definitely Sakura’s crowning moment. If Masashi Kishimoto wanted to express Sakura’s development emotionally, mentally, and physically after the time skip, he could not have done much better than her showing here. In contrast to badly written fan fiction that turns Sakura into a Mary Sue, here Sakura was a young ninja with talent who was a bit out of her element and league, but still found a way to contribute substantially to the end result. She kicked ass, adapted to Sasori’s movements, figured out the antidote to a highly complex poison, was willing to sacrifice herself for Chiyo without a moment’s hesitation, and proved to be a deciding factor in the battle. In fact, Sakura was a strength throughout the arc.

Things That Rocked: Sakura
This arc represents the high point of Sakura’s character. After an inauspicious beginning followed by several false starts, Sakura finally made good on the promise she showed at the end of Part 1 by not only showing that she had become a pretty decent ninja in her own right, but had also grown up somewhat in mental and emotional terms, showing great sympathy upon learning the truth about Naruto while also displaying a cool head and resourcefulness in the battle against Sasori.

Of note is how she resolves that this time, she intends to protect both of her boys, a far cry from the empty promises of the past. It’s a shame that Kishimoto kept this an empty promise, but I’ll keep myself from getting into that. Let’s try to focus on the positives for now.

Also, particularly striking is the bond Sakura develops with Chiyo, and how the two of them come to form a pretty good team during their fight against Sasori. In fact, aside from her bond with Sasori, the other major bond Chiyo develops during the arc is the one she forms with Sakura, with the younger kunoichi’s idealism (along with Naruto’s own) rubbing off on the old cynic. It’s easy to appreciate the bond, which slowly develops from one of respect on Chiyo’s part after witnessing Sakura’s medical skills in action to a more mutual appreciation after Chiyo shows just what she can do in the battle against her wayward grandson (Sakura’s performance in turn also adds to the older woman’s opinion of her).

Things That Rocked: Akatsuki Ups the Ante
It was also to finally see the Akatsuki in action as a whole. The introduction of Sasori and Deidara was great at showing just how dangerous the organization was despite its rather small membership, with the group as a whole serving as a means of upping the ante from Orochimaru alone. With their mysterious goals and a rather strange statue into which they sealed biju (which often required fatal extraction from the people that they had prior been sealed within), it was clear that they were to take a leading role in driving the story forward.

I also appreciated how Kishimoto followed up on the hints at the costs of using the Mangekyo Sharingan while hinting at Kakashi’s own at the same time prior to it being unveiled. While it was a tad odd that the dojutsu was so damned overpowered and variable in its uses (a problem that defined much of Part II later on), at least now it was clear that there was a price to be paid not only for unlocking it, but also simply utilizing it. Plus, it kept Kakashi relevant, showing that even the adults could grow over the course of the time-skip.

If there is anything I really do wish was done better though, it was Kisame’s treatment given that while his fight with Guy here was decent enough (he dominated a good part of it and even a weakened version of himself required unlocking seven of the physical gates to take down), his final defeat much later in the series really should have been flashier given that he gets taken down with little much more effort (granted, he was without Samehada at the time).

Things That Rocked: A Reason to Get Emotionally Invested
When you think about it, more than just being an important bond for Naruto, Gaara also represents what Naruto was hoping for himself both in terms of becoming Hokage and in terms of saving Sasuke. To see his dead body after all that worrying was like seeing all his hopes do the same.

First of all, by becoming Kazekage, Gaara further cemented himself as a foil for Naruto, and for the latter, seeing Gaara, a once feared and highly disturbed young, man grow into a beloved village leader was evidence that even Naruto, with his tragic history, could achieve his dream of becoming Hokage and being respected, if not outright loved, by the village that once treated him like an outcast. This was the very core of Naruto’s character at stake, and it explains why Kishimoto saw fit to plot things out this way to start off Part II (it also makes Naruto’s recognition of Gaara’s status among his fellow Sand nin all the more prominent on rereads). The second thing Gaara symbolizes also ties in with Naruto’s most prominent bits of characterization: his relationship with Sasuke.

That the first arc of Part II was a rescue arc just like the last one of Part I is no accident. It serves to not only foreshadow the success of Naruto’s attempts at bringing Sasuke back to the light, but also fits with the insecurities of the character past the end of Part I. The end of Part I saw Naruto failing to bring back Sasuke, but in this arc, after an initial failure due to Gaara’s death at the hands of the Akatsuki, the Kazekage is brought back through the sacrifice of Chiyo, who was influenced by the optimistic future that Naruto and Sakura represented. In this way then, the end of the arc is an affirmation not only of Naruto’s positive effects on the ninja world, but also of how his ideals will in turn redeem Sasuke, even if it is at least a little indirectly done (which it was given later events). Given this symbolism, it is clear why saving Gaara was such a major goal of Naruto’s despite their lack of actual interactions past their fight in Part I until this arc.

Saving Gaara was a way for Naruto to redeem himself for his failure to bring back Sasuke the first time. It was bad enough to fail once, and despite his putting on a brave face, Itachi’s illusion reveals that Naruto is not nearly as confident of success as he tries to appear, a major source of internal distress that fully externalizes itself later after the second failed attempt to bring Sasuke back. To save Gaara was to prove that Naruto could save a friend, and thus meant that maybe he stood a chance at saving the friend he’d lost earlier in the story. It’s why it’s so sad to see him so distraught after it becomes clear that Gaara really was (seemingly) beyond help. As Naruto would himself put it during his first meeting with Sasuke in Part II, how could he hope to become Hokage if he couldn’t even save one friend (see my above comments on what Gaara represented in terms of Naruto’s core goals)?

Becoming Hokage was an end in itself in that Naruto believed that once he achieved that status, he would be able to make the positive changes he felt were needed to improve life for everyone. To fail to save even one person would have made him unworthy of that status, because how could he pretend to save the world when he could not even save a single person?

Things to Note: Foreshadowing?
Something that probably wasn’t intentional was the jutsu Pain used to have Akatsuki members attack the two teams by proxy. In a way, it served to foreshadow Pain’s own nature, as Nagato himself uses dead bodies to handle opponents from afar.

Things That Sucked: The Weaker Aspects of Gaara’s Story
An issue with the arc happens to involve Gaara’s own personal storyline. While there was a clear difference in how he was treated by his fellow denizens of Sunagakure after the time-skip compared to what we were shown prior to his change of heart in Part I, I do wish we could have seen more of this transition. After his defeat at Naruto’s hands, Gaara had been shown as having changed quite a bit when he assisted Lee against Kimimaro, showing a more pensive and thoughtful side to go with his familiar ruthless application of brute force. Still, his transformation over the years was a dramatic one, and aside from that one flashback Kimimaro has, we only get to see the fruits of Gaara’s labors.

Another issue I had with the storytelling was the extent of Gaara’s bond with Naruto. While they did share a bond that could not be easily replicated due to their similar backgrounds, after that their actual interactions were limited. Gaara wasn’t shown directly interacting with Naruto after their fight—in fact; their next direct conversation would come near the end of this arc. It kind of made Naruto’s interest in saving Gaara more about himself than about the person he was saving, which kind of sums up much of the trouble with the overarching issue of bringing back Sasuke.

Things That Sucked: Kishimoto’s Continuing Experiments with the Art Style
Again, this is bringing up something that I complained about before, but for a time, Kishimoto’s art could be a tad distracting at times, whether in terms of the flatness of his cleaner style or his experiments with perspective.

One issue I have with Part II’s art is that while it is in many ways an improvement over what came before, it could also feel rather flat and almost soulless. The cleaner lines and less exaggerated designs, which led to the manga more and more resembling the anime adaptations, could alternately seem more refined and were probably easier to efficiently replicate and draw on a weekly basis. At the same time however, they were often lacking that characteristic grittiness that I’d come to identify with some of the better moments of Part I. The world of Naruto is gritty by its very nature, and the art in many respects reflected that. Like the Star Wars prequels, what had felt like a rather lived-in world looked a bit more generic and clean than it had before. Perhaps not everyone would agree with me, and I’m sure that those more knowledgeable about drawings and art would find a lot of holes in this argument, but for me, the changes to the series’ art just didn’t sit right.

One prominent example of an odd use of perspective comes after Gaara gets taken down by Deidara. Baki is running around giving orders to prepare the village’s response when we get this really bizarre fish-eye effect. Why did we need to see this? Yeah, Kishimoto might have wanted to make what could have been a boring looking panel more interesting, but did he have to make it look so silly during a serious moment?

Things That Sucked: Pointless Fanservice
One of the issues that I had with this arc, and that I wound up having with much of Part II in general, is the general pointlessness of the old supporting cast. Here, the inclusion of Team Guy felt like fanservice rather than an important aspect of the story being told.

Sent to back up Kakashi’s team, Team Guy finds itself temporarily slowed by Kisame’s proxy, and then later by clones of themselves. As a result, they failed to have an impact on any of the arc’s important battles. While this may have been in part to save them for later and to let Team 7 (particularly Sakura and Kakashi) shine, it still made them feel rather extraneous. Furthermore, why did they have to be the ones to undo the seals around the Akatsuki hideout? Why didn’t Naruto just create a bunch of clones so that the two teams would have the maximum amount of manpower available to them at the time when facing members of an organization comprised of ninja so powerful that even proxies fighting at a fraction of their full potential were threats to even elite jonin? It’s like Kishimoto didn’t think this part of the story through in the slightest when trying to justify having certain characters in the spotlight.

It also doesn’t help that one character that should have been relevant, Lee, failed to do anything of importance. In Part I, Lee and Gaara were not only opponents during the Exams arc, but also wound up developing a thematic dynamic regarding the nature of bonds and strength, which was in turn followed up on with a more direct dynamic between the two after the Sand shinobi showed up to rescue Lee from Kimimaro. As a result, any reader with some degree of appreciation for the bonds in this series (and let’s face it, bonds are a pretty big deal throughout the story) would expect something from Lee during the arc. Maybe some sort of conversation with Naruto or Gaara, or perhaps a peek at his thoughts about what was going on. Unfortunately, if readers were expecting some semblance of decent character-driven interactions and storytelling, they were wrong as wrong gets. Lee doesn’t do anything of value during the arc. No character beats whatsoever. That really sucks no matter how you look at it.

While it was nice to see these guys again after the time-skip, by the time the arc had ended, I really didn’t see any real reason why they needed to be there instead of some other random group of characters. In fact, one could say the same for much of the rest of the Konoha supporting casts’ treatments, as with a notable exception (Shikamaru), these characters were basically treated as nothing more than spear carriers during the first half of Part II.

Things to Note: Parallels With Part I

It’s actually rather interesting to note that some of the earlier arcs of Part II do mirror those of Part I. As with the Wave arc, this arc happened to set the tone for the following arcs by: introducing a villainous duo, had Naruto call upon the fox’s power after seeing the body of someone he thought a friend, having Kakashi first fake out a lesser opponent using a decoy, then later show off the abilities of his Sharingan only to exhaust himself to the point of being bedridden, and even ends on a bittersweet note. Unlike the earlier arc however, this arc’s ending is slightly less bitter.

The deaths of Haku and Zabuza stand out in part because while they are to some extent redeemed in the eyes of the characters and readers, they also do not survive past their plotline’s end. While they do serve to thus influence Naruto’s own character development in a large way, it’s a far more tragic end than is common throughout the rest of the manga.

Here, while Chiyo does give her life, it is she who was influenced by Naruto (although I have some issues with this), and in the end, Naruto does manage to bring Gaara back (alive) to Sunagakure.

Things That Sucked: Shilling the Hero
One of the things that really became a pattern during certain parts of Part II was how Kishimoto engaged in telling rather than showing. Some prominent examples of this revolved around the presentation of Naruto after the time skip, both in terms of his influence on another character and in terms of how much he had grown as a ninja over the years.

What really got on my nerves in hindsight was the way that the story failed to really give Sakura her proper due. While her growth was noted in detail, towards the end of the arc, Chiyo’s change of heart is credited mostly to Naruto despite Sakura having not only developed a bond with the old kunoichi, but also having impacted her worldview in her own way during the arc. But that’s not even the biggest issue with how Naruto is presented during the arc.

What was even more annoying, considering that the series is a battle manga, was how Naruto’s growth felt less concrete than it should otherwise have. The start of the arc began promisingly by showing Naruto with improved fundamentals and doing much better against Kakashi during the second bell test, even if much of it was not shown to readers. However, the rest of the arc featured him falling short in various ways, whether in terms of being embarrassed by far more skilled opponents or losing his temper and allowing the demon fox to take over. During the fight against Itachi’s proxy, it is noteworthy that despite getting a brief flashback showing Naruto being taught the importance of breaking an enemy’s illusions, Itachi still managed to easily handle him (while Itachi is for the rest of the story clearly one of the very best genjutsu users, it was still rather pathetic for Naruto to be shown up with so little difficulty). Even Naruto’s newest technique, which he busts out against Itachi, doesn’t really seem to have much of a purpose given that a normal Rasengan would have easily sufficed against an opponent of average human durability.

Unlike the Wave arc in Part I where Naruto served as the center of the story’s climactic fight scenes and resolution, emotionally-speaking, here he felt less integral to the story, an issue that would define a large part of the writing for his character during the first half of Part II.

Things That Sucked: Tsunade is a Dumb Blonde
A common factor throughout Tsunade’s tenure as Hokage is the way many of her decisions, particularly those pertaining to Naruto, can easily come off as more than a little questionable. I mean, the reader sees for themselves that each individual member of the Akatsuki is highly skilled and dangerous to the point that even an elite ninja outside of one of the kage or someone of that level might want backup when dealing with these guys. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, Tsunade thinks it’s a good idea to send Naruto out on missions beyond the village walls despite knowing full well that the Akatsuki’s goals include attaining all the biju for whatever reason.

Now granted, she did send backup for Team Kakashi, who were themselves to be backed by Sunagakure’s forces due to the sensitive nature of the mission (even if the Sand did take its sweet time getting there). However, during the next arc, Tsunade fails to provide even that for Naruto’s protection, and in a way, I kind of agreed with the arguments made by the elders regardless of how Kishimoto tried to portray the argument from a sentimental standpoint. A good leader has to know that decisions are made with the head rather than the heart in most cases for good reason. Hell, even the next of Naruto’s excursions outside the village only has another team to serve as backup for Team 7 despite it being clear that most Akatsuki duos can probably handle the average platoon or two.

On the whole, where she is meant to be open-minded, strong-willed, and full of faith in both Naruto and the next generation of Konoha’s ninja, Tsunade instead comes off as an incompetent blonde drunkard.

Things That Sucked: Not Really Planning Things Out
Reading this arc in hindsight really shows how poorly planned out the story was. Tobi feels like a completely different character beyond the purposes of the plot, and the Akatsuki rings, despite being heavily hinted at being important, fall off the face of the Earth.

First up: Tobi. Tobi feels like a completely different character, and it’s not just due to his pretending to be a goofball. The fact that he’s taking this guise even around Zetsu doesn’t make sense given what we learn later unless one re-interprets his first scene as Obito being serious but facetious, only to miss the catch due to a lack of depth perception, or something like that, but even then there are issues given that, among other things, this sort of clumsiness never comes into play again. Still, it actually would have been hilarious if instead of being yet another mostly stoic emo, Obito had basically acted like a villainous and jaded Naruto, down to being very affable despite planning on wiping out free will. It certainly would have been way more entertaining than the walking bitch-fit we actually got.

As for the rings, what was the point of them? I’m curious, because I can’t come up with any good reason why Akatsuki members should find them so important if they were ultimately worthless to the story. Were they necessary for communication or syncing with the statue? Was there some other reason why we got dialogue devoted to mentioning them?

It’s little things like this adding up that do damage to the audience’s ability to take fictional worlds seriously.

Conclusion
Overall, the Kazekage Rescue Mission arc was a highly uneven one. While it contained some of the stronger aspects of Part II’s story (if not in the entire manga), it also could be a bit of a chore to read due to the various issues I brought up above. Notable in the latter category were the issues that defined much of Part II (and parts of Part I): a visible lack of planning, the tendency to tell rather than show, idiot plotting, and a failure to properly utilize previously introduced members of the supporting cast.

Still, at least it was readable, which is more than I can say for what followed, an arc so bemoaned that it is known in fan circles as the “Penis Arc.”

Degrees of Suck

In descending orders (that is to say, least sucky at the top) of suckage, I will now list the degrees to which anyone reading these blog posts can consider just how much I think something sucks.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
People like to crap on The Phantom Menace, but honestly, the hype aside, the second of the prequels was the worst of them. While TPM had a few neat moments, this one was dull and had a horridly executed romantic subplot. Honestly, the only thing I really liked about it was the part where the clone troopers reminded us who the iconic soldiers in the series were with a gunship rescue.

Sucker Punch
When I saw the press photos and trailers, I thought this would be cool. I mean, how could you go wrong with a film clearly inspired by anime and video games? This movie is how. It was a pseudo-intellectual piece of crap that had nothing of value to say. Worse yet, it was boring as shit. This film displays the very worse excesses of Zach Snyder as a filmmaker.

Transformers: Age of Extinction
I liked the first movie. I didn’t care much for the second. The third was okay until the final act. But this…This was trash. This was a movie with, oh holy moly, I can’t believe that I’m saying this, too much action. It had so much action in it that I was looking forward to the quiet moments because of just how long and frequent the action sequences were. Halfway through the movie, I was begging for it to end because of how tedious it was. The characters were plain unlikeable, and the script made little in the way of sense. It was also quite possibly the first time I recall ever finding myself on the verge of falling asleep halfway through an action movie.

Kaguya/Tobito
This is what happens when you run out of ideas in your story. This is what happens when your editor doesn’t know how to do their damn job and you find yourself scraping the bottom of the creative barrel. If you find yourself thinking that these characters were done well, maybe you shouldn’t be a writer.

Haruno Sakura
Don’t even bother wasting your time. This is a level of terrible so bad that you find yourself feeling worse off afterward. This is the feeling of disappointment that accompanies broken dreams and shattered hopes. If you think that Sakura was a well written character, then maybe you’re an imbecile.