With Kaguya sealed away and Madara dying his final death, Sasuke declared his intentions of creating a better world by assassinating the sleeping Gokage and acting as the enemy that would unite the world against him. As Sasuke’s first target, Naruto made clear that while he would not allow Sasuke to do whatever he wished, he would be sure to stop him without killing him. So began the final few chapters of Naruto.
Things that Sucked: Why It Was So Hard to Care About What Should Have Been the Most Anticipated Fight in the Story
After nearly 500 chapters, Naruto and Sasuke were finally having their rematch. Their first fight was a culmination of tensions that readers had witnessed between the two erstwhile teammates, rivals, and friends, and it managed to combine spectacle with genuine emotion, resulting in one of the high points of the entire story. This second battle was about more than emotions and bonds, it was also about their respective ideals and the legacy passed down by Hagoromo’s fateful choices way back when. So why does it seem to fall flat despite having every reason to be the most exciting thing in the entire story? A variety of reasons actually, ranging from issues with story structure, repetitive plotting, and less than stellar characterization.
First of all, let us be reminded that this fight follows directly on the heels of the war, which resolved the overarching myth arc pertaining to the legacy of Kaguya and its impact upon the rest of the world. Already the series will have to top what was up to this point the most over the top spectacle in the entire story. Granted, this should be possible with the right emotional content, but we will be getting to that later. Another issue in this vein is the way everything has been paced, namely, that it goes against the standard rules for creating tension through rising action followed by a falling action and climax that lead into a resolution.
When building suspense, a story has to set up details that will come into play later, ramping up tension as it introduces characters and conflicts. The overarching plotlines of this series did this for the myth arc and the conflict between Naruto and Sasuke, tying them together while keeping them somewhat separated. As I mentioned above, the former plotlines were tied up with the defeats of Obito, Madara, and Kaguya, leaving room for Sasuke to take his place as the most personal of Naruto’s antagonists. The problem however, is the pacing.
Sasuke isn’t just becoming the main problem for Naruto after those three; he is becoming the main problem right after, as in just a minute later within the story itself. As a result of this, there is less room for the story to breathe and allow for the reader to not only digest past events, but to also build up tension toward the fight with Sasuke. What makes the climax and falling action so cathartic an experience is that it is the equivalent of letting the air out of the balloon after inflating it to the point where it is on the verge of bursting. For Sasuke to follow so quickly afterward keeps readers from not only moving past the other resolutions, but also from being able to actually feel as much tension despite the story having tried to build him up for so long beforehand. This ties into another issue, the repetitive plotting.
The final arcs of the manga had featured a series of rehashed villains within a rather short period of time. First we had Obito, a hybrid of Senju and Uchiha DNA who became the jinchuriki of the Ten-Tailed Beast and was in an ideological conflict with Naruto. Then, we had Madara (Sasuke’s predecessor as incarnations of Indra), a hybrid of Senju and Uchiha DNA who became the jinchuriki of the Ten-Tailed Beast who was in ideological conflict with Hashirama (Naruto’s predecessor as incarnations of Ashura). Next, we had Kaguya, the origin of the Sage’s bloodlines who turned out to be the Ten-Tailed Beast, having merged with the World Tree, and in conflict with everyone who does not look forward to being turned into a plant-human hybrid incapable of defecation. Finally, we had Sasuke, the latest of Indra’s incarnations with the power of the Sage’s eyes who is in ideological conflict with Naruto. Once again, we had a member of the Sage’s line using ocular powers to enforce their ideals. All of this within a relatively short time both within and outside of the story. It does not help that these repetitive “climaxes” thus wound up sapping the readers’ energy, leaving them spent just when the story had reached the point when they should have been at a high point of stored tension, resulting in diminishing returns in terms of actual emotional impact.
The final issue with the fight as it is now happens to be the two characters themselves. Since their fight at the end of Part I, Naruto and Sasuke have become less interesting characters as a whole, although one could argue that this extends to the rest of the cast as well. Naruto has lost much of the fire that defined his earlier self, and while this can be taken as a sign of his growing maturity, it is disconcerting to see him expressing less passion against people he should be less than happy with than he did earlier in the story. When he lashed out at Sasuke earlier on, it made sense because he was a young man desperate to save his friend from his own self-destructive nature. It added a reason for readers to care about what was at stake. Here, Naruto wants to save his friend and keep his promise to Sakura and those who tasked him with saving the shinobi world, but there is a surprising lack of emotion to make his struggle more relatable. There’s only calm even when witnessing Sasuke use a painful illusion on Sakura and hearing of his plans to destroy the old system in the most destructive manner possible.
Meanwhile, Sasuke has been one of the most awkwardly handled elements of the entire story. While he deliberately made himself an enigma in the earlier sections of Part II, later sections of the plot saw him swing this way and that as a character, as Kishimoto clearly had little handle of the character. One moment saw him find strength in the power of his bonds by thinking back to his time with Team 7, only for him to pull a 180 not much later in the Land of Iron. After that, he lacked any real sort of conviction, and only appeared to settle as a character after Itachi’s departure and his talk with the Hokage. It became much harder to comprehend his character as a whole, and this in turn exacerbated reader apathy toward him, as he became harder and harder to sympathize with in spite of the story’s ham-fisted attempts to give him an out for his misdeeds.
Taking things further is the problem with each character’s approach to solving the world’s problems. Naruto’s approach is less a plan than a Hallmark card, and while a little idealism goes a long way, it goes so much better when there is something cohesive to back it up. At the same time, Sasuke’s is naïve in its own way, and is in the end just a short-term solution, except this Band-Aid is going to pull out more than hair.
A well-executed fight is more than choreography and spectacle. It is also about the externalization of internal tensions as they boil over from the realm of the mental and emotional to the outright physical. The fight at the end of Part I did just that, as it took the growing tensions between Naruto and Sasuke to their logical conclusion. It should mean something here, but with the characters as they are now, there is little to work with. We know that there are ingredients for tension, but we don’t really feel these ingredients.
Due to the poor story construction, the repetitive storytelling, and the less than likeable characters, what should have been by all means the highlight of this series feels tepid and nothing more than a period to end the sentence rather than the exclamation mark that signifies its position as the story’s true climax. Much has been said about the decline of Naruto over the years, but if one were to take but one section of the story as an example of this rotting, one need only look at the execution of what is meant to be the decisive battle between Naruto and Sasuke.
Things That Sucked: The Beginning of the Fight
Yay, more attacks that make the stuff that came before this look small-scale. It’s amazing how a manga that once brought up the limitations of jutsu and their associated costs managed to turn into Dragon Ball. But at least it led into
Things That Weren’t All That Bad Actually: The Fight’s Final Two Chapters
Once the fight became a matter of two exhausted young men engaging each other with basic tools and taijutsu, things took a turn for the better. Where fighting with mechas made out of chakra feels impersonal and ridiculous, fighting with one’s own fists, legs, and even head feels intimate and “real.” Only by engaging each other at such a personal level could Naruto and Sasuke properly show readers the culmination of their emotional struggle after all these years in both real and the manga’s time. Their final clash, with an Amaterasu-empowered Chidori on Sasuke’s end and a Rasengan on Naruto’s, echoed a familiar visual motif in their battles, with both of the characters’ arms blown off below the elbows. They had been literally and figuratively disarmed, and with their weapons cast aside, now was the time to communicate and fight whatever battle there was left to be fought with words.
This conversation was a surprisingly heartfelt one. Sasuke admitted to his insecurities and just why he was so rough with Naruto (although I think that this could have been hinted at earlier, but foreshadowing wasn’t exactly Kishimoto’s strong suit after a certain point). Sasuke was forced to acknowledge that he had always respected and envied his closest rival and friend, admitting defeat even as his former team mate continued to claim that he was still aiming to beat him down. Having finally met an immovable object, Sasuke’s hatred-fueled path was forced to a complete stop.
While this moment could have been so much more powerful if the writing leading up to it had been more stellar, what we got wasn’t half-bad—a breath of fresh air in a sea of mediocrity. At this point, things seemed to be taking a turn for the better. I actually felt hope that Kishimoto would be able to end his series on a high note after an extended period of horrendous writing. Let’s face it; you can’t disappoint people if you don’t get their hopes up beforehand.
Things That Didn’t Suck Entirely: Wrapping Things Up
I have to admit that I almost felt something reading these last two chapters. Certain things aside, I did think Sasuke’s chapter was decent enough, even if Orochimaru and Kabuto wound up disappearing and Spiral Zetsu literally fell to pieces for some reason. The next chapter is similar in that it evokes feelings of nostalgia that are countered by moments where readers can’t help but go “what the fuck am I reading?”
While it was actually nice to see the story come to a close, there were some rather perplexing developments there. First of all, fat Anko. Fat Anko. Yes, the first woman in this series you might have considered masturbating to got fat. Probably from all that dango. Then there’s the woman Choji married and had a child with. Karui. Really. Did they even have a conversation during the main storyline? On the other hand, at least it subverted clichés about how childhood romances lead to lifelong relationships. Speaking of marriage, isn’t it strange how the two couples involving Team 7’s core members featured no interaction between partners whatsoever? Also, in attempting to parallel his ending chapter with the very first one, Kishimoto decides to have Naruto’s son vandalize the Hokage monument. The problem with this is a similar one to that pointed out by Red Letter Media when discussing the use of parallels and call forwards in the Star Wars prequels, namely that the author seems to have failed to understand the significance of the original scenes.
In Chapter 1, Naruto vandalizes the monument because it is but one of his usual cries for attention. He does this because he’s an orphan and has no friends or family to speak of. Furthermore, the adults hate him for a reason he has no control over, with their kids not treating him that much better. What seems to initially be the work of a childish (well, he was a kid) prankster turns into something a bit more tragic. In Chapter 700, his son does the same thing, and it is implied that his father is an absent figure in his life. This is rather strange given that he has the chakra reserves to have a shadow clone or two hang out with his kid while he’s busy with work on occasion, although he might just want to avoid the mental strain. Why is Naruto such a poor father? Yeah, he’s often busy with work, but you would think that he would be aware (on a very personal level) of what neglect does to a child. You would think that he wouldn’t leave Hinata to handle the child rearing. You would think that he’d do better than be annoyed at how his kid’s behavior reflects on him. Well, you apparently thought wrong. Well, it’s not like Sasuke’s any better as a parent judging by his daughter’s thoughts (so is the Uchiha curse still a thing, or can we not have to worry too much about a future Uchiha going nanners when their crush dies?).
It’s also a tad concerning that no follow-up was ever made to Naruto’s being made to understand just how negatively the actions of the superpowers had impacted smaller countries. We never did find out what happened to Rain after Konan died. In fact, not one mention is made of the smaller nations in this final chapter despite their resentment playing a part in what was the Akatsuki’s public plan.
This finale capped off a series that should have ended years ago. It’s not all bad, with certain parts of the final battle actually working and the final two chapters having their good points. The problem is that readers could not appreciate what they got as much as they otherwise could have due to so much poor writing going on beforehand.
Still, even with all I’ve written so far, there is still more to be said about Naruto and its weaknesses. You should see what I mean soon enough.