Well…it’s time. Whoo-oo.
I finished all of Naruto and Shippuden in about 5 months, skipping a lot of later filler because my siblings and I got tired of wasting our time on stuff that had no plot relevance.
I started off kind of liking it, I thought Naruto was cute, I thought Sasuke was okay, I did not like Sakura, but I wasn’t alone in that, at least 90% of the fandom doesn’t either.
About halfway through the OG show I stopped liking Sasuke completely, and about halfway through Shippuden, I stopped liking Naruto also. I began to like Sakura briefly, but before the Ninja War started I stopped liking her again.
However, I do have favorite characters, The Three Sand Siblings, Shikamaru, and the surprisingly great Sai (seriously never expected to like him as much as I did.) I also like Hinata, naturally. I’m going to devote a separate post to them so I can get into more depth.
Anyway, so I do have some positive feelings for the show, but overall it was the most frustrating thing I’ve ever seen.
I don’t need to go over the bad framing, horrible timing, and repetitive character types, because that’s not saying anything a million other people haven’t already said. Plus, those are aesthetic, cosmetic complaints that would not really matter if the quality was still good. Phineas and Ferb proved that repetitive humor and character types can be used in a genius manner, bad framing is annoying but not a death sentence. (Framing, in this context, means the plot points that set up a big confrontation or development. And the ones that follow it to create a cohesive story line. Avatar’s framing is famously well done to be just the right amount of filler and non filler so you don’t feel bored or exhausted.)
What killed this show for me were two, maybe three, consistent issues.
My Little Pony has shown that you can build an entire series out of one main message, split into many different facets and themes, like Friendship, and it can still be fun and profound.
So when I say the show Naruto has one or two basic messages, I do not mean that makes it bad inherently, I have no problem with repeating the same message over and over if you’re doing it well. I grew up on shows like that.
My problem is the messages themselves.
The three main messages are:
- Don’t ever give up on a friend who’s lost their way.
- Choose love over hate.
- The world is a dark place but by sharing our pain, we can make it better.
Since the friend, Sasuke, is the biggest problem with this series, I’ll start with him.
Like many fans, by the time Shippuden was over I really hated Sasuke. I had been told he was going to go to the dark side, but starting a 500 episode series, I figured there was no way they could drag out his redemption arc till the last 30 episodes…or the end, depending on how you look at it. I was wrong. So, so wrong.
Even so, I don’t think that was what made it bad.
Sasuke starts out as an okay character. He’s introduced as your typical dark, edgy, emo, anime boy. Everyone’s favorite. Literally, on the show, everyone likes him. It’s a bit of a mystery why since he’s antisocial and openly rude to most of them,and we never see him do anything kind or noble around the other ninjas. He finally does something cool at the end of season 1 by saving Naruto, and becomes more likable. For about two seasons after that he’s a good character, he and Naruto have a rivalry that makes some amount of sense. Sakura is annoying, but Sasuke doesn’t treat her terribly and she’s not totally bad all the time. So far, it’s okay, and Naruto is adorable.
About this time we start to get to know our side characters, and Shikamaru grabs our attention. Gaara is introduced, and it’s pretty compelling.
Then, Orchimaru shows up, bites Sasuke (ew) giving him a curse mark that gets activated when he loses emotional control, and says Sasuke will come seek him for power. Permanently traumatizing Sakura, who has flashbacks to this into the following show.
After that, over time envy and hate and resentment take over Sasuke’s soul, and he finally leaves to do exactly as Orchimaru said. He spends the rest of the show going from bad, creepy scientist to bad, creepy cult, to being his own band of bad, creepy people, all the while rejecting every attempt of Naruto, Sakura, and their teacher Kakashi to get him back. Ultimately, he holds the entire world a hostage to get his way, and Naruto fights him, finally winning but at a high price. Then Sasuke leaves again to go on his hero’s journey of atoning for his sins.
(If you think this is poetic coming after my Jellal post, then yes, I’m aware.)
Sounds okay if you only outline it, but the execution was horrible.
I sat through arc after arc of this show knitting my stress scarf waiting for Sasuke to start sucking less…it never happened.
The problem of Sasuke’s character in one word is: Stagnation.
After his brief period of being Naruto’s friend, and not a good friend, by the way, just one who didn’t totally hate him, he goes back to being the way he was before, and after that he stays that way the whole time. He NEVER CHANGES…EVER.
Like stagnant water, Sasuke gets more nasty and sour and gross over time. No matter how often he’s proven to be doing the wrong thing, he never gets it. He goes from one bad decision to another. When he eventually begins to care about “truth” he finds it out and still concludes he should do the same dumb crap that got the ninjas into this position.
Sasuke initially wants to kill his brother Itachi, who’s presented as basically the worst person imaginable, and then retconned into being a tragic hero because, for the sake of the village, he agreed to murder his family and entire clan, including children of all ages, old people, and people not involved in the politics of it…he was so noble, doing all that to protect Leaf Village, just, wow…
I repeat, Itachi committed mass genocide on his own people because Leaf told him to, and didn’t warn any of them to get out, and killed children under the age of 12, and he was portrayed as a tragic hero of the Leaf…
Sasuke finds out that Itachi was forced into it…not that anyone actually told Itachi if he didn’t do it they’d kill his family or anything, they just said he could spare his brother…for some reason…so, you know, they were generous.
But yeah, totally forced. No other options existed. So, Sasuke decides to learn from the past and not stop at one clan, but wipe out the entire village, including the innocent children, and the new Hokage who was not part of the assassination plans and wasn’t even in the village when it happened. You know, cause clearly the problem here was that Leaf was the one that survived, not that genocide is wrong or anything…
What’s really hilarious is when he explains this idiotic plan to Naruto, Naruto doesn’t tell him it makes no sense, instead he tells him he can’t just destroy their bond, and that he’ll have to go through him to get to the village. Sasuke for some reason agrees to this plan and says he’ll kill Naruto first, Naruto being, in his own words, “his closest friend.”
If this hasn’t gotten insane enough for you yet, it gets better.
Later on Sasuke finds out from a reanimated dead guy that the Uchilha clan has always had issues with being unstable and turning on their friends, and abandoning their people in order to seek out dark power, in fact, one such person is the one currently trying to destroy the world as they know it.
Sasuke decides to do what Itachi did and protect Leaf Village…by holding the entire world hostage until he can kill off the current five kages, (three of whom are so new they had nothing to do with the massacre, and have been trying to implement more merciful practices into their villages,) and take over as Hokage. You know…totally unlike the previous rulers who messed things up to this point.
I mean, clearly, holding the whole world hostage till you get what you want is better than what that skunk Madera did by putting the whole world asleep into his jutsu dream prison. Huge difference there.
It’s really a thing of awe that Sasuke is so oblivious to his own hypocrisy…until you realize that’s because the show itself is.
You see, after a certain point, I realized I couldn’t blame the character. Some characters are written to be bad, others are just badly written.
Kishimoto, the writer of Naruto, seems to be the one with the Sasuke infatuation. Somehow, no matter how many bad choices Sasuke made, everyone kept defending him. The plot itself defended him by not having him get himself into serious trouble at any point where he should have.
When Sasuke is confronted by his friends, they never take the tack that what he is doing is horrifying and inhuman, instead they try to convince him that he needs friendship and love.
And he does…but he really needs to be hit over the head with a big stick first.
Even a lawyer who believed that “we are the product of our environment” couldn’t defend Sasuke’s actions because they make no sense. He was admired for no reason, worshiped simply for having good genetics, and at the end of the day he does not rebel out of disgust for that, but because he is too stupid to learn from the past.
However, Sasuke’s one good trait is simply that he hates BS. His open disgust with his friends and village is understandable because they don’t treat him realistically. He knows he’s a villain, and he gets sick of them acting like he’s a lost puppy. Naruto literally laughs it off when Sasuke tries to murder the girl who Naruto’s had a crush on for years, twice. And then threatens his entire village. You know, just Sasuke’s usual antics. What are we gonna do with that boy?
I have a trash can he’d fit in…
I honestly found the show’s attitude disturbing toward Sasuke, it never bothered to prove him wrong, or have him learn that relying on dark power is unwise. On top of that the show then turned the guy who cursed him into comic relief. This guy experimented on people, made them fight to the death, and abused children…and he never repents of all that, he just says his curiosity is now directed elsewhere…and he’s not even imprisoned…
The attitude towards villains on this show was disgusting. No matter how terrible they were, if Naruto fought them and won them over they were hailed as tragic heroes. After all they were just trying to do what they thought was best…even if that was putting the whole world into an eternal trance.
Now, the argument can be made that all anime does this. But there’s a difference in how they do it. Fairy Tail redeems nearly all its villains, but the villain are confronted with the wrong way they view the world, and they admit that love was better. It’s not always well done, but there’s a clear statement of what was wrong with their way, usually.
Naruto never provides that. Naruto himself is often unable to answer the villains.
What killed it for me was the Pain arc. This is the 2nd message: Choose Love over hate.
At the end of this arc, Pain is changed when Naruto gives him a speech that is based neither on facts, nor logic, nor virtue, but on a very vague idea of hope that he might find a better way than Pain’s to fix the Ninja world. This was not the first time Naruto gave a bad answer, but since he was up against someone with a very developed, though terrible, ideology, it struck me as 100% ridiculous that Pain would be moved by such a clumsy argument.
It wasn’t even an argument, just blind, baseless hope.
Naruto can say nothing about the value of love, about the folly of letting pain control you, and of the blindness of choosing to filter the world through only the lens of the horrible things in it.
Instead he uses a book that is fictional, as the basis for his defense of not destroying the real world. Not cleverly, but vaguely. Because Pervy Sage believed in it.
Though Jiraiya was a failure who couldn’t even define what he wanted and walked out on his students multiple times, though the show tried to retcon him into being a good mentor… it didn’t work.
Supposedly, Naruto is walking the path of love, but yet he is unable to defend it by anything more than he believes in it just because.
Yet, Pain listens to this stupid speech and decides to undo all the death he caused…for Leaf, not for anyone else… and leaves the future in Naruto’s hands. Yay…
3. Sharing our pain.
The show is sadistic toward it’s audience.
The show likes to introduce characters who are more lighthearted than the others, get us to like them, and then kill them off in front of us. Most notably with the jinchuriki they introduced later in Shippuden. We know they’re gonna die, but they still are so likable that it stings when they do. And in senseless ways. No honor.
The show also liked to take any happier moment the characters had and just murder it with something going horribly wrong.
If that wasn’t enough, everyone in this world who isn’t a main character, or a side character of some importance, is a horrible person. All the kids are bullies, all the adults treat anyone who’s different like an outcast. And to expect a common sense approach to problems is like asking someone to jump over the moon…actually that’s more likely, because in one of the movies they go to the moon.
Ninjas can’t seem to not pick the worst possible way to deal with a problem. Either using a forbidden jutsu that is extremely destructive, or ordering murder.
Apparently it’s a cruel, cruel, cruel, cruel world, but it’s also mad.
The reason this kills the show is because of the first two points, that of how Sasuke is handled, and how Weak Sauce Naruto’s defense of his Ninja Way is.
For some more context, back in season one of the OG show, Naruto’s way of ninja was formed when Kakashi told them about Zazuba murdering his fellow ninjas as part of an exam. Naruto was quite properly horrified at this, because at that point the show hadn’t started treating mass murder as negligible in the list of crimes a human being could commit…(again, I am not kidding here.) Naruto resolves he will never be cruel enough to kill his comrades just because its what’s done, and he’ll change the Ninja system.
Which is great. I liked it. Sasuke and Sakura even seem on board with this way of thinking.
But Naruto later changes his Ninja way into meaning he will never go back on his word, even if it was a promise that doesn’t rely just on him in order to be kept, like bringing Sasuke back.
The focus shifts from Naruto seeing the world differently to his obsession with Sasuke, and his guilt over failing to convince him. But Sasuke rejected Naruto because he was his friend, not because he was weak or not good. It had nothing to do with Naruto’s approach.
Instead of being realistic about this, Naruto resolves to try harder next time, but not to change his outlook. However, it’s not necessarily bad writing because Naruto grew up with no examples of love until he was 12, and then it was still never taught to him directly what a healthy relationship was. It’s reasonable that he would not get why this is such a bad thing.
However, at no point is anyone able to explain to him why it’s destructive, no one seems to know what to say to Naruto.
Later, when my boy Sai criticizes the oh, so precious Sasuke, (not a lot, he simply states what Sasuke literally did by abandoning Leaf,) he gets punched. Later, Sai is the only one who bothers to step in and stop Naruto allowing himself to be abused for Sasuke’s sake. And to confront Sakura to make her stop using Naruto herself. Good for Sai!
His reward? Nothing, no acknowledgement whatsoever from them. Instead he gets flipped off by them and the plot and treated like an outsider.
All this comes together when the show’s big moment of preaching that we should share pain is used as a way to win Sasuke back. At that point, my sisters and I started laughing because why the heck would Sasuke listen to Naruto? Naruto knows nothing about sharing pain.
Naruto tries to take all the pain on himself, no matter if it even involves him or not. He tries to be the savior of the world. Instead of demonstrating this very destructive mindset to be faulty, the show gives Naruto god-like powers to be able to fulfill his fantasy. And they thought Madera was insane.
Naruto continues to go on about Sasuke and him being like brothers, and the bond, and all that nonsense, even after Sasuke has divorced himself in every way from morality and a bond with them. He’s completely delusional. Which some people point out. But they don’t stick by that opinion because somehow through pure optimism, not results, Naruto wins them over.
The message of sharing pain is further undermined by the fact that the show rarely bothers to show characters interacting as friends, and never shows them talk about what they’ve gone through, or heal from it. (There’s one exception to this in Shikamaru, I’ll cover that in part 2). The show also devotes pretty much zero time to building up the friendships it does have. They don’t get to be happy, and the romances get almost no attention, and it’s usually pretty clumsy when they do.
So, with no human interaction to back up the claim, we are expected to believe that Naruto understands anything about love and the way it softens pain. Great.
Sasuke would have been justified in laughing in his face. But instead it works because the show was ending and it had to. Not because anyone still cared…well, some people did, but not me.
Anyway, I could go on for a book’s worth of words about why I hate these messages being delivered in such a bad way, but I’ll conclude with this:
The real sin here is that the show lies to its audience, and to its own characters. In real life, Sasuke and Naruto’s relationship would be entirely abusive, but it is abusive on both sides, became Naruto never grants Sasuke the freedom to make his own decisions. He wants to ignore Sasuke’s free will and make him come back and be his friend. Sasuke doesn’t get a choice. Because the choice would mean he had to suffer consequences for it. And we can’t have that. Either Sasuke was destined to be at odds with Naruto because of the 6 paths, or he was destined to be his friend because Naruto said so, but either way he had no choice.
And with that, I end part one, if you made it this far, thank you and sit tight for the next part which will cover the good things in the show– Natasha