A few months ago, I wrote about my impressions of the beginning half of Naruto, a series I formerly was staunchly hostile toward without actually ever watching/reading it to find out just why it was such a huge freaking hit. Rest assured, I did eventually give it a chance, and now, for better or worse, I am a bonefied Narutard.
I would like to now give some critical advice to anyone who read my first Naruto article. For any of you who did start watching the series on Netflix after my recommendation, fair warning, after you finish the waterfall fight in Season 3, STOP RIGHT THERE! This was the point of the series where the anime completely caught up with the manga and the animators had nothing left to work with. The result was them stalling for entire seasons worth of nothing but underwhelming sub plots that are, for lack of a better word, crap. So unless you want to stomach over a hundred episodes of filler, DO NOT WATCH ANY FURTHER! Rather, what you are going to want to do is after the waterfall fight, go directly to the series revival. To key fans into letting them know they were going back to the original source material, they renamed the show Naruto Shippuden, which covers the original manga from Volume 28 onwards. Here are the results.
We begin after a two year time skip, Naruto returns home after being on a training sabbatical with one of the three Sanin, toad sage Jiraiya. After a quick reunion with his former cellmates Sakura and Kakashi sensei, we move on to see that not only him, but everyone in the Hidden Leaf has gone through their mid-teen growth spurts. Apart from the obvious physical growth anyone could have predicted (Choji filled out and now looks like a linebacker, Kiba’s now riding Akamaru instead of the other way around, Ino is wearing the same size outfit she was before, proving sixteen year old hipster chicks are way better than thirteen year old ones, and HOLY CRAP, HINATA IS SHOWING HER ANKLES!), every one of Naruto’s former classmates is now ranked Chunin (the intermediate class of Ninja) or higher, and his foreign pal Gaara of the Sand has even been crowned the Kazekage (Sand Village Leader).
And now, to hand out the highly coveted Most Improved Shinobi Award, and our winner is…
Believe it, this cherry blossom has come a long way from being the helpless superficial little girl with not a single discernable skill to her name. Thanks to two years of rigorous training under the Fifth Hokage and another of the three Sanin, Lady Tsunade, Miss Haruno has been outfitted into a well oiled shinobi machine, with brute strength capable of conjuring earthquakes at will. Not only that, she has also learned a good deal of medical jutsu, a technique alone that takes her from the least talented member of her graduating class, to one of the most valued citizens in the entire village.
Congrats, Sakura. After seeing what you were able to accomplish in two short years, I can’t wait to see what Jiraiya was able to teach Naruto in that time.
And……this is where the show takes it’s first step backwards. In two years, everyone has improved with their higher ranks and duties and brand new techniques, EXCEPT for Naruto. All he has to show for his two year sabbatical with Jiraiya is a marginal upgrade in strength and skill, and a bigger Rasengan. Whoopdee-do. This is the part where our former editor Chris might of chimed in to say something like “At least he didn’t get weaker, like Gohan during the time skip of Dragon Ball Z,” and I suppose there would be some truth to that. If I was holding Naruto up to the standard of DBZ, than that would be fine, but I’m not. I’m holding it up to the standard of its current competitor. During the two year time skip of One Piece, we were shown where Luffy was training and what exactly Luffy was training to learn. Then, five episodes into post time skip (which by Shonen standards is a pretty short length) we get to see him fully mastered in the techniques he set out to learn, and is able, in a single punch, to KO an enemy that he fought just before the time skip and couldn’t even dent.
While I have seen that level of growth in certain characters, obviously Sakura, and Sasuke as well (we’ll get to him) it’s rather disappointing that creator Masashi Kishimoto dropped the ball with his main protagonist. …Though when I think about it, it’s not that hard to figure out why they didn’t get anything done.
Anyway lets move on. So there is this new threat taking shape across the shinobi world. The Akatsuki, an underground cult comprised of rogue ninja from all corners of the world. Their goal is to extract the soles of all nine of the tailed beast (known as Biju) all of which reside inside the body of a human host (or Jinchuuriki). With Naruto being the Jinchuuriki of the Nine-Tailed Fox, that makes him a prime target, but that alone is not all that attracts Team Kakashi to them. They are also after Naruto’s friend Gaara, another Jinchuuriki (for the One Tailed Raccoon). Also, among the Akatsuki ranks is Uchiha Itachi, the man Sasuke has sworn to kill. Team Kakashi hopes that by infiltrating the Akatsuki, they may learn some valuable information that will lead them to their long lost companion.
As for my opinion on the Akasuki themselves, this is an instance where I believe the individual pieces are better than the sum of their parts. Each member is a master in their own trade of jutsu, and they each come off as formidable and intimidating opponents in their own right, leading to some snazzy fights throughout the series. They each have their own personality quirks and individual motives as well. That said, I find their overarching goal for “World Domination,” to be a bit cheesy, and any time they all have their big gatherings and all come together, they start to look like some emo heavy metal band. Don’t believe me? How about now?
It also doesn’t help that one of their guys wears makeup similar to Keith Richards from KISS, and their figurehead has just about the most emo name in the world: Pain. That may be what they were going for, but the series already has enough emo undertones as it was.
Speaking of which, lets, talk about young Captain Angstypants. Like his two former cellmates, Sasuke also trained under another of the three Sanin, Lord Orochimaru, and as expected, he is a total badass with new techniques up the yinyang. Of course Sasuke, as well as the plot, decide that they no longer need Orochimaru around with a new main villain in the works, so they promptly kill him off (or do they, wink wink) and Sasuke puts his plan of vengeance in motion. He starts by forming his own new team, consisting of, get this… Sugetsu, a smart alec guy with white hair (cough-Kakashi-cough), Karin, a girl with hot pink hair, used in the team for healing and is constantly trying to get in Sasuke’s pants (wheez-Sakura-wheez), and Jugo, a bi-polar delinquent who can turn into an enormous rage monster, and has spiky blonde hair to boot (Oh Masashi Kishimoto, you’re so clever).
In a surprising twist, Masashi Kisimoto actually went forth with the Uchiha Brothers final battle a lot sooner than I was expecting, for better or for worse. I was never a huge Sasuke fan, so I myself was pleased to discover his final goal for vengeance wasn’t going to be stalled for another hundred chapters. Yay, I said, Get this emo off between brothers over and done with so we can move on and focus on the characters and struggles I actually care about.
…And then, the plot proceeded to pull a fast one on me once the fight was over and Itachi dead, as the series new main villain Tobi/Madara/whoever the hell he wants his name to be, shows up to tell Sasuke “The Truth,”: how Kanoha’s officials were the ones really responsible for wiping out the Uchiha clan, believing them to be a threat to the other clans, and how Itachi made himself a martyr to protect the Hidden Leaf’s reputation and give Sasuke a reason to be an avenger and blah blah blah this is DUMB!
Seriously, I cannot express how much a bad taste this entire story arc left in my mouth. The only saving grace was that Itachi was no longer a one-dimensional power hungry git who wiped out his entire clan just to prove a point. Sure, he became more sympathetic, not that it matters now that he’s dead. Sasuke’s anger and lust for revenge doesn’t die with Itachi as we were all hoping, but instead moves directly toward Kanoha village, who in process of telling this story, has also been portrayed in a terrible light. Now he wants to destroy the Hidden Leaf, which was technically what Orochimaru already tried to do way back in the first half of the series, and what the Akatsuki will do to capture Naruto’s Biju anyway, and we all know this is just an easy half baked ploy by the creator to get Naruto and Sasuke to clash again, meanwhile Naruto and Sakura continue to defend him on some miracle that he can be saved even after he’s become a mass murderer and global criminal and MY GOD HOW IS THIS JERK SO FREAKING POPULAR DAMMIT!
I’m… I’m sorry… I just can’t… I have to talk about something else. Oh right, I forgot to talk about Sai.
Toward the beginning of Shippuden, Cell 7 is assigned some new teammates: Sai and Yamato. Of course, any character unfortunate enough to be assigned the roll of “Sasuke replacement,” is already damned to a lifetime of scrutiny, and that is exactly what Sai receives, both in the plot and the fanbase. It doesn’t help that his character design is so obviously meant to parallel Sasuke with the dark hair, pail skin, and the deep emotionless expression on his face. However, I personally find the fandom hate of Sai to be outrageously unfair (unless it’s in regard to his dumbass bare midriff, in which if that’s the case, your all justified. Seriously Kishimoto what gods name told you that was a good fasion design.) Under the hood, Sai is a very intriguing character. He’s got an interesting past that involves all his emotions being beat out of him at the Foundation. His tendency to be open about all his thoughts and always be blunt about the truth is very much welcome, particularly anytime the subject of Sasuke comes up. The first time Naruto gets so butt hurt about the idea of Sai replacing their former cellmate, Sai simply responds with a “fake” smile and says (somewhere around the lines of) this.
“Well…I’m glad you think of me that way. I wouldn’t want to be likened to the weak shit-for-brains Orochimaru clone who only cared about power and ran off to Orochimaru, betraying all of Kanoha village.”
At which point I am like YES! Thank you! Someone finally gets it! Sure, this statement yields him a sucker punch to the face… by Sakura, and the tension between the three of teammates isn’t any easier, but that’s part of the fun. Of course he’s not accepted right away, but I do give credit to Kishimoto for giving him just enough depth and history to make him sympathetic and endearing, and it’s perfectly believable when Naruto and Sakura do eventually accept him. Having a really cool jutsu involving drawing monsters to life doesn’t hurt either.
Yamato is fun as their new instructor as well (Kakashi’s still around though too, so don’t worry). He’s level headed and logical, and is methods of maintaining order in his team are… unique.
Remember how I said Naruto didn’t learn anything during the time skip and how disappointing that was. Well, so far through the course of Shippuden, Naruto has been through not one, but three training sessions, each with a different instructor.
- First with Kakashi to master control of his Wind Chakra.
- Second with Grampa Toad to master Sage Jutsu.
- And the most recent one with the Eight Tails Jinchuuriki, Killer Bee of the Cloud Village, to master his Nine Tails Chakra.
Through the course of these training sessions, Naruto eventually does develop some awesome new techniques. However, this brings up a problem I have with the series structure. How come the plot couldn’t have been reworked so that Naruto could have been training in these practices during the time skip? That way, he could have already came into the show a badass and have something awesome to surprise his audience with. If it was really that important for us to see how his training went down, wouldn’t a simple flashback have sufficed? This could have saved so much time. Time we could have allocated into introducing us to the other six Jinchuuriki before the Akatsuki captured them all, extracted of their Biju’s, and subsequently killed them off.
Pacing has never been Shonen Anime’s strong suit, and Shippuden is no exception. That said, once the battles with the Akastuki start rolling in, the show gets pretty damn awesome. Very early on, Sakura gets her own fight with Sasori, which definitely set the bar for the series. Sasuke, as much as he bugs me, did show off some badass stuff in his battle with Deidara. The Naruto-Pain fight is of course a keeper. Guy vs. Kisame (Round 3), gold. Even Shikamaru, the shadow man I mentioned last article who was a personal favorite of mine, shows off some more of his unmatched brilliance in his struggle against the reaper, Hidan.
So to quickly sum up the things I really liked about the second half of Naruto aka. Naruto Shippuden…
- Sakura’s development.
- Seeing Gaara’s change of heart, and Kankuro subsequent respect for him.
- Shikamaru’s new sense of motivation after the loss of his sensei.
- It’s a little one, but Hinata’s confession. Perfect timing.
- Sai, Yamato, and Killer Bee, all great additions to the cast.
- The fights with the Akatsuki are awesome.
- Naruto does eventually become a badass and has a genuinely touching reunion with his parents.
Now, things I have serious problems with…
- Naruto develops jack squat during the time skip.
- Sasuke’s still an overrated unlikable ass.
- The whole Kanoha responsible for Uchiha’s execution story felt painfully forced.
- Besides Naruto, Gaara, and Killer Bee, we know nothing about the other six Jinchuuriki before they all have their Biju’s extracted and die.
All in all, Naruto from volumes 28-54 has its mix of highs and lows. While I would never say it ever falls to the point of being unreadable, it is pretty clear that tight cohesive story telling is not exactly Masashi Kishimoto’s strong suit, and his true passion can be seen in his artwork.
As of now, in the current wherabouts of the series, Kishimoto has officially hit his stride. With the Five Great Nations of Leaf, Sand, Cloud, Stone, and Mist now united, the world is aimed to stop the remaining Akastuki in their tracks. With their leader revealed to be the masked man known as Tobi, who may or may not be the undead Uchiha Madara, and a newly resurfaced Kabuto, now fully mastered in Orochimaru’s forbidden Jutsu of reanimation, the darkest hour of the Shinobi World may be upon them all.