“Everything you need to learn in life, you learn from Anime”
Part 2: Naruto & Naruto: Shippuden.
spoilers abound. you have been warned.
Most anime have a central theme, but Naruto and its continuation, Naruto: Shippuden, seems to have several, and rightfully so with its 400+ episodes and counting. Let’s break it down, shall we?
1. Never give up.
Everyone who’s seen the English dub all agree on the annoyance of Naruto’s translated speech tic “Believe it!” But essentially, that is how the title character, Naruto Uzumaki, lives his life: in the light of dreams to happen.
His ultimate goal since episode 1 has always been “I’m going to be Hokage some day!” For those of you not absorbed in the Naruto sphere, the -kages are extremely powerful ninjas who are the leaders of their respective villages. In the beginning, 13 year old Naruto was a trouble maker who could hardly do a simple clone technique. Fast forward to Shippuden and 15 year old Naruto has already succeeded his master as one of the legendary Sanin (3 Sages), saved his hometown from the destruction of Pein, and has now launched himself to take part in the Great Shinobi War after learning to control the Kyubii inside of him.
His true strength doesn’t even come from a ninja technique, even though he’s perfected a fair few, one that even his Fourth Hokage father had created. Naruto has an uncanny ability to relate to people, having lost his parents as a baby and being tormented for the better part of his life. This ability turns enemies into new friends and allows comrades to put their complete faith in him. After Pein destroyed his village, it was not his Sage powers that defeated him, though they did a pretty good job of taking out his 6 rinnegan puppets. His conversation with the “real” Pein, aka Nagato, not only changed his thinking, but made him want to repent by using his last rinnegan path to reverse the death toll he created. Had Naruto just outright defeated Pein, hundreds of people would have remained dead, including some of whom Naruto was very close to. But Naruto identified with Nagato’s pain and wanted to bring closure between the two of them.
His ability to change people has been the central focus throughout most of the arcs and fillers, including:
- He convinced Tsunade to become the 5th Hokage, by not backing down from Kabuto and throwing himself in front of Tsunade when he tries to finish her off.
- He showed Gaara, another tailed beast carrier, that he’s not alone and inspired him to strive to protect people, like Naruto, enabling Gaara to eventually become Kazekage. (more on Gaara in a later post, he’s a soon to be honorary megane danshi, as I find him one of the most dynamic and provoking characters in Naruto)
- After Gaara’s death, Naruto becomes so upset, lashing out at the sand village for having burdened Gaara with the tailed beast and blaming them for his childhood pain. Chiyo, an elder who had distanced herself from the sand village, moved by Naruto’s genuine emotion, ends up giving her life to resurrect Gaara, confident that the ties between the two gives hope that the future generation is well off.
Naruto has a very mature thought process for a 15 year old, and as his skills keep exponentially improving, its not so farfetched that Naruto will one day become Hokage.
2. The healing that being acknowledged by somebody does, and fighting for that person closest to you makes you a stronger person.
This is the theme that I think resounds the strongest in the entire series, and if I had pick a single theme for the series, its this one.
Naruto was alone most of his life. His parents died at a young age, and the habitation of the kyubii inside his body made him an outcast from the rest of the villagers, including his classmates. Causing mischief became his MO for attention, but for the most part, Naruto was an abandoned 12 year old boy. Then someone believed in him.
Iruka was Naruto’s teacher, and the two formed a bond. From then on, Naruto no longer felt rejected, and he fought hard to grow as a ninja. He cites his ties with Iruka for being the very foundation of the change in his behavior. From there, he obtains more friends: his team with Sakura, Sasuke, and Kakashi, as well as his other peers, then Jiraiya. After Sasuke abandons Konoha, Naruto spends most arc and fillers fighting to retrieve his once “friendly” rival and team mate. Aside from becoming Hokage, this becomes one of his greatest goals, ever since he made a promise to Sakura.
Aside from Naruto and his connections, other pairs or groups of characters have made their appearance throughout the series who fight to protect their special someone, mostly in fillers and movies. The most notable pair from the series is Zabuza and Haku. Zabuza, a legendary swordsman of the mist, happened upon an orphaned Haku and decided to keep him as a tool. Over time, their bond strengthened, and even though Haku was not inherently evil, he followed the ways of Zabuza who was very dear to him. In Naruto’s team’s battle with them, Haku gives his life to protect Zabuza. Zabuza follows after shortly when he is mortally wounded. Naruto’s team leader, Kakashi, respects the pair, and reiterates that respect when the two make their appearance again in the Shinobi World War.
And now a direct quote from the anime. Right in episode 79 of Naruto, the 3rd Hokage himself says, “I have taught you (Orochimaru) before, that when you protect something important to you, a ninja’s true strength will manifest!”
3. The atrocities of war and the never-ending cycle of pain.
This theme mostly revolves around the trio of Nagato, Konan, and Yahiko, but is touched upon in many arcs and fillers. The cycle goes like this: two enemy shinobi engage in battle, and one of them dies. A loved one of the dead shinobi seeks revenge, and once fulfilled, is sought for revenge by the loved one of the person he killed. It continues in that manner, people’s loved ones dying in a never-ending cycle of hate.
As children, Nagato, Konan, and Yahiko were orphaned during the bloodshed that occurred between two warring countries who happened to host their battles in the neutral Rain country. Naruto’s master, Jiraiya, took pity on the three and took them in for a period of time and taught them ninjutsu and how to care for themselves. With Nagato’s rinnegan abilities, Jiraiya praised him as the savior to the ninja world, the one who could truly bring peace.
Sometime after Jiraiya left, the three were caught in an ambush by Hanzo, the leader of their country, and Nagato was forced to kill either Konan or Yahiko. Yahiko killed himself, telling Nagato to continue on with Jiraiya’s dream. Nagato, having witnessed the deaths of his parents, his dog, and his best friend, felt even more strongly about bringing peace, but his methods changed.
Feeling abandoned and victimized, Nagato began using his six paths of pain via his rinnegan and started calling himself Pein. He hatched a plan to wipe out everyone, to start form scratch and break the cycle of pain. He used Yahiko’s body to host one of the paths, and his “new identity.” If you google Pein, that’s the face you get, Yahiko’s.
Then he came face-to-face with Naruto, after having leveled Konoha (Naruto’s village) and killing hundreds of people, including both of his sensei’s, Jiraiya and Kakashi. Instead of finishing Pein off, he figures out where Nagato is hiding and seeks to speak with him in person. He confesses to Nagato that he wants nothing more than to get revenge for slaying his town and loved ones, but he knows that it won’t fix anything. Naruto reveals that he was named after the “savior” Jiraiya wrote about in his book, and that Jiraiya had entrusted him now, not Pein, to find peace.
After proving himself, Nagato relents and uses his last path of life and death to reverse the death he had caused that day. Nagato, just before he dies, puts his faith in Naruto that he really is the savior that Jiraiya had mentioned.
4. The “king” to protect is not the leader, its the future generation.
In an analogy of Shogi (chess), Shikamaru and his sensei, Azuma, have a deep discussion about why shinobi fight. They both agree that all pieces move to protect the “king.” At first Shikamaru thinks that the “king” refers to the Hokage, and Azuma tells him that that was what he had thought at first, too. Azuma decides he’ll tell Shikamaru at a later time.
And later does come. As Azuma lays dying, his last words to Shikamaru were who the “king” actually is: the unborn and the children that make up the future generation. He learned this after his lover, Kurenai, became pregnant with his child. Shikamaru vows to protect Azuma’s unborn child, and plans to be the child’s sensei in the future.
The future generation theme is also carried out via other characters, namely Shikamaru’s best friend, Chouji. This part has not made it into the anime yet, but it is in the manga, actually it was last week’s chapter. *SPOILER WARNING if you’ve finished the anime to date (4/23/11) but not the manga. So if you don’t want to know, dont read the next bit * Team 10 has to face their re-animated and mind controlled sensei, Azuma, and Chouji is having a hard time with it. Chouji has flash backs to when he became a chuunin. His dad talks to him about becoming the head of the 16th generation of the Akimichi clan, to which Chouji is very scared and reluctant. Now after having nearly died twice to protect his son at this point, Chouji finally breaks through the fear, defeating the shell of Azuma, and claiming his title as the present generation. *END MANGA SPOILER*
The theme of protecting one’s future generation goes hand in hand with the theme of having a special person or persons to fight for (see #2 above).
So to sum it all up, here goes. Loneliness creates a despair that the person is useless, shrouding them in darkness, and the reaching out of a friend makes all the difference. Having a purpose means to be able to protect someone close to you, including the future generation. War creates a cycle of hate, because people fight to protect the people they care most about, and if they fail, revenge breeds more revenge. There has to be a way to peace, through the understanding of pain.
Now to end on a quote from Gaara, “Love? Is that what makes him (Naruto) so strong?”