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Naruto used to be good. I used to get excited every week because it meant the release of new Naruto. Ninjas in sandals going on adventures and teaching important life lessons about never giving up, chasing dreams, protecting those important to you and all sorts of stuff. Whats more, Naruto had a character for everyone! There were enough ninjas to go around and, in the early parts of the series, they all got enough screentime where you could justify your love for them.

So what happened? What could change so much in Naruto to make me let go of my love for Rock Lee, Shikamaru and Chouji? I believe it all started at the best season ever. It was the season right before the 9001 episodes of filler, right at the end of Naruto. (If THAT wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what was, but I’m talking about problems that are in both manga and anime.)

I still have affection in my voice when I talk about this season

I lovingly call this one the “Yellow Scratchy Season” because of the way the icons would look on my computer. It was a culmination of all of the plot threads we had been building since episode 2. It was some of the best written and most engaging moments in Naruto. What’s more, the author seemed happy to remind you that this was a dangerous world full of ninjas and peril. Shit got real. One of my favorite characters died in an extremely sad and moving scene was hospitalized.

First off, before I get into what went wrong, let me set up what went so amazingly right. We had Sasuke, a tolerable and maybe even likable character at this point. He had encountered his brother finally and MAN did he get his ass kicked. It seems that all his training and leveling up counts for shit. Awww, sad Sasuke. But wait, there’s more! If you act now, in addition to the cursed seal I put on you, I will give you limitless power and you will be able to kill your brother! Call now! Our evil snake base is standing by!

So, Sasuke deserts. Naruto and Shikamaru need to form a team to drag his ass back. There is a time limit though, they can’t let him get too far ahead. In that time period they find 3 other ninjas (well 5 really, but one is hurt and one is an emotional liability). The 5 of them set off in pursuit.

But wait, the enemy just needs to slow them down a bit. They drop off their weakest member to hold up the entire good-guy team! So, what does the goodguy team do? They leave a member to hold off the badguy! Chouji! Fatguy fight! (Hes not fat! Hes big-boned!)

Chouji’s fight was one of the single saddest episodes I’ve ever seen. The episode keeps cutting back and forth between him getting his butt kicked and him as a child getting picked last for ninja-ball. Eventually, child Chouji makes a friend right around the time teenage Chouji has been beaten to the point where he eats the “If you eat this you will be a god and then die” ball. His body begins burning away to fuel his rage and he gets thin, FAST. With his glowing butterfly wings of power (it sounds less cool than it looks, believe me) he pretty much 2-shots the guy… then he stumbles off into a forest to say a touching line as the medicine eats away at his vital organs. He grips his chest and then quietly loses consciousness. Somewhere off in the woods, Shikamaru feels his best friend die looks backwards for no reason, but can only press on.

Wow, that was powerful! Oh, don’t worry. He gets found by medical ninjas! Those medical ninjas just happen to be carrying the antidote to his family’s SECRET WEAPON and apply in within enough time to counter a medicine that BURNED FIFTY POUNDS OF FAT IN LESS THAN 30 SECONDS before it destroyed his body! Hes going to live! YAY!

When I found out Chouji was going to live… honestly, I was happy. But somewhere, deep down inside, something didn’t feel right. There were problems with the scenario. If an antidote existed for the secret ass-kick last-resort medicine, why wasn’t the antidote included? I mean, he had a container with the green (I need to lose 5 pounds and kick butt) medicine, the yellow (15 pounds and serious buttwhoop) medicine and the red (BURN MY LIVER FOR POWER) medicine… why not the black pill of “Okay, I got him… can I please stop dying now?” I mean, if such a thing exists, wouldn’t it be best to keep it handy?

Ah well, here we have tortured bishounen Neji. He is doing the same thing Chouji did and he is fighting a losing battle against a guy who can counter everything Neji throws. True fans are remembering his words to Lee “One who can only get a Pyrrhic victory can not advance. Fate will not allow it.” So, Neji uses his power to kill both of them. He takes an arrow to the vitals, sure, but he fries the other guy’s chakra system. That guy is paralyzed and dying. Neji is bleeding and dying. A bird circles overhead and a feather floats down… Neji dies a free man, of his own will, not a slave to his fate. The feather lands in Neji’s outstretched hand, though he never feels it.

And then the medical ninjas arrive on scene! They patch Neji up with some sensu beans and hes good to go! Look forward to him showing up early in the next series with his updated outfit! Of course, you won’t SEE the medical ninjas come in, you will be told about the medical intervention after the story of the arc is done. For the rest of the arc, you will think that Neji and Chouji have bravely sacrificed their lives for their comrades and country. At the beginning of the mission, Shikamaru warned them that this was serious ninja time and ninjas might die. Everyone understood the risks going in… but no one understood that there was going to be a highly trained medical ninja team in hot pursuit apparently.

This was the beginning of what is commonly known as a “Slippery slope”. Naruto set itself up from episode one as a dangerous world full of ninjas. Zabuza? Dead. Gecko Hayate? Dead. Third Hokage? Dead. One thing I LIKED about the author is that even if it were just villains, background characters and old men, he was willing to kill people! The yellow scratchy season marked a turning point in his writing. No longer was it just background characters, it was now open season on beloved characters! You wouldn’t just worry about whether or not they would be crippled for life, no sir! Now you had to fear for their lives while they were on dangerous ninja missions!

Isn’t that the way things are supposed to be? I mean, people are throwing sharp objects and fireballs at characters, isn’t death sort-of expected?

Now, when the yellow scratchy season ended, we found out that no important characters died during it and we move on to shippuden. First thing out of the gate on shippuden, we have the Naru-crew chasing after Gaara. Neji and company show up, but they don’t do anything important. Gaara dies. But wait, there is a magical old lady who wanted to use her one-time resurrection technique on her grandson but she will use it on Gaara. Boom. Alive.

At this point, I got a little steamed. “Alright,” I said, “That is a ONE TIME DEAL! You have played your get-out-of-jail-free card. Next character you kill, I want it to be legitimate.” My faith was rewarded. He killed Azuma. Noooo! Azuma! You were a beloved teacher who left behind a pregnant girlfriend! Now THAT is what I’m talking about! Shikamaru starts smoking, cranks the badassery up to 11 and takes some extremely cool revenge. Does he need Chouji there to do it? No. In fact, it kinda feels like Chouji wasn’t even really there…

We get flashes of some other background characters, none of them do anything essential… Hey there is Shino, check out his hoodie.  Then the fun starts! The author starts killing characters left and right. You like Kakashi? Dead. You like Jiraiya? Dead. You love little Hinata and desperately wish she could confess her love to Naruto? HA HA HA HA HA! YES! TAKE THAT AND CRY WITH IT FANBOYS!

… and then they all come back to life through the power of bullshit-no-jutsu!

At some point after he killed Chouji and Neji but before the end of the arc, I think that the author was approached by his editor.

“Hey, about those characters you killed off… they were popular, weren’t they?”

“Yeah. I wanted their deaths to mean something.”

“But, if you kill them now, you won’t be able to use them later. We might lose some readers. Maybe, now that you have had a scene to show the world is dangerous, if a team of medical ninjas was following Kakashi and could save them?”

“But… it would be really hard to do properly. A single misstep and it would feel really fake.”

“I’m certain you have the skills.”

Then he started killing characters in shippuden. Hinata died. The fanboys cried. Everything was looking bleak… *knock knock* The editor visits.

“Your fan base is upset. Numbers show that people liked those characters.”

“I know, that is exactly why they had to die. I mean, Naruto and Sasuke can’t grow if they always have their teachers over their heads… this is a dangerous world full of ninjas.”

“Yeeeeaaaah… maybe you could find a way to bring them back?”

“What?! The only person who could possibly do that is the main bad guy I’ve been building up! Naruto is just about to have an amazing battle to the death with that guy to avenge his friends!”

“What if Naruto talked to him instead… ya know, showed him the error of his ways? Then he could resurrect the popular characters in a way that killed him?”

I blame the editor for everything. It is the only way that I can grasp how a well-written and interesting show like Naruto fell so far from grace. It used to be populated by engaging and lovable background characters, each with their own backstories and motives, personalities and faults. While the story was about Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke, you could watch it and fall for the other characters. You laughed and cried with them. Bad things happened…

What is Naruto now? Sasuke: the animated series. Kishimoto once told us that Sasuke was his favorite character. Now I think he is the only character that Kishimoto feels he is allowed to play with.

It is either that or Kishimoto died and has been replaced by a manga robot. Either way, the soul is gone from the series. Call me when Rock Lee and Shino get  meaningful scenes again, which is to say “Don’t call me.”

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8 Comments

  1. I wonder what is happening in Naruto these days…

    • Sasuke has killed nearly everyone and everything that stands between him and revenge on his homeland for what it (apparently) did to his people. Soon, he and Naruto will have some sort of epic showdown or some such.

  2. I maintain that Kakashi’s death was never permanent in the author’s intent. I just think it fell into the editor’s rampage and got lumped in with the rest.

    • It’s impossible to figure out the author’s intent… I thought I had a feeling for what the author would do with his characters after hundreds of episodes… I was mistaken. Whether or not Kakashi was slated to stay permadead, the bastard is still kicking around. Naruto is become unto Bleach, destroyer of series. All I want is for Sakura to die, offered up as sacrifice. She is now one of the most powerful ninjas of their generation suddenly… yet she hasn’t done crap since Sasori, really.

        • Andrew
        • Posted September 13, 2010 at 6:47 pm
        • Permalink

        Oh I agree whole-heartedly in regard to where the series has gone. I actually find it amusing that DBZ, despite the myriad of revives it offered its characters still managed to make it feel that there was some -weight- behind the process to revive their characters for the most part.

      • The revival was a key part of the original dragon ball, after all. It was canon. They didn’t pull any nonsense out of their rears because they had designed a SET OF MAGICAL WIDGETS specifically for nonsense! ^_^

  3. Exactly what I’ve been talking about!
    It feels like those scenes were written but then were retconnned.

    • It felt like death. It looked like death. For all intents and purposes, it was death… then it wasn’t… and it didn’t ever feel the same again… and I STILL haven’t seen or heard Neji or Chouji do something that couldn’t be done by Shino.


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