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Pulling a Naruto: A literary technique in which an author kills a beloved
character only to later bring them back to life either literally (resurrection) or
figuratively (the character never died, but the audience was lead to believing they did.)

There is one thing that pisses me off to no end. There are sometimes where an author sets a character up to die. You can feel it happen. The scene is right, the time is ripe, the character falls unconscious, the audience cries… and then later we see that they are actually alive and well through some sort of contrived plot device. I know you’ve seen it before. It happens all over the place. I usually take it as a sign that the author lacks courage. Killing off a character is, after all, a big decision. If done improperly, you will alienate their fans, and, of course, you can’t have any new developments on their character apart from postmortem revelations and ghost dream sequences.

However, when done properly, it will define the anime for years to come. Gurren Lagann was an anime that used the death of a beloved character to make the leap from good to great. It was something that made the war believable. Not only did someone die, he was the best of us. Characters and audience alike grieved… and then wondered “how can we go on from here?” Even so, they went on. Gungrave made an entire series about killing off everyone with a name except for 3 (one of which only appeared in a single episode… and she probably died of a heart attack years ago) and I LOVE Gungrave for that. When you make a series featuring a dangerous world or a series that focuses on the meaning of human lives… you need death! Even though Dragonball had a resurrection mechanic WRITTEN INTO THE PREMISE, the threat and impact of death still felt real. We didn’t feel cheated out of a death scene as an audience, nor did we grow to hate the author for resurrecting the character.

I call it “Pulling a Naruto” because I view Kishimoto to be a capital offender in this regard. I’m going to throw a few faces at you. See if you can spot the similarities.

Have you spotted it? These are the characters that died early on in the series back when the author had nerve. Truth be told, there are others I could add, but these are enough to prove a point. All of these characters died to underline the fact that it was a dangerous world full of ninjas. Hayate doesn’t have the type of plot significance of the other 3, but I still remembered his death. He died because he knew too much, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and he just wasn’t strong enough. That was the type of thing I used to really love Naruto for.

Now, have a look at these fine folks.

These are the characters that died later in the series. All of them had meaningful death sequences full of suffering, regret, pain, loss… you know, all those human emotions generally associated with death. Each one of them had some sort of terrible beauty in their death. I downloaded a LINKIN PARK AMV for Choji’s death for crying out loud! That should say something about the level of emotion present. Neji’s death had some sort of symbolic freedom associated with it; he was finally face to face with the fate he’d been dreading and he didn’t fear it anymore. Garaa died wondering what sort of man he could have been if he’d just been stronger. Kakashi and Hinata sent the fans into weeping grief fits! (The ones that didn’t have a lingering doubt growing in their heads, that is. There were plenty of folk who, even then.)

The problem is that none of them STAYED dead. They all got bullshitted back into existence at the cost of NOTHING. Choji was dying because his family’s secret final technique was burning his vital organs for power. He was found by a team of medical ninja, who saved him. Wait. Hold it. You can STOP the red pill’s organ burning?! Why doesn’t Choji’s family carry around the Black Pill of Stop Dying Now Please?! I mean, if I had a weapon that would burn my vital organs for power and there was some sort of countermeasure… I’D BRING THE FREAKING COUNTERMEASURE! Each one of these resurrections held a false ring to them… ESPECIALLY Hinata. The thing that made Hinata’s death hurt the fans is the very thing that makes her revival hard to swallow. She just confessed her love for Naruto! This is some episode 1 buildup here! Now, hundreds of episodes later, she confesses and dies… oh, how sad! She loved him all this time and only now does he know. Ooops, shes back to life… and he still knows she loves him… are they going to talk about that? Is that going to alter the plot any? No? Shes just going to hide off-screen? Kinda like she was still dead? Oh. Okay.

There are a lot of series that do this, it isn’t just Naruto. Off the top of my head I can remember it happening once in Vandread, which was otherwise a very good anime. However, Vandread hung a lampshade on it with the fact that, when their revived character came back, everyone realized that no one had ever actually seen her die or gone looking for her dead body. It was a final-act turn-around and didn’t diminish the series too much because it didn’t change the impact her death had on everyone. Characters had changed because of her death, people had matured. When she came back, things weren’t the same as when she left. In my mind, that places it more in line with the Dragonball characters resurrection than it does the Naruto group’s.

Bleach did this exactly twice to my recollection. The first one was Aizen, but that was convoluted and long. You might not have even consciously noticed the second one, as it possesses, to my knowledge, the single fastest dead/alive turn around time for any anime character. There was an episode in which my favorite character spent the entire episode running 30 feet to punch a guy. As he ran, he flashed back to all the reasons that it would suck if he died at the end of the episode. Then, at the end of the episode, the samurai guy he was about to punch was suddenly behind him and said “Sorry.” My favorite character‘s lucky necklace fell to the ground, the entire chain intact. To be continued. Next episode, we see my favorite character fall down and hear the samurai say that he “Avoided any vital spots”. Let me draw you a quick diagram.

If a man has a chain necklace on, how the HELL do you cut him in such a way that it falls dramatically to the ground fully intact while avoiding any vital spots?! The only way that thing would have fallen like that was heavily implied to be DECAPITATION. We just went from chopping a guy’s head off to having him wrapped in injury-negating bandages in the VERY NEXT SPOKEN LINE. I know I’ve ranted about this one before, but that is only because it is a CLEAR indication of the author’s cowardice! Much like Dragonball, Bleach had an afterlife system built into the cannon! If Chad had died there, he would have gone to the afterli-… wait, THEY ARE IN THE AFTERLIFE! HEY! HIS GHOST WOULD APPEAR RIGHT FREAKING THERE! What is the point of avoiding his vitals?! You have an escape mechanism built into your world! Ichigo could have had character development, Chad could have to come to terms with his new life as a ghost when they return to the normal world… he might not even return. No, but that sounds too compelling. Lets just drop most of the side characters, add a furry puma-elf guy… and have orihime say Kurosaki-kun a lot. I’m sure THAT will be the best anime ever.

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5 Comments

  1. His bullshit on character survival has made the series go down hill. However, there might be some hope. A major war has just started and people are dying, not just some random ninjas, we have a couple of ‘B’ listers die. Hopefully things will be dangerous and feel like a real world full of ninjas (and samurais) again.

    • Yeah, but to get to that major war, didn’t we resurrect several characters as soldiers? Like Asuma? If this is his way of showing us that he is willing to kill people the balance, he started in the worst possible way.

  2. i agree on Kakashi!!!!!!!!! that jackass should have died!!!!!

  3. And don’t tell me Cowboy Bebop didn’t punch you right there at the end. Even though it was the end, it closes the book! That’s it, end of story! Perfectly executed character death!


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