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Friday, April 6, 2012

Naruto Shippuuden Reconsidered:

I've been hard on Naruto for the longest time. Admittedly, it does have problems. For instance, virtually everyone who dies is brought back to life. That's a very cheap trick which renders the very meaning of death meaningless. It's also strange how ninjas so strong that they've fought for hundreds of years suddenly lose due to being hit in the back by a shadow clone. I mean, you'd think a ninja who had fought for hundreds of years would have encountered that trick before. It's strange that every enemy our heroes face are terminally ill -- Nagato is just a bag of bones, Itachi is apparently dying of tuberculosis and blind, Orochimaru's body was rejecting him, etc. It feels like the author just conveniently makes every enemy they're about to face deathly ill so as to suddenly change the power balance in our heroes' favor.

Nevertheless, Naruto Shippuuden is good. Ignore all the filler, all the repetitive flashbacks, and all the cheap tricks and plot holes. Beyond those distractions lies a great and engrossing story.

Sakura's fight with Sasori may be the coolest fight in any anime. But it's just one of many excellently conceived and interesting fights. Sasuke vs. Deidara, Sasuke vs. Itachi, Shikimaru and Kakashi vs. Hidan and Kakuzu, Jiraiya vs. Pain and Naruto vs. Pain are all really cool fights. They aren't just ki beams clashing, it always involves a lot of strategy and intelligent use of dynamically differing moves. Sai learning to feel emotions again due to Naruto's good example is a genuinely feel good story. Hinata confessing to Naruto as she attempts to save him from Pain despite the inequality in strength between her and her enemy is a deeply emotional moment. It reminds me of her fight with Neiji, another high point of the series.

The Akatsuki are the best 'group of badasses' ever depicted in anime. The series really made you feel that every one of them was a monster that could take on hordes of ninjas single handed. From the moment they first appeared in their red and black cloaks in the original Naruto, they screamed badass. The author made good on that promise by providing all ten of them with a unique array of abilities, looks, personalities, and goals. You really feel like Akatsuki could conquer the world by power alone, and if not for our heroes the leaf ninja, they would have done it.

Shippuuden is also great in that it clears up so many mysteries and loose ends. Sasuke got his revenge (Both on Itachi And Danzo). We find out why Itachi killed the entire Uchiha clan, and it makes sense with the nice guy figure he had always been until then. Naruto has finally been recognized by the village and is sure to become Hokage someday. Hinata has confessed her feelings. Naruto got to learn who his parents were and what happened on the day he was born, and got to talk to them for the first time in a really heart-touching moment. His mother's advice to him is really wonderful and would be a good idea for anyone to follow.

One of my complaints about the Naruto series is it started with all 12 leaf ninja genin being featured, and then shrank down to just Naruto and Sasuke. But watching it over again, there simply wasn't any time or space to follow anyone else. The events in the timeline occur over just a few months, even though it's taken six or so years to write about them. Since so much time has passed in real life, it feels like Naruto's story must be extremely long too. But after the timeskip, everything happens back to back with barely any breaks. Even so, the author managed to squeeze each of Naruto's fellow rookies into a mission with him somewhere. One extra appearance for everyone is probably the most we could hope for, when so many other things are happening, all of them centered around Akatsuki's hunting of the tailed beasts.

If it were possible, I wish after this series were over, the author would go back and write some side stories about Ten-Ten, Shino, Ino, and his other neglected characters, like his Kakashi gaiden earlier filled us in about Kakashi's past. ((For that matter, we have never been told how or when Rin died, Kakashi's should-have-been lover. That really gripes me!)) However, perhaps the author is totally burnt out and just doesn't know what to write about them, in which case we can't ask for more creativity than Kishimoto has to give. It's hard to be demanding when Naruto is already the 8th best series of all time.

As is typical, Naruto is back in filler mode again. I don't know why, since there's around 30 episodes of material left to animate in the manga. However, once the filler is over, it will finally be time to combat zombie ninjas. Clearly, zombie ninjas are the greatest idea ever. Who wouldn't want to see a fight with zombie ninjas? If I were going to end a series, it would definitely be a climactic battle with zombie ninjas too.

Virtually everything that needed to happen in the series, has happened. Everything promised, foreshadowed, or hinted at, has already come to be. This last battle is just a dramatic way for the series to take its final bow and close the curtains. All 9 tailed beasts, all 10 Akatsuki members, all 5 ninja villages, everything has been covered and canvassed in this deep and rich world. The ending to Negima felt rushed, with tons of mysteries unexplained and characters un-characterized. That isn't the case with Naruto. When this last battle ends, Naruto will have a proper ending with it. The resolution is within sight, and it will be deeply satisfying. I just hope this is the last filler sequence in Naruto, and the anime can come to a satisfying conclusion too.

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