NARUTO: It’s Not Just His Show

June 2, 2008 at 9:37 pm (Animanga) (, , , )

Yes, the manga is named after Naruto. Many of the central themes of the manga are rooted in his life story; he is the motivation and opponent for many people and organizations (Eventual SPOILERS for chapter 402 ahead, be warned and be warned early!).

Some would say the recent arcs concentrating on Sasuke (and Itachi, and the Uchiha) are deviations from what the manga should be about, which is to say Naruto himself. But this isn’t true–a lot of Naruto the character is tied up in Sasuke. They are not so much similar as inversions of each other. Physically, Naruto has darker tanned skin and pale hair while Sasuke has pale skin and dark hair. In terms of abilities, Naruto is empowered by something outside of himself–the Kyuubi (to nip refutations in the bud: I know he has impressive chakra reserves on his own, but he frequently taps into the Kyuubi’s power, and whenever he’s shown the greatest amount of raw power–like when he blew apart Orochimaru’s Rashomon Gates–it’s been the Kyuubi’s power he was using.). Sasuke is empowered by what is inherent in his blood and body, the Sharingan and all its iterations. Naruto motivated by a broad base; he wants to become Hokage and serve the entire village. Sasuke is motivated by a narrow base; he wants to avenge his clan and kill his brother.

However, both have in common the fact that both are orphans, both are forcibly deprived of their families; Naruto in the Kyuubi attack, Sasuke by the massacre. They are both loners in their own way, Naruto unwillingly, Sasuke by choice. Both strive for recognition and validation from their peers, though while Naruto is all about being recognized for his merits by the village a whole, Sasuke’s more about being recognized as an equal by his brother (again the difference in broad vs. narrow motivations).

Through all of this, they are bound by ties of friendship and almost-kinship. Whether or not you believe that this is a romantic bond, you can’t deny that pre-time skip at least, they find a friend, rival, and brother in each other. For the first time, neither of them are alone, and both start to find a measure of peace–Naruto begins to slowly build up a kind of family unit like the one he never had. Sasuke starts to learn that yes, there can be more to life than avenging his clan’s death, that he can still live for more than that. And then Sasuke’s blows it all off in his quest for power, causing Naruto to vow to bring him back.

And this is why Sasuke’s story needs to be told. Because post-time skip, he is Naruto’s major motivation. It’s true Naruto still has his thing about wanting to be Hokage and earning Konohagakure’s respect, but he ties it into questing for Sasuke–if he can’t even save his best friend, how can he save a whole village? His own quest for power (inversion: Naruto looks to himself for power-ups, Sasuke goes to an external source, ie. Orochimaru) is motivated the thought of killing Orochimaru and/or Itachi, so Sasuke will come back. Sasuke is the end object of all of Naruto’s thought processes and quests. When he first encountered Sasuke in Otogakure, Sasuke was distant and seemingly uncaring, so emotionless he might as well be an object. It would be easy for Kishimoto to keep Sasuke that way, really–by keeping Sasuke distant, emotionless, something for Naruto to pursue while he pursued Itachi. Then the manga could focus on its titular character and his quest to find Sasuke.

But see. That makes Sasuke’s less of a character, it makes him a thing. He’s just a motivator for Naruto rather than a person in his own right. His story stops dead. Why should we care if Naruto brings him back to Konoha anymore if he’s just a figure off in the distance, being chased by Naruto while he chases his brother? How long can that endure anyway, before someone catches up to their goal and ends the chase right there? That’s why these chapters about Sasuke are important to Naruto: they lend Sasuke the pursued depth, and in doing so liven up the basic premise of post-time skip Naruto which is everyone chasing after what they want. By spending so much time on Sasuke, Kishimoto is fleshing out the character who is Naruto’s equal and opposite in many ways, creating a twisty, conflicted foil for Naruto’s straightforwardness and seeming simplicity.

Simultaneously, he makes Naruto’s quest harder by giving Sasuke’s fewer reasons to go back with him and also makes their respective chases more interesting. Sasuke has now turned against Konoha, pursuing the destruction of the people who (he feels) unjustly destroyed his clan and brother. How does Naruto reconcile that with his twin desires of becoming Hokage and safeguarding Konoha, and of rescuing his best friend and ‘brother’? His chase therefore becomes more complex, forcing him into morally grey situations and decisions as he struggles to fulfill both or must choose between the two. Naruto’s chase becomes more than running after an emotionless Sasuke cutout off in the distance; it becomes a struggle not just physically but emotionally, and this kind of thing can (hopefully) only lead to character growth and development. Which is what the manga is about, after all: Naruto and his transformation from loudmouth to Hokage.

As for Sasuke, it becomes harder–or should become harder–for the reader to fully support Naruto. The reader’s loyalties are torn, because we know why Sasuke is doing what he is and causing Naruto so much anguish; we know that he is acting out of a basically good impulse but was probably manipulated into his current path, we know he has a view of Konoha that’s probably more realistic than that of Naruto’s and we can’t deny that maybe he’s right in thinking the current leadership needs to change. We can’ t say to him, “Just go back with Naruto already”, because we now know that he has no real reason to. How will Naruto convince him to return? Can he convince him to return? Should he convince Sasuke to return? Will he do it anyway if he shouldn’t? How will this affect his dream of becoming Hokage and Naruto’s relations with Konoha? Suddenly the idea of “Naruto chasing Sasuke to bring him back” has a whole new spin on it. It becomes a question of personal conviction, of conflicting interests, of how far is too far to go for a friend, and the price of fulfilling dreams at the expense of other dreams.

As counterweight to Naruto, Sasuke needs to have his own depth and complexity. He needs to be a character worth all the chapters we’re going to inevitably spend reading about Naruto chasing him down, we need to be invested in him enough to want Naruto to succeed in his quest and to at least bring Sasuke some kind of peace and equilibrium, otherwise Naruto’s whole quest is going stagnate. There are only so many times you can read Sasuke just barely escaping Naruto’s grasp before you start Googling something else to read. By spending time developing Sasuke, Kishimoto simultaneously enhances Naruto’s own quest by complicating that simple concept of saving his best friend and opens up new avenues for Naruto’s growth and development. So yes, the last swath of chapters are indeed a deviation in focus from the title character. But in the end, all of this will feed back into and enrich Naruto’s own story: in the end, it’s still all about him.

Advertisements

3 Comments

  1. Reaction Shots: Naruto 403 « Nonessential Codex said,

    […] do (and he’s doubting about his quest for Sasuke which just makes it all more interesting! *plugs essay*). But really all those new revelations could have been put in earlier as foreshadowing. But then […]

  2. berah said,

    All those that piss and moan about the manga not being titled “Sasuke ” need to read this and realize it’s necessary for the entire plot.

    Anyways, I just had this thought, comparing the story with that of Gungrave. Have you ever seen it?
    ———-SPOILER ALERT——————————

    So, bestest friends, orphaned and grow up hanging with their own little street gang/group of friends. It’s not like they murder people. They’re just juvenilles who look up to the organized mafia-types. They grow up and I don’t remember if they split apart before meeting up again as low members of the mafia or they join together. Anyways they work their way up. Eventually they’re both right under the main position. But both are like polar opposites. One is extremely loyal and his goal is that of “the family” the other is in it for power for himself. When the greedy one proposes to take down the leader. The loyal one doesn’t know what to do. He must take down this traitor but it’s his best friend. He can’t do it and is ended up being killed by the traitor. The story goes on and he is revived bionically or some other method and they meet each other in the end and perhaps they reconcile… i don’t remember

    —————-END SPOILER ALERT———————————-

    I wonder what if Sasuke meets Naruto in his attempt to kill the leaders of Konoha and tells him something like “this is necessary” “you will be the leader with a fresh start” “we can both make Konoha better”. Would Naruto defend his village or would he join his friend. If nothing else, it makes for a nice fanfic.

  3. ivoryandhorn said,

    berah–

    Again, thank you for your comments! I can’t say I’ve ever heard of Gungrave, but the synopsis you gave and Wikipedia do make it sound like it has a passing similarity to Naruto, what with best friends divided by their choices and loyalties.

    I wonder about that too. When Sasuke and Naruto inevitably meet and have their showdown, what will Naruto choose? How will he react? He seems too loyal to what Konoha stands for to join an attack on it, but at the same time he has also exhibited a great deal of loyalty towards Sasuke. Who can say? Kishimoto has yet to give us any clue in either direction, so I guess well just have to wait and see.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: