Naruto has always been an anime that has been close to my heart. I grew up watching Pokemon, Yugioh, Digimon but there was only one anime that I would spend all night watching. Over its fifteen year run I aged with Naruto. While I have seen many anime which have proved better since Naruto I look back and notice what Naruto got right and wrong. Doing a full in-depth analyzation of Naruto would have me typing forever. Instead I’m going to share the most frustrating aspects of Naruto (in no particular order)
#1. The character of Sakura Haruno.
Sakura Haruno is the pink haired tritagonist of Naruto. The object of Naruto Uzumaki’s desire who has a crush on Naruto’s teammate and rival Sasuke Uchiha. A common criticism with Sakura is that she is useless. In most of part one of the series this is true. Sakura is given far less to do in each arc than both Sasuke and Naruto. Countless times Sakura is shown with a concerned look on her face and saying Naruto-Kun and Sasuke-Kun. The series seems to tease a more active role after the time skip where she fights against Sasori, one of the major antagonists of an arc. However, for the following arcs, again, Sakura’s relevance is faded and she stands around mentally thinking Naruto-Kun and Sasuke-Kun. During the War Arc Sakura heals people with a major upgrade but it feels inorganic and a struggling way to make her relevant.
The biggest criticism with Sakura isn’t her power development but her character development. At the start of the series Sakura has a crush on Naruto’s teammate and rival Sasuke Uchiha wants nothing to do with Naruto. However, over the course of the series she starts to see Naruto not as a juvenile prankster but as a persevering hero desiring to change the ninja world. (The same arc that many supporting characters go through as well) The most deplorable act Sakura does is falsely confess to Naruto that she loves him over Sasuke to manipulate Naruto. Yet, Naruto rejects it knowing that Sakura still has her love for Sasuke. Despite Sasuke consistently ignoring her and even attempting to kill her throughout both part one and part two. The strongest example of how any consistent character development for Sakura is flushed down the drain comes from the ending of the series. In the last three chapters of Naruto Sakura claims that if Sasuke ever had any feelings for her at all he would stop his plan to take over the world. Despite all the power upgrades and time focused on her character Sakura has the same stagnant characteristic from the second chapter to the six hundred and ninety seventh. Sasuke responds to Sakura by putting her in an illusion where he violently plunges his heart through the chest. After the final battle Sasuke shows a rare moment of humanity and apologizes to Sakura. Does Sakura tell him to go to hell? That she doesn’t love him anymore? Of course not. Sakura accepts him apology and Sasuke rejects her joining him on a trip around the world.
#2. The overabundance of villains
One issue I have with Naruto is the fact that the series has so many major villains. Orochimaru, Obito, Pein, Sasuke, Uchiha Madara, Kaguya, Kabuto and the various villains associated with Orochimaru and Akatsuki. The biggest problem of the series isn’t that it has so many villains but that it does a poor job of balancing them out. Each villain is automatically pushed into the story to the point of convolution. Pein turns out to be manipulated by Obito who turns out to be manipulated by Madara who is then manipulated by Black Zetsu.
The deaths of many villains fail to be satisfying from a rushed pace the story goes through their arcs. Pein sacrifices himself, Obito sacrifices himself, Sasuke loses any coherent sense of motivation after the death of Itachi, Orochimaru is made a shell of his former self, Madara is disgracefully discarded and Kaguya only pads the story for the ten chapters she’s in.
The backstories of every major villain is explored and then connected to the history of Naruto. Adding world building to Naruto. However, the motivation of each villain gets weaker and weaker. The ball seems dropped far when Sasuke Uchiha turns to villainy. Sasuke decides to destroy his whole village instead of a few people that killed his clan. Sasuke’s motivation is mocked by another villain, Danzo with no retort from Sasuke. By the time the reveal of Obito is given that he caused a world war for the sake of the girl he loved it was clear that Naruto seemed to be running on fumes.
#3. The flashbacks
If I have learned anything from watching Naruto is that the series loves flashbacks. If you thought Lost had far too few flashbacks then I would recommend Naruto to you. The flashbacks in Naruto always happen during the fight scenes. I can understand the appeal. The flashbacks allow each character the time in the spotlight while also creating a sense of tension if the character will make it through the fight or not. The problem is that the flashbacks in Naruto always break up the flow of the fight. One of my favorite fights in Naruto is Obito vs. Kakashi where the current fight is purposely parallel to the past fight of Kakashi and Obito.
The series Fairy Tail did the same as the Obito and Kakashi battle. When Gray and Lyon both battle each other a very brief flashback parallels the battle to when Natsu and Gray would fight. The flashback was brief, relevant and kept the pace consistent.
Another gripe I have with several flashbacks is plenty of them seem unnecessary. One flashback retcon is that Sasuke Uchiha saved Karin during the Chunin Exams. Yet, this is never mentioned to Sasuke from Karin and lacks any real payoff. Another flashback is Naruto and Sasuke both battling each other before they were in the academy. The explanation for Naruto disliking Sasuke due to that retcon before the start of the second chapter doesn’t add much to the story either.
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#4. The Ending of Invasion Of Pein
One of my favorite Naruto arcs is The Invasion Of Pein. In the arc the main leader of Akatsuki, Pein has decided to take on the leaf village. Pein battles several of the Naruto supporting characters and Kakashi dies from exhaustion in battle with Pein. The story builds up where Pein levels the entire village and Naruto comes back from his training to have his battle with Pein. Pein shares his philosophy and motivations with Naruto before losing in a climactic battle. But after the battle the resolution is unsatisfying. Naruto and Nagato both talk. Nagato questions how Naruto will change the ninja world and Naruto has no real answer for him. Saying that Nagato just needs to believe in him. The problem with Nagato changing his mind comes from how much ground he had gained in his goals. Nagato lost his childhood friend and several members of Akatsuki all for his goal of world peace. He grew up in a war-torn village used as the battlegrounds of the much stronger nations. The desire to not have another village like his, the death of his childhood friend, and the capturing of so many other tailed beasts, are all thrown away for a contrived belief in Naruto. The worst part is Nagato does a jutsu to undo the deaths he caused making the arc very unsatisfying.
#5. Far too many examples of Plot No Jutsu
When Naruto first started, the concept of the Sharigan was simple. Having a Sharigan allowed a person to copy the hand signs to perform the same jutsu as someone else and read their movements. A character still needed enough chakra to perform the jutsu they copied and had to be fast enough to react to the movements being copied. As Naruto went along though the sharigan kept evolving itself. When someone close to an uchiha died they awakened a new form of the sharigan, the Mangekyo Sharigan. The Mangekyo Sharigan came with the abilities to shoot black flames and to trap a person in a hellish illusion by glancing at them. Then it had the ability to create a giant humanoid to fight on the user’s behalf. Other random abilities the Mangekyo Sharigan gained as time went on was to rewrite reality to avoid death, the manipulation of space and time and the trapping of a person inside their mind. Then it turns out that the Sharigan actually evolves itself into the Rinnegan. Where a user can use all of the elements and the jutsu of the most powerful being in Naruto, The Sage Of Six Paths.
The worst example of a character being protected by plot is the battle of Sasuke vs. Deidara. Both are completely exhausted and out of chakra before Deidara reveals that he has the power to turn himself into a living bomb. Sasuke is too exhausted to even move. Deidara explodes large enough to obliterate a forest. When Sasuke is summoned a giant snake appears. Revealing that Sasuke somehow had enough chakra to summon the snake, put it in a genjutsu and hide inside of it when he didn’t even have the energy to stand.
Naruto will always be an anime I keep close to my heart. From the battle of Naruto vs. Gaara to the death of Itachi. I have loved it, loathed it and grew up as Naruto did. Even though I have seen many better anime (and some worse) than Naruto I always have a strong sense of nostalgia with it.
Kakashi (Top) Sasuke (Left) Sakura (Middle) Naruto (Right)