The Naruto franchise is far from perfect. Even though I consider it to be one of my all-time favourites I am not blind to its many flaws. A sizable chunk of episodes are filler episodes, most of which are inexcusably awful (ninja ostriches, anybody?), and some of which actually interrupt canon arcs, utterly decimating any sense of tension and/or excitement. Not to mention the massive variation in production quality throughout its runtime…
However, I am willing to overlook these issues on the strength of the franchise’s characters alone. Naruto and Naruto Shippuuden have a huge and varied cast of characters, an impressive number of which are developed and have an interesting set of abilities and characteristics. But the best thing about these characters is their relationships with each other. Given that it’s Valentine’s Day this week, I thought I’d write about some of these. Sure, Valentine’s might be associated with romantic love, but that is just one of many kinds of love – and by no means the most important! Both Naruto and Naruto Shippuuden feature an assortment of different kinds of love and relationships, such as that between a parent and child, between friends, and, yes, between lovers. Below I list some of my favourites. Enjoy!
Naruto and Kushina – the Love Between a Parent and Child
It warmed me to my very core to watch Kushina light up upon learning that she was expecting Naruto. Instead of allowing herself to be consumed by fear, fear that the seal keeping the nine-tailed fox spirit, the very incarnation of rage and destruction, locked up inside of her might break during labour, she joyfully and repeatedly yelled: “I’m going to be a mother!” And when the worst did come to pass, Kushina used the remainder of her strength to sacrifice herself to protect her son. In these final moments she spoke her hopes and dreams for Naruto’s life over him: live healthily, make dear friends, and stay on the straight and narrow… That is a mother’s love: all-consuming, edifying, and self-sacrificing. And whilst Naruto never really knew his mother, it was so moving to watch him promise his father that he’d do his best to live up to her hopes for him.
Sasuke and Itachi – Brotherly Love
The relationship between Sasuke and Itachi is one of the most interesting and important relationships in the franchise. Without it, the overarching story’s main conflict, Sasuke’s demented mission for revenge, simply wouldn’t exist. Learning why Sasuke was so desperate to kill his sibling and seeing the lengths that he went to in order to do so made for compelling viewing. But what was even more interesting was learning why Itachi killed the Uchiha clan. Watching old episodes of Naruto back knowing what I now know about Itachi (his past, his motives, his values) makes my heart ache. It must have been awful, to have had to slay his family, leave his village, and don the mask of villain, all in order to prevent all-out war and protect his brother. Even in death, Itachi continued to protect Sasuke. And when Sasuke went off the deep end, vowing to become Hokage through fear and control, it was Itachi’s words to Naruto that, after more than 500 episodes of angst, snapped him out of it. “Becoming Hokage doesn’t mean people will acknowledge you. When people acknowledge you, you can become Hokage. Never forget your friends.” Of the hundreds of shows that I’ve watched, I’m yet to find a relationship between two brothers as deep, complex, and affecting as that between Sasuke and Itachi.
Naruto and Sasuke – Unconditional Love
Sasuke never deserved a friend like Naruto! From childhood, Sasuke looked down on and ridiculed Naruto. Then, as a teen, Sasuke turned his back on Naruto and, on several occasions, attacked him, tried to kill his other teammates, and even tried to kill him. But, despite these things, Naruto never stopped thinking of Sasuke as his friend. Long after everybody else had given up on Sasuke, Naruto was still fighting to bring him out of the darkness he had chosen to dive headfirst into. I’m not sure that I really understand why, and the other characters sure as sugar didn’t either (remember when Itachi asked the question on everybody’s minds? Why are you so obsessed with my brother?), but if that isn’t unconditional love, I don’t know what is! It’s messy, defies all common sense, and forgives over and over again. One thing’s for sure, we could all do with loving a bit more like Naruto!
Obito and Rin – Unrequited Love
Obito and Rin would have made the cutest couple. They were childhood friends and teammates, sharing many of life’s ups and downs together. Obito practically worshipped the ground that Rin walked on and she was his biggest cheerleader, repeatedly telling him that she would always watch over him as he chased his dream of becoming Hokage. But it just wasn’t to be. Obito’s tendency to get easily flustered around Rin meant that he never plucked up the courage to confess his feelings to her. And then it was too late. Following a horrible accident, where it seemed as if Obito had died, the two were separated. After Obito’s long and painful recovery it seemed as though the pair could be reunited, but then Rin was killed before his very eyes. This was all extremely sad, but the worst part was when Rin, quite literally, because of Obito’s mangekyo sharingan, slipped through his fingers when he tried to cradle her lifeless body. Throughout his life Obito had shown up late for things, letting various experiences and opportunities slip through his fingers, including his first day of ninja school, his graduation, and his very first mission as a genin, but this was by far the most painful: showing up seconds too late to rescue the girl who he loved, the girl who he was never able to tell just how much she meant to him… Somebody pass me a tissue!
Gai and Lee – the Love Between Teacher and Pupil
Both shows featured some excellent pupil/teacher relationships, such as Asuma and Shikamaru, Kakashi and the members of Team 7, and, what is perhaps everybody else’s favourite, Jiraiya and Naruto. But my personal favourite is the one between Gai and Lee. Rather than devoting all his attention to his other pupil, Neji, who many considered a child prodigy, Gai instead devoted himself to Lee, showing that he valued, not natural talent, but hard work and perseverance. This always moved me, as, growing up, many of my teachers all but ignored me, a hard-working yet somewhat average student, in favour of the already high-achieving A+ students. Gai, on the other hand, encouraged, pushed, and poured so much of his time and energy into Lee. He celebrated when Lee celebrated and grieved when he grieved. And when Lee would endanger himself, e.g. by choosing to go through with risky surgery so that he could continue to be a ninja, Gai would offer him his advice while still affording Lee autonomy and respecting the decisions that he made. And, in return, Lee worshipped Gai like a father, going out of his way to emulate him, even down to his dodgy bowl cut and green spandex! This odd-looking duo was always a pleasure to watch!
As always, thanks for reading! Whether you’re spending this Valentine’s with your S/O or as a single pringle ready to mingle, be sure to reach out to somebody (be they friend or family) today and let them know that you love them! Ta ta for now!