Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Day I Became an Adult (The Day Naruto Ended)

Very rarely do I write about anime/manga (major understatement as this is the first time), but it's not everyday that a major staple of my life and such a momentous series comes to a conclusion. I apologize to my usual readers. I normally write for you all, but this one is for me. Naruto, created by Masashi Kishimoto, has had an amazing 15-year run. I haven't been along for the whole entire ride, but I have been a devoted fan since 2007. Like most kids of my generation, I watched Dragon Ball Z, but Naruto was really my gateway into other anime and manga series. A part of my youth died when Naruto ended. My "youth" could be defined by two things, Track and Naruto, and now I have neither. But enough about my fandom as that isn't the purpose of this. I want to discuss the ending.

There are 3 things that I wanted to happen before the Naruto series ended. I wanted Naruto to reach his goal of becoming Hokage, become universally acknowledged as a great ninja, and marry Hinata the woman I thought he deserved. All three of those things happened, so you would expect that I'd be satisfied with the ending, but I'm not. Now I won't go as far as some frustrated fans have by calling it a terrible ending and/or series ruining, but for me it was just "meh". A good ending should never have the audience feeling indifferent. Let's address why I feel this way.

My Macbook background since July 2013

1. Lack of Closure. There are so many storylines that never seemed to get its proper due. A gripe of mine is that Naruto-Sasuke's rivalry went from an important piece of the story, to pretty much the entire story itself. I'm aware that you can not properly end every storyline created over 700 manga chapters, but I'm not entirely sure that Kishimoto closed any. Maybe that was his intentions, especially with the inevitable spinoff, and related material that will be released over the next few years (no one sits on a cash cow). I partially understand the rationale of that, but it still makes the ending of Naruto underwhelming. A story 15 years in the making deserves a just ending, and anything made extra after that should be exactly that,"extra".

2. Relationships. We could spend all day arguing about the merits of the relationship pairs at the end, and we wouldn't really get anywhere. I'm going to try to avoid criticism of any pair. Ultimately, I got the couple that I wanted (Naruto X Hinata), but it seemed so contrived and lacking in substance. I wanted this relationship to happen, but I wanted it to seem "right" and it just didn't. Now I know that Naruto: The Last Movie is supposed to address this issue in some regards, but it seems to me that it will just be major retconning. Now as an American, I'm very familiar with retconning, but I think my favorite aspect of anime/manga is the general avoidance of retconning. It makes choices matter. This goes back to me saying the relationships feel contrived. It doesn't seem like any choices made by the characters mattered. All works of fiction are contrived, but they shouldn't feel that way. Conclusions should be based on a natural and reasonable progression of choices made by the characters. Quick advice for any writer. If you're going to make relationships an important part of the ending, you might want to put more effort into writing romance throughout the story.

3. No Hokage Moment. It's nice to see that Naruto is Hokage, but I think for most fans we were more interested in experiencing the moment he became Hokage. His dream was always to become Hokage, not to work as Hokage. It would have been a better moment to show the selection process, the support he got from his peers and villagers, and ultimately concluding with Kakashi (6th Hokage almost by default) putting the Hokage hat on Naruto's head with the cheering of the villagers, and some anectodal quotes from the people that know him well. If someone's life goal is to win an Olympic gold medal, I want to see them in the moment that they win the Olympic gold medal, not a few years later walking around with the medal around their neck. Now maybe that Hokage moment is being saved for later, but all in all it led to a disappointment with the ending.

4. Sasuke's Redemption. There's a reason why most redemption stories in fiction end in death. It becomes too hard to imagine acceptance or a "normal" life after the crimes the redeemer perpetuated. Itachi, Nagato, and Obito are great examples of this. Plus, what is more redeeming than someone who selfishly pursued violence and destruction to sacrifice themselves for the survival of another. Then you have Sasuke's redemption. After a few pages of talk to someone that would have forgiven him and accepted him regardless, he's good to go. Not only that, but he's free to come and go through any shinobi village whenever he feels like it. Didn't seem like enough to me. Sasuke, Orochimaru, and Kabuto should have all been exiled. They all did some good which is why they keep their lives, but ultimately their crimes were just too much to live peacefully around the same people.

Those were my biggest issues with the Naruto ending. Maybe they will explore some of those issues over time, but as of right now it leads the ending to be unsatisfactory. But to keep this from being entirely negative I will list a couple highlights from the ending.

1. Naruto and Hinata's family.
2. Asuma's son could be an interesting storyline.
3. The choices for Kage were perfect.
4. Sasuke's epilogue to Naruto.

Thank you Masashi Kishimoto for a great manga/anime that deeply affected my life. My displeasure with the ending in no way affects my gratitude towards you for giving us Naruto. Thank you, and good luck in your next endeavor.