This series of posts ended up being longer than I had planned, but we’re finally at Naruto’s last and longest arc: the War arc. I haven’t actually watched the anime for this arc (I dropped off around the start) but I’ve still gone through the entire story through a combination of reading the manga and playing some of the games (which I think cover parts of the story better than the actual canon material). On a side note, I’m not talking about the Five Kage Summit arc or the lead-up to the War since I don’t have very strong feelings about either arc beyond what I already said about Sasuke in part 2. For the sake of brevity, I’ll also be skipping directly to the final battle. The bulk of the War arc was a major part of the story, but the final battle is more important and has a lot more to dig into. Now, here’s the final part of Naruto and my final thoughts on the franchise as a whole.
I honestly think the final battle against Obito, Madara, and Kaguya (which lasted over 100 chapters and is practically an arc on its own) is the worst part of Naruto. The fights themselves were pretty good overall-Obito and Madara were both threatening villains with cool powers, even if Madara wasn’t that complex-but the pacing and storytelling embodied all of Naruto’s worst characteristics.
Kishimoto obviously wanted to give every character a chance to shine, but ran into a problem with just how many characters he had introduced over the 500+ chapters of the series’ run. Pretty much every named character who was still alive (as well as a few who were dead) got a spotlight moment over these hundred-plus chapters. I normally love battles with multiple characters bouncing in and out of the fray because of how much momentum that creates and how much variety you get to see. Here, though, the entire fight was just a slog to get through. Kishimoto tried to have a big highlight in almost every chapter, but never gave the story a chance to breathe, which meant big moments like Neji’s death and Guy’s near death all blended together into a forgettable mush. Even Obito throwing Naruto’s naivety back in his face, something that should have been a climactic moment for Naruto’s character, was rendered forgettable and ended up being just another mini-climax in a giant pile of mini-climaxes. There was nothing separating the events, no chance for the audience to stop and process what had just happened. It just went on…and on…and on without ever stopping to let the audience think about everything we just saw.
This problem only got worse with the realization that no progress was being made. Only Naruto, Sasuke, and to a lesser extent, Kakashi were able to make any overall progress in the battle. Everyone else’s attacks and big moments just bounced off Madara and Obito without doing much except stopping their current attack. It gave the feeling that the plot was just spinning its wheels without going anywhere. Even Sakura, who was supposedly one of the leads, was only given token moments to make her seem like she still mattered to the story (which hadn’t been the case for a long time). You could cut out all these moments without losing anything significant in the overall story.
What hurt the pacing even more was the constant scene shifting to Sasuke’s conversation with the revived Hokage during the first part of the fight. I get how that was important and all (the Leaf’s dark history and relationship with the Uchiha was a crucial part of the post-timeskip story) but putting a dialogue and flashback-heavy scene right in the middle of a battle for the fate of the world left it as just another part of the pile of mush that is Naruto’s climax and completely destroyed the arc’s pacing.
Now we come to the worst part of this section: Kaguya. Kaguya had been introduced in some flashbacks earlier in the battle as the mother of the Sage of Six Paths and first chakra wielder, but she had played no role in the story itself until this point. Suddenly bringing her into the story as the final villain was both jarring and unnecessary. Madara wasn’t a great character, but he had hundreds of chapters of build up as a final villain and came off as an actual threat. Kaguya suddenly showing up served no purpose other than to make the scale bigger, further forcing the supporting cast into irrelevance. She had paper thin motivations (she had seen people fighting a lot and lost faith in humanity) and no personality beyond “stoic powerful villain.” She was crazy powerful, but such a non-entity that there was no point in her being in the story. She was less of a character and more of a final boss in a video game. Even the way she was brought into the story was overly convoluted and pointless involving a sudden twist with a relatively minor character. She didn’t need to exist at all, and was actively detrimental to the story as a whole. By the time she was finally beaten, the story had been stretched so long without a pause to breathe that Naruto and Sasuke’s final fight barely left an impact. It happened, then it was over.
For all that I’ve been criticizing the later parts of Naruto, I still don’t think it’s a bad story. Even at my most cynical, I’ve never been able to dislike Naruto as a whole. It had its ups and downs (some worse than others), but it was what introduced me to anime. If I hadn’t spent those nights staying up to watch it on Toonami, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t be the anime fan I am today. For that alone, I’d give Naruto a lot of credit, but I also think it has its merits Even the worst arcs have some genuinely good moments and the best arcs are a credit to its genre. It’s nowhere near the same league as something like One Piece, but Naruto is a decent entry in the shounen genre. In a lot of ways, it embodies the strengths and weaknesses of shounen as a whole: likable characters, fun adventures, good action, a bloated cast, going on longer than it needed to, and so much more. Naruto has everything both good and bad about shounen, making it an interesting example of the genre as a whole and a pretty solid entry point for newcomers. I may not be anywhere near the fan I used to be, but Naruto will always hold a special place in my heart.