Naruto’s Naruto Uzumaki: Zero to Hero

I’ve always tried on my blog to make my posts short and to the point. I am not a fan of long sprawling essays (I hate the concept of the pop culture essay to its core), and I think it’s better if people just find the chase and cut to it. That is one of the reasons why I’ve strayed away from talking about the “Big Three” shonen series. Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece frankly are too long and have too many working parts and gears that I just never thought it was a proper fit for this blog’s format. Yet with Character Dives, I tried to make an effort to focus on one particular aspect of a character and talk about it. I think that is possible to do with a big series like this. So after the cut let’s dive into the lead character of the series Naruto: Naruto Uzumaki.

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Still a fan of his pre-time-skip outfit more.

There is so much that can be talked about, good and bad with a series like Naruto. A pillar of Shonen jump for well over a decade, beloved by millions around the world. Naruto has been a series that experience titanic highs and crushing lows. However I want to talk about something that many people don’t bring up, yet I think is the hidden strength of the series: Naruto’s character journey.

When we first see Naruto and throughout the first major arc of the story (Zabuza and Haku) Naruto Uzumaki is frankly an unbearable character. Loud, rude, impulsive, annoying, and just ugh…annoying. Everything about his character from the stupid design to his attitudes and demeanor all come off as grating and rage-inducing. He’s not a smart character and he lacks anything “cool” that balances his bad traits out. I think that is why initially people gravitated to characters like Sasuke or Kakashi because they had an air of mystery and calmness that viewers preferred over.

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We all wanted to strangle the FUCK outta this kid for that first story arc. Just what an annoying little piece of shit.

However Naruto doesn’t stay like this, and throughout the first third of the story (roughly everything before the time-skip), we get to see something very rare in comparison to other shonen series. Naruto actually goes through a long period of sustained character growth. Readers and viewers watched as, in the subsequent arcs, Naruto learns more about what it is to be a ninja, the lifestyle expected of him, the burdens of the world, and the struggles of both friends and allies. He realizes that being a ninja isn’t all fun and games, and that the power and respect he craves as Hokage won’t just be given to him, it must be earned. The Naruto of the first arc and Naruto by the end of the first third, where he has failed to safe Sasuke from the darkness is a radically different character even at this point in the story’s life.

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The first third can be really seen as Naruto earning the respect of his fellow classmates and ninja, while the second third is more about Naruto learning about the harshness of the world.

When we jump into the second half (everything post-time-skip up until the Pain Arc), we see Naruto is older, more mature and has a better sense of the world around him. Yet his character arc doesn’t stop there. It is in the second and third parts where we start to see some of the over-arching threads of the story, most notably in the villains Naruto faces. Each of the three major antagonists who face Naruto: Gaara, Nagato/Pain and Obito are all in their own way, a direct mirror image of a part of Naruto’s life and personality. Gaara represents a life as jinchuriki (tailed beast host) where he was never loved. Nagato/Pain is a reflection of his relationship with his master Jiraya, and Obito presents a contrasting figure to his lifelong dream of being Hokage. Each of these villans help challenge a part who Naruto is, and while he defeats them, he always walks away learning from their mistakes and sorrow, vowing not to let the same fate befall him.

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I left out Sasuke cause while he is the most important, you could fill an entire library with his character arc in relation to Naruto. The other three are more direct comparisons.

In a sense, Naruto Uzumaki’s overall drive is never giving up. To not let the despair and unfairness of the world tear him down or consume him. While others have let the cruelty of the world change them for the worst, Naruto instead lets it change him for the better. The crowning moment of this comes at the end of the Pain Arc where, despite devastated by the horrors inflicted on him, Naruto decides to hear Nagato out and spare his life because he knows killing him won’t solve anything. To see Naruto go from an annoying shithead of a kid into a character well liked and respect by both his peers and the audience in general is frankly the best thing about the story.

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While his character develop does sorta “end” after this. Naruto’s relationship with Nagato is the crown jewel of his development.

And it is so rare. While One Piece and Bleach have their respective strengths and weaknesses (yes Bleach had strengths, stop the hate) they also suffer from a lack of a good main character. Monkey D Luffy, while loved rightfully by many, pretty much resets himself every arc and has only a few longstanding moments of real sustained character growth. Ichigo Kurosaki like the rest of the main cast, was completely overshadowed by the superior secondary cast of the Gotei 13. Even Dragon Ball’s Son Goku felt like he was jogging in place more often than naught. Naruto meanwhile has a complete and satisfying character arc from start to finish and it’s main character is VASTLY a different person at chapter 700 then he is at chapter 1. For a genre that really only has to do minimal work on the character front to succeed, that is an accomplishment.

Naruto is, like I said, a series with many high and many lows. Any series that runs as long as it did will run into problem and parts where they slip up. I can name many things that I didn’t care for as the series went on, but what it does do right is the treatment of it’s main character and I haven’t seen this level of character development and growth in any of the other big shonen series. It should be applauded for that and maybe if you are giving the series a re-watch or re-read, you’ll take a closer look at the story of Naruto Uzumaki and see how he really does go from zero, to hero.

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