Naruto is a shounen manga like so many others, yet it still holds a special place in my spiritual pantheon of anime that I’ve watched heart, and out of the more modern fare it still remains my overall favorite shounen manga. It can be very easy to dismiss the entirety of Naruto on some lackluster parts, but the other day I was reminded about why I liked Naruto in the first place.
I was taking the bus home, and I began to think back to when I was more of a Naruto fan, when I kept up with it fairly religiously, when I looked at the forums to see what people thought of the latest chapter/episode. Naturally, there are scenes in Naruto which stuck out in my mind, and chief among them was the battle between Naruto and Gaara during the invasion of Konoha. And as I thought about it, I felt myself almost moved to tears by the themes of that encounter, by the sheer emotion of it all built upon the past histories of their two characters.
During the fight, Naruto looks into Gaara’s eyes, but where all others see only murder and insanity, Naruto sees past the surface and comes to the realization that Gaara’s eyes are those of crippling loneliness. More importantly, those eyes were an all too familiar sight to Naruto, who saw them in the mirror every day while growing up. In this one moment, Naruto displays an incredible sense of empathy, and his mission, his purpose changes, from simply defeating Gaara to save the village, to defeating him in order to prove that a solitary life ridden by overwhelming loneliness can only get you so far. Gaara was no longer simply an enemy, but rather the person who understood Naruto the most.
Naruto is an easy character to criticize with all of his hollering and frequent displays of incompetence. I can find myelf doing it sometimes too, but then I think back to the core of his character, that of the boy shunned by everyone around him for reasons out of his control, who desired above all else to be noticed and to be respected. While things have come a long way and Naruto has become a valued member of his own village, it’s still easy to see how this struggle still informs his character.