Home > Check-in Station > Check-in Station: Shippuuden (the Pain Arc)

Check-in Station: Shippuuden (the Pain Arc)

Naruto, the manga and the anime has gotten their fair share of criticism over the years.  Maybe it was the fans, the main character, the years of filler, its over all popularity; regardless it has all added up to a punching bag of a series that is as reviled as it is loved, even by its own fans.  But there is a reason why it’s popular.  The best of Naruto is quality, classic shounen material, and I dare say that at its best it can compete with anything in its genre.

When I talk about this series’ best I refer to of course the Chunin Exam arc (whose manga material has won awards) and more recently the arc featuring Shikamaru and Konohagakure fighting the “immortal” Akatsuki duo.  Along with Jiraiya’s demise, which arguably can be considered the start of the arc, this has been a highly anticipated storyline by the manga readers.  The question really is, is this arc really as good as I believed when I read the manga?  Or has a second exposure to this story, now animated exposed its flaws?

The setup; Akatsuki has supposedly captured Killer Bee who harbors the eight-tailed beast.  Madara urges Pain to hurry and capture the nine-tailed and final beast before Konohagakure figures out too much of the secrets to his jutsu.  Those secrets are now under close study by the shinobi of said village.  Their strategy is to allow Naruto to complete his vaunted sage training in the far away Toad village, while they decipher the riddle that is Pain with the clues left by Jiraiya.  Cue Pain’s appearance just outside the village borders, prepare for battle.

The main points of this arc for me are Pain’s goals and performance as the main antagonist of this arc; Naruto’s progression physically and mentally; its transition from manga to animation; and the emotional weight of this arc.

Coming into this arc, Pain was an absolute beast.  He already commanded great respect because he was the leader (believed at the time) of Akatsuki.  A group of shinobi who each commanded the skill and power of a Kage, the leader of a shinobi village.  He had also killed Jiraiya, a world famous shinobi who commanded respect and fear throughout the shinobi world and no one could figure out how to kill this guy.

Once Pain started attacking the village, it became even more evident that no one was in his league.  He went on a rampage alone that put the combined assault by the Sand and Sound shinobi from part one to shame.  His six bodies independently questioned and massacred shinobi en masse.  Even Kakashi was killed despite some of his best efforts.  In terms of skill and power Pain was certainly not lacking.

The only things that annoyed me about him were his insistence on referring to himself as a god, and his cliched, despair-laden outlook on life and master plan.  His referrals to himself as a god wore on me more so in the anime than in the manga probably because I had been exposed to it so much already in the manga.  As for his plan of using the ten-tailed combined beast to shock nand awe humanity into respect and peace, it comes off as heavy handed, poorly thought out, and just plain uninspired.  You can’t correct humanity by destroying it.  But perhaps I’m thinking too hard about something that’s not that serious.

What really hyped up this arc was the belief that this was Naruto’s coming out party.  I personally believed that this would be the spot, thanks to the mastery of sage mode, that he would start to conquered that damned Kyuubi that had been the savior and bane of his entire existence.  I was tired of Naruto being saved by that thing and thought that it was high time that he stood out on his own as a shinobi.

He started out well enough to be sure.  The now famous one-hit-death kill of a body of Pain’s showed for sure that he could match up with Pain.  But the anime and second viewing exposed something that I had only glossed over; sage mode is extremely limited and flawed, at least in the way Naruto chooses to execute it.

The way sage mode works is that Naruto must stay perfectly still in order to gather natural energy (look it up, this post is already gonna be long enough) and mix it with his own chakra.  Jiraiya solved this problem by having toads on his shoulders to absorb the energy for him while he was in combat.  This won’t work for Naruto because of the Kyuubi inside him.  He uses Kage Bunshin to gather the energy and reverse summoning and the release of the jutsu to get more energy.  That strikes me as a hell of a lot more cumbersome.

On top of that inconvenience, Naruto’s jutsu commands so much chakra that sage mode expires after a couple of bursts.  That’s pretty impressive given what was often to be unlimited chakra and stamina from Naruto.  In the end, Sage Mode Naruto is a convoluted and complicated amalgamation of techniques with a severe handicap.  Damn Kishimoto-kun!  You made it extremely clear this wasn’t the answer, didn’t you?

This brings up the incident with Hinata.  Definitely one of my favorite parts of the arc, not only did Hinata show more foolish heart than I expected from her in fighting Pain.  But she let out a real confession before her supposed slaughter.  It was a well done, emotional moment that carried over very well to the anime.  Now this leads to my next complaint, the Kyuubi.

That damned Kyuubi.  Apparently Hinata’s words sunk in deeply, then again it’s possible to argue that he may have reacted that way to other members of the Rookie Nine going down.  Naruto lost it, and I don’t mean lost it like the other times.  He nearly completely released the beast.  This irked me because that is the theme in practically all his fights.  He either leans on that power or it takes over for him.  This time appeared no different, or even worse.

At this point Pain goes all out and captures the Kyuubi.  As Naruto is just about to release the seal and let the Kyuubi loose the 4th Hokage, Minato, appears.  Naruto finds out that Minato is his father (finally), reseals the Kyuubi for the last time, and leaves Naruto with some words of wisdom and a warning.  It was a good moment overall to see them finally meet.  Though I honestly didn’t suspect the two of them would ever have a conversation, the dude is dead afterall.

What emerges from that meeting is the classic revitalized Naruto, it was a good feeling.  His showdown with the final body of Pain was settled in classic fashion, using tricks going all the way back to the Land of Waves arc.  I have to say, for Naruto that was some pretty impressive planning.

As for how well all of this transitioned from the black and white pages of the manga, I thought it was mostly done well.  For the most part, the animation was quality and smooth.  There was some filler material, but I don’t mind it if it doesn’t drag on or mess with canon.  In battles I sometimes welcome that filler because it may add depth to the character.

There was one exception though, the episode where Naruto released the Kyuubi.  That was some god awful animation, the filler part of that battle was often ridiculous.  You can make the excuse all you want about a studio experimenting with animation or running into budget issues.  I don’t care.  It’s their job to plan accordingly.  It’s a shame and a black eye on the arc to pull that crap at such a critical juncture.

With the arc finished,  I came out of it with almost reversed feelings about it compared to my initial review of the manga material.  I wasn’t quite as impressed by the action as I was in the manga.  But the feelings and the point of the arc came across better than it had in the manga, as well.  The whole point of this arc appears to be Naruto’s struggle with finding a way to change the world in which he lives.

This world has been a blood thirsty struggle for ages, long before he or Konohagakure even arrived.  He’s taking up his former master’s goal of changing the ingrained hatred of this world so that there may be a lasting peace.  By the time he meets Pain, he comes to grips with the fact that he cannot simply kill him.  He wants to know he did what he did and put aside the hate for his lost comrades.  I found it to be too simplistic that he merely has a discussion, they find common ground and Pain then chooses to reverse his deeds, sacrifice himself and bequeath his hopes and dreams to Naruto.  It makes it seem as though all Pain needed was a damn hug and this never would’ve happened.  Not so.  But the point did get across.  With communication and understanding, people can learn to trust each other and find happiness.

For his efforts, Naruto is rewarded with the lives of everyone Pain killed in the attack.  Naruto gets to become the ultimate hero to the village and achieved a piece of his lifelong dream; to have the respect of everyone in his village.  Now he just has to become Hokage.  Something that at this point he definitely has the power to accomplish, though I don’t know about the intelligence or wisdom.  Everyone will see what I mean when the next manga-centric arc starts.  You’ll get a good grasp of what it means to be a Kage.  I’m also looking forward to the anime’s adaptation of Danzou, a long lingering presence.  He’s more than an adequate antagonist, and an interesting personality.  Think of him as the Dick Cheney of Konohagakure.  For now, I’m happy to say this was one of the better arcs of Naruto.  Probably the second best of Shippuuden, and it ranks in the top five in Naruto overall.

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