Naruto holds a very special but awkward place in my heart. It was my introduction to the wonderful world of anime. Team 7’s first big fight against Haku and Zabuza, Kakashi revealing his Sharingan for the first time, the entirety of chunin exams, these are all imprinted in my and I’m sure many Naruto lovers’ collective psyches.
There are general criticisms about Naruto’s fillers problem or its female representation problem. However, even beyond that it is fairly uncontroversial to say, something went wrong during the runtime of Naruto Shippuden. That is not to say that the show was bad or even ended that badly. There were many individual moments of brilliance throughout the show but as the story of Naruto progressed, it got weaker and weaker.
So this article isn’t going to point out flaws in the show’s structure, characterization etc. What we are going to do instead is explore a big lie Naruto told all of us and arguably got away with it too.
Spoilers for Naruto and Naruto Shippuden ahead. But you already know that!
The premise | Destiny and Neji Hyuga
Let’s go back to the good old days of Chunin exams, specifically to the combat between Neji and Naruto. Neji at the time was acknowledged as a genius, someone with immense talent and power. Naruto on the other hand was still new to discovering his own powers and serves as a standard underdog.
A little background information is necessary to understand the importance of this fight. Neji was a member of the branch family of the Hyuga clan. The branch family is sworn to live in service of the head family. They are brandished with a forehead seal as a symbol of their loyalty to the main family. Neji’s fate was determined pretty much even before he was born. He felt this was a destiny he would never escape. The cursed seal on his head symbolised a caged bird.
Never give up | Your fate is in your hands
Naruto at this point in the story was a nobody. He was an abandoned orphan with little to show in terms of raw talent. Certain clans with unique bloodlines and abilities were given a lot of importance in the Naruto-verse However, with hard work and a “never give up” attitude Naruto was on a journey to change everything and become Hokage.
So, let’s get back to the Chunin exams. With the philosophical grounds for the conflict laid out, Neji and Naruto engage in a fight. Neji seems to have the upper hand initially, asserting the superiority of Hyuga bloodline. He emphasized that Naruto was destined to lose the fight. After all, you can’t run from your destiny. However, Naruto eventually wins the fight symbolising the rejection of the predestined fate.
This fight coupled with the Hyuga-clan backstory is one of my favourite plots. It hits you emotionally and it’s very in line with Naruto’s overarching themes of never giving up.
What went wrong | The chosen one
However, a few hundred episodes down the lane, we learn Naruto is actually the son of the 4th Hokage, Minato. Moreover, his mother Kushina comes from a special and powerful Uzumaki bloodline. And by the end of Shippuden, Naruto is revealed to be a reincarnation of a literal God. The chosen one, predestined to fight the evil Kaguya! Whatever happened to the endearing underdog whose most meaningful power was “never giving up”?
Arguably this doesn’t change who Naruto is as a person. However, in hindsight, it does make his declarations of “making your own destiny” to Neji a bit empty. To add insult to the injury, Neji dies protecting Hinata, a member of Hyuga’s main family, in the great Ninja war. As he takes his last breath, the caged bird seal on his head disappears symbolising the fulfilment of his duty to the main family. Irony can be cruel.
What does this mean? Is Kishimoto not so subtly telling us we can’t escape our destiny? Probably not. It is more likely that some themes got lost and mixed up as Kishimoto tried to make Naruto grander and grander.