Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Naruto - Hard Work and Genius

Naruto has ended.

It has taken a while for that to really sink in for me, you know?

Well, even if I say that I have been wanting to write about this for a while, but I have barely been having time this past month. Really, I should be going over the new episodes of Log Horizon or Bahamut right now.

Well, screw those! It's Naruto time now!

Hard Work, I figure, is as good place to start as any. Better than most even.

Because, really, where exactly does Hard Work fit into this manga?

That’s not a complaint by the way. It’s a question. A question which plenty of people have gotten wrong through the years.

It all begin with this guy

A widely held belief in the Naruto fandom is that one of the main themes in Naruto is about hard work overcoming genius.

The prodigy vs the hard worker.

It’s a classic really.

However, the relationship between Sasuke and Naruto is a bit more complex than that.

While the Shounen Jump motto is ‘Hardwork, Friendship, and Victory’, hard work is not really at the forefront of the manga unlike other themes like the cycles of hatred and bonds.

Let me be clear. Hard Work overcoming Genius is not Naruto’s thing.

It’s Lee’s thing.

Now, Lee is an awesome character. Plenty of people liked him. Myself included.

Let’s face it, we all cheered for Lee during the Chuunin Exams. We all want him to be right.

However, the reality of the manga is more complex than that.

Let’s take it from the beginning. Chapter 1. Naruto is seen as a talent-less loser by his classmates.

He works hard, learns a jutsu, and defeats the bad guy. Sounds simple, right? Hard Work paid off. The loser won by virtue of his effort.

Thing is, was Naruto really a loser?

From the beginning, Naruto has been abnormal. Forget the Ashura thing. Forget his parents. Think on what we know about Naruto just from chapter one.

He hosts the strongest demon ever. The Kyuubi.

As a result, he has an immense amount of chakra.

Was Mizuki defeated by hard work or was Mizuki defeated because Naruto was actually talented all along?

At the beginning of the manga, Naruto was, let’s be honest here, a selfish glory-hound. I love the kid, but it’s true.

He wanted to be awesome and badass but didn’t really work for it. We know from flashbacks he ditched class. His grades weren’t all that good either.

He focused on what he liked and didn’t care about the rest.

Fanon likes to go “Naruto was sabotaged in the Academy”, but let’s face that’s not really the case. He was a bad student.

Additionally, he sucked at chakra control due to his naturally high chakra. Combined these two factors created the impression of a talentless loser.

Fact is, Naruto was gifted all along. Just not in a way that was noticeable at first glance.

When he decides to learn the Kage Bushin, it’s not just his hard work that shines, it’s his natural gifts.

Could anyone else have done what Naruto did? Could any of his classmates, if they had worked hard for the entire night, have replicated the feat? Creating a thousand clones?

Even Sasuke, for all his talent, simply lacks that amount of chakra. Hell, Kakashi can’t do that many clones.

Most characters in the manga just can’t compete with the amount of chakra Naruto has. One night of hard work is not going to change that.

Mizuki isn’t beaten by a kid that worked hard. Mizuki is beaten by a kid who worked hard on an area that played up to his natural strengths.

Lesson #1: Talents and Natural Gifts are a thing.

By the way. Don't get me wrong.

I'm not saying Naruto didn't work hard. 

He did. 

I'm saying he never framed his situation in the same terms Rock Lee did. Indeed, he doesn't have to. Naruto doesn't seek to be stronger than Sasuke to prove hard work beats genius. 

Because that's really not what Naruto is about.

Anyway, let’s continue.

What’s the line between hard work and genius?

Probably one of the best moments in the manga in regard to this is the moment Lee opens the Gates.
Gai explains Lee’s hard work allowed him to open up to 5 of them.

Kakashi goes, “Yeah, that’s not hard work. The kid is a genius.”

It’s a really interesting moment. Lee can do something few people can do. Hell, Gai tried to teach the Initial Lotus to all his students but only Lee got it. Which is saying a lot considering how gifted Neji is.

Gai attributes Lee’s success with the gates to his hard work. Kakashi attributes it to Lee’s talent in opening the Gates.

Who is being more accurate here?

Lee worked hard on the Gates. On the other hand, didn’t Neji and Tenten also work hard under Gai?

Does attributing Lee’s success with the Gates to some specific talent with this technique take away the hard work he did?

Does a genius need to work hard?

Dividing things between a hard worker and a genius often gives the impression that the genius doesn’t really work hard.

Personally, I have always found it unfair.

Let’s look at Neji.

The guy reverse engineers high end techniques from his Clan which only the Main House is supposed to know about.

On one hand, that’s something requires some serious talent. Seriously, Hinata takes three years to learn how to 64-Palms someone.

On the other hand, that requires a lot of effort.

Let’s not pretend Neji woke up and was suddenly a Kaiten Master. We see him working on it with Tenten. He didn’t even have someone to teach him.

The kid put some serious effort there.

Then we have Sasuke.

Really, as much as people like to complain about the manga giving him power ups (which, let’s be fair, it does) it’s not like the guy doesn’t work at all, you know?

Sasuke did train during his Academy days with single minded-devotion to beat Itachi. Work which made him the strongest guy in his class by far. Seriously, Kid Sasuke Flat out Blitzes Kid Naruto.

He also worked for the Chuunin exam and, for all complaints about him, his triumph card for beating Itachi was a technique he came up with himself.

Kirin may require a long set up, but it’s badass. Honestly, pretty creative trick from Sasuke there.

Lesson #2: Geniuses can work hard too. Hard work is not exclusive to the talent-less.

If two people work the same amount of time, but one is more talented than the other then it’s only natural for the more talented one to get better results.

Thus, the talentless must work harder to get the same results. Of course, the world is not so kind as to give the talentless extra special time to train.

Fact is, sometimes you don’t win. You may have worked hard. You may have prepared yourself. You may have a lot of stuff riding on the line, but that doesn't mean you have to win. 

Let’s visit Lee again.

It’s the Chuunin exams. He’s up against Gaara.

He fights. He gives it his all.

He loses.

Was that fair? Lee probably could have beaten everyone else in that tournament.

However, his enemy was a lean, mean killing machine with one of the nine strongest beings in the world sealed inside of him.

He gave it his all and his all was not enough.

That’s the reward for his hardwork.

Here's the thing. At the core of hard work vs genius lies the idea that effort should be rewarded.

Is it? 

Let’s take another example.

The Sasuke rescue arc.

Five young ninja try to rescue Sasuke. They give it their all. They use their secret techniques and put everything on the line.

They lose.

Because hard work, guts and determination can only get you so far.

In spite of your best efforts, you run the risk of running into someone you can’t beat.

Because some people are monsters. They may have this super special bloodline limit or they may have eyes that let them nuke an entire village, or they may have a tailed beast sealed inside of them.

Lesson #3: It’s not fair.

Naruto is almost brutal in its honesty regarding this bit.

Talent exists. Natural gifts exist. Some people will get better results from doing the exact some training you did. Some people will get better results doing half the work you did.

And you working hard is not a guarantee that you will one day catch up to them.

Is that fair for the talentless guy who wants to reach for the stars?

Not really.

That’s the point.

Because, at the end of the day, there are winners and losers.

If it wasn’t like that there wouldn’t be a need for conflicts at all, now would there? People could be happy all the time.

That’s not how it goes though, and this fundamental truth drives a lot of the conflict in Naruto.

At the end not everyone can get what they want and let’s not kid ourselves the talented people started out with much stronger cards than you.

That’s life. It sucks. Welcome!

However, there is a silver lining.

Let’s return to Lee. No wait, not Lee. The Gates. And Gai and Dai.

‘cause really, sometimes hard work does pay off. Sometimes, if you’re willing to put some effort into it you can actually go up against the best of the best. Be they the seven strongest swordsmen of the land or a guy fused with an overwhelmingly powerful god.

Sure, you could die. Sure, you could lose. But even so, you will definitely protect what you wanted to protect.  

Maybe not everyone who works hard succeeds, but the people who succeed do work hard. Pick a goal. Work hard. Maybe you won't get it, but if you never try you won't find out.

Just maybe, your hard work will be rewarded in the end. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. As a talent-less person myself, you're spot on.

  3. You have summed up everything I wish I could put into words about people who complain in regards to 'Hard Work Hardly Works' in Naruto but can't. Well done!

  4. Well, I agree, but you can't say that being a social pariah didn't have anything to do with it, can you?

  5. well now i am depressed. i wanna cry. why life is so unfair? why do i strive so hard then? :(

  6. "What are the implications of all
    of these pro-nature perspectives on manga
    readers? For casual readers of Weekly
    Shōnen Jump or any other source manga
    publication, the impacts may be largely
    subconscious, ranging from unintended
    sensitivity concerning one’s genetic
    makeup to self-limiting mentalities during
    childhood and adolescence. Particularly
    among younger audience segments, there is the possibility that manga restricts potential
    for growth by downplaying the importance
    of environmental factors such as education
    and routine practice in their daily lives,
    an effect additionally damaging for those
    perceived to be of humble birth. Although
    many of these anticipated side effects pose
    clear hazards to the work ethics of the
    younger readers, series authors cannot and
    should not be blamed for how their works
    are interpreted. Readers must instead
    learn to recognize that manga, along with
    all other forms of addictive yet fictional
    entertainment, are simply stories of human
    invention, fabricated for our enjoyment and
    not an accurate portrayal of reality."