Friday, December 16, 2016

Naruto's Seven Sins #3: Naruto's Growth

A time-skip is a time-honored tradition in shounen manga. One of my favorites is the one Dragon Ball had before the 23rd Martial Arts Tournament. We leave Goku a kid who doesn't even come up to most people's waists and by the time the three years are done, we are introduced to him as grown man.

It was a pretty awesome moment.

Naturally, when Naruto left to train with Jiraya for over two years, countless expectations were created within us.

Don't get me wrong. This is not one of those 'everything after the time-skip sucks' posts. However, it is undeniable there are a couple of flaws here and there (as there are in every manga), and Naruto's growth was one of them.

People like to talk about how Naruto didn't grow enough, how he didn't learn new techniques, how he was too weak, how he wasted those two years.

They've got a point.

Sadly, this is one of the few times when Naruto forgot about one of the most basic rules of storytelling.

Show, not Tell.

The beginning of Part II is pretty promising. Naruto has obviously grown. His new design makes that plain to see.

He is bigger and (presumably) better.

Using the Bell Test to show us how much Naruto and Sakura have grown is a pretty neat idea. Sure the whole thing ends with a joke about the power of Spoilers, but it was fun. There is still plenty of time for us to see how much Naruto has grown later on.

More than one person probably thought about it like that.

What's Naruto's first real fight in Part II?

Think about it very carefully.

Sakura's first real fight is obviously her team-up with Chiyo against Sasori. It was a very good moment for her which gave her a lot of momentum as a character. Sure, that momentum didn't last, but the Sasori fight remains one of her best moments in the manga.

It showed Sakura going against an S-Class ninja using everything she was capable of. Skills. Abilities. Sheer Guts. We saw everything she had learned and realized how far she had come along.

When does Naruto get a similar moment?

Naruto vs Deidara is the Awesome-est Fight That Never Was
It's not while fighting Itachi's clone. That was him getting stuck in an illusion for a while before Chiyo and Sakura freed him, and Kakashi managed to distract Clone-Itachi long enough for an Odama Rasengan.

It was not against Deidara. That was a chase scene that ends with Kakashi introducing Kamui and Naruto raging with Kyuubi's chakra for a couple of pages.

It was not against Orochimaru. It's one of my favorite fights in the manga, but that's not Naruto fighting. That's Naruto going Kyuubi crazy.

Kakuzu... the whole thing is too damn lukewarm to be considering a proper fight.

The real answer is Pain.

It takes over a hundred chapters for the protagonist of the manga to get a proper battle.

That's just not right.

Don't get me wrong. The parts I just mentioned had some (very) good moments to them, but battle is the life and blood of battle shounen.

Fighting is how one defends his beliefs. Winning is the equivalent of growth. It's a bit messed up if you think about it too deeply so please don't. 

Nevertheless, you can't really expect people to buy that your character is strong if the character is not really showing it.

I mean, let's analyze this in a very cold way for a moment. In Part II, Naruto is dealing with people who are way more powerful than anyone he fought in Part I. Him not being immediately destroyed by the people he's fighting speaks volumes of how much better he is.

In theory, his power in base form should be at least comparable to the strength of his One-Tailed Form at the VoE.

However, we don't really see that strength.

Because Naruto, our protagonist, doesn't get a proper fight scene.

If you say a character is going to train, then the audience expects to see results.

Sakura and Sasuke show obvious improvements from training under their respective masters. Naruto doesn't.

Sure, we see him go into Kyuubi mode a lot, but that's not enough. Jiraya trained this guy, but we don't see the fruits of that training.

We don't even see him summon frogs.

When we do see Naruto fight for real, he has learned an entirely new power-up which muddies the issue of how strong Naruto got over the Time-Skip even further.

Behold! A slightly bigger Rasengan! 
Now, it is true that, for some reason, shounen protagonists don't learn that many skills.

For example, Tien had finger beams, flight, and a bunch of other weird tricks like growning extra arms. 

Goku had the Kamehameha and after-images. It's only after King Kai's training that he starts showing more variety.

However, that's fine.

Because you never get the impression that Goku is somehow weaker.

Why? Because you see him fight. You see him win.

We didn't get that with Naruto.

The funny thing is it could have been really, really easy to give Naruto a proper fight. If anything, that he didn't get one for so long is kind of mind-boggling.

He didn't need to beat anyone important.

It could have just been one of Sasori's sleeper agents. It's not like those aren't a thing.

The only thing that matters is finding a place in the story where the audience can see the results of Naruto's training.

We didn't get that so this is Sin #3.

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