Thoughts on “The Invasion of Pain” Arc in Naruto
I just finished up a marathon Naruto reading session (four volumes in two days- 45 on Thursday and 46-48 on Friday). These volumes cover the story arc known as “The Invasion of Pain.” For those of you who do not know of Naruto or who only watch the anime and have not gotten too far into the series, I will give a brief summary of what happens. Pain, the leader of the Akatsuki, attacks Konoha in full force seeking to capture Naruto, who has gone to the Toads to learn sage jutsu. After Pain destroys Konoha, Naruto returns and defeats Pain. On the whole, I like the arc, but there are some serious problems that I have as well. Problems that seriously damage the story.
To be clear, given that Naruto is a Japanese manga and I am not Japanese or as knowledgeable about Japanese culture and history as I would like, I will flat out and say that my opinions, my reading of Naruto should be taken with a grain of salt. I have written a previous critical work on Japanese Literature (Kawabata’s Thousand Cranes) and I found that one as equally problematic to write given my lack of knowledge (in depth) of Japan. I have taken in Intro to Japanese Culture while I was an undergrad, but I feel that that is not adequate (particularly given we did not cover manga or Japanese popular culture). Now that my advisory message is out of the way, I will tackle four aspects of “The Invasion of Pain” that bugs me. They are: Hinata’s Confession, Pain, Naruto’s Answer, and The Fourth Hokage Reaction.
What gets me about Hinata’s confession of love to Naruto when she sacrifices herself to help him is that she apologizes for her selfishness. What? How is that selfish? Hinata risks her life to save the one she loves, and she apologizes for her selfishness. That makes no sense. Yes, Hyuga Hinata is bashful, shy, and unsure of herself. But still, that boggles my mind. I have to wonder if that is perhaps an element of storytelling, derived from Japanese culture, that one not as familiar with Japanese culture as one would like would not pick up on. But it bugs me.
Pain. Pain is, for my money, a terrible villian. He is rather like Magneto in that he has a noble cause- to end the warfare that plagues the Shinobi World. But here is the kicker, in order to do that, he plans on creating a doomsday weapon to destroy whole countries. Insane, right? And Pain is full of bullshit. The destruction of Konoha has more to do with personal revenge than it does with any lofty goal. He, much like Uchiha Sasuke, feels pain and hatred for the wrongs done to him by Konoha. And given the fact that he has the power equivalency of a nuclear weapon, he can use that destructive capability. There in lies the problem of Pain, he is given too much credibility when in actual fact, he is just a psychopath trying to make the world suffer with him. So no, he is no different from Hidan or Deidara or Madara.
This leads me to my beef with Naruto himself. He seems shocked, saddened, and disgusted with himself when Pain challenges him for a response. Beyond the fact that Pain is clearly insane (and stupid), why even argue with someone like that? Yes, almost all battles or fights in Naruto has some form of philosophical element inserted to it. Pain represents peace through destruction, through pain and fear. Naruto represents talking and understanding through commonality. Naruto is right from the beginning that nothing Pain says, no lame argument or excuse, can justify his actions. Even if Konoha is guilty of what he claims (and that is extremely suspect), then should the citizens and present generation be held responsible for what their parents or grandparents did? The answer is no, but for Pain, yes.
My real beef with Naruto’s answer to Pain is what he comes up with. To me, it comes off as utter bullshit. He went through all of that to come up with “Never Give Up Hope!” and Nagato (the real Pain) suddenly realizes that he is wrong and resurects everyone he has killed. That is just extremely poor and a cop out. Those who died should have stayed dead, to be honest. There should have been more consequences.
Finally, I utterly loathed the conversation between Naruto and his father, Namikaze Minato, the Fourth Hokage. In basically a chapter, Naruto meets his father’s spirit and reconciles with him and understands some things. I loath that. I think it would have been better, far better, had Naruto given his father more of a beating than the single punch. There is a lot to answer for, in my mind, that never gets answered. It seems that Naruto has to forgive, forget, and accept. That he should just do what everyone tells him to do and never change. I dislike that in a character. Personally, I would have liked to see Naruto just become the Nine-Tails. That would have been interesting.
Anyway, despite the flaws of “The Invasion of Pain,” I still like Naruto. It is what it is. And it forms a background, a spring board. Perhaps, as one of those seemingly never ending series, Naruto is just showing its age.