Monthly Archives: May 2011

Who’s the Black King? Some Thoughts on “Hidan and Kakuzu” Arc

First, this post has taken a lot longer to get out than I had intended. ¬†Things got in the way. This is not going to be a coherent essay style analysis. Instead, I’m going to do something similar to my “Invasion of Pain” post.

Naruto is one of my favorite manga series. Kishimoto’s work is often excellent and amazing, but can be hampered by occasional losses of momentum. But far more often than not, I really enjoy each chapter.

And “Hidan and Kakuzu” is one of my favorite single arcs in the entire series. The arc itself is problematic. On one hand, the arc is a coming of age story for Shikamaru (and the rest of his team to a lesser extent), but on the other hand, the arc has the feel of a filler. Depending on what the core story of Naruto is determines (I think) how one approaches this arc in particular.

The best part of the arc, in my opinion, is the focus on Shikamaru’s experiences. Asuma is a key character too (as the sacrificial mentor/ piece), but Shikamaru is the arc-specific protagonist (as Naruto himself is off doing training for practically the entire arc). This gives other characters a chance to shine. And as Shikamaru is one of my favorite characters (alongside Sai and Mei Terumi), this is especially sweet.

The usage of human analogues for shogi pieces is also a fun and interesting aspect of the story. This metaphor drives home, I think, the primary theme of the arc: that as time marches on, the older generation becomes the weaker pieces, the more expendable forces. Asuma sees himself a suitable, even a desirous, sacrifice to ensure that the future generation, Shikamaru and the generations following him, survive and thrive.

The antagonists of the arc, Hidan and Kakuzu, are interesting and freaky. How the various members of Akatsuki came to join the organization would make an interesting flashback sequence. I can see that Kakuzu, greedy as he is, would be attracted to the potential for gaining wealth that the organization can provide. And his presence is useful because he is the treasurer of the organization (which makes me wonder how exactly they launder their money). Hidan is a harder case. Attractive because of his love of violence and inflicting pain, Hidan still seems to be an ill fit. But then again, Akatsuki is noteworthy for being extremely loose in its ideological inclusiveness.

What I mean by that is that Akatsuki is like SPECTRE and Quantum from James Bond or Cobra from GI Joe. A terrorist organization determined to rule the world, Akatsuki seems to be a little too incoherent in its ideological positions to be really credible. But then again, Cobra and Bond’s favorite criminal/ terrorist groups are equally incoherent. But I think the fact that Akatsuki is composed of the strongest missing ninjas, criminals, is key, both for Pain/ Madara and for the series. They provide strong opponents for the heroes to fight, and the philosophical fights that tag along to the physical combat benefit from the ideological diversity that Akatsuki represents. Maybe I should come back with a more in depth exploration of Akatsuki.

The most poignant battle in the arc is Shikamaru’s battle against Hidan. The philosophical battle is more clearly delineated here than with Kakuzu (even though his age makes him more explicitly related to the idea of being surpassed by the future generation).

My one problem with the arc is really Naruto. I like Naruto as a character, but there are times where he is annoying. And then there is the whole thing with Sasuke. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that, in response to Kakashi’s question, (and using my best Skip Bayless impression): No! Sasuke doesn’t care that Naruto’s progressing to catch up to him at that moment. Sasuke is a heat seeking missile. He becomes obsessed with a single target for his hatred (Itachi for most of the series, then Danzo and Konoha, and finally Naruto as the embodiment of Konoha). At the time Naruto achieves Rasenshuriken, Sasuke is consumed with the desire to kill his brother. Plus, I think most of the emotions in the Naruto/ Sasuke relationship comes from Naruto. Seems like I have another post.

Anyway, I’m going to cut this short. I need to go clean my bookmarks. Yeesh, I’m a hoarder!

Some Stuff I’m Working On

Okay, here is a preview of what I’m working on for the blog, among other things.

An analysis of the Naruto arc called “Hidan and Kakuzu.” I’m planning on looking at Shikamaru’s coming of age as well as the emphasis laid on the youth’s role in ensuring the future.

I’m also looking to doing an analysis of the Yu Yu Hakusho arc dealing with Sensui. Here, I’m going to look at shifting motives that lead to a desire for battle.

And expect a top list of my favorite anime.

Outside of the Blog, I’m hoping to get a short story done in the next few days.

Bleach: Honor Married to Protecting Life as a Motivator

When I first read Kubo Tite’s Bleach in the November 2009 issue of Shonen Jump, I was not impressed. But I have drastically revised my opinions since then after reading the series more. This turn around occurred as I waited for a second day of jury duty. I had bought Strawberry and the Soul Reapers the first volume¬†and decided to take it along so that I had something to do. And I am glad that I did. I had read the first chapter before, but reading the whole volume impressed me. I have since read to volume five in order and volume 31. Although I plan on reading the entire series, I am not going use scanlation (I’ll touch on that later).

Bleach has since become one of my favorite series (although my top three are Mashima Hiro’s Fairy Tail, Arakawa Hiromu’s Fullmetal Alchemist, and Kishimoto Masashi’s Naruto). This is not, however, a review of the series but rather an analysis of Memories in the Rain, the fantastic third volume. As many of you know, I’ve had some trouble with this post. Rereading it last night, I finally understood what Kubo may have been saying. Kurosaki Ichigo’s introduction as a character cements the dualistic reasons to fight and combines both. Ichigo, then, fights both to “preserve life” and to “preserve honor.”

In chapter 23, “Sharp Will, Dull Blade,” Rukia remembers an important point as she goes to aid Ichigo during his battle with Grand Fisher: “There are two kinds of battle. Every time we fight we’re faced with this question: Am I fighting to preserve life or to preserve my honor?” As Rukia watches the battle, she judges that Ichigo is fighting for himself for the first time. And I don’t think she is wrong there.

The battle with Grand Fisher has been the most personal battle so far. In the earlier volumes, Ichigo saved two friends from separate hollows, and neither fight brings out as much passion and hate as this fight does. The reason why, of course, is revenge. Grand Fisher is responsible for Kurosaki Masaki’s death, and Ichigo blames himself for it.

Ichigo is all about protection. Whether its his family, his friends, or even strangers, Ichigo’s main reason to fight is to preserve life. He engages hollows to save the lives that are being threatened by them. But, Ichigo’s honor comes into play through rivalry. While he gets stronger to protect those he loves, he also uses the presence of a major antagonist (Grand Fisher here, others latter) as a motivator to improve through hellish training.

There is a case to be made that Rukia is perhaps wrong in her analysis. Ichigo’s drive to protect and preserve life seems to force him to willingly take on the strongest opponents so that his allies do not risk death. But I don’t think so.

From what else I have read of Bleach, and Ichigo’s declaration after Grand Fisher’s escape, clearly honor plays a role in Ichigo’s reason to fight. When he asks Rukia if he can be a Soul Reaper for a little while longer, he mentions that he wants to protect people first, but his passion rises as he states if he can’t get stronger then “I can never face my mother!”. The main gist of Ichigo’s statement is the preservation of life, but there is an element of honor, of pride there too. Honor is married to the ability to preserve life on its own. If Ichigo fails, then his honor is wounded. This is where, I think, Grand Fisher “wins” in Ichigo’s mind. Rukia is right that Ichigo won against the hollow, but the fact that it escaped equals a defeat. Ichigo’s honor is wounded. That is why “that monster” is the target of Ichigo’s speech.

Honor then, is married to the preservation of life in Ichigo’s case. That may explain the rather passionate rivalries that develop between Ichigo and others. This is also very similar to Urameshi Yusuke’s reason to fight in Yu Yu Hakusho. The message of Memories in the Rain, however, is clearly on the side of preserving life as Tatsuki and Orhime’s discussion plays out interspersed with the scenes on the hill and the battle with Grand Fisher. But I think there is no denying the presence of honor merged with the fight to protect.

I look forward in the coming months and years to see if my thesis is right, that Ichigo’s fight to preserve life is equivalent to his honor. I may be right, or I may be wrong and it is the preservation of life that solely motivates his progress as a hero. Anyway, Bleach has been a fantastic read so far.