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!