Naruto’s Ultimate Power

Last week, I watched the final episode of Naruto Shippuden. It was a surreal experience, watching the last chapter of something I’ve been following off and on since I was thirteen years old.

Between Shippuden and the original series, there’s over 720 episodes, most of it terrible filler. The manga itself is rather lengthy, with over 700 chapters in the original story. I haven’t read every chapter or watched every episode, but it’s fair to say I’ve read and seen nearly all of it at this point, including the ending.

And after following Naruto’s story for over fourteen years, I want to make something absolutely clear before I talk about Naruto’s Ultimate Power.

Naruto is a remarkable series that I’d never recommend to anyone.

The anime version has an endless amount of filler episodes along with strange, lazy artwork that makes characters look more like Matryoshka Dolls than actual people.

The story itself is very convoluted: the author’s storytelling can be deeply frustrating and flawed, with many parts feeling rushed while other parts feel drawn out.

So just so we’re clear, Naruto is no way the best manga series I’ve read or anime I’ve experienced, but it is still my favorite. And here’s why.

From page one to the final chapter, you follow Naruto and a myriad of other characters as they grow up. Through it all, Naruto‘s character progression is a big part of the story—turning the pages, you watch a little boy become a man. You watch Naruto the brat become Naruto the hero. For me, at the beginning of the story, Naruto is by far my least favorite character in the series. But by the end, not only has he become my favorite character in his own franchise…he’s one of my favorite superheroes of all time. And mostly, that’s due to Naruto’s Ultimate Power.

Naruto’s a favorite of mine not because his power is some bull crap ninjutsu (freakin’ Sasuke. Ugh.) or he has almighty strength or anything like that. Naruto’s power is something rather unique to him in Shonen stories, something that’s sorely lacking in Western hero storytelling.

Naruto’s Ultimate Power is his ability to forgive his enemies.

We see this trend early on in the story when he fights Gaara, a child who carries a demon inside his heart. After attacking his home town and nearly killing all his friends, Naruto doesn’t swear to destroy Gaara—he wants to reach him.

Allow me to explain. In the Naruto series, every villain’s backstory is revealed right before the end of their story arch, and every time the story goes out of its way to show us that villains never start out evil. Rather, every person wants to help, wants to be a hero, wants to save the world. Most of the time, tragedy mixed with hatred or self loathing leads Naruto’s enemies down a dark path instead of a righteous one.

When Naruto battles Gaara, or Pain, or freakin’ Sasuke (Ugh.), he doesn’t see a monster, a villain, or a betrayer. He sees a person, like him, who’s wanted more in a world that hurt them deeply—that took everything away from them.

Naruto’s the embodiment of age old saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

When Naruto faces an enemy, he sees himself. The pain he’s carried from isolation, the crippling anger from true loneliness, the death of friends and family. Naruto’s suffering is plain as day on the faces of those he fights.

So when he finally reaches Gaara, he forgives him, explaining that he too was once alone. That he’s felt that horrid loneliness that made him want to destroy everything and everyone.

When Pain destroys the entire village and kills Naruto’s mentor, Naruto confronts him, discovering that Pain grew up as a child soldier. Given the opportunity, Naruto still refuses to kill him, confessing that even though he hates what Pain’s done, he understands his pain.

When Sasuke betrays and abandons him, Naruto forgives him, certain he’ll return. Because both Naruto and Sasuke have lost their families, Naruto treats Sasuke as his new family. Naruto never gives up on getting him back.

Every time he forgives an enemy, Naruto gains a friend. Every time he forgives an enemy, it changes the world.

The reason he’s the greatest hero in the history of his own world is because Naruto cares about every. single. person. He understands their pain, he’s gone through their suffering. He tries to saves every one he can, even (or I should say, especially) his greatest enemies. He never ceases to give any one a second chance, or a third, or a fourth. He offers a hand in friendship to whoever would take it. Naruto forgives people.

And that’s my kind of hero.

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