It’s been about a week since iconic manga smash-hit Naruto has drawn to a close, ending a fifteen-year era of shinobi and leaving a space in the hearts of its many readers/watchers. There are several of us at Geeks Under Grace who would like to extend a gesture of thanks to Naruto and Masashi Kishimoto, relating our lives and Christian walks to the story and characters crafted within such a harrowing, and sometimes sobering, tale–the tale of a boy whose world was small, but whose dreams were massive: the tale of a ninja.
I remember the first time I was introduced to Naruto. It was 2003, and I went to hang out at a friend’s house. While I was there, I met my friend’s older brother who happened to be watching a subtitled episode of Naruto on his computer. I asked what he was watching. He quickly got excited and said, “I have to show you this!” He pulled up a fight from the Chuunin Exams arc, and it was from that point on that I started my journey with Naruto.
For a literature class, I once had to do a research paper on the topic of folklore. One of the biggest takeaways from my research was that, often times, folklore is used to instill and encourage the beliefs, values, and practices of a person or group. After learning this purpose, I started analyzing the media I take in–the comics I read, the movies or shows I watched… Was there a connection between the values I have and why I like certain characters or shows?
Naruto instills and encourages the beliefs and values that I have. Yes, even as a Christian, a ninja anime has the ability to remind me of God’s Truth (which shows just how great He is that He can use a cartoon to bring us closer to Him). For example, Naruto is one of the most sacrificial characters I’ve ever seen. I love that his devotion to his friends is mostly unconditional to the point that he would rather die fighting for them than give up. His sacrifice and devotion are two character qualities that I personally hold dear, and I find myself encouraged when I think about how consistently he displays these two qualities on his journeys.
Aside from the main character, there are so many relatable characters that we can connect with in different seasons of our lives. Whether it’s Hinata’s growth from feeling she was only a burden to having self-confidence, Lee’s unwavering determination despite all odds, or Gaara’s journey from villain to hero, these evolving characters can serve as inspiration as we develop our own character.
Though the story is ending, I’m glad I’ve been able to grow up with it. I’m thankful for all the lessons I’ve learned and how much fun I had feeling like a Konoha ninja while journeying through all of it! Dattebayo!
I personally started watching Naruto when I was in 4th grade, and that was the year 2006. I remember it airing on Cartoon Network at the time. I really enjoyed watching it, and started watching more of the anime. Once I got caught up with the anime I started reading the weekly chapter that would go up every week depending on the day. Sometimes early chapter releases would go up on Tuesday, but the regularly scheduled one was always on Wednesday. Then, over the past couple weeks, some of the chapters got released on Thursday
Anyway, enough rambling on about that. Naruto has meant so much for me as a whole. It showed me to never give up on anything–to try to pursue your goal in life and the dreams that you want to accomplish. This has been helpful for me in my Christian walk because I’m never going to stop believing in Him despite the persecution that I may face in the future. Naruto overcame his enemies, and spoke such wise words from what he learned from his teachers. He also taught me to love and care for others despite what others may think of you. When Naruto was younger he had to deal with a lot of pain because he didn’t have any parents, and many people didn’t really accept him for who he was. Later on, however, he showed them what he was made of, and he started caring for others. His comrades realized that once he protected the village from being attacked, and also after the war. He also kept pursuing after his friend, Sasuke, who rebelled against his village, and he still wanted Sasuke to come back, despite all the pain he had caused. All the pain that Naruto faced shaped him to be a better person in the end. In our daily Christian walk, we will go through hurt, shame, or even pain, ourselves, but we know that God uses those things to help us become a better person. It can be hard in the moment when you’re experiencing trials, but you’ll be rewarded for what you’ve gone through in the end… just like Naruto.
It may seem unusual—or perhaps even psychologically unsound—to say that fictional characters are sitting among pastors, parents, teachers, Jesus Christ, Michael Jordan, Dietrich Bonoeffer, C.S. Lewis, and a host of other real persons on your list of inspirational people. But, with Naruto, this is most certainly the case for me.
I found Naruto during a bit of a turbulent time in my life and never imaged that the show would provide me with role models who would inspire and better me as an individual.
Naruto is a franchise that breathes. The characters—fantastical and far-fetched as they are—have a pulsing humanity about them. As a fan of the show (that’s how I primarily enjoyed the series), I was exposed to struggles that I had never before seen presented through animated television—childhood abuse, the blunt futility of vengeance, the power of a love that longs for revenge but chooses to forgive, social stigmatization, survivor’s guilt, the power of a kind word, the ability of one person to change a life, and the dual nature of mankind and the way in which even the vilest among us have genuinely human tendencies and concerns. For the first time since I’d begun watching television, I was presented with an array of characters facing debilitating social, psychological, and physical barriers. Even more importantly, though, these characters overcame their setbacks in thoroughly poignant and believable ways that left an impact—not only on how I viewed myself—but also on how I began to view others.
A few of the characters that left an enormous impact on me:
- Iruka changed a life by being the first teacher—and first person—to recognize and treat Naruto with kindness; this simple act of kindness sets off a chain of events that forever change the course of the ninja world.
- Gaara transformed his hatred into love, becoming the savior of his village and the commander of the shinobi alliance.
- Rock Lee overcame his learning disabilities with nothing but relentless hard work and the encouragement of his sensei.
- Hinata transformed her greatest weakness—her gentleness—into her greatest strength, even finding the courage to do something a majority of characters never could: confess her love to another.
- Tsunade pressed past her fear of blood and the loss of her brother and fiancé, dedicating her life to protecting the Hidden Leaf Village.
- Kakashi found strength through loss at a young age—his father committed suicide and his best friend died before his eyes, among other tragedies—using his own sorrow and experience to empower others. He swears loyalty to his comrades and goes so far as to offer his life to preserve the village.
- Naruto overcame the social isolation of an entire village, fought against a world’s worth of naysayers, overcame his weaknesses, learned the power of forgiveness and offered it to everyone who ever wronged him, defied a world that said “you can’t,” and became the savior of all shinobi and the ninja world at large.
As a Christian, I often saw the teachings of Christ presented through this show, which surprised me. As lessons of forgiving your enemies, sacrificing for your friends, and showing kindness, integrity, and virtue in your day-to-day life were delivered on an almost episodic basis, I found myself feeling empowered by the series.
Naruto is not a weak show. It doesn’t shy away from blood, pain, suffering, loss, and the harsh brutality of life. Characters see friends and family killed before their eyes. Some are put through psychological and physical torture. Others tell of horrendous atrocities that befall them—parents who wished them dead, villages who disowned them, horrific injuries that they endured… and yet for all that, whenever I walked away from an episode of Naruto, what I left with was not the cruelty, the violence, the blood, or the despicable evils that befell the characters. What I walked away with was the moment where one mortal enemy forgave another, where a character endured pain and suffering for the sake of a friend, where loyalty, sacrifice, kindness, and hope embodied truly breath-taking and realistic moments that made these virtues real in true, biblical fashion.
When I walk away from contemporary films, I often find myself with images of the film’s more dark and unsettling content in my mind. With Naruto, despite it possessing even more intense, unsettling content than a majority of western animated films (and even some live-action films), I only ever walked away with positive, wholesome thoughts on my mind. Very rarely did a negative, unsettling thought ever crowd in amidst the empowering ones. This, in practice, is very hard to achieve through film, especially considering Naruto’s unflinching adherence to reality in terms of painful physical, mental, and emotional wounds.
All that to say this: I would not be the person I am today without Naruto. It has easily been one of the most powerful, fictional influences on my life. The series coming to a close is a bittersweet reality. It’s a long-running series that has proudly and unashamedly marched through the anime/manga genre without faltering… for fifteen years. Not an easy feat, by any means. I look forward to what the future holds for Naruto and his friends, beginning with The Last: Naruto the Movie.
Allow me to leave you with this quote, oft-said by Kakashi Hatake:
“In the ninja world, those who break the rules are scum, that’s true, but those who abandon their friends are worse than scum.”
There are so many things I could say, so many things I have learned, that I do not know how to start talking about Naruto. I have been following this series since the tail-end of sixth grade, over eleven years ago. When it started, I was almost exactly the same age as Naruto and his friends, so it was easy for me to relate and get absorbed into their world. Having practically completed case-studies on this series, I could say with some confidence that I would be comfortable teaching entire courses on Naruto and all of the details therein. On top of that, the sentiments and wisdom found within reflected back on my own life, encouraging my personality to develop in ways that it would not have otherwise. Through Naruto, I have learned a little bit more about friends, family, patience, and even the nature of Christ, shown through these characters.
I’d thought about doing an entire series of articles fully realizing lessons and philosophies to be found in Naruto, complete with related stories from others and examples from personal experience. Someday, I still might. The series is so long, and so full of stories, characters, moral altercations, devastation, reconstruction, transformation, and redemption, that I am at odds with myself over the limited space I have to talk about everything.
It’s hard to start people on Naruto, especially with friends and acquaintances my age. Like I said, it was easy when I was Naruto’s age, and I could connect seamlessly into their exciting, but lonely fiction. Naruto has very childish roots, but those roots delve into a much more sophisticated and human fabric of storytelling. There have been many criticisms of Naruto throughout the years, some admittedly more valid than others, but, overall, the series has made a home in many hearts and still exacts inspiration on our generation, as I expect it will for years to come.
Naruto reinforced many ideals for me, in ways that I didn’t grasp until they were conveyed using characters I understood and appreciated: being happy for somebody in spite of your own efforts or feelings, knowing how to find value in losing and humility in victory, patiently accepting that you will be mocked for your convictions, loving and protecting those who would not do the same for you, sacrificing your entitlements and respect for the sake of people who will never understand your actions, never giving up on the goodness that can be found in the hearts of others, turning loneliness and anger into a weapon to forge yourself anew, standing up for the weak, never shouldering all the responsibility by yourself, forever and ever, etc.
Perhaps more than anything else though, there are two preeminent messages delivered in the Naruto narrative. The first is an obvious, increasingly insurmountable tale of brotherhood.: brotherhood between Sasuke and his biological brother, Itachi, and brotherhood between Naruto and Sasuke, who are kin only by the mutual struggle they have shared. The other message is a little more complicated, a little more Christ-like, and a little more powerful. During some of the later arcs of the story, Naruto is tasked with finding the “cure to hatred” by a couple of people, including his master, Jiraiya. Obviously, in a world so stricken by malcontent and conflict, this is a pretty daunting task. However, through several sub-plots, the sacrifice of multiple characters, and some of the best storytelling the series has to offer, Naruto does finally find his answer, as does his friend and companion, Gaara. A simple word, sometimes with exceedingly difficult applications: forgiveness.
Amidst a sea of character revelations and moral underpinnings, the author goes out of his way to make special mention of the power of unconditional, seemingly illogical forgiveness towards our fellow man, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean you get along well afterwards. This is one of the quintessential messages of Christ, and is something I am extremely thankful to find in my favorite series ever.
So again, thank you, Naruto, for being a friend and inspiration in spite of the confines of fiction. Thank you to the entire cast of characters forged by Kishimoto’s pen, mind, and heart. Thank you for the music, thanks for the battles, thanks for building my mind and playing my heartstrings, and thank you for doing the same for millions of others as well.
God bless you, Masashi Kishimoto, and best wishes on your next work. We look forward to it.
(Featured image credited to “chopper-nx” on Deviantart. http://chopper-nx.deviantart.com/)
VERSE OF THE DAY: James 5:10-11
“Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
SONG OF THE DAY: “Heaven Shaking Event” – Naruto Shippuden OST
I knew it had to happen eventually. But it still feels so surreal.