Recently, a commenter named Corey (aka Ashesreignited) joined the community here on Beneath the Tangles. Besides the various insights in his comments, he sent me an email and we soon began to discuss Naruto, a show ripe with themes and symbols that Christians would recognize. But besides R86’s wonderful commentary on Shikamaru, we’ve barely touched the show. Luckily, Corey volunteered to write a guest post on the series. It’s a long one, but if you like the series as I do, you’ll enjoy as Corey takes us down memory lane while addressing the themes of forgiveness and faithfulness.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
– I Corinthian 13:7 (NLT)
As the series opens, the villagers of Konoha are prejudiced against Naruto because he carries the Nine-Tail Fox within himself. Naruto isn’t told about the fox and becomes a kind of pariah. There is a sense of loneliness, a sense of being “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3 prophecy about Jesus, the Suffering Servant).
Sasuke suffers from loneliness too. His family and clan die at the hands of his older brother Itachi, leaving him an orphan. In a way, Team Seven becomes a kind of surrogate family for both Naruto and Sasuke, who fight each other like two brothers. While going through their training, they begin to respect each other. Though the surface tension is a competitive spirit, deep down they share one thing in common, their painful loneliness, which is the very basis for their friendship. Whereas Naruto’s loneliness leads him to relate better to others, Sasuke’s loneliness and his painful loss gives birth to revenge. His revenge, for a time, is restrained by his ninja training and his friendship with the other members of Team 7. However, an encounter with Itachi reignites his revenge.
After healing from a quick defeat at Itachi’s hands, Sasuke turns to the snake-man Orochimaru (who has so many parallels to Satan) for power to accomplish his revenge. Naruto tries to stop Sasuke from going to Orochimaru and thus a fight ensues.
I find so many parallels here in how we deal with those who have rejected us and have become our enemies, whether family or friends and the sense of betrayal. Naruto reflects the impulsive foolishness of our gut level response (anger or rage seems to step in when we are in pain). Naruto declares that he will use force to make his friend return. Sasuke intends to kill Naruto, remembering Itachi’s words about how killing his best friend will lead to greater power.
Conversations always seem to happen in the midst of a fight in anime and Naruto is no exception. There are more than fists flying at the Valley of the End. Naruto is covered in a bijuu chakra cloak and Sasuke asks, “What are you?” Naruto replies “I’m your friend.”
Sasuke: Why…..? Why do you waste so much effort on me?
Naruto: Because for me you were a part of my family.
We see a moment just after Naruto loses the fight; Sasuke can’t bring himself to kill an unconscious Naruto! Naruto’s words and unrelenting love touched Sasuke! Sasuke leaves Naruto and disappears into the forest. Kakashi arrives and carries Naruto back to Konoha for medical attention. Jirayia shows up at the hospital where Naruto is recuperating from his fight with Sasuke and tells him that wisdom means giving up on Sasuke, as Jirayia remembers his failure with Orochimaru. His response to Jirayia is that “if that’s what wisdom is, then I will be a fool the rest of my life.”
Jiraiyia convinces Naruto to delay his search for Sasuke until he is better trained. Three years of intense training go by, fueled by Naruto’s desire to save Sasuke from Orochimaru.
Three years later, Orochimaru attempts his dark plan to consume Sasuke (compare 1 Peter 5:8 and the Devil looking for someone to consume!) and possess his body, but Sasuke defeats him, steals part of his power and chases down Itachi. But even Itachi’s death doesn’t satisfy Sasuke‘s revenge. He seeks the destruction of Konoha and the leaders who ordered the death of his clan. This time he turns to Tobi, a mysterious figure who manipulates from the shadows, for power.
Episode 214-215 comes into the story just after Sasuke has just finished killing Danzo, a village elder involved in ordering the destruction of the Sasuke’s family and clan. Sakura attempts to kill Sasuke and is saved by Naruto and Kakashi when he nearly kills her. Exhausted from his fight with Danzo, Sasuke is protected by Zetsu who then retrieves reinforcements in the form of Tobi/Madara. The arrival of Tobi creates a standoff between Kakashi, Naruto and Sakura on one side and Tobi, Zetsu and a tired Sasuke on the other.
A conversation comes out of this “stalemate.” Naruto recounts their time together, memories of their shared experiences and suffering and how he always looked up to Sasuke…
Naruto: I’m glad I met you.
Sasuke: Nothing you say is going to change me. I’m still going to kill everyone in Konoha. Either kill me and be the hero that saved the village or I’ll kill you and you’ll be known as the loser.
Naruto rejects both options. He declares that they will die together in battle that he’s willing to bear the brunt of Sasuke’s hate and die with him (Jesus Christ bearing the brunt of the hatred of his own people through the cross?).
Sasuke: What the hell do you want?!! Why are you so fixated on me?
Naruto: Because I’m your friend!
Sasuke is taken aback and descends into melancholy by Naruto’s unrelenting perseverance. His moment of sadness feels like an eternity. Naruto once again makes Sasuke pause in his singleminded search for revenge. Sasuke, however, “comes to his senses” and tells Naruto that he will kill him first and then the rest of Konoha. Kakashi steps up, feeling that it’s his responsibility, that it’s his fault that Sasuke has become dangerous, feeling he can’t be save. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it. Someone has to kill Sasuke.
Kakashi: I’ll take care of Sasuke. You have to protect your precious dream of being Hokage.
Naruto: How can I become Hokage if I can’t even save one friend?
Many of the Naruto’s friends and teachers consider Naruto’s unwillingness to give up on his friend as foolishness. There might be too heavy of a burden Naruto sets on himself, believing that only he can bring Sasuke back. However, his unwillingness to be discouraged into thinking Sasuke is unredeemable, or too far gone is a matter of hope. The Bible is very clear on this issue: Jesus calls us to love our enemies, asks forgiveness for his enemies from the cross, and returns to his disciples, those who betrayed and abandoned him.
Naruto shows how faithfulness in times of betrayal is one of the greatest reflections of the cross. The Bible tells this story again and again, like in Hosea and his prostitute wife, God’s relationship to Israel and God’s relationship to man. Obviously, faithfulness here doesn’t mean agreeing with everything they do or avoiding the consequences, for Naruto vows to die fighting Sasuke, to protect Konoha his village, stepping between Sasuke and Konoha to thwart his revenge. Naruto is unwilling to kill Sasuke, but is willing to die defending his village. I find this an amazing and ultimately moving thought, that Naruto’s faithfulness doesn’t allow his friend to have his revenge.