Have you ever loved someone enough that you willingly thrust your own plans aside for their sake? That you didn’t care whether they appreciated your efforts or not? Or even whether you particularly liked the person or not? Wouldn’t we all want a friend like that? Or would we just dismiss him as a meddler?
I can’t help thinking that one of the reasons Naruto has endured so long is because of the pivotal relationship between the title character and Uchiha Sasuke. We were privileged to see the two boys grow up together, train together, fight alongside one another, and sometimes fight with each other. But when a few years later, Sasuke’s blood lust to avenge his slain family possesses him completely, to the point that he abandons Konoha village and the life and friends he has always known along with it, something changes in Naruto as well. He decides that he will do anything, absolutely anything, to bring Sasuke back to his senses and back to their village as a productive, peace-loving citizen.
Whatever enemies he must face down, whatever rigorous training he must undergo, whatever ends of the earth to which he must chase Sasuke — none of this matters to Naruto. Bring about world peace? Conquer all his own inner demons? Tame the kyuubi itself? If that’s what it takes to win his friend back, then it’s zettee ni yarundattebayo!
All this, and frankly, I’m still not convinced Naruto even likes the guy all that much. No matter. This is a love for his friend that is so fierce, so uncompromising, that I don’t think Naruto even sees the obstacles in the way of restoring Sasuke, let alone worries about them.
I am not sure that people like me who have never served in the military can fully understand this concept of nakama that so often comes across so strongly in shounen anime, of the intense love and concern for one’s comrades at arms. But I think we can understand it by analogy. We have all had friends with whom we shared important growing and learning experiences. Some of them, too, we perhaps had our disagreements with, and perhaps even disliked in certain ways. But the bond is special.
It is like the love Jesus has for us all too, in a way, although I do not wish to push this analogy too far. Jesus has gone alongside and before us all, has been tempted just as we are (yet without sin), and has paid the ultimate price on the cross to secure our restoration in him. There is nothing any of us has gone through, that we can justifiably say that Jesus doesn’t understand. And yet, as the author of Hebrews put it, for us Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame.
If that’s not love, then the word has no meaning.
And I don’t wish to elevate Naruto beyond reason here either. I don’t think he’d want to be so elevated. But if even such a long-running and popular anime as Naruto can teach us something about love, in this critical relationship between Naruto and Sasuke, then I consider it worth watching for that reason alone.