The end is nigh! While the Naruto franchise hasn’t quite concluded, the final chapter of the Naruto manga is out today, marking a significant endpoint for a beloved series. I didn’t really get into anime and manga until I was a teenager, so I can’t imagine how some young people feel who have grown up on this franchise from their formative years. It must certainly stir some strong emotions within them.
Also, I’m a marginal fan of the series, having started late and jumping forth between the manga and anime to catch the story. I forget about Naruto months at a time, and then catch up (as I did in preparation for this article!). Every time I return to the series, I’m struck by how much Naruto has changed. It really hits me that this character was once reviled in his own village, by most villagers because of his connection with Kurama, and by his classmates because he’s an absolute brat (albeit because of the way he’s treated from birth). And now, of course, he’s the acknowledged by Konohagakure as their savior.
Somewhere along the way, Naruto changed from an angry, bullied, hated young man into a fiercely loving, devoted, and powerful ninja. Practice, perseverance, and ability all played a part, obviously, but that could only take him so far. For most of Naruto, for instance, Sasuke reflected the other side of the coin – a talented ninja who was bitter and followed a twisted path. What he lacked (and what he eventually gained from his final encounter with Itachi and then in the last battle with Naruto) was that which transformed Naruto – love.
Early in the series, it’s Iruka who shows a bratty Naruto that he does indeed care for him. Kakashi does the same, as does Jiraiya. There was no particular reason for any of these people to invest themselves, their lives, for Naruto, but they all do.
It’s easy for us to look at a series and say, “Why yes, it’s just the right thing to show love to the less fortunate!” Real life, of course, is much harder. We often – usually – live in terms of consumer relationships. Except for those closest to us, we often only give love to people with something expected in return. For instance, aren’t we taught that if we’re in a relationship where we’re giving all the love and getting nothing in return, we should let it go?
This also flows into the realms of our most intimate relationships. Some of us have lost contact with family or with formerly close friends. And certainly in romantic relationships, we “try” each other out. That’s dating, after all. Cohabitation, engagement, and even marriage reflect more of the same – if our needs aren’t met, we become bitter and end the relationship.
Naruto was such an annoying kid (I couldn’t stand his character for years) and had so much baggage that it would have been easy for people to cast him aside – and indeed, most did. But a few loved him anyway.
I’m reminded of how God treats His people, and why he loved the Israelites:
The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.
– Deuteronomy 7:7
There was no reason for God to love the Israelites. They did nothing to earn God’s love. And Christians, too, are the same – they don’t earn God’s love. They can’t. God doesn’t bestow love upon us because we’ve done good deeds, and we could never live up to his perfect standard anyway. He loves us for exactly who we are.
Iruka loved Naruto for who he was. So did Kakashi. And certainly, Jiraiya did.
No matter what Naruto did, no matter who he was, no matter how many times he would let them down, those teachers continued to love him. And it was love that transformed him into someone who changes the ninja world.
And it is this same love, one that tells us that “I don’t care what you did, what you do, or what you will do – I love you for you” that can do the same for each of us. We can’t earn it. We won’t lose it. We only need to bask in it, and then watch as that love does the impossible – transforming us from the inside out.