Apparently, the writer of Dragon Ball: Evolution has apologized to fans for writing that monstrosity of a movie. I think it’s admirable for him to put the onus on himself considering there was way more than awful writing going on with that movie. Also, there are many who suspect that if not for this horrible movie, Toriyama wouldn’t have come back with Battle of the Gods and Resurrection of F, not to mention his decision to continue the series.
“I went into the project chasing after a big payday, not as a fan of the franchise but as a businessman taking on an assignment. I have learned that when you go into a creative endeavor without passion you come out with sub-optimal results, and sometimes flat out garbage. So I’m not blaming anyone for Dragonball but myself. As a fanboy of other series, I know what it’s like to have something you love and anticipate be so disappointing.”
We forgive you. Now let’s forget. Forever. Don’t be that guy that keeps getting our attention so you can keep apologizing. We all want to forget this movie.
All heroes have their admirers. Naruto is of course constantly after Sakura, as she is the heroine that he hangs out with constantly – plus he knows that she’s in love with his rival, Sasuke, which only makes her more attractive to Naruto as a challenge to overcome. As Naruto’s arc develops, so too does Naruto himself develop in maturity. His relationship with Sakura also develops too.
So naturally, this means that Naruto eventually winds up with Hinata.
… Wait, what? Is this some kind of joke? How does a writer as brilliant as Kishimoto – the man who wrote Naruto’s inspiring speeches, developed lovable ensemble characters like Shikamaru and Choji, and cultivated long-standing relationships such as Naruto’s bond with Kurama – know absolutely nothing about writing a proper romance? Hinata is the worst choice of character for our hero, and there are plenty of reasons why.
A Bad Example
Hinata is an awful role model for girls. Her entire existence – spanning decades if we’re going to consider her little scarf debacle in the last movie to be canon – has been about Naruto’s approval. She’s the heir of a wealthy clan, born with a biological advantage (the Byakugan), and apparently a very capable ninja and a master of the Hyuga clan’s signature Gentle Fist style.
I guess you can’t have too many skills in one basket, because she also seems to have some kind of crippling personality disorder. She never speaks up for herself, never goes for what she wants, and has very stalker-like tendencies when it comes to our hero. She even deals in creepy stalker absolutes; “I want to stand by your side – forever!” she rehearses at one point. WHOA. Forever, girl? How about you go out for noodles first, then see whether you even like the same things, because I can’t think of someone more different from our hero than you.
Her dialogue is literally “N-Naruto…!” whenever he does something to vaguely acknowledge her – positively or negatively. She wilts and blossoms at his syllables. What this teaches is that girls should be meek little flowers that wait until the object of their affection’s whims lean in their direction.
Some may say that Naruto is an anime series, not a fable, and that it has no responsibility to teach anything. If that’s true, why create such an inspirational character as Naruto? He’s a brat that stays fixated on one goal – stubbornly refusing to be shaken from the morals he grew up with, even when it seems that all above him are ready to do so. He wins not only the approval but the admiration of his teachers and peers alike because of this. When it’s time for him to decide his Ninja Way, it’s that he’ll never give up on something once he’s decided to do it. Naruto is not the best ninja there. He isn’t the most powerful or the most experienced. He’s not the first person they call for an emergency. He isn’t Goku, the all-powerful hero. He’s a flawed child with a personality to be infectiously good despite his rough manners, boisterous personality, and tactless rhetoric. Why go to the trouble to create such a role model for kids – such that they realize they don’t have to be perfect in order to be good people – if you’re going to not teach lessons through what he does?
Below His Character
While there are plenty of reasons to admire Naruto for the many things he has done for his village and the world – as well as for his winning optimism and eagerness to be the best shinobi his village has ever seen – there are not many reasons for Naruto to see anything to admire in Hinata. When watching the movie The Last: Naruto the Movie, it became apparent that the biggest factor for Naruto’s reciprocation of her affections was… it was a sure thing.
Ew. What a seedy way to portray the character that worked so hard to win my respect. The excuse commonly given for Naruto’s ignorance of Hinata’s love is that he “hasn’t had anyone to express it to him before.” First of all, lies! Second of all, he expresses his own affection for Sakura constantly, such that he would definitely understand if Hinata were to talk to him like a human being instead of stuttering his name all the time.
Naruto: “Wow, Hinata, you sure did a good job eating all that ramen.”
Hinata: [shocked that she was noticed at all] “N-Naruto…!”
Naruto: “I’ll bet that’s how you bulk up to get so strong!”
Hinata: [shocked at being complimented] “N-naruto…”
Naruto: “Well, I’m going to go talk to people that actually talk back.”
Hinata: [sad that their interaction is over] “Naruto…” [Her eyes swell with tears, partly with happiness at the overall tone of their conversation, partly because of the welling of emotion that she feels for him.]
What is there to admire?! All of the paragons of awesomeness that Naruto worships are people with real skills, real admirable traits! He appreciates Kakashi for what he learned about being there for your comrades. He learns some really neat skills from Jiraiya. He respects Might Guy for the way he bolsters Lee’s confidence. He admires Sakura for being a strong person. He admires Sasuke’s drive to achieve one goal, with the possibility that this might have even been the inspiration for his ninja way. Sure, Hinata is powerful, and Naruto can respect that, but she shows no initiative in using it. It might as well have been a secret! Naruto starts using sickening language like “I’ve been in love with you.” Do you know what “been” means, kid? It means that it was an ongoing thing. You expressed no such thing in the past – not to the audience, not to your own internal monologues, and certainly not to anybody else.
The disappointment I feel in such a poorly written relationship for such a well-written series AND main character is tantamount to what would happen if Luke Skywalker had been killed by Jar Jar Binks seconds before entering Jabba’s Palace. It’s like if Goku’s death to defeat Raditz had been his exit from the series. It’s like if the Clone Wars replaced the EU’s Mandalorian warrior race with a race of peace-loving… wait, that one was real.
Anyway, Naruto’s sudden decision to reciprocate in such a way (“I’ve always loved you, Hinata!”) cheapens Naruto as a character and worse, advocates behavior like this. Better that he stay single than do this. There’s no risk here. There’s no character that puts their feelings on the line for the other – Hinata never even has to admit how she feels. Naruto ends up reading her mind (via magic water and of course in true Naruto and Naruto Shippuden style: a series of flashbacks), so he knows it’s a sure thing. There’s no risk at all for him to express his affection, and worse, because it’s the first time he’s ever expressed this affection, it looks manufactured.
This is why even fillers should be vetted carefully by those familiar with the main storyline. These Hinata fillers are the reason why Hinata is getting such a nasty portrayal. They’re still canon! Character development always matters! Handle your characters with care, or else you might just cheapen the character you worked so hard to create.
This is not an indulgence of ignorant universe-crossing what-ifs. I’m not comparing the characters of these series in terms of how powerful they are, but how effective they are as characters. In other words, this is a comparison of the series as entertainment.
The basic premise of each of these series is irresistible to children, as usual with anime and manga directed at that age group.
Dragon Ball follows a character based on the Chinese Monkey King, Sun Wukong. Simply called Goku, the character is small, cute, and incredibly small. He is also super strong, and in fact half of the series’ appeal is watching bad guys underestimate Goku, and then have them be completely wrong.
Then you have Naruto, a series about a young ninja in a ninja village who wants to grow up to be… the best ninja in the village.
Goku’s adventures involve him traveling West, to find the legendary Dragon Balls for some noble, Goku-related reason. In fact, Goku is inexplicably kind, innocent, and giving, with almost every other character having some kind of flawed personality. His main pull is his naivete. Goku is always the kindest, most innocent character in the room. His foils are the vain Bulma, the posturing Yamcha, the obsessive Tienshinhan, the lecherous Master Roshi, the similarly perverted Kuririn, and other characters that are part of his revolving entourage. The other irresistible element of this series is Goku’s ability to befriend former enemies, as to him fighting is a sport, and part of the game is knowing how to separate that from personal feelings. Almost every comrade Goku travels with has fought against him at some point.
To sum up his character as introduced by the series, Goku is:
It’s no wonder people love this guy! It’s a blast to watch him defeat whole armies led by fat, corrupt commanders, or take down a master assassin who can kill people with his tongue.
Naruto, however, excels in its execution. Immediately Naruto is presented as a bratty orphan that everybody hates or looks down on, including the wise adults and the good guys.
Adults may be quick to hate such a character, but children latch on immediately. Who hasn’t felt like everybody was judging them? Who hasn’t felt like the world considers them a nuisance? Who hasn’t had a dream that they would show everybody that ever doubted them that they were wrong? Naruto is what Goku isn’t; an Everyman. Naruto is not initially skilled at anything; he must always find his own niche, and that’s what makes him fun to watch. His version of the Rasengan involves his own special method. His Shadow Clone jutsu as a specialty is in itself a symbol; he relies on himself to support himself in battle, because he knows himself the most. His constant flashbacking shows his power to reflect. If the children I knew were as reflective as Naruto, they’d all be young novelists.
As a result, Naruto is more grown than he has the maturity to show. He can see when an adult is looking out for him because he has spent so much time as an orphan. However, he doesn’t know how to properly repay such a kindness – he lacks the social maturity to do anything but act out.
Instead, what becomes Naruto’s trademark is to pay it forward. If Kakashi treats him a certain way, he makes sure that he treats anybody else the same way if he’s in that position. Did someone save his life? He’ll save someone else’s, because he’s learned that life is precious. Especially potent are times when Naruto sees himself in other people and moves to protect them. He sees Neji insulting Hinata, and even though he is not involved in that family’s conflict he rushes to Hinata’s aide. When fighting Gaara, a stranger, he immediately recognizes the loneliness they have in common.
“It’s almost unbearable, isn’t it… the pain of being all alone. I know that feeling, I’ve been there, in that dark and lonely place… but now there are others – other people who mean a lot to me. I care more about them than I do myself, and I won’t let anyone hurt them. That’s why I’ll never give up. I will stop you, even if I have to kill you! They saved me from myself. They rescued me from my loneliness. They were the first to accept me as who I am. They’re my friends.”
Naruto is a very flawed character with a sense of right and wrong burned into him by the very role models that have failed him in other ways. One thing he has learned for sure is that he has to believe in himself, even when it seems nobody else will. Anyone who has spent any real time with Naruto cannot hate him.
I have been a fan of Dragon Ball since I was a small child. I was only introduced to Naruto this year, and even so it was with extreme skepticism and cynicism. I had a million questions, and I tore episode by episode apart with reckless abandon, annoying my wife horribly as I pointed out plotholes and obvious instances of filler – then Naruto opened his stupid mouth and ruined it for me.
Morally, I would want my kids to watch Naruto. My previous favorite is a deadbeat alien father who constantly abandons his family (Adult Goku). Naruto ruined me with his stupid optimism, his stupid compassion, and his stupid perseverence. Be a brat, kid. You grow up more with every episode… it feels real, even if it takes place in a ninja world.