SPOILER WARNING SPOILER WARNING SPOILER WARNING
I'll say it again, this journal will be chock full of spoilers. The only reason I feel comfortable talking about it is because it's been out for a long time and I recently heard the whole Naruto series is almost over. I'm assuming that everyone who cares has already seen this arc.
The first part is my experience with Naruto and my initial feelings about the Pain arc. To skip directly to the rant just go to the second ******
Oh, if I misspell anything don't bother correcting me. I don't care.
I'll admit to being a moderate Naruto fan. Especially earlier in the series I appreciated some the dynamic between characters. It felt like to me a conflict between naturally gifted children and those who had learning or social disabilities. I naturally sided with the latter, given that I had to deal with both learning and social disabilities growing up. But the show did an admirable job of not making it black and white by showing the gifted ones had problems all their own.
Of course, that was just my personal interpretation. Also, even at it's best I didn't think the show was perfect. It suffered from many of the problems that shonen (also called fighting or tournament anime) had. Chiefly padding, in it's innumerable forms. It didn't help that I didn't give a rat's ass about Sousuke. I always saw him as an emo, self-obsessed whiner that the author is trying hard to sell as cool.
Still, even I will admit he helped focus the series by being Naruto's rival. The main thrust of the original series was their rivalry. It helps explain why everything after Sousuke leaves is filler. However, this does set up the what I view the original series' failure. The final battle between Naruto and Sousuke could have been one of the greatest anime duels ever put to film. It should have been. Instead, it was fouled up by a ridiculous amounts of padding. I'd have to go back and count how many, but there were several episodes that were nothing but talk. One was even ANOTHER flashback to Sousuke's childhood which tells us nothing new or interesting. Whole parts of that just got boring. In all seriousness, that fight should have been three episodes long, tops.
Where am I going with this? Well, it helps explains why I lost interest in the series. I was briefly lured by Shippuden, interested to see what the new changes were. Hellooooooo Hinata! Seriously though, I watched for a while, and concluded it was the same old stuff and stopped watching. Once again, didn't help that I don't care about Sousuke.
Later I was lured back by Internet buzz. The Pain arc was supposed to be the Naruto Armageddon. The biggest and most awesome arc ever. Dark and scary! Intense. And apparently something happened to Hinata, one of my favorite characters! Something that spoiler filters had to hide! Genuinely intrigued, I started watching again.
The death of Jiraya was dramatic and moving, but not particularly surprising to me. Some of the earlier arcs showed a preference for killing off older members of the cast who had been in mentor positions. It's also an established trope in this kind of story. Eventually the mentor has to be killed off so the hero doesn't live in his shadow. So, not too surprised. Still, it was an incredibly intense series of episodes and it established Pain as a character.
Compare this to how most members of the Akatsuki are introduced. They usually show up in pairs that argue and bitch like old married couples in feeble attempts at comedy. They then prove annoyingly hard to kill in over long fight scenes. Here, Pain and his sidekick are shown as mysterious, relentless and terrifying. The fear is really played up. They really sell you on the idea that this villain is extra special. But here is the really important part.
They sell you on the idea this villain will change things and he will kill people for real. This heightens the tension immeasurably. In a show where we assume that all characters can take super-human levels of punishment and "death" frequently means an extended trip to the doctor, this was immensely refreshing.
So then comes the actual attack on the Leaf Village. It was almost unbearably intense. The atmosphere from the battle with Jiraya was kept and every encounter known characters had with him felt horribly dangerous. Some of these even paid off, with the death of characters like Kakashi. One thing that helped was many of the characters were frightened by the situation. If the characters are frightened, then it makes the audience (who sympathizes with those characters) scared too.
Many other things were handled well too. Naruto's triumphant return was quite nearly defeated by Pain which was a shock. Naruto going completely berserk and being tempted by the Fox Spirit was a psychological wrinkle. The scene with his father's ghost was a nice calming break in the midst of all the chaos. The entire episode Confession starring Hinata was heart-breakingly tragic. I've known people to cry watching that.
True, the arc still had problems, like cutting away to characters who weren't in the Leaf Village for the sake of padding and some unnecessary almost deaths.
So where did the arc going so horribly wrong in my book? Let's break it down...
Pain saying he worked for someone else- This is one of the oldest, cheapest cliches in shonen. It usually goes like this "You may have beaten me, but I am the weakest of the Council of Seven!" It's a quick and dirty way to build up your next villain. It's also lazy and distracting. Does Pain really need to say that in the middle of the fight? Let us, the audience, focus on the villain right in front of us. Also, there are less contrived ways to do this. Have them investigating after the arc is completed and gradually learn that. Heck, that could have been a whole arc in and of itself! Padding that actually frickin' matters!
Pain's backstory- Heavens to Besty, I've lost count of how often this show has done this. A long, heart-breaking, oh-so-sad backstory for the villain... in the last minute. Don't get me wrong, done well this is an excellent device. However, the show often screws this up, for several reasons and both are evident here. First, most of the time it's just filler. These back stories will invariably take up several episodes. Second, they rarely have anything to do with what's actually going on. This is especially true if the characters never learn about it. Third, THEY HAPPEN AT THE LAST MINUTE. If you did this kind of things earlier, it might matter. At the very least, it would add depth to the character or cast his actions in a different light. If you are seconds away from vaporizing him it doesn't matter!
In Pain's case it's made worse by the fact it's Naruto cliche. It's yet ANOTHER story about war torn orphans. Almost everything in it is recycled material. Oh, and lets not forget HE NUKED A CIVILIAN POPULATION OUT OF SPITE. You could have the saddest, most tragic background in the world, but if you murder that many innocent people I NO LONGER CARE ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS!
Pain's Motivation- Desire for peace? That's pretty cliche too. Honestly, they could have put in any number of other cliche villain motivations and it would have worked just as well (which is to say, terrible). "He wanted to be killed by you." "He did it for love." Say what you will about the immortal guy from an earlier arc, at leas this "fanatic-of-a-death-cult" was an original motivation.
The Mass Resurrection- Everything before this is small beans to this. I would not have even written this if it weren't for this. AT THE END OF THE ARC PAIN RESURRECTS EVERYONE HE KILLED IN THE VILLAGE. What the flaming rat fuck shit? Are you kidding me?
After the intense emotional roller coaster ride that most of the arc was, that felt like a slap to the face. Imagine if you faked your death. Then you jumped out of your coffin at your funeral and yelled SURPRISE! Would people be glad to see you alive? Yes. Would they want to kill you? Oh hell yes.
This makes a bunch of the almost kills baffling too. Why almost kill Hinata and Choji's father? If you were going to do your mass-resurrection spell anyway, falling back on that tired shonen cliche was completely unnecessary. Heck, why didn't kill more characters? I'm not saying make it a total blood bath. Too much and viewers just become numb and you might over play your hand too. However, establish a theme of Naruto's teachers dying. In the course of the arc, Jiraya and Kakashi die and the Frog guy gets critically injured. Throw in his school teacher's death to make it a complete package.
Forget about the silly-looking life saving slugs rescuing hordes of faceless extras after the explosion at least!
Basically, the resurrection robs the arc of almost all of it's emotional impact. It's not just disappointment. It felt almost like betrayal. We were made to feel a certain way and then it was thrown back at us. All of the build up felt like a trick. Basically, I just don't feel like I can trust this show anymore. It'll do anything for pathos, no matter how cheap or stupid.
I know I'm reacting emotionally, but a good series engages you emotionally. And I guess that's why I'm so angry. This series made me care, then made me feel exploited.
Yeah, I know there's tons more of Naruto after the Pain arc, but I'm done with the series. I feel like there's still great stories buried in there. But I am just not willing to wade through the titanic amount of padding and filler to get to it.