There were times when I considered dropping Naruto.
It’s always been a series I’ve held close to my heart, but all those years of awful filler, compounded by the slow start to Shippuuden, nearly killed it for me. I’ve never actually dropped it, but suffice to say, I had it on-hold for well over a year. I just wanted Naruto to be good again; for the story to start moving; to feel again the sense of momentum that it generated all those years ago, so many of its highest points burnt into my memory, too often replayed to ever be forgotten.
Even still, I began doubting my feelings. Was Naruto really as good as I remember it being? Or was I just naïve back then? Perhaps I’m just seeing the series now for what it always was?
Like a marriage gone sour, then, I came back to Shippuuden in July, cap in hand and ready to try again. The old magic could return, I thought, and it was awkward at first, reacquainting myself with my old flame, but things were different this time around. I was more patient, more forgiving and more willing to wait for things to click. And click they did, my friends.
Up until now, for me, Shippuuden felt like it was in stasis. I don’t read the manga, so I don’t have that to fall back on; as far as I’m concerned, Sasuke left for Orochimaru’s lair in 2005, which means I’ve been waiting 5 long years (and god knows how many episodes) for the plot to start moving forwards again. Of course, much has happened in Shippuuden since 2005, but let’s face it; most of it has been an inconsequential, if enjoyable, sideshow. The haters won’t like to admit this, but Sasuke’s long been the guy that makes things happen in Naruto’s story and the notable lack of momentum in Shippuuden can only be attributed to him being squirreled away for years on end, following Orochimaru’s random orders. That is, of course, until he kills Orochimaru and goes hunting for his older brother, Itachi.
So much has changed in just these 30 episodes (season 6, episodes 113 to 143) of Shippuuden. Kakashi Gaiden and Jiraiya’s battle with Pain were excellent, but Sasuke’s face-off against Itachi will, I hope, become the defining moment in the series, the point from which it forges ahead, the plot revitalised; a new direction found. Where it goes from here, I’m pleased to say, I have no idea; Sasuke no longer obsessed with killing Itachi; Naruto no longer obsessed with saving him from Orochimaru. Everything has changed now, and I’m glad.
I’m glad, too, that Naruto is again this iconic and exciting, crafting these moments of pure and utter catharsis on such a huge, action-packed stage. Itachi’s staggered walk towards Sasuke, the way his blood trickles down Sasuke’s face, the blood mingling with the rain, their exhausted expressions, the relative subtly of the utterly destroyed landscape around them, that Sasuke cracks a smile just after his brother’s final, silent words; this is what I waited 5 years for, and it was worth it. This is the Naruto I remember.