Love in Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto
Love is often associated with warm feelings and butterflies rising in one’s stomach because he or she is nervous about being around the person that he or she likes. However, love can be defined in different ways across different cultures. For example, in Japan, it is customary for a love confession to take place before going out with someone. Also, it is customary for Japanese people to say “I really like you” when confessing their love, as opposed to saying “I love you,” since the phrase for “I love you” is reserved for married couples and is rarely used even among that demographic (Mami,“Japan’s ‘Love Confessing’ Culture”).
One could infer with these facts, then, that love in Japanese culture is more than just a collection of fuzzy feelings that two people feel between each other for a few months before the sensations wear away. A manga deals with the portrayal of love in an intriguing way. The manga is none other than Kishimoto’s Naruto. The premise of the manga revolves around a orphaned boy, living in a world made up of ninja tribes, who has a nine-tailed demon fox inside of him. This boy is known as Naruto, and he is the Leaf Village’s outcast, because the fox residing in him attempted to destroy the village. Naruto has one dream throughout his ninja training. He wishes to become his village’s leader, who is granted the title of Hokage, because, if he had the title of Hokage, people would have no choice but to respect and accept him.
Naruto embodies many aspects of love, including the feeling we get when we have a crush on someone for the first time, which we see in the beginning of the manga with Sakura’s feelings toward her classmate Sasuke, and Naruto’s feelings toward his classmate Sakura. Naruto, while sitting in class, sees Sakura, becomes nervous and thinks, “Could it be…She wants to…sit next to me?” He later gives the description of “Haruno Sakura: A cute girl I’m kind of interested in,” (Kishimoto, Ch. 3, 5). Naruto, of course, has his hopes dashed when Sakura yells at him to move so that she can sit next to Sasuke. The girl Naruto is kind of interested in barely notices his existence, and then yells at him and treats him like he’s a mere annoyance to her for getting in between her and Sasuke.
Sakura, when asked what her likes, dreams, and dislikes are, becomes preoccupied with staring at Sasuke and says, “‘…the thing I like is…Well…the person I like is…’” Sakura eventually becomes too flustered to speak, and instantly spits out, “‘The thing I dislike…is Naruto.’,” (Kishimoto, Ch. 4, 8). Sakura strives to be acknowledged and accepted by Sasuke, but she is rejected by him multiple times. In one instance, Sasuke calls Sakura annoying, which is no different than how she has treated Naruto.
Other than the feeling of puppy love, there are the themes of parental love, sacrificial love, and the love that comes from dedication. The parental love is seen in various ways. The first instance we get of such love is from Iruka-sensei toward Naruto in regards to his Genin exam re-test, which will make Naruto an official ninja. Ikura notices the pain that Naruto must be feeling because of being an outcast who does not know love of any kind. Ikura takes up the role of encouraging Naruto when he needs it most–the night before the re-test.
In a rage from his failure to pass the exam earlier that day, Naruto steals a sacred scroll and is attacked by a ninja who wants the scroll for himself. In this instance, Naruto learns of the demon fox living in him. Ikura jumps into the fight and protects Naruto. He treats Naruto to ramen after the incident, but scolds Naruto for pulling all the pranks that he does for attention. Ikura decides to ask what his student’s dream is, and upon hearing that Naruto wants to become Hokage to be accepted, encourages Naruto to follow that dream seriously (Kishimoto, Ch. 1, 43-47). Ikura is an important figure to Naruto’s development. He teaches Naruto the value of being disciplined. Ikura shows Naruto kindness and forgiveness when he doesn’t deserve it. Most importantly, Ikura accepts Naruto for who he is.
The next instance of parental love comes from Kakashi-sensei when Naruto trains with Team 7, though Kakashi is seen training Sasuke closer than Naruto, evidenced here, “‘The reason I trained Sasuke is…because he is…the same type as me.’,” (Kishimoto, Ch. 113, 7-8). Kakashi, in a strange way, relates to Sasuke and his personality. He tries to teach Sasuke the power of pushing oneself to his or her limits. He even attempts to show Sasuke that there is more to life than just hatred and a need for vengeance. Unfortunately, these tactics fail, and cause Sasuke to scorn his teacher and his teammates.
The third example of parental love comes from Jiraiya, who takes Naruto under his wing and trains him in a way similar manner to Kakashi’s training of Sasuke and teaches him to avoid the three shinobi vices, which are financial irresponsibility, chasing multiple women, and drinking (Kishimoto, Ch. 150, 4-5, 17-19). Jiraiya, unlike Ikura, serves the purpose of showing Naruto what the world is like. More often than not, Jiraiya shows Naruto the trouble of the three shinobi vices by getting ensnared by them. This helps Naruto understand what a mature person influenced by such vices looks like, and this realization causes Naruto to avoid getting involved in his sensei’s pass times.
Jiraiya introduces ideas of understanding one another in a genuine way. He wants Naruto to realize that respect is earned, but acceptance is something that is given and is not based on what a person has done. Acceptance is based on who a person is on the inside. Jiraiya believes that such understanding and acceptance will lead the world to peace. Jiraiya helps Naruto quell the Kyuubi’s hatred against humans and also helps him become a more mature, well-rounded individual. Through Jiraiya’s guidance, Naruto learns to think through situations for himself, and he learns to make his own path to his goals. In this way, Jiraiya acts as the father that Naruto never had because he has taught Naruto what it means to be a grown man and an exceptional ninja.
Because Naruto takes Jiraiya’s teachings to heart, he is crushed by Jiraiya’s death and swears that he will find the answer that Jiraiya sought throughout his life. This is clearly evidenced when Naruto faces off against Pein, the person who took Jiraiya’s life. Naruto is questioned about his idea on what peace means, and he responds, “‘He said he wanted me to find the answer…but I was just glad to have his approval.’,” (Kishimoto Ch. 444, 8). We see Naruto opening up to his sensei’s killer. He asks Pein about his life, and later gives Pein this answer, “‘I understand you. But I still can’t forgive you…I still hate you. But…that Pervy Sage believed in me…so I…will believe in what he believed in. That’s my answer.’,” (Kishimoto, Ch. 447, 16-17). From his answer, we see that Naruto appreciates all that Jiraiya has done for him and is willing to follow in his teacher’s ideals and make them a reality.
The final example of parental love comes from Naruto’s parents themselves. Naruto spent much of his life as an orphan and as an outcast because his body is home to a demon fox, known as the Kyuubi, that tried to destroy the village of Konoha. People feared the boy and his tremendous powers, so when Naruto met Kushina, his mother, it was a climactic moment for him, as it is evidenced here,
“‘I had a hard time growing up as a Jinchuuriki, but I never blamed either of you…I live because my mom and dad gave their lives for me. You filled me with love before you put the nine-tails in me! So here I am happy and healthy! I’m glad I ended up being your son!’,” (Kishimoto, Ch. 504, 14-15).
Naruto’s parents sacrificed their lives to save not only Naruto, but also the village of Konoha where they reside, which suggests that Naruto’s parents saw the village as part of their family as well, which makes sense, because Naruto’s father, Minato is the village’s Fourth Hokage. This great act of parental love shows Naruto that the idea of family extends even to those under village leaders, like the Hokage. Parental love also allows Naruto to keep surviving through the dark times in his life, because he is determined to show everyone that his existence is not in vain. Because of Ikura, Jaraiya, and his parents, Naruto begins to feel the acceptance that he has wanted so long. He begins to understand through their guidance that the love of a teacher or a parent accepts a person for who he or she is, no matter what the child or student may have done to upset the parent or teacher. Naruto begins to see that this kind of guiding, instructional love builds him up for success, even when others assume and taunt him with the possibility of failure.
Sacrificial love can be seen in within the Hyuuga clan’s story in regards to Neji Hyuuga and his father. Neji’s father sacrificed his life to protect the Main Branch of the Hyuuga family, causing Neji to have some resentment for his cousin, Hinata (Kishimoto, Ch. 102). Neji blames destiny for his father’s death and his placement in the Lesser Branch while Hinata is allowed to be the Hyuuga heir. This resentment of Neji’s is unleashed upon Hinata during their fight in the Chuunin Exam. Later, Neji releases his resentment and begins to train at the Main Branch’s house. Neji helps train Hinata and, this in turn, allows Hinata to see the value of never giving up on a goal or a dream.
Hinata is a shy girl who keeps to herself most of the time. She lacks self-confidence and a drive to succeed. Hinata is romantically attracted to Naruto’s confidence and desire to succeed. She receives encouragement from Naruto during her fight against Neji to not back down (Kishimoto, Ch. 78, 17-Ch. 79, 1-4). This encouragement helps fuel Hinata on to start training seriously. This development in and of itself is a huge one, because Hinata has always been put down by her father and by her cousin Neji for not being strong enough physically, and for not having enough confidence to become the Hyuuga clan’s Main Branch’s heir.
Hinata’s training pays off in Shippuuden, because Hinata risks her life for Naruto while confessing her love for him. In this way, she risks her life for the one she loves, and in response to her actions, Naruto rages against the person who hurt her (Kishimoto, Ch. 437, 13-16). Because of Naruto’s outburst, we can tell that Naruto has come to accept Hinata, and that her confession was genuinely felt.
Neji also later risks his life for both Naruto and Hinata by taking a wound for them that would have killed them. Upon passing, Neji states that Naruto does not have only his own life to live, as Hinata is willing to die for Naruto. Also, Neji comments that his life was apparently also one of Naruto’s lives. (Kishimoto, Ch. 614, 13-15). This sacrifice makes it possible for Naruto and Hinata to bolster troops’ morale, and it lets Naruto know that sacrificial love comes with an enormous burden. The sacrifice that is given out of love makes the ones that benefit from the sacrifice responsible for the lives of others. Through Hinata and Neji, Naruto realizes that love and sacrifice are not actions that should be taken for granted.
Sacrifical love is also shown through Itachi Uchiha and his actions concerning the Uchiha massacre. He is responsible for the massacre, but he sacrifices his reputation and life to protect Konoha. He keeps his younger brother Sasuke alive, in part because he loves his brother, and in part so that Sasuke can find redemption for his clan. This causes Sasuke to sacrifice his life and future to track down and kill his brother, and once this goal is accomplished, he wishes to become Hokage so that he can shoulder all the hate that comes with that position. Sasuke leaves the village without permission to track down Itachi by being trained by Orochimaru to become stronger. His path becomes enveloped in hatred and darkness (Kishimoto, Ch. 225, 16). He becomes fueled solely by this hatred, and he loses sight of what it means to have been loved and accepted by others.
Sasuke leaving causes Naruto to sacrifice his future and part of his life to find Sasuke, because he promises a distraught Sakura that he will bring Sasuke back, no matter what it takes (Kishimoto, Ch. 183, 13-14). He faces off with Sasuke two major times and refuses to give up on bringing him back. At the end of the manga, we see Sasuke’s acceptance of Naruto, which infers that love in a sacrificial form can change hate and despair into hope and acceptance (Kishimoto, Ch.698, 20).
Dedication is most clearly seen in the characters of Naruto, Hinata, and Sakura, though many, if not all of the other characters are dedicated to some form of goal or dream. Naruto, as we already discussed, is dedicated to keeping his promises and never giving up. He is also dedicated to keeping the village he comes from and his friends together and alive in the end of the manga.
Hinata, as we have said, likes Naruto early off in the manga, and this admiration causes her to dedicate her life to not giving up, and in turn, she dedicates herself to Naruto and helping him achieve his dream. Her dedication causes her to disregard much of what is said about Naruto behind his back and about the Kyuubi residing in him. This dedication means that Hinata is able to accept Naruto and his literal demon for who he is. Later on in the manga, when she confesses her love to Naruto, despite her previous failed attempts, she does so in a fight that proves nearly fatal for her. She says,
“‘I’m just being selfish…I used to always cry and give up. I nearly went the wrong way…but you…you showed me the right way. I was always chasing you…wanting to overtake you. I just wanted to walk with you. I wanted to be with you…you changed me! Your smile saved me! So I’m not afraid to die protecting you!! Because I—Love you…’,” (Kishimoto, Ch. 437, 11-12).
This quote proves that Hinata is dedicating herself to Naruto, because she has lead by example. She made herself stronger throughout the manga because she would not take Naruto and his encouragement lightly. She accepted Neji’s training and encouragement through his rigorous training methods. Hinata has grown from a shy girl who was afraid she would never measure up to other people’s expectations into a confident, caring woman who will protect the ones she loves, even if it means laying down her life for those people.
Sakura, likewise, proves her dedication to both Naruto and Sasuke on multiple occasions. At first, she is seen as an air head who only has a crush on Sasuke and despises Naruto. She chases after Sasuke meaninglessly, until after the Chunin exams, when she stops Naruto and Sasuke from fighting. During her time in the Forest of Death, she nurses both Sasuke and Naruto back to health when they are incapacitated (Kishimoto, Ch. 51, 2-5). When Sasuke leaves the village to train with Orochimaru, Sakura attempts to stop him and/or leave with him, so that she can keep him happy. Sasuke yet again rejects her, but Sakura does not give in to the feelings of despair that come from that rejection. Instead, she spends the time between Naruto and Shippuuden training under the Fifth Hokage, Tsunade, as a medical ninja, but she never stopped thinking about Sasuke, as it’s evident from her reaction upon seeing him again for the first time in years.
Out of consideration for Naruto’s honor, Sakura tells Naruto that she has stopped liking Sasuke and has fallen in love with him, saying, “‘So, Naruto…you can just forget about that promise we made. Why don’t you stop chasing after Sasuke-kun as well, okay?’,” (Kishimoto, Ch. 469, 12). She tracks down Sasuke and tricks him so that she can get close enough to take his life, but she fails. Despite all of the rejection Sasuke has given her, Sakura sets aside her hurt and anger and cannot bring herself to kill him.
In reality, Sakura never stopped loving Sasuke, even after he committed his crimes against Konoha and became enveloped in hatred and darkness, as we can see,
“‘…I still loved you! I never thought you’d turn out this way!! I couldn’t be there for you when you needed help…or even stop you from going down that path. All I could do was sit here and cry. It’s disgraceful, really!’,” (Kishimoto, Ch. 693, 6).
Sasuke replies to this heartfelt quote with yet more rejection, but Sakura still sees through his veil of hatred and darkness. She remains dedicated to Sasuke through all the pain he caused her, and is willing to forgive him for his wrongs when he apologizes to her,
Throughout all of her trials, we watch Sakura bloom from a girl with a crush into a woman who would never abandon her comrades. This is another kind of growth and dedication, as Sakura had to learn to accept Naruto as a team member by overlooking his annoying traits, and she was forced to let go of her idea of who Sasuke was and accept his true nature. Sakura’s dedication allows her to overcome her weaknesses and mistakes.
Through the complex natures of the characters that inhabit the Naruto universe, we see that love is not something to be taken lightly. Love embodies the ideas of acceptance, teamwork, tranquility and peace among people, dedication, and above all, self-sacrifice. Naruto’s fears are comforted by Hinata’s confidence in him and by her steadfast loyalty. Sakura is Sasuke’s redemption. Minato and Kushina gave their lives for the future of their son, Naruto, as well as for the hope of the next generation of Leaf Village shinobi. All of these portraits of different facets of love give readers of Naruto a picture of what love is on a more detailed level. The facets combine to show us that love casts out fears, brings hope, forgives faults, and stands by a person in their time of triumph as well as in their time of need.
Mami. “Japan’s ‘Love Confessing’ Culture.” Tofugu. Tofugu, LLC., 23 Oct. 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.
Kishimoto, Masashi. Naruto. Tokyo: Shueisha, 1999-2014. NarutoBase. 2007-2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.
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