Understanding Progress: Naruto and the Passing of the Torch

I bashed Naruto pretty hard in this post here, so I figured it was time to give Naruto a little bit of credit where it is due.  The kind of thing I’m going to talk about in this post is not exclusive to Naruto, but Naruto is a show that puts a lot more effort into this idea than most other shows.  It also is something I think separates it from a lot of other long running shounen shows.  I’m talking about the passage of skills, and by extension the figurative torch, from one generation to another.  From here on there will be Naruto spoilers and some scattered spoilers from other long running shounen series, you have been warned.

Many long running shounen shows have arcs where the protagonists undergo intense training so they can face the challenges ahead of them.  Naruto is no exception to this rule but unlike many of its counterparts, training in Naruto is usually less about developing new powers as it inheriting treasured ones.  This is actually pretty rare.  In HunterxHunter for example the training sequences are excellent, but Gon and Killua never inherit powers from their teachers, instead they apply the lessons they’ve been given to their own powers.  It’s still the passing on of knowledge but in Naruto it carries extra meaning since the knowledge in question is often the family legacy or the legacy of an important figure.  For example, there are some scenes, mostly in the filler I think, where Ino goes to learn medical ninjutsu with Sakura.  However in my opinion one of Ino’s best scenes is where she forces herself to learn the telepathic communication technique.  Ino initially blew this jutsu off but when she brings it to bear it’s implied that her learning this jutsu is far more important than any medical ninjutsu she learned with Sakura and Tsunade.  More than that when she pulls off the telepathic communication jutsu what we see over the course of the battle is Ino finally coming into her own.  Ino overcomes a challenge she might not have with Tsunade’s teachings and she finds the role on the battlefield she best excels at.  This is especially true during the Fourth Ninja war when her father dies and she takes his place using this jutsu, at this point in time Ino has stepped up and taken over her father’s mantle.  To me that carries a lot more meaning than say Gon learning to apply Biscuit’s teachings to make the Jajanken.  Not that making your own techniques isn’t special, but it has never struck me with same kind of power that the passing on of skills has.

The exception is when someone takes a skill from a previous generation and then improves it.  Naruto’s Rasen Shuriken is a great example.  In that case he has not only inherited the will of his teacher but taken over his mantle entirely and left his mark on this particular technique.  In this example Naruto hasn’t just stepped in for his teacher, he has surpassed him and that hits me in the same kind of way as the original passing on of the skill.  As to why this particular type of progress is special to me, the answer is twofold.  First off seeing the passage of an age is something I have always found to be a powerful event in storytelling, maybe it a history major thing, and this passing of the torch from one generation to the next is essentially the same thing only on a much smaller scale.  Second it marks a time when characters start to mature and really come into their own.  While there is elation at learning a new jutsu I feel like the elation is superseded by a more solemn atmosphere as the weight of the character’s new-found responsibility sets in.  It’s a moment of triumph but also a moment that is humbling, it signifies an end to the playfulness of youth and opens the character’s path to maturity and adulthood.  This is a big moment for the characters on a number of levels, and as such it strikes me as more powerful than something like Gon learning the Jajanken.

It also plays into a narrative that speaks of bold new future, as the new generation replaces their forefathers they will come to change the world.  This was something Naruto excelled at once upon a time.  As I mentioned in the post linked above, a big part of Naruto was about the new generation overcoming the monsters of the older generation to take charge of their future.  This was probably best shown in the Akatsuki arc where members of the war torn generations before, like Asuma, Jiraya and Chiyo, gave their lives so that the younger generation could succeed in their place.  It’s a powerful storytelling tool for it details an exchange of sorts, an exchange where the young give up many of youth’s joys to move on to the next major stage in their lives gaining new responsibilities and with them more control over their own fate.  I believe it also speaks to a sub-conscious hope we all have, we want to be remembered and we want to ensure that our wisdom is left behind for others to find and follow.  This passage of skills touches on both of those desires and is made all the more powerful for doing so.  Anyway this was a pretty narrow topic so I’ll wrap it up here.  Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

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