Naruto Essay: Post Naruto Chapter 387
~The Fate and Character of Sasuke Uchiha~
It is high time for some explosive action!
There are a few topics I would like to cover in this post. I have spent a lot of time talking about Itachi and I am still interested in Itachi as a character but I would like to spend a little more time talking about Sasuke.
Review of chapter 387:
In chapter 387, Sasuke preambles his attack with the assertion that it is at last time to accomplish his goal. Itachi responds that Sasuke cannot win without the Mangekyou Sharingan and that his "reality" of Itachi's death is merely an illusion. Sasuke says nothing to this, but in his heart he feels the fire of his desire to win. When Sasuke speaks, it is to tell Itachi that despite Itachi's eyes, Sasuke will turn his illusion into reality-- through the power of his hatred.
And so they fight. We learn that Itachi can see, predict, and counter all of Sasuke's moves. Itachi is FAST, seemingly able to do two things almost at once. We also learned that Sasuke has a few surprising moves of his own. Sasuke surprises Itachi when he blocks Itachi's clones with a snake shield and again when he saws through the shoulder of Itachi's close using a giant shuriken infused with Chidoro. However, Itachi uses Sasuke's victory to his advantage. His clones don't puff into smoke when they are defeated. Instead they break apart and scatter as a flock of shadow birds. Using his Mangekyou, Itachi is able to distract Sasuke with these birds long enough to seize the advantage and kick Sasuke into the wall. Sasuke tries to counter Itachi's next attack by forming a Chidori, but Itachi masters Sasuke by seizing his wrist and slamming his hand into the wall. The earth absorbs the Chidori until it fizzles into nothing (possibly jolting Sasuke). Itachi then steps on Sasuke's foot, punches him in the gut and traps him against the wall where he can't form hand signs. Itachi squeezes his fingers around Sasuke's eye and calmly tells Sasuke that this is his reality. He will have the light. The chapter ends with a scream.
Essay: Sasuke Uchiha Fate and Characterization
One of the more interesting things in this chapter is Sasuke's belief that hatred is his trump card. He seems to be operating under the assumption that passion will earn him a victory. Perhaps Sasuke believes he will win because he deserves to. He has hated his brother with a murderous rage and has sunk himself into darkness in order to temper his body into a cold, deadly weapon with one purpose. He has come here to satisfy his feeling. Itachi is a cold, lying, murderous betrayer. Itachi should suffer defeat from a righteous avenger with real hatred in his heart. What happens after that is irrelevant. Sasuke must defeat and destroy his brother.
A lot of readers seem to think Sasuke can't lose. Coming into this battle, many people assumed that Sasuke would win simply because he's Sasuke. Some feel this way because they believe that Kishimoto favors Sasuke and will preserve him above all other characters. Others believe that Sasuke has suffered too much to suffer more, or will win because he has lived his entire life—even sacrificing his friends and his future—for this moment.
I'm not convinced that Kishimoto favors Sasuke. I also don't believe he has any reason to preserve him. Regardless of whether you hate him or love him, Sasuke is well characterized. Sasuke's character has been consistent since the beginning of the manga. People who hate Sasuke seem to dislike him for the same reasons that characters in the manga dislike him, which speaks highly of Kishimoto's characterization. Shikamaru dislikes Sasuke. Even Naruto thinks Sasuke is arrogant and closed off, and Naruto can't stand that everything seems so easy for Sasuke and that he doesn't have to work as hard as other people.
Nothing has changed. Sasuke was a "genius" and still is. He learns fast. He seems to have a disproportionate amount of skills and abilities and always has. Every time Naruto learns something new, Sasuke learns ten and sprints ahead. Sasuke is gifted. He is an object of admiration and fear. That is, after all, why Orochimaru wanted his body. I don't understand why Sasuke's seeming-superiority surprises anybody. It is intertwined with the themes of the manga.
Sasuke's sense of entitlement has come around to bite him in this chapter. Like a lot of gifted people, Sasuke takes his abilities for granted. He thought he could win with passion and determination, but that is not enough to beat a genius. Sasuke was caught by surprise by someone who is even more gifted than he is. Itachi owned Sasuke in this chapter.
Can Kishimoto possibly have Itachi take Sasuke's eye?
YES! I do not think Kishimoto would hesitate to disfigure Sasuke, not for the right reason. And the right reason would be in the aid of telling a killer story. It is not just drama. Kishimoto has set up this up very carefully. The purpose of all that has happened for the past 20-50 chapters is orchestrated to get us to understand Sasuke and sympathize with his character (for those who don't already). However, before we can legitimately like Sasuke, we have to know him fully, the bad as well as the good. To this end, Kishimoto purposely encourages his audience to dislike Sasuke first (as a person) by emphasizing all of his worst traits: cockiness, arrogance, ridiculous growth, emotional unavailability, etc. By the time Sasuke enters a real battle, we are hungry to see Sasuke the Wonder Boy fail, but then Kishimoto reveals a character that is monumentally worse than Sasuke has ever been—Itachi. When Itachi reveals the full depths of his motivations and ambition (taking his brother's eyes) we are presented with a character actually worth our contempt. Between Sasuke's pretension and Itachi's cold, diabolical selfishness, we start to think that maybe Sasuke should win after all. He may be annoying, but at least he's not a demon. But Kishi isn't done yet. Just when we start hoping Sasuke will win, he has the character we genuinely hate—Itachi—physically mutilate the character we were just coming around to like.
Kishimoto has used this tactic over and over for anyone who has been paying attention. It works. It is good story-telling because it brings us to sympathize with a character at the precise moment when sympathy is required. I really admire Kishimoto's ability to do that.
Let's face it. Torturing Sasuke is kind of fun and exciting. I love to torture characters. The thrill in writing creative fiction is in touching people in a way that affects them--to make them angry, disturbed, happy, or sad over an invented reality. The reason? I personally want readers to learn something about empathy and what it means to understand others and be decent people in the world. I think Kishimoto shares my penchant for this.
We don't know for sure if Sasuke has lost an eye. He might be screaming in anticipation. It could be another genjutsu—possibly Itachi's. Itachi might be interrupted. Or perhaps it is even Itachi who is screaming.
Whatever the outcome of this last chapter, it would make sense for Sasuke to fail ultimately. For one thing, the story would be more intense if Itachi escapes, and REALLY intense if he takes one or both of Sasuke's eyes. He has been a major villain since the beginning—before Orochimaru even—and I would like him to stick around until the end of the story as one of the last standing baddies.
Also, if Naruto is a coming to age story (which most Young Adult stories are), it makes sense that Sasuke will be disabused of the idealistic notion that good conquers evil. Believing that he will win because of hatred is juvenile. Passion certainly counts for something, but there is no Goddess of Fortune manipulating the stars that is going "side" with Sasuke because he is a "good" guy. Either he is strong enough to win or he isn't. And even if Sasuke is strong enough, strength is not a guarantee. Sasuke is not deserving of victory or justice. If he doesn't MAKE it happen, it won't, and hate alone won't do it. Besides, Itachi may be right. Without the Mangekyou Sharingan, Sasuke doesn't stand a chance.
Which will bring Sasuke to another interesting crossroads. If he does keep his eyes…or one eye…and lives to fight again, how deep into darkness will he sink to destroy his brother? If he sinks deeply enough, will he become like Itachi is now? Desperate for "light" that is as metaphorical as it is physical?
Of course, there is still a chance that Sasuke will win this fight. After all, he hasn't gone CS2 yet, or used "that jutsu," and it is too soon for the fight to be over. We don't even know for sure that it is Sasuke screaming. The question is, when it DOES end, and however it ends, what will become of Sasuke?
I think that Kishimoto will continue to move in the direction of making Sasuke sympathetic. For every negative trait that Sasuke has (arrogant, being an aloof jerk, impatient and impetuous, closed off, depressed…) we will see a deeper layer. We have already learned that Sasuke secretly thought of Naruto as his friend. We have also learned that Sasuke has been jealous of Naruto, even when he seemed cock-sure of his own superiority. It stands to reason that we will also see more a crystallized truth of Sasuke's character.
I believe that Sasuke has a deep, innate fear of relationships, especially close, trusting relationships, and love most of all. For someone who was betrayed by the one he loved and trusted most, who has lost everything and everyone he cared about, Sasuke is not only living in a place of pain, but unable to see a future.
Sasuke may believe that he is keeping others at bay because he needs to focus on killing Itachi. He may tell himself that he abandoned Konoha because he can't allow himself to be complacent or distracted, and that may be true, but it isn't the whole reason.
I suspect that Sasuke is unwilling to let anyone get close. The moment he starts to feel that he is forming a bond, his compulsion is to break it before it can break him. When Sasuke first learned that Itachi came to Konoha looking for Naruto, Sasuke's first thought wasn't to kill Itachi. It was to save Naruto. He spent his time looking for Naruto. He only resorted to fighting Itachi when it became clear that he had to.
It occurs to me that we may be misinterpreting Sasuke's feelings during these scenes, and also during the events that followed. Itachi uses Tsukiyomi on Sasuke to remind him of the Uchiha massacre, the day Sasuke lost everyone, and Sasuke slips into unconsciousness following this attack. When Naruto visits him in the hospital after he comes to (thanks to Tsunade), we see Sasuke with Sakura, neither of them speaking, but it feels like something was said, and whatever it was, it caused awkwardness or hurt Sakura's feelings. When Naruto shows up, Sasuke becomes further enraged. I interpreted this originally as Sasuke's jealously, namely that Itachi was more interested in Naruto than in Sasuke, or because Sasuke was grasping for someone on whom to take out his feelings in the wake of suffering a horrible defeat at his brother's hands. This may be the correct interpretation, but there may be more to it. Sasuke purposely tries to antagonize Naruto and this leads to the fight on the rooftop. It is only after they fight that Sasuke realizes that Naruto's growth has outstripped his own and becomes depressed. When the Sound Ninja extend an invitation, Sasuke departs from Konoha…assumingly to chase his revenge.
Maybe Sasuke believes that revenge is his only reason for leaving Konoha. It is certainly one reason, but I also think it is only part of the truth. It is possible that when Naruto's life was put in danger by Itachi, Sasuke realized that he had formed a bond—a strong bond he didn't mean to form, one he was willing to risk his life to protect, and one that Itachi almost took away...again. It occurs to me that Sasuke's run-in with Itachi may have been bleakly terrifying, not only because of the past, but because it reminded Sasuke that he could lose everything again in the present. Subsequently, Sasuke pushes Sakura away from him. And when Naruto shows up, his emotions fragment and he starts insulting Naruto with every piece of ammunition he's got. He wants to fight Naruto, but refuses to acknowledge him as worth fighting, and he almost tries to kill him. Naruto thinks Sasuke's "superior" behavior is strange. Jiraiya and Kakashi call it immature. Perhaps Sasuke knew exactly what he was doing. He had the intention of breaking his bond with Naruto, and when it failed, he tried again at the Valley of the End.
In other words, Sasuke didn't abandon Konoha because he thought he was better than all of them. He didn't abandon Konoha because he thought Konoha was weak. Although he definitely wanted the power to kill his brother, and although he surely felt that Orochimaru had something valuable to teach him in that respect, that isn't the only thing that matters to Sasuke. Sasuke realized he had become friends with Naruto and cared about Sakura. And then Itachi threatened that, which scared him to the core of his being. Sasuke didn't leave Konoha in search of power so much as he left Konoha simply to get out of there. He wanted to run away. And when his friends came after him, he threatened their lives, even though doing so would do nothing to help him achieve his goal of killing Itachi. It might, however, keep them safe.
Sasuke is afraid of bonds. He is afraid of friendship, afraid of love, afraid of family and the deep, horrible pain those kinds of relationships can cause when they are lost. Sasuke sought hate and darkness to keep other—more painful—feelings away. He is cold, arrogant and unapproachable because that is the best defense against people. If you hate Sasuke, then Sasuke is succeeding (and so is Kishimoto in characterizing him). Sasuke wants people to hate him. He clings to hate because it is the only way to feel alive and still feel relatively safe. He might feel that he only needs to maintain it long enough to kill Itachi. After that…well after that he has another choice to make.
As for Naruto, I believe that Kishimoto is being very strategic about Naruto's character development, which includes his growth. Naruto will get his time in the spotlight, but we really shouldn't see him shine until we see what is at stake. Sasuke's story has to be established first. The story of everyone Naruto stands to affect has to be developed first. Naruto true gift is his ability to influence people. Naruto is charismatic, determined, and good-hearted. The sheer amount of life in his personality brings light (real light)—and hope—to others. Naruto's abilities can't peak too soon. My suspicion in that Kishimoto is setting up a domino effect. Naruto is the catalyst, and when he does make his move, the entire world of the ninja will change.
Source: Link to this essay (Sasuke Uchiha) on my journal-link me!
Other Naruto Essays:
Post Naruto 398: Review
Post Naruto 395 and 396: Madara's Ability and Itachi's Truth
Post Naruto 394: What is Up with Itachi? Is he Dead?
Post Naruto 393: An Empty Victory for Sasuke?
Post Naruto 388: Sasuke’s Escape: Theory of Hatred vs Tsukiyomi
Post Naruto 387: Fate and Character of Sasuke Uchiha
Post Naruto 386: Further Itachi Review and Discussion
Post Naruto 385: Itachi Character Analysis Essay - Existentialism
Post Naruto 376: Itachi Characterization Essay - Hate and Detest
Post Naruto 374: Pein and Suffering VS Naruto