A core theme in shounen series is that of friendship. Naruto Uzumaki, the protagonist of Naruto, has that theme driving nearly every plot and is the central way in which most conflicts throughout both Naruto and the sequel series Naruto Shippuden are solved. This article will delve into how friendships came to define Naruto, how he was able to convert enemies into friends, and the key friendship that drove him for most of the series. This article will contain spoilers for Naruto and Naruto Shippuden.
-- Spoilers Ahead! --
Naruto grew up shunned by his fellow villagers and classmates because of the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox that was sealed within him. As a result, he grew up devoid of any meaningful relationships and had to struggle to gain the attention of his peers and superiors, often by pulling off pranks that further made him an outcast. This same isolation is also what allowed Naruto to understand the worth of friendships, as it’s his first genuine friendship with his teacher Iruka that helped him move forward and mature as a man. Thanks to that isolation and newfound friendship, Naruto would use what got him out of his darkness to help others overcome their own personal demons.
Making Friends of Enemies
No one will ever doubt that Naruto is a skilled combatant, but while it may be frustrating for some, fighting has only ever been the first step for Naruto to pacify his enemies. Life as a genin allowed Naruto to make friends with many of his fellow ninjas once he stopped desperately seeking attention, but the most special friendships he made were with those he once saw as enemies. From the very first significant arc, Naruto’s ability to garner compassion emerges when he befriends the mercenary ninja Haku and appeals to the mass-murdering missing ninja Zabuza Momochi’s feelings for Haku, turning him against a horde of thugs in a final, noble act.
His ability to appeal to his enemies’ better selves continued to grow from there and, during the Chunin Exam, we see the first ripples of what will be the key to Naruto saving the lives of those he cares about. While facing Neji Hyuuga, a prodigy and genius, Naruto was able to overturn his opponent’s fatalistic beliefs. He proved Neji wrong by defying his judgment of Naruto’s fate as a failure, causing him to rethink his philosophy and open himself up to friendship once again. The ripple from this encounter is felt at the end of the series when Neji sacrifices himself to save both Naruto and the cousin he once detested, Hinata.
Naruto’s determination to offer a hand to those stuck in a dark, isolated place despite the pain they may have caused was the key to mending a relationship between the Village Hidden in the Leaf and the Village Hidden in the Sand. After vanquishing Gaara, the host of the One-Tail beast, Naruto’s vow to do whatever it takes to protect his friends shows Gaara that only weakness can come from isolation. Gaara and Naruto find common ground in their similar upbringing, and their friendship facilitates positive relations between both villages for years to come.
There are many more triumphs to speak of, but Naruto’s greatest comes when he befriends the demon within him, Kurama. The Nine-Tailed Demon Fox, which made of him an orphan and gave him an isolated childhood, was for a long time an inner demon Naruto was unable to confront. Knowing he needed Kurama to become stronger, Naruto faced off with his inner darkness and was able to purify it by befriending even that. Naruto’s continued selflessness penetrated Kurama’s hatred and the fox was finally persuaded to help Naruto overcome his obstacles.
Friendship with Sasuke
Naruto’s friendship with Sasuke Uchiha, even with a war at hand, remained Naruto’s focus across the series. Naruto and Sasuke found common ground in the academy in their isolation from their classmates, but instead of friendship, it was a rivalry that brewed between them. Still, when they were selected for the same squad after graduating, it was only natural that their rivalry would develop into a friendship. While Sasuke’s desire to avenge his family was greater than the value of his friendship with Naruto, that couldn’t stop Naruto from trying to steer him away from his darkness.
Shippuden focuses heavily on Naruto’s refusal to allow Sasuke to be lost to his dark ambitions. Although Sasuke’s crimes increase throughout the series and he goes as far as attempting to kill Sakura Haruno, the third member of their squad, Naruto refuses to give up on Sasuke. He prostrates himself to convince foreign village leaders not to hunt down Sasuke and continues to strengthen himself so he can defeat Sasuke without killing him. Ultimately, even Sasuke comes to realize that Naruto is a part of him he cannot let go.
Naruto answers the question of what comes after the fight is done. While many other shounen protagonists won’t match Naruto’s mercy against his enemies, Naruto has never sought the easier path. Friendship saved Naruto from a dark fate and he vowed to save others from darker paths with his own hand in friendship, no matter how hard that is. Thanks to his ideals, Naruto crafts a world in which world peace seems to have been achieved by the end of the two series. Let us know which of Naruto’s enemy-turned-friends is your favorite in the comments down below!