“The Genin Documentary!!”
There were consequences to Team 5’s suspension, and I was glad to see how they didn’t miss the opportunity in further developing some characters. Iwabe has been taken on a rough ride by an educational system lacking flexibility, and it’s certainly taken a toll on him. He has fears about being left even further behind, and as someone who clearly has talent, it eats away at him to no end. A breaking point is reached, when Udon withdraws the team from their filming mission, possibly meaning that they won’t have a chance to prove themselves worthy of taking the Chuunin exam. Iwabe almost threw away his forehead protector, the symbol of a shinobi’s pride. Did he almost lose faith in himself, or did he almost lose faith in the shinobi system that unfairly held him back? That’s hard to say, and the answer could possibly be both.
When he turned on Metal, I thought that it was over for him. But with the power of friendship, and the help of a guiding figure, he stops short of totally losing it. In fact, the group even got a chance at redemption. They rescue the film producers, and Udon reveals his speciality jutsu, proving his point to Iwabe. Being a ninja isn’t really about flashy skills, so much as protecting people, and having the tenacity to persevere. But if that’s the metric we’re going by, how come Iwabe was made to repeat so many times, in spite of his resolve? Something seems oddly contradictory here, but it has been shown many times that Konohagkure is in need of some reforms, especially on an administrative level.
Many times, the series have flirted with the implication that Iwabe is Kawaki. Personally, I wouldn’t want that to be the case. It was quite unfair that Iwabe was held back, in spite of his evident skill in certain applications of ninjutsu. Most educational systems wouldn’t harshly penalise an individual for coming up short in one particular area. However, he’s overcome these obstacles in a spectacular fashion. Is that to say that his heroic struggles will ultimately be meaningless? That’s a really pessimistic outcome. But if they come up with a justified reason for such a hypothetical defection, like having the village play a dirty part in Denki or Metal dying, then I’ll have absolutely no qualms. Bring it on!
“Wasabi and Namida”
Escaping animals is a classic genin mission. This time, they put a bit of a twist on the concept, by having these animals escape from the zoo, as opposed to running away from overbearing owners. Sumire does her best to adjust within her new team. Namida and Wasabi get into a silly fracas, where they fall out for a bit, before making up when the situation takes a dangerous turn. In my opinion, we’re returning to the dreaded kinds of storylines that were used to pad out the original series. I can’t bring myself to care about Namida and Wasabi. And from the kickass girl who tried to take on Konohagakure alone, Sumire has quickly become a shadow of her former self.
Zaiden’s Proposed Storyboard
What I’m suggesting is by no means a magic fix, and I’m not saying it would be ‘better’ per se, than what we actually got. But here’s the storyboard I’d come up with if I was hired to write for this episode, to address the complaints I’ve raised, while keeping a good chunk of the original ideas intact.
1. I’d have the monkey and the wolf be friends with each other, coming up with an escape plan so that they can return to the homes they were kidnapped from. After all, animals have their own families and friends who they care about as well. Let’s make the wolf’s story extra sad, and say that the rest of his family died during his capture as a pup by the zoo, making him the very last of his kind.
2. Sumire, wanting to establish a social place for herself, finds herself becoming a third wheel to the bromance between Namida and Wasabi. She gives it her all to become better friends with them, but is being crippled by the insecurity of being excluded from their inner circle. It doesn’t help that she suffers from abandonment issues, due to prolonged loneliness, as a result of her father’s death at a young age to seal the Nue inside of her.
3. They are sent on the mission, which Sumire sees as an opportunity to deepen their bonds. After doing everything she could, like making her friends those cute animal outfits and a nice bento for lunch, it reaches a breaking point. She voices her complaints about feeling unappreciated, before running off by herself. Sumire feels guilty about her hypocrisy, since she never told her friend about the Nue, and wonders if she could ever have genuine friendships with people she cannot be honest with.
4. She comes across the wolf, throws away her facade, and fearlessly engages in combat, getting to show off what a badass she’s always been. Just as she’s about to get overwhelmed, Namida and Wasabi show up to turn the tides, apologising while explaining they didn’t realise how they’d made Sumire feel. They give their own speeches expanding upon their personal backgrounds and personalities, while continuing to help fight the wolf.
5. e.g. Namida has always been put down for having such an obnoxious jutsu, which she doesn’t have any control over, because a propensity to cry has been coded into her personality through shinobi genetics. She never asked for these kinds of powers, that cause others to see her as annoying, and secretly hates it. This has been the struggle she’s lived with all her life.
6. The two girls always knew that Sumire was the master of the Nue, and have been scared of her all this time, considering it almost destroyed the village. However, they’ve come to realise that she was just a girl who was scared of the circumstances out of her control. Recognising her genuine want of friendship, they promise that they’ll earnestly reciprocate Sumire’s feelings.
7. After defeating the wolf, the monkey rushes out, and tries to stop them from taking away his friend. Sumire sees the friendship between the animals, regarding what they would do for each other, and recognises that they have something she’s desired all this time. A transcending friendship, made in spite of their differences.
8. Not wanting these animals to become recaptured, she convinces Namida and Wasabi to help them escape into the Nara Clan forest. But Konoha can’t have a wild wolf running amok on sacred grounds, so Hanabi intervenes, and makes sure that the wolf is subjugated. She scolds the team for their failure, but doesn’t blame them for demonstrating sympathy towards the animals.
9. Not wanting to leave his good old friend behind, but not wanting to be put back in the zoo, the monkey joins Team 15 as a pet. They promise to regularly take him to see his friend, the wolf, at the zoo. That way, this cheeky monkey can become a reoccurring character that can be marketed as a mascot. Personally, I found his antics to be quite entertaining.
10. The girls make up over some dango, and Sumire is truly initiated into their friendship group. However, they get pranked by the monkey, who steals all their dangos. The End.
Quick disclaimer. I’m not a professional, have never given this alternative format a shot, and don’t want to make it a habit either. However, I wanted to prove that it’s not difficult to create more relatable and sympathetic characters, if greater effort was given when approaching the storyline. If the ending theme has anything to go by, and perhaps the manga too with recent occurrences, something bad might happen to Team 15. For that to have any impact, you need to build up the characters, so that the audience can be emotionally affected. Unfortunately, my complaints shouldn’t come as any real surprise. The Naruto franchise has had a poor history of fleshing out female characters, whose involvement is typically limited to background support, or being the subjects of romantic shenanigans. I definitely like the aforementioned in moderation, otherwise I wouldn’t have enjoyed Naruto. That said, I cannot help but yearn for something more.
Anyway, we’re edging towards the Chuunin Exams, and it seems that next week will cover the selection process. Although I’m somewhat disgruntled that we won’t be getting to the main course straight away, I’ve always been curious to see how these things are decided behind the scenes. Provided that my curiosity can be satisfied through exemplary world building, I should be okay with waiting a little longer.