WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR NARUTO AND NARUTO SHIPPUDEN
Hey everyone, back again with another Character Focus. This is one character I’ve actually been wanting to do for a while, but debated starting on because I wasn’t sure that I was going to watch the “Itachi” backstory arc that aired for Shippuden. I didn’t end up watching it because I felt like Itachi’s story was already pretty clear cut for me and his character is one I respected and admired even before knowing that he was getting a backstory. In fact, he’s probably the only character I believe is extraordinary well done in Naruto and this article will hopefully explain why.
So for years, probably since I had began watching Naruto in middle school and realized that Itachi was a character in the show, I truly enjoyed his character. Some of the facets of his history do reek of the traditional “edgy loner who’s misunderstood”, but I think for the most part that part of his backstory is justified, for reasons I’ll try to look at a little bit later. He’s consistently remained one of my favorite characters due to his abilities, his looks, and the threat he posed to other characters by just… showing up.
Of course it wasn’t until a little bit later that I realized that there was more to his character than just a shonen villain. Upon seeing his story it is gradually revealed to the reader why he would do these things. He was a child when a World War broke out and it turned him into a pacifist; however he didn’t swear by it because he believed in putting others before himself. So he became ANBU and made his parents proud by accomplishing great things at a young age. But his family wanted to destroy Konoha as they felt it had been cruel to them. But Itachi didn’t want to see another World War, so he stopped it, after Danzo gave him two options (everyone is killed in the revolt, or you kill everyone except your brother). So he gets Tobi to help him kill everyone. And that’s how we get to his first appearance, essentially.
I really feel that Kishimoto did a good job giving Itachi a solid backstory and a reason for everything he did; from him being traumatized by a World War when he was a child causing him to become a pacifist, to becoming a special ops soldier due to his natural talent and intensive training in order to make his parents proud, to the social isolation that came with cutting himself off to train more frequently, to being ostracized by his own clan for being that social outcast, every aspect of his personality and his actions just makes sense in the context of what was happening.
Through it all I feel that Itachi was just kind of… suffering through the entire thing. He didn’t want another World War to break out, he didn’t want to fight, he didn’t want his clan to revolt against the rest of the Leaf Village, but unfortunately all these things happened (or were going to happen anyway). He took the burden of killing his clan himself and planted the seeds of his own salvation in Sasuke; if he, who loved his little brother, was able to be killed at his brother’s hand, he would truly feel as though he had been vindicated. When you think about it, this is noble and a little bit sad, considering he tried extremely hard to make this fantasy possible.
What I mean by that is he forced himself to keep living after nearly going blind and coughing up tons of blood. He continued to keep an eye on Sasuke until he felt like Sasuke could defeat him. He held back in all of his fights against his brother on purpose in order to be killed. Unfortunately he had to come back from the dead and go on to help stop the zombie ninja war, but he was able to finally convince Sasuke to stop being such a whiny little loser (well, mostly).
Just seeing a character built up in such a long running series like Naruto is something I wish would have happened more often in the manga. Compared to characters like Sasuke or Sakura, I feel like Itachi had a vastly more complex character as the story progressed and the reader began to understand his motives and how he was forced into certain roles. To him, it was either become the villain (for a while) or see his whole clan including his brother murdered. He made the sacrifice of trying to protect his brother even though he knew it would cost him his life in the end.
His presence is behind the scenes and up front all at the same time. He prevents another World War from happening, he pushes Sasuke to become stronger, he stops Kabuto’s shenanigans, yet isn’t given the proper respect until he truly dies after his body disintegrates in the end. It might be considered a happy ending but I believe almost everything revolving around Itachi was tragic. But that tragedy gave him reason for all of his actions and choices which was reinforced in the end when he transferred his memories to Sasuke.
All in all, maybe barring some of the Ninja War reincarnation nonsense I feel like Itachi was a very well done character and I was happy to see his arc resolved in such a satisfying manner. The path of the child who put others above himself was distraught with plenty of incidents which only kept making things worse and worse. From experiencing a World War as a child, to seeing his friends die in front of him, to killing his own clan, to being treated as a criminal by the village he was trying to protect, obtaining a sickness that caused him to go nearly blind and eventually killed him, to being hated by his brother until only moments before his death. It was kind of impressive to see a character in a shonen story like this go through so much bullshit.
But that’s all I have to say. I probably repeated some points but I feel that every event that happened with Itachi was important to how his character acted. No part of Itachi felt “wasted” in Naruto. He had a purpose to the story and, besides any filler he appeared in, whenever he showed up it made sense for his character to be there. Maybe that’s why I continue to enjoy his character so much still. Anyway. Thank you all for reading, I hope this was able to reveal a bit about why I like Itachi’s character so much. I wonder who I’ll write on next time…