Warning: contains spoilers for Naruto chapter 699.
For many, saying goodbye to Naruto is akin to saying goodbye to childhood: a time where elementary school kids ran with their arms behind their backs, their foreheads slick with sweat as they echoed lines screamed by their ninja counterparts. However, after fifteen years, The Last: Naruto the Movie has come to close that chapter of their lives—and ours.
Directed by Tsuneo Kobayashi (The Twelve Kingdoms), the film takes place in the timeskip between chapters 699 and 700 of the manga. As a result, the film is officially dubbed chapter 699.5 and with good reason. The Last is the final piece needed to answer one of the questions left hanging at the end of the series: how on Konoha did Naruto end up with Hinata?
Of course, fans of the franchise are no strangers to Hinata’s one-sided affection towards the oblivious blonde. However, the revelation that Naruto had married Hinata in the end came to many as a surprising, yet inevitable development. That is why the movie attempts to trace their romance in an effort to fill the gaps in the respective characters’ narratives. This is not your typical Naruto movie. It is a love story and a touching one at that.
After a beautiful opening that reimagines significant past events in dramatic swathes of black calligraphy, the film dives quickly into establishing the romantic tension between Naruto and Hinata. Hinata tries to reveal her feelings, but her lack of confidence betrays her. To further complicate matters, Naruto has become surprisingly popular with the ladies. Girls upon girls seem to pile on him in hordes like a shadow clone technique gone horribly wrong—or perhaps, right?
As Hinata is confronted with this new difficulty, the film carefully traces her newly aggravated anxieties. In the process of doing so, the story opens up opportunities for poignancy. For example, several scenes involve Sakura supporting Hinata in her endeavors and at the same time, the audience is treated with subtle insights into Sakura’s own troubles.
Although the scenes may be touching, fans of Naruto may feel a little perturbed by the sudden intrusion of this romantic lens. It is clear that Kishimoto, the mangaka behind Naruto, was never a writer of love stories. In fact, Kishimoto did not write the script for this film alone.
Nevertheless, while it may feel odd that this Naruto narrative is one that revolves around romance, we have to remember that this movie’s foundation is set upon these two characters. The movie succeeds in being a Naruto and Hinata story. Fans expecting to revisit the “Team Seven” experience and the camaraderie shared between the broad cast may feel disappointed in the reduction of certain characters into mere cameos.
Sadly, the movie suffers from the damsel-in-distress syndrome upon the introduction of the mysterious new villain. This trope is used not only once, but around three times in order to advance the plot, causing the story to become predictable, if not exhausted. The middle portion in particular suffers due to a stagnancy that plagues the narrative movement, brought on by an almost apathetic ambience in response to a seemingly tame threat. Thankfully, moments of action do break up the monotony. Notably, the sequence of scenes where an older Naruto is implanted into past remembrances is an absolute delight.
As the movies drives towards its end, the action picks up again. Stunning sequences sprawl onto the screen, allowing fan favorites to have their moment in the spotlight. These exhilarating scenes of dynamic choreography and gratifying teamwork get the blood flowing. Your breath halts. Your knuckles whiten. Your heart beats hard.
However, once the film reaches its conclusion and the credits roll, the film leaves your heart beating for a very different reason. My roommate told me that although he didn’t think that a Naruto movie should have been a love story at first, the movie had certainly warmed his heart by its end.
Yes, The Last: Naruto the Movie is a love letter to the fans but at the same time, it’s a break-up letter. This is goodbye. Naruto is one of those special series that will resonate within us for many years to come. And in this bittersweet farewell, we understand that this is also a rare breed of manga that knows when to stop. Naruto and his adventures may be coming to an end, but to the true Naruto fan, he will always be running, arms stretched back, on the steep-eaved rooftops of our childhood memories.
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