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Aborting Naruto} ?> Shave away its year-long filler arcs and Naruto is an anime about seeing value in every life. The namesake protagonist makes it his seemingly unattainable mission to achieve world peace, not by preaching his message from a lofty throne and waiting for others to adopt it, but by personally touching one life at a time. From psychopathic Gaara to traitorous Obito, no life is ever so lost that it becomes worthless; one-by-one Naruto redeems them all, transforming them into allies for his cause.
Since he holds such a pious goal, I’d think it would be easy for Naruto to become superficial in his methods of outreach, but instead, each encounter is treated with personal freshness. I think that’s because Naruto doesn’t see the conversion of individual lives as a means to an end, but rather as the ultimate end. Unlike Light Yagami of Death Note fame, who tries to force the populace into an ideal world it can’t possible conform to, Naruto is the wiser for realizing that true change can only come to the world by first changing its people.
More importantly, Naruto knows that it only takes one person to change the life of another. It’s a phenomenon he’s witnessed first-hand, when a single teacher, Iruka, chose to reach out to him—the classroom failure, the troublemaker, the rebel, the outcast—and recognized him as a human being. Having gone through the anger and depression of social loneliness, Naruto is equipped to minister to others who have suffered his fate and offer them genuine hope.
Going deeper into Naruto’s backstory reveals that his birth posed great risk to both his parents and his village. Before he himself became the host of the nine-tailed fox spirit, Naruto’s mother, Kushina, had it sealed within herself as part of an age-old tradition to keep it from wreaking havoc on the village. Despite the knowledge that giving birth would drastically weaken the seal on the fox spirit and possibly cause it to escape her body, Kushina chooses to have baby Naruto all-the-same, a decision that is supported by her husband, Minato.
As an advocate of life, I praise Minato and Kushina’s courage—choosing to see value in Naruto’s unborn life, even with the personal risk so high. For this young couple, having a baby is an established commitment—one that no amount of danger or difficulty could dissuade.
Also key is the fact that Naruto’s village chooses to protect him. The village leader does not discourage Kushina upon hearing the news, even though the birth could result in the destruction of the entire village. Instead, he offers her protection, assigning several of his finest warriors to guard her and offering her a safe sanctuary in which to give birth.
When a villain comes after the power of the fox spirit, taking advantage of Kushina’s weakened state and releasing the nine-tails into the world, both Minato and Kushina give up their lives in newborn Naruto’s defense. They act bravely and with certainty, seeing it as their duty as parents. Naruto becomes the host of the fox spirit in the aftermath, and it’s then that the once desired and loved child becomes a social outcast—an unwanted reminder of the disaster wrecked upon the village all those years ago.
What I find most fascinating about Naruto’s story is the role that the village plays in his sense of self-worth. Unable to remember his parents, Naruto has only his village to look to for affirmation, but he receives only harsh and fearful glances in return.
The unspoken message? “We wish you’d never been born.”
His society defines the worth of a life based on fear—in Naruto’s case, fear and hatred directed at the fox spirit dwelling within him—and finds Naruto worthless as a result.
Each time I watch the first episode of Naruto, I feel a conflicting mixture of sadness and anger—sadness over Naruto’s desperation to find love and acceptance, and anger towards the village that refuses to extend it to him. It’s baffling to me how a child, so loved by his parents that they’d willingly die for him, could be so rejected by the rest of the world because of who they fear he could become.
Then I cringe and wonder, “Am I really any different?”
I preach the pro-life message loud and clear, chiming out those familiar and trite mottos: “give a voice to the voiceless,” “defend the rights of the unborn,” “choose life!” But if I scowl at the young “outcasts” of society—the poor, the uneducated, the delinquents, the troublemakers—I offer a painfully mixed message. Many of these unborn children for whom I fight are born into the world without the love and attention that they need; they become those same young people whom I look down upon and label “troublemakers.”
I must first be able to see the value in all lives before I am able to persuade others that even the smallest of lives has value. That’s a painful struggle—one that forces me to sacrifice personal comfort, ask hard questions of myself, and reevaluate my beliefs. Most difficult of all, I must choose to see those people who most incite my fear and anger as “human.”
Maybe if I choose to see them as human, they’ll begin to see others—the unborn and unwanted alike—as human, too.
If Naruto’s story is any example, it doesn’t take a village to change a child—just one committed individual willing to reach out with love and acceptance. I don’t know what impact my outreach will have. After all, Naruto became the saviour of the ninja realm, all because of a single teacher’s kindness.
But it does take a child—someone with a pure heart, who hasn’t learned to hate and fear others—to change a village. That change doesn’t come through converting a society en masse, but by personally connecting with each life and recognizing it for the value it has.
Change the heart, and you can change the world. That’s what I believe, anyway. And Naruto would back me up.
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