Some day I’ll probably sit down and write a proper, all-purpose Naruto entry. Today is not that day.

I loathe spoilers and our spoiler-ridden culture, and have gone out of my way to avoid spoilers regarding Naruto ever since I started watching it almost two years ago. But it’s been a futile and ultimately losing battle. With every cursory glance I’ve taken at the Internet to look up anything about the show at all, I knew I was running the risk of being blindsided by information that I didn’t want to know, and that my sixth sense for detecting spoilers in advance was probably not as strong as I’d liked to pretend it was. It only takes one bile-ridden rant in a Hulu viewer comments field — penned by a half-literate, scanlation-entitled, Internet-raised tween, probably — to wipe out an entire season’s worth of plot developments before I’d even have a chance to see them for myself.

Of all the Naruto spoilers I unwillingly encountered over the past two years, there was one in particular that seemed to be spread across the Internet with a vigor and urgency that went unmatched, one that bloggers and message board posters seemed compelled to shout from their digital rooftops. It would just happen to concern the fate of a certain supporting character that I’d grown rather fond of over the past 380+ episodes of both Naruto series (despite only appearing in a fraction of them). I greeted this news with a fair amount of skepticism at first, either because it concerned my favorite character or because the sources for this rumor were simply full of shit more often than not, before finally giving in and accepting that it was probably a legit spoiler. I didn’t know how or when it would occur, but I figured I was pretty well prepared for it.

The events that finally transpired in episode number 166 decisively proved my expectations wrong. What left me so shocked and surprised wasn’t necessarily the spoiler itself, but the show’s sudden willingness to turn on its often predictable past, give this moment the kind of setup that it so deserved, and finally deliver a fitting resolution to it. It was, after all, one of the longest-running subplots of the entire series, so it was destined to end in a dramatic and important fashion, right? I never thought so. For the entirety of Shippuden so far, such subplots have been pushed aside, much to the dismay of large swaths of fans but probably to the benefit of the story overall. It seemed unlikely that one such as this would suddenly be re-introduced, let alone be given such a rich treatment.

I guess I’m just surprised because it’s seemed, for quite some time now, that the writers had lost interest in the supporting cast altogether, and were either not in tune or simply not interested in the desires of most of their readers and viewers. I’m unable to make up my mind as to whether or not they ever should be, but the point remains that the plot’s focus had narrowed to a much smaller cast of characters, leaving one to wonder when or if any of the others would ever return to the spotlight. I suppose it was inevitable that at least one eventually would, but I didn’t expect her to be treated with this kind of dignity after being an object of casual dismissal for so long.

If this reads like a whiny screed from a raving fan who seems to know what’s best for the story even more than the writers, that’s because it probably is. But I just want a chance to iterate my pleasure over this episode, the sharp and moving dialog that went into its second half, the work that went into the action sequences, and the general willingness to do something totally unexpected… at least for those fans who didn’t know it was coming, as it should be.

A very recent post over on Anime Yume explores the recurring theme of self-sacrifice in anime, and is worth a read to anyone who enjoys shonen series like Naruto and its ilk. Is this episode yet another instance of this common trope, or does it actually buck the trend? Here we have a character who’s thrown herself into a sacrificial role, only to openly admit to herself, her fellow characters, and the audience (with transparent honesty and a lack of self-delusion) to having purely selfish motivations for doing so. For a character defined by meekness and a chronic sense of hesitancy, it was an act that marked her final passage to self-actualization, triumph over her most persistent flaws, and the ultimate fulfillment of her longest-held desires. It represents one of the series’ most interesting and satisfying cases of character development, one that wouldn’t be so believable if it wasn’t years in the making.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. I just hope I can avoid finding out for myself before it actually airs.

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