Knuckle up--some of the Chunin Exam's best fights are in this installment!
Welcome back to THE GREAT CRUNCHYROLL NARUTO REWATCH! I'm Nate Ming, and I'll be your host this week as we make our way through all 220 episodes of the original Naruto. Last week, we covered episodes 36-42, and we continue this week with episodes 43-49.
This week is all about the FIGHTS, as we witness some of the best action in the series yet--and the start of what many consider the best showdown in all of Naruto! The "elimination tournament" portion of the Chunin Exam heats up, and we get to see a whole bunch of characters show what they're really made of--Kiba, Neji and Hinata, Shikamaru, and of course, Rock Lee and Gaara all get a chance to shine.
But first, a reader question from last week--this one's from twintailedmadness:
Hey, what happened with the two people impersonating the grass ninja along with Orochimaru? At the beginning of the forest exam part when they run in he says "you know what to do, we only have one target" and they go separate ways. Its not the two with Kabuto, you also see them at their own gate. Is it a plot hole or something that will come up later?
That's a really good question! They actually do vanish and we only see Shiore/Orochimaru-in-disguise--I think that Orochimaru was either controlling their corpses, or he had two underlings impersonating them. Sound off in the comments with your thoughts on the two random Grass Ninja who entered the Forest of Death and never returned!
And now, this week's Q&A!
This week we've got three, four… FIVE fights all in a row, and yet we're also getting a whole bunch of great character moments and development. How are you feeling right now with the show's pace?
Kevin: Knowing what’s coming with the third exam, I wish that they had saved some of the more poignant moments for after the prelims. Maybe of the people that completed the second exam, the slowest half need to fight, and then everyone else moves on to the actual third exam, so that the likes of the Hyuga fight and Lee versus Gaara would happen while the plot was actually moving forward?
Paul: No objections here. The show is moving along at a brisk pace, especially considering that it's a shonen action series, and by comparison sometimes a single fight in One Piece or Dragon Ball will last like five or six episodes. Two to three episodes per fight, maximum, is about my attention span these days.
Jared: This set of episodes in particular really felt like it moved quickly. Which isn’t bad, considering all the fights and moments that were packed into these episodes, it’s amazing how well it kept the flow up. Which really is how I’d characterize the pace, in that it does a good job of keeping things moving and the only time it really feels hindered is when it can go into recap mode.
Danni: I watched all of this batch’s episodes in one day without even realizing it until I was done. It was extremely tempting to just go ahead and keep watching. It feels like we’re really moving along right now.
David: The pace hasn’t been consistent--the recaps and long-winded explanations of stuff that should be easy to grok come to mind - but these episodes were all incredibly solid and left me wanting more. It’s very easy to see why this arc is remembered so fondly.
Noelle: I don’t have any complaints. It’s mostly fighting, but it’s compressed enough, especially when compared to a lot of other shonen series of the time. What we get really isn’t that bad, and is engaging enough that I didn’t feel like it was dragging.
Kara: I think I may be in the minority that actually enjoys when fights cut away to back story. We had a lot of characters introduced all at once, and they seemed genuinely interesting. Especially considering the techniques a lot of them use. I dig the sheer amount of action, but I’m also enjoying finding out more about these people as we go.
Joseph: I’m loving the pacing of these episodes because, with a couple exceptions (especially Gaara vs. Rock Lee), I don’t really think they needed to spend too much more time on anything here. The stakes aren’t that high, but they still make it seem as if each fight is a deathly serious affair.
Carolyn: I’m also in the minority but for a different reason. I actually really like when the fights are sprinkled with backstory, I feel like it makes their fights more relevant and emotional. But I’m really over how many fights are dragged across multiple episodes. It feels like they are stretching them out to fill time.
Peter: What’s. With. The. Constant. Split. Screen. Facial. Reactions. That aside I was pretty pleased with the animation treatment Kiba and Hinata got. The show really set its pace to the moment whether it was comedy, dramatic reveals, character moments, or even just taking an extra second so you can appreciate how f**ked-up Temari’s finisher was.
How does it feel getting to truly see Shikamaru in action, even if it was for only a half an episode?
Kevin: Shikamaru is one of the characters that grew on me over time. Early on, he’s just lazy and doesn’t do much, but as we get to see him fight and plan more, he just gets more awesome. So finally getting to watch him execute a plan in the moment was a great taste of what’s to come.
Paul: While I enjoyed it in the moment, I almost instantly forgot that Shikamaru defeats his opponent by using his understanding of the layout of the battlefield to trick them into banging their own head against a wall. For some reason, the details weren't sticking with me.
Jared: For me, seeing him in action was pretty similar to everyone else we hadn’t really seen fight yet. I was glad to see them all get screen time and actually see what they can do. With Shikamaru we kind of saw what he could do in the forest with his shadow possession, but this fight really showed the extent of that power and how dangerous it can be.
Danni: Shikamaru seems cool, but I don’t understand why people call him a galaxy brain level strategist. He seems no smarter than the other top genin.
David: The best of Shikamaru has yet to come. As of now, he’s interesting, but not much more interesting than the rest of the cast.
Noelle: This fight is more of a Shikamaru 101 than anything. Where he really shines has yet to come, but it’s nice seeing that his intellect and creativity has been highlighted even this early on.
Kara: One thing I’m learning about Naruto is there are very few one-trick ponies, despite what early episodes may lead you to believe. It was cool seeing Shikamaru step up from being the “mendokusai” guy to having some good in-the-moment tactics.
Joseph: I think I mentioned his power as being the type I’d like to have myself. I loved the strategy of using his environment to his advantage, even it if seemed like a totally wild gambit.
Carolyn: Shikamaru! I love him so much. I love that everyone tends to think he’s just a lazy jerk when really he could be the most grounded of them all. Reality/knowledge leads to depression and all that. In my opinion, he’s incredibly observant and clever.
Peter: I have never understood why he doesn’t just hit someone with a damn shuriken when he’s got them trapped. Even with all holsters being coincidentally placed in the same location, he could have another one just for this purpose or pull a needle out of himself. Then even him taking damage was part of his plan.
We're seeing more and more ninja animals show up--Kakashi's ninja dogs, Shino's ninja bugs, Guy's turtle that only showed up once, and now Kiba's dog, Akamaru. What animal companion do you think would be the most useful for a ninja to have?
Kevin: The insects would probably be the single most useful creature a ninja could be in charge of. Reconnaissance that no enemy would think to check for, setting up traps that are practically invisible and a weapon that drains the enemy’s chakra, making them much easier to defeat, all in one. The only problem is that the bugs live in their host, which would make me run away so fast that Lee wouldn’t be able to keep up.
Paul: Definitely a turtle, because while your enemies are busy wondering why on Earth you brought a turtle to a ninja fight, you could sneak up behind them and shank them in the kidneys. Ninja are all about sowing confusion, and the only ninja animal that would be more confusing than a turtle would be an inexplicably out-of-water shark.
Jared: Having a bunch of bugs would probably be very beneficial since you could have just thousands upon thousands of them swarm an opponent. Just having that numbers advantage is going to be beneficial in most circumstances.
Danni: Without contest bugs are the most useful for a ninja to have. Control a few and you have the most stealthy intel team imaginable. Control a swarm and you will never, ever lose.
David: For the sake of variety, I’d argue that rodents like mice and squirrels would be similarly useful to insects. They are everywhere, which is useful for surveillance and such, and they easily carry disease for assassination purposes. Also, you probably wouldn’t have to let them live in your body, so it’s just a win overall.
Noelle: Bugs, all the way. There are so many kinds that each specialize in different things- poisons, paralytic agents, webbing, heightened senses- even reconnaissance from away is very easy for something so small nobody would notice. It’s a lot easier to catch sight of a mammal than a fly. I also am pretty fond of bugs, so it’s not like dealing with them would be a problem.
Kara: Guinea pigs, and not just because me owning four of them kind of obligates me to say that. Those little suckers are faster and stealthier than potatoes on legs have any right to be.
Joseph: I’m down with the dogs, because when you’re not fighting to the death with them by your side you got yourself a ride or die buddy.
Carolyn: Based on what’s in the show and not just any animal we choose? Because, sharks maybe? I dunno. But I guess bugs would make the most sense. Dogs could be useful in a fight but they would need to be exceptionally trained, I would think. Bugs at least give you a shock factor.
Peter: Really can’t argue with chakra eating demon bugs. Such a variety of insects too. Always thought Shino was an underutilized character given how freaky his power is. Little sad they turned him on his head to be an awkward joke character in Boruto. I’ll always have my Ninja Storm ougis I guess.
Neji and Hinata's fight had a lot of raw emotion to go with the really brutal combat. For those of you who are new to the series, how do you think this story's gonna play out?
Paul: I don't honestly know where they're going with the conflict between Hinata and Neji, although I doubt they'll let Neji remain victorious in the long-run. Neji demonstrates the sort of rigid thinking that's a prime candidate for karmic retribution, and pride goeth before the fall. It was also nice to see that Hinata practices Hokuto Shinken.
Jared: Neji’s gonna have to get his comeuppance eventually, although you could probably go about this in a few ways. One could be that eventually Neji finally realizes that Hinata is deserving of his respect and they go that route. Or they have Hinata save him from something and that’s what makes him change his mind. Either way or with whatever they do, I’d be surprised if this beef extended throughout the entirety of the series and they aren’t at least tolerable of each other.
Danni: The conflict within the Hyuga clan is one I can easily see becoming tied in with a civil war were that to ever happen. The lesser clan families will likely attempt to usurp the main family through assassination and align themselves with a greater evil threatening the Hidden Leaf Village, is my guess.
Kara: For me, Neji reads so much like the personification of Hinata’s self-doubt—at least in this fight. That feeling of self-doubt never goes away; we kind of resolve ourselves to it, admit it’ll be there, but learn not to let it overtake us. With all the focus Naruto has on personal growth, I feel like their relationship will mirror this to at least some degree, with Hinata coming to a point where Neji’s thoughts about her don’t even matter. Whether he’ll ever respect her? No idea. I hope so.
Joseph: I think it’s gonna end up with Hinata shocking him with her prowess later on, and bringing out his own lurking self-doubt in a way that mirrors how he messed with her at the start of the fight. I’d like to see more psychological ninja warfare either way.
Carolyn: I’m not new to the series, but I’ll answer with my thoughts on the episode, anyway. I was very happy with Naruto throughout Hinata’s fight. He pays close attention to his friends, which often comes across as being callous or inappropriate, but he knew Hinata wasn’t out of it yet even when everyone else thought she was down for the count. I appreciate that.
Peter: I don’t think this question's for me because I already know, but just wanted to say I forgot how brutal the whole affair was and the anime delivered. Right when the board had their names next to each other you knew Hinata was afraid and their opening combo was basically psychological torture. Bless Kurenai for being a good wingman.
We're here, at my single favorite fight in the series: Rock Lee vs. Gaara. For newcomers, how was the experience? For those of us revisiting Naruto, what was it like coming back?
Kevin: Rock Lee versus Gaara will always be one of the hypest things in all of Naruto, and the hypest part of it comes next week, once Lee starts tapping in to the Eight Inner Gates. It is taking all of my discipline to wait to watch the next episode.
Paul: One of these days, Rock Lee is going to hit a Lotus on somebody that doesn't use Ninjutsu trickery to cushion the blow or replace themselves with a decoy, and that day will be glorious. Until then, I'm just going to have to wait to see how the final episode of the fight plays out next week. I can see why people like this fight, but I still have difficulty taking Sandy Murder Cinnamon Roll (aka Gaara) seriously as an antagonist.
Jared: Maaaaaaaaaaaan, this fight rules. I’d seen the gif of Rock Lee’s weight moment before watching this so knew at some point it was coming, but I’m so glad to finally see the context and know it’s even cooler. The animation in the first episode of this fight was just astonishing with how much it let that fight feel so dynamic and fluid. Rock Lee continues to solidify himself as the coolest character in this show and the best boy.
Danni: This is the only fight I’ve ever heard anything about in Naruto, and I’ve seen the weights dropping already. It was still extremely kickass to see my favorite boy landing shots through Gaara’s impenetrable defense. Rock Lee is the ultimate underdog and I want nothing more than to see him dominate.
David: Ridiculously good. I haven’t watched this fight in years, and it’s really amazing how supremely it holds up. Taijutsu is straight-up the coolest form of fighting in the series, and it’s already being set up to be outclassed overall, and while that’s kind of sad, it ends up making Rock Lee’s underdog status so easy to see and root for that this fight benefits from it.
Noelle: Rock Lee!! Appreciation!!! This fight, and I think a lot of old fans would feel the same, was one of the most spectacularly awesome moments in the series. I haven’t rewatched it since I finished the series, but it’s just as hype as I remembered. Gaara, the boy who has never taken a hit, finally is forced to eat a blow from someone who only uses pure martial arts, and it’s great.
Kara: Everyone’s been talking about how this fight is The Best. I get it, I see it, I believe you now. It’s amazing and hype, but also a little weird because we’ve got two characters who wandered in from other genres going at it—Rock Lee being every sports anime personified, and Gaara genuinely belonging in a horror movie. (Seriously, the sand shell was hitting my creepy doll vibes more than Kankuro’s literal creepy doll.)
Joseph: It’s Frieza eyes vs. Usopp eyes and it rules. I’ve read the source material but I like the anime version of the event even more. When Rock Lee dropped the weights I got chills.
Carolyn: I actually liked the flashbacks more than the fight itself. Seeing baby Rock Lee so dedicated and driven, holding himself to impossible standards, it’s why I love him so much.
Peter: I thought there was still one episode to go until I saw literally ANY animation. Azuma was talking to Choji or something and I was thinking to myself “why does this look so good?” They gave every second of that episode special treatment. Lee dropping the weights is still iconic.
This is less of a Naruto question, and more a general question about action anime. Can you think of 1-2 other instances that were your "Rock Lee dropping the weights" moments from other shows?
Kevin: After giving it some thought, nothing I can remember did the same thing. In Lee versus Gaara, we had no idea that Lee was holding back, but then suddenly he’s on a whole new level and managing to injure a character who was previously untouchable. The closest comparisons I can think of are various moments from Dragon Ball Z. In the Raditz fight, Goku and Piccolo wore weighted gear, and Gohan had his first berserk moment that showed he had further untapped powers, and later on Goku going Super Saiyan for the first time also showed off the hero managing to one-up the villain with powers the audience had never seen, but each of those moments have a part of what made Lee dropping his weights such a memorable scene, not the whole picture.
Paul: There are plenty of direct parallels, such as Sky Star removing her weighted shoulder pads in Air Master, but I think my favorite recent example of someone taking the limiters off (at least in a metaphorical sense) is when Satsuki Kiryuin stabs her mother, Ragyo, in the heart before openly declaring her rebellion in Kill la Kill. That moment has the same transcendent impact, dramatically speaking, because you can kind of see it coming just an instant before it happens, but the reveal is still glorious.
Jared: These maybe aren’t direct comparisons, but for me it’d be something like Joseph vs. Esidisi from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency where we see the fruits of Joseph’s training and cunning pay off. Although, I might also put what Jotaro is able to pull off in the final episode of Stardust Crusaders as one that got me hyped in the same way.
Danni: Dragon Ball has quite a few moments where characters literally take off weighted clothing, but the most "Rock Lee dropping the weights" moment in the show I can think of is when Goku unleashes the Kaioken on Vegeta for the first time. I think a good recent example would be Uraraka vs. Bakugo in My Hero Academia. Everyone completely underestimated her and it looked like she was being ripped to shreds, but then she reveals it was all part of her plan to launch a meteor attack.
Noelle: This is hard, because I don’t think there are any direct comparisons. The fight shows a capable fighter showing their true strength, but also in a way that nobody expected, even the audience. There are many good fights, and many surprises, but none that we can’t see coming, at least on some level. I think the thing that elicited the closest feeling to that was Black Lagoon when Roberta was first introduced, and despite her demure appearance, she started blasting through absolutely everything.
Kara: It’s really kind of the “I am not left-handed” of anime, isn’t it? Except turned up to a ludicrous extreme. Funnily enough, the first one I think of is sort of an inverse—the mid-point of GaoGaiGar, where after a battle to the near-death that leaves our heroes and multiple robots on the point of falling apart, we get a post-credit scene that shows us the villains have been holding back. Definitely not a “punch the air” moment so much as a “drain the glass” moment.
Joseph: I have a really bad memory so no, this is the only one ever.
Carolyn: Not to be repetitive, but I think Uraraka and Bakugo are a pretty good example, as well. I tend to watch darker anime over action anime, so I don’t have a lot to draw from.
Peter: I have to thank Carolyn since I was trying to find a way to shoehorn in that in retrospect you can see a lot of the Hinata/Neji fight in Uraraka/Bakugo. As far as a moment where the series reveals its been underselling a character? Maybe Killua ripping that dudes heart out in the Hunter exam? Or Kenpachi pulling off his eyepatch is probably closest. I love when Ichigo claims there’s a trick and Kenpachi admits the trick was he had a demon eating his power the whole time.
"I'm gonna be Hokage!" count: 19
Bowls of ramen consumed: 2 bowls, 3 cups
Shadow Clones: 123
And that's everything for this week! Remember that you're always welcome to join us for this rewatch, especially if you haven't watched the original Naruto!
Here's our upcoming schedule!
-Next week, on MARCH 8th, the Chunin Exam finals begin in EPISODES 50-56, with CAROLYN BURKE hosting!
-Then, on MARCH 15th, DANNI WILMOTH covers EPISODES 57-63--Naruto settles a grudge as the finals heat up!
-On MARCH 22nd, the Chunin Exam ends as NICOLE MEJIAS covers EPISODES 64-70!
Have any comments or questions about episodes 43-49? What about our upcoming installment, featuring episodes 50-56?
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