Hi NF, this is going to be a lengthy post, but I'm in a mood to give this story some praise. I'm one of the few that overlooks the mediocre parts of the story, and accept them for what they are. I try to look for the best way to view the story, the best lenses to interpret it with, and that led me to this thread. Have a read, I tried to make some interesting analyses. If you look at Naruto as a trilogy of stories instead of parts one and two, the story begins to take on whole new dimensions. The first act of the story is Naruto's youth. When we're introduced to Naruto, it is the very first time he is acknowledged. He was too young at the time to truly understand that Sasuke was acknowledging him too, so Iruka's acknowledgment was really the first good thing to happen in his life. The story goes from there, as that single act of defense from a man who was (i think) taking pity on naruto initially, clearly and visibly changed his life forever. The first act then follows the lessons that Naruto learns. That's when he starts building his personality. He gets his first crush in Sakura, his first best friend in Sasuke, he learns kage bunshin and rasengan, two high-level techniques that are way above his capacity, demonstrating how much he wants to change his fate. He overcomes the role of the hated loser and gains the attention of the village for the first time in his defeat of Neji, and earns the respect of an immensely powerful Kage. That's seriously a lucky relationship for a kid that young to have, there aren't many who do. He also faces his own fears and anger in his fights against Gaara, Kiba, Orochimaru, and eventually Sasuke. The Sasuke Retrieval arc is (I think) the most important event in Naruto's life. It is so sad, as it slowly but surely hits him with the realization that he is about to lose his best friend to a seriously evil person. He denies it at first, having faith in Sasuke. He trusts him, but has been totally unaware of Sasuke's feelings; Naruto only thought about himself. He was a child, after all. We'll get to Sasuke's story later. When Naruto and Sasuke first clashed, Naruto realized that Sasuke was trying to kill him...actually kill him. He couldn't comprehend what could compel Sasuke to do such a thing, and obviously went berserk, culminating in the Part 1 finale of Sasuke literally breaking Naruto's heart. Not in a relationship way, but the fact remains that Sasuke was literally the first person he connected with. Naruto had fought by his side, watched him take near-fatal wounds in defense of him, had protected him in the Forest of Death and during the Chuunin Exams. Naruto, who never had the chance to know anyone intimately, and never once felt like anyone would be willing to die for him. When Sasuke took that away from him, it was devastating. Then there's a timeskip to the Jinchuuriki Hunters act. Act 2 follows the pawns of the story, a very mysterious organization of hired guns, who collect the tailed beasts and subsequently threaten the world. The power scaling is introduced, as this is Naruto's first real confrontation with the ninja world at large; it is a much more dangerous place than we were led to believe. Orochimaru was vastly powerful, but now we learn there are other ninja in the world who pose a serious threat to Naruto and the people he loves. Naruto, meanwhile, has become shattered over the timeskip. The kid who had finally seen the daylight of friendship and being accepted was being crushed by an unfair reality. He learns here that the world is much too big for him to be able to control, and that his own control on reality is slipping. The kyuubi's influence is like a festering wound, something which Naruto now openly accepts and invites instead of the previous demands for rent. He is consumed by guilt over failing to keep his promise to Sakura, and not having control over the important parts of his life (i.e. losing Sasuke) This is made worse and worse over the course of the act: This is the dark middle act of the three-part trilogy. The hero, who we so desperately want to be awesome like he used to be, is struggling. When Naruto fails to save Gaara, that is the first time he lashes out at "the world" at large. He simply cannot handle the pressure of being the target of the entire world. He can't handle not having control. Yelling at Granny Chiyo, it's the first time we really see that Naruto's ability to speak from his heart and connect to people is more than just charisma. He is able to convince an old woman, who has spent several decades using and abusing his ilk, to change her mind about everything and admit her failures. A woman who was, I might add, incredibly stubborn. Then we arrive at Sasuke's part of the story. In part 1, Sasuke was trying his hardest to recover from the events of the Uchiha Massacre. He was quiet and angry, but determined to get revenge on his brother. He started to do that and in fact might have grown up to be a Konoha ninja, if not for Orochimaru. The interesting part about the Sasuke/Naruto parallel is that the lessons Naruto is faced with in Part 2, already happened to Sasuke in Part 1. Because of his reputation, Sasuke is targeted earlier. Because of the Sharingan, the last relic of a clan dating back for centuries, Sasuke becomes the last wielder of a key item of power. Orochimaru forces the power of the world on Sasuke, and is so much that Sasuke literally can't control it. Sasuke is no different from Naruto: he simply cannot bear his lack of control over the world. He leaves to find Orochimaru, the originator of this power. By part 2, Sasuke has changed as well. But his change mirrors Naruto: Sasuke has become far more clear, determined, and goal-oriented. He has clearly spent the last three years in complete concentration, building up to face Itachi. HE spent that time training, Naruto has not. When they confront each other in Orochimaru's hideout, Sasuke is vastly more powerful than Naruto. Naruto has relied on the Kyuubi's power almost exclusively, and would have surely died more than once had his teammates not covered for him. Sasuke rightly flees; Naruto has confirmed his beliefs that staying in the village would only have held him back. Naruto meanwhile, not only loses spectacularly against Sasuke, but harms one of the very people he still holds dear to him. When he loses it and attacks Sakura, this is a very clear breach of morals for him, and he begins to take active defenses against the Kyuubi's influence. Yamato also sticks on him like glue as his instability becomes more and more apparent to the Konoha elders, Jiraiya, Kakashi, and Tsunade included. They also decide that Naruto needs to get better; his showing against Sasuke and Orochimaru would only endanger his comrades in the future. So, Kakashi steps in to teach him the Rasenshuriken, his first real jutsu training since the original Rasengan. This is when we see that the Naruto we knew is still alive in him, somewhere. He still never truly gives up, but now we have hope that he can pull through his struggles. The training for his rasenshuriken GIVES us that hope. That hope is tried and nearly ripped away, but Naruto keeps doing the right thing. It really feels like he's coming out of his slump. Sasuke kills his brother Itachi and does not return to Konoha. Naruto fails again, but is not crippled by anger. He holds it together. Then, Jiraiya dies against Pain, the leader of Akatsuki and the man responsible for most of Naruto's anger. Still, with the help of Iruka, Shikamaru, and Kakashi he is able to get past that as well. He returns determined, and goes to train to surpass his master. He is going to achieve a level of ninja mastery that Sasuke obtained, and is determined to not succumb to his anger. In this way, Naruto takes the grief from Jiraiya's death and Sasuke's betrayal and channels them. He also takes the guilt he feels about Sakura as well as the guilt he not feels for failing to bring Sasuke back home and channels those into positive energy as well. And it is those successes of character by Naruto that give us hope. When Pain destroys Konoha and Naruto is summoned from the wreckage, we have never to this point in the story been so excited to see him. He is now the savior, the true hero. We have seen him overcome his trials and learn from his mistakes, and he is here now to fight directly against Pain, the man who is the biggest threat to him. However, this also puts Naruto to the ultimate test. Pain's callous attitude about annihilating his home, killing his friends and senseis, consumes Naruto with anger. He vows to kill Pain, to get revenge on him, and comes dangerously close to being over the line he had worked so hard to build up. Then his entire worldview is challenged by his ability to connect with Pain and understand him. He understand that Pain is simply doing what Naruto is: fighting for what he believes in. This confuses the hell of Naruto, and it all goes to hell when Hinata, the girl he'd always defended, confesses her love and is murdered in front of him. He wall shatters and his hatred breaks through. Fueled by the Kyuubi's rage, Naruto is nearly consumed. This is the lowest point of the story, and the closest we ever see to Naruto giving up and failing. But, it was not all in vain, for his parents were looking out for him. Naruto is saved from destruction, and realizes he can't build a wall around the Kyuubi, but must actively conflict with it. It is that conflict that causes him to spare Nagato's life. We even see that conflict visually for a brief moment, as Naruto's sage eyes and kyuubi eyes smash together. But Naruto ultimately wins in the end, sparing the life of the man who just took everything away from him. Naruto realized that he actually had control over whether Nagato lived or died. It was in his power to command. And he also realized that since he couldn't always have control over everything, the things he could control were the most important. And he makes the right decision...and is rewarded for it. Thus ends the Jinchuuriki Hunters Act. See first post for last Act. Sorry about the length, I'm really enjoying writing this.