While Naruto is full of epic battles, one of the most memorable ones is the confrontation between Naruto and Pain in the ruins of the destroyed Konohagakure village. That fight is so good and rewarding in terms of overall storytelling that the actual final battle of the series, the huge Fourth Shinobi World War, feels like a drag, proving that the manga should have ended much earlier.
War and conflict are major themes in Naruto, with the main characters all having their personal ideas about how peaceful coexistence can be achieved. The main villains, who band together in the Akatsuki group, want to do that by collecting the nine Tailed Beasts, powerful creatures made of chakra that have been distributed among the Five Countries to guarantee a balance of power based on military deterrence. The Akatsuki wants to create one superweapon of mass destruction to scare the world into submission and peace. The (apparent) leader of the group, Nagato/Pain, believes that the only way to achieve peace is through shared pain, and he attacks Konoha to capture Naruto, who is the host of the Nine-Tailed beast, Kurama.
Early in the assault, Pain completely levels the village, destroying every infrastructure and leaving most of the inhabitants trapped or grievously injured, with mass deaths prevented only by the Fifth Hokage’s use of her healing techniques. At that moment Naruto, who was away training to learn Sage Techniques, returns and is faced with the destruction of his home and the severe injuries of his master, Kakashi, who was killed earlier by Pain (who also killed Naruto’s other master, Jiraya). Naruto has every reason to hate his opponent, but still keeps a calm head and gains the upper hand during the fight until Pain is able to paralyze him with chakra-absorbing rods. Suddenly, Hinata comes to Naruto’s rescue, confessing her love for him, but she is seemingly killed by Pain. Pain then asks Naruto how he can change things in a world where no one understands each other. making Naruto lose control and give in to the Nine-Tails, transforming into a mindless raging monster.
Naruto’s frustration is not just physical. While the apparently evil Pain had a plan to deal with the hatred in the world, Naruto did not. His anger only recedes when, in his mind, Naruto meets a ghost of his deceased father, the Fourth Hokage, Minato. Considering that the loss of his parents was the event that defined Naruto’s life, that meeting feels like the culmination of the character’s growth, who is finally able to move past the pain and loneliness of being an orphan. Minato eases Naruto’s fear that he cannot change the world. Surely enough, Naruto regains his senses and defeats Pain, but that’s only a consequence of his ability to let go of the pain that has accompanied him until that moment.
When Naruto confronts Pain’s “real body”, Nagato, their conversation could be the perfect ending for the series, as the battle between the two becomes a confrontation of ideals. Naruto’s refusal to kill Nagato represents his will to break the cycle, and Nagato sacrifices his life to resurrect everyone who died in his attack. This all leads to Naruto’s dream of being acknowledged by the village to come true: he was once considered a nuisance, a demon, and a cursed child, but as his deeds are finally recognized he becomes a true hero. Compared to this, the chaotic Fourth Shinobi World War seems out of place.
This fight had been built up to over countless chapters, making the following arc seem much more random than an epic conclusion should be. Naruto’s battle with Pain is the high point of the whole series and proves that the manga should have ended much earlier.
Next: Naruto’s Ultimate Anti-Tailed Beast Jutsu is Secretly Genius