The penultimate chapter of Naruto is our final look at our beloved characters in the present day and the ultimate love-letter from Kishimoto to his characters and to the fans of the series. You could not ask for a better ending. The following contains spoilers for Naruto 699. There are none for 700.
I woke up thinking I had another week of Naruto. I heard that the last chapter would be a double chapter, but I figured that meant 700 would be double-length. When I saw the words "Chapter 700" a week after 698, though, my heart sank, and I had to get ready: Naruto was coming to an end after fifteen years.
Think about that for a second, because whether you read manga or not, Naruto is the kind of series where only a few are around in a lifetime (see One Piece). There are roughly 780 weeks in the span of fifteen years. That means that for nearly 90% of the weeks that have happened since 1999, Kishimoto delivered us a chapter of Naruto. You can pretty much list the number of things giving you this much consistent entertainment on a weekly basis on one hand. That's crazy.
I have only been reading Naruto for five years. (Only five years, like that’s not a long time or anything). I binge-watched the series over the course of a few weeks while wallowing in my first big breakup, and then caught up to the manga in a few days after that. Ever since, there hasn't been a week where I haven't looked forward to a fight, a story, or a new revelation. Naruto has been a constant source of entertainment and inspiration for me and millions of others.
I would use this review to tell you what I thought about the ending itself, but I already did that: 698 was the true ending of this series, as far as I'm concerned. 699 was just housekeeping. We all know what happens next. The only question that should have been at the forefront of your mind was how the final fight between Naruto and Sasuke was going to conclude. Once that was settled-- once we saw them bound in blood, once we heard how Sasuke really felt-- everything else, even including his apology to Sakura for everything he ever did, was secondary.
So what got wrapped up? Well, there's this little thing...
YAMATO IS FREE!!!
Of course, now is also the time to mourn. Seeing the generation that we've grown up with stand at the graves of the fallen should give us hope that this is the last generation of the Leaf village that will have to mourn their dead after a long, bloody war. Things have already taken a turn, since this war was not among the nations but rather saw them in a great shinobi alliance. There are images in 700 that give me hope for the future, but that’s another review.
And then, there's this.
*Ahem* YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WOOOOOOOO!!!!!! STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM!!!
Kakashi is my absolute favorite character. Seeing him become Hokage, and for his first act to essentially be forgiving Sasuke after first giving him that speech before becoming a missing-nin all those years ago-- that was a special moment. Everyone is older and the situation has finally changed. Where 698 brought everything to a close, 699 represents the beginning of the next phase of Naruto, which we'll get a peek at during the last movie.
I love the thread of Sasuke leaving the village in order to see the world and really understand what being a shinobi means. Where Naruto has always been the uncritical knucklehead using his incredibly inspiring ninja way (and a tremendously powerful spirit giving him chakra, no big deal), Sasuke never had the luxury of forging a path paved by anything but questions. It is hard to take being a shinobi for granted when you are an Uchiha in the first place, but what about when your brother murders your entire family and then it only gets more confusing after that?
Even when faced with the former Hokages, Sasuke stood tall and asked what it meant to be a shinobi. Now that we know that he acknowledged his way was not the best way, and now that he is no longer going forward on a path based purely on hatred and trying to be the object of hatred, the questions that have defined Sasuke's existence as an Uchiha, as a member of the Leaf village, as the younger brother of Itachi, as one of the new Sannin, and as a blood brother and the only true equal to Naruto himself are now questions that go beyond the Land of Fire.
For the chapter to end with Sasuke offering his definition of what it is to be a shinobi, based on his troublesome life and his travels after the final fight, is just so absolutely perfect. To see those words superimposed on top of Sasuke's missing-nin headband which once symbolized the renouncment of his status as a shinobi of the Leaf-- Kishimoto never lost sight of what this series was about. I guess that's his ninja way.
Otsukaresama deshita, Kishimoto Sensei!
Writer: Masashi Kishimoto Publisher: Shueisha Inc. All images from Issue #50 of Weekly Shonen Jump