*IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS, GO CATCH UP ON NARUTO AND THEN COME BACK. I WILL WAIT. SERIOUSLY. I WILL SIT HERE. WHAT? YOU’RE 100 CHAPTERS BEHIND? WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING THAT’S SO IMPORTANT? OH, REALLY?! BOY OR GIRL? THAT’S SO EXCITING, CONGRATULATIONS! THERE ARE STILL SPOILERS, THOUGH.* Sure, the title of “eternal rivals” rightfully belongs to the ever-adorable and kick-ass pair of Gai and Kakashi. But Naruto 698—the climax of the final fight between Sasuke and Naruto—put a finishing touch on the central relationship of the series not just with an absolutely unforgettable final panel, but with the revelation that Sasuke is just as in awe of Naruto as the rest of us.
The narrative of Naruto and Sasuke's relationship began as a simple one: Naruto was the fuck-up with all of the inherited talents, and Sasuke was the overachiever bent on exceeding his limits and being the best at any cost. In Naruto (pre-Shippuden), this largely played out as Naruto wanting to be as good as Sasuke, and Sasuke wanting to stay better than Naruto, especially after seeing what Naruto could do as a jinchuriki.
But Shippuden follows a much different arc, one which started with the very first scenes of the Shippuden Anime and ended now, in chapter 698.Though Naruto's powers have obviously come a long way in reaching a god-like level, and Sasuke has kept pace by being relentless in his pursuit of power, take a minute to remember that when Sasuke went and joined Orochimaru, Naruto was absolutely no match for him for quite awhile. Before Naruto really started to take off improving, he was a joke to Sasuke.
Sasuke esentially spared Naruto's life. They were so mismatched that Sasuke casually goes inside Naruto's mind-chakra-soul-demon-jinchuriki-cage-thing and just checks out the Kyuubi like, "aiight, no big deal, what up big guy." He could have sliced Naruto in half and laughed about it while chidori-ing Sakura in the neck-face, but he was so overmatched for Naruto at that point that he didn't even bother.
Shippuden follows that arc: Sasuke continues improving and nobody manages to be a match for him; he beats Orochimaru, he beats his brother, he beats Deidara, he beats Danzo, he forces the Raikage to tear his arm off, he helps beat Kabuto, he helps defeat the Juubi and Kaguya, and then he seals away the tailed beasts-- the dude is unstoppable. But even as these things progress, we find out that Sasuke actually sees Naruto as his greatest bond on this earth, his greatest rival, and his greatest challenge. Yet all the while, until now, this was just a begrudging respect and rivalry that only resembled friendship in the sense that they were both lonely souls, and always saw that in each other.
But this time, in 698, we find out that part of that relationship for Sasuke was actually admiration. Never, not once, has this even been hinted at. Part of this relationship for Sasuke was seeing the qualities in Naruto other than Kurama, and appreciating both the strength that those qualities gave Naruto and the fact that Sasuke himself lacked such qualities. Certainly Sasuke has possessed tenacity in his thirst for revenge, power, and justice, but this to him was in no way comparable to the kind of unflinching, courageous, moronic tenacity exemplified by Naruto in the face of any and all adversity.
Becoming the ultimate Avenger made Sasuke a god, but only following along Naruto's path could he ever become someone admired. He's been admitting for chapters on end that he is willing to become despised, all because he appreciates this very fact: Naruto's way is better.
And yet, as the unbeatable Avenger that he has become in Shippuden, Sasuke was never going to admit this until he was on the edge of death, lying in a pool of his own blood. As we probably all expected, and have been waiting for since the very beginning of Naruto, it took Naruto beating the absolute shit out of Sasuke for us to finally arrive where we knew we always would: reconciliation. Welcome back, Sasuke.
Is Kishimoto even capable of disappointing me?