The Conflict and Compromise of Uchiha Sasuke Transcript
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- To say Sasuke is a character of conflict would only be all too accurate. He's a young man who seems so sure of himself, yet his actions arguably carry contradiction and flip flopping motives. He chooses to destroy the system that Itachi protected, going against the wishes of the one who he avenges. He claims that the road to strength is cutting off bonds, yet he can't bring himself to ignore Naruto, fighting him when his ideals would be better served by ignoring him completely. And eventually, there would come a time when Sasuke, once a child in a friendly rivalry with Naruto, had become so far gone he was impossible to root for. Though he was once a protagonist, how he's meant to be seen by the audience at this point is very much deliberate, and in no way is this shown better than in Karin. Her obsessive love of Sasuke and relentless lust can be unbearable, but if there were one character in the series who would accept Sasuke no matter what, it would be her, and yet, even she has her limits. After Sasuke ignores her well-being in exchange for exacting his vengeance on Danzo, she thinks back to the cool and even heroic boy he was, not the uncaring, obsession driven young man he is now.
- But Sasuke's likability is only one part of who he is. What trumps all is his character as a whole. His actions can only be justified within the narrative on the grounds that they make logical sense, without straining believability or coming across as contrived. And that is the goal of this video: to understand Sasuke. Not simply to dismiss his actions of those as a confused teenager forced to grow up in a world he comes to disagree with, but to understand him through that lens. And to discuss his growth, it would be wisest to start on who he was when he was at his most likable. Because although the tragedy that shaped his life led to deep scarring, through being forced into Team 7, he slowly began to change. His first line of mental narration after being told he'd be part of a three man cell, was to comment on how it was two to many. He always seems to have something negative to say, like when it comes to his dorky looking sensei, and his more general thoughts seemed focused forwards on the brother he so dearly wants to kill. And yet, that abrasiveness is not all there is to him. When Naruto and his clones seem like they have an edge on Kakashi, Sasuke takes note of his misdirection tactics, on some level recognizing the goofy kid as capable, further shown as he is the first one to offer food to Naruto after the failure in the bell test. Sasuke, the broody, angsty loner, is the first one to understand Kakashi's lesson in teamwork, putting the mission above his desire to work alone. It's all in line with those ideas of friendship that the genre is so apt to explore, and it gives him strength. His rivalry with Naruto allows him to train at a faster rate than he might have otherwise, and against Haku, he awakens the Sharingan in battle, coming to control it for the first time. It's the Uchiha trademark that's defined by their ability to love, and for Sasuke, he became capable of using it freely to protect Naruto, the ally and rival who he found himself connecting to. Later he's able to put trust in Sakura when she needs it most (as she's doubting her ability to enter the Chuunin Exams). He gets training and support from Kakashi, learning the Chidori, his signature technique. His position in Team 7 was one of mutual desire to work together and grow, walking alongside Naruto on the same path, and it's something almost aberrant when looking ahead to the young man who believes cutting off one's bonds is the key to achieving power. To cut off one’s bonds, to rip away someone who wants you by their side, is something that would be unbearably painful, unless you retreated into the emotion opposite of the one that allowed Sasuke to awaken his Sharingan. It's one Sasuke is capable of in abundance, but in his position with Team 7, it came to be overshadowed by his other feelings, until he was faced with a source of that emotion so much stronger than his own. "You don't have enough hate."
- Sasuke had grown through working with his allies, but though he grew alongside Naruto, he began to slow down, forced to watch Naruto from behind. During the encounter with Gaara, where Naruto so severely upstaged him (defeating him and Shukaku where Sasuke was only just able to keep up to the boy alone), that was where the cracks started to form in his worldview. Gaara reminded him of Itachi's similar words, showing the way down another path, a path very much parallel to the one he'd been walking on, once alongside Naruto, but now behind. Sasuke had now begun to see Itachi's path: that of cutting of one's bonds and bearing that hate alone. Naruto might have surpassed Gaara, but Sasuke was falling behind all on his own. And if there were any doubts looming ahead on the path of teamwork he'd had impressed on him by Kakashi, and shown as an option by Naruto, then widening the cracks even further was the arrival of Itachi himself. Itachi, who so easily held back three of the village's finest Jounin, leaving the respected Kakashi bedridden after just a brief encounter. Itachi, who would then go on to easily defeat him, as if Sasuke was still the weak, helpless boy forced to witness the massacre of his clan despite how much stronger he'd gotten, before giving Jiraiya the slip, showing capabilities on par with the strongest the Leaf had to offer. Sasuke was no closer to surpassing Itachi then he had been on the day of the massacre. Naruto continued to grow on his path, but Sasuke, falling behind, began to reject that way, as looking forward, all that lay there was more failure in the form of Kakashi and Jiraiya. In his anger and bitterness, Sasuke refuses to recognize Naruto, refusing to wear the headband just as he refuses the ways of the Leaf village. And with that gap between them, Itachi's path began to look all the more appealing. And his guide down that path would be the one who recognized him, the one who chose not Naruto, but Sasuke. Orochimaru too showed the failure of the Leaf, having left the village and becoming stronger for the bonds he'd cut off, surpassing his former sensei in the Third Hokage. And so he'd extended a hand towards Sasuke. And at such a low point, Sasuke decided to take that hand.
- Through promising to cut off his bonds with the Leaf, he achieved power, after which he was able to test it against Naruto. But to say he allowed their battle simply to challenge his new power would be incorrect. Though he starts down his same path, Sasuke is not Itachi. He is not testing his capabilities as he believed his brother was. Note how before the battle, he donned the Leaf headband, the one he'd refused before. From all his efforts throughout the arc, Naruto reached him: through his allies, he surpassed the Sound 4, and showed that his road to strength through effort and camaraderie was still valid. Sasuke recognized that, but having taken those first steps down his path, he would not turn around so easily. Were he to keep going beyond the Valley, had he ignored Naruto and cut off his bond, then he would have likely been able to escape, with Orochimaru's hideout so close. Nothing would have changed when it came to the end result if Sasuke had ignored Naruto, and yet he decided to face his former ally. He decided, to attempt compromise. By putting on his headband, he recognized Naruto, but his stubborn rival wasn't able to reciprocate. Though he recognized Sasuke, he did not understand him. He had not know the great pain of loss that Sasuke did, but instead only fought to avoid the pain he would experience if Sasuke were to cut off their bond. While Sasuke is allowing Naruto the chance to prove himself, Naruto is only forcing his will onto Sasuke thoughtlessly, giving him no option. Sasuke will be taken back and that's final. Through his lack of understanding and desire to avoid pain, Naruto's being just as selfish as Sasuke was in starting this new path, and in this failure, he too failed to bring Sasuke back to the village. By winning the battle, Sasuke's path to strength is realized through Naruto's failure: both in his failure to defeat Sasuke, and his failure to show how his desire to maintain bonds was the truth path to strength. It was Naruto reaching out to him without concession or care that cut the bond Sasuke chose not to break completely by compromising, and so Sasuke left the Leaf village, so many of his bonds in tatters behind him on his new path.
- The idea of compromise is one so fitting to Sasuke, but in this world of magic abilities, deception, and war, it is might that makes right. Powerful ninja converse through battle, therefore Sasuke achieves compromise through conflict. At Tenchi Bridge, Naruto once again tried to win Sasuke back, but with him being so much weaker, Sasuke had no reason to heed his words. Naruto was so far behind on his own path, while Sasuke had gotten so much further on the one Itachi laid out for him, even though Sasuke failed to realize the true nature of his path, leading to a moment perhaps infamous for the amount of compromise Sasuke allowed. "Destroy Konoha." Over the course of a day following Sasuke's victory over Itachi, his vengeance shifted from the one who killed his clan to the village that forced the impossible situation on his brother, the shinobi who willfully enable the system, and the world that perpetuated a situation where genocide was the only path to sustained peace.
- The world is wrong, Sasuke came to understand this through Tobi. But while Itachi's planned path might have led Sasuke back to the Leaf village a hero, one who could potentially make the shinobi world a better place, his plan unravelled, Sasuke refusing Itachi's path for him, and thus, refusing to compromise. It's contradictory, but in that, it's meaningful. During the conversation with Tobi, every counter argument Sasuke offers is out of a desire to paint Itachi as a villain. He tries to say Tobi is a liar, pointing out that Itachi said not to trust him, but in doing so, he only supports Tobi's arguments, because Itachi wanted the truth hidden from Sasuke and laid a trap for the only one who could tell him. Sasuke says everything he can to try and prove Tobi in the wrong, because he had to. If all of Sasuke's actions were preordained by Itachi, then his quest for vengeance, to redeem his clan, all the bonds he severed...it would have all been for nothing. Sasuke wanted to surpass Itachi, and in attempting to do so by meeting him head on, he only fell into his hands. Sasuke survived their battle, but he did not surpass Itachi at all. With the truth about Itachi in the light, his desire to surpass him informed his desire to avenge him. Whether he respected Itachi's will or not was irrelevant: he had no desire to compromise if it meant that he would not surpass Itachi. When compared to the concession he made for Naruto in his beliefs, it comes across as contradiction, but it's a willful one, based in flaws of Sasuke's character that are both grounded in his history with Itachi, and lead to his true descent into darkness. Up until this point, even though he worked under Orochimaru and rebuked Naruto, he never once killed, despite threats otherwise. Orochimaru he absorbed into himself, willfully taking on what remained of his life in exchange for power. But the hundreds of soldiers set up for training, the curse mark prisoners, even Deidara: none of them died by his hand. Sasuke might have gone down a dark road, but beyond refusing Naruto and enabling the battle against the Sound 4, on his own he'd done little wrong. Itachi was the one he would kill, but even then, he died of his own illness before Sasuke could finish the deed. It was only after that point when Sasuke made a concession. Not one born out of desire for compromise, but a concession for his own pride. HE had to surpass Itachi, and this flaw took him further down the path of darkness that Itachi never truly walked, nor intended Sasuke to go so far down. Itachi took the burden of the Uchiha onto himself, and Sasuke would surpass him with another, far greater massacre as punishment for the failures of the Leaf.
- Sasuke's change is drastic, but before his flawed goals are set to be challenged, this new Sasuke is one allowed to re-examine his beliefs, so that he might be shaped by the ninja world around him. He once again has allies, gathered as tools, but becoming potential friends, potential bonds, through fighting alongside him. As Karin burns from his Amaterasu, he saves her. But the concession doesn't last, as in keeping his bonds and relying on others, Taka fails to capture Killer B. Where teamwork had once been the only path to success, now it began to look more like a liability. He escaped the seat of the Summit leaving Suigetsu and Juugo behind, before defeating Danzo by cutting off his bond with the one who admired him the most. And so he succeeded, further vindicating his worldview after it had once again been challenged. If that weren’t enough, then Danzo’s death is followed by the arrival of Sakura and Kakashi, who try to kill him. Teamwork failed them, so now they attempt to cut off their bonds. Sasuke laughs as if mocking them. It’s moments like this that result in the aspects of Sasuke perhaps the most difficult to swallow: his edge. Regardless of how one feels about it, it’s there for a reason. After Gaara reaches out to him, he opts to continue walking his dark path, infamously fan translated as "my darkness is greater than yours". But while Sasuke laughs at Sakura and Kakashi, he does not laugh as Naruto calls him a friend, instead simply repeating his goals and ideals. His edge, his sharp refusal of others is a shield, blocking off attempts to reform his bonds by cutting everyone off, with a sole exception: Naruto. Sasuke doesn't make concessions for Sakura, or Kakashi, or Gaara, but for Naruto, it's different. And it's history repeating itself. Madara similarly had his shield: his inability to let anyone walk behind him, and the only one he let that shield down for was Hashirama, who used that weakness to kill his former friend. Those of the past were unwilling to compromise, but Naruto is different. After his failure at the Tenchi Bridge, he sought understanding. When battling Kakuzu, he refused help, fighting alone in an effort to get closer to Sasuke. Even more strongly is in regards to Pain. Pain was responsible for the death of Jiraiya, also nearly killing Kakashi, Hinata, and crippling the Leaf village. Naruto burned with a hate stronger than any he'd ever felt, yet he sought to meet Pain alone, going without his bonds as he faced someone he might have hated as much as Sasuke once hated Itachi. He sought to understand Sasuke, and so there was compromise. Something Naruto was unable to do at the Valley of the End, something the First Hokage was unable to do with Madara, something the Leaf was unable to do with the Uchiha Clan. Like Sasuke once tried Naruto's path, Naruto looked down the road Sasuke took. Itachi says that perfection is impossible in one person, but may be doable through two sides of the same coin. But even still, it might be more accurate to equate the two through Yin and Yang. Though they walk on parallel paths, they have pieces of the other’s ideals within themselves, achieved through attempts to understand one another. And with that understanding, Naruto resolves to end Sasuke's hatred or the both of them will die trying. No long is it Naruto's job alone to bring him back: the outcome is on Sasuke as well. Either Sasuke will kill the only one he can consider a friend and cut off his bond, or he compromises those beliefs. When Naruto makes this proclamation after the Kage Summit, Sasuke doesn't challenge him there, not yet. He recognizes Naruto, and to compromise through conflict he needs all the power he can get.
- And it's in that where I think of Sasuke the most. Not in his desire for vengeance, or power, or his edge, or his compromise, but in the area where he connects most to Naruto. At the core of Sasuke's character lies a desire for recognition above all else, and the difference is explained through Itachi. Itachi tells Naruto that the Hokage is one who becomes recognized by the village, not one who seeks recognition alone. Whereas Naruto becomes recognized by others through his deeds, Sasuke only wanted recognition from the ones he sought to impress most: his family. Growing up, he was always in Itachi's shadow. No matter how hard he worked, the best praise he could earn was that he was 'just like his brother'. He was never 'like Sasuke', never recognized for who he was, but only in how he measured up to Itachi. His father was only able to give him that recognition when Itachi's standing had fallen, and by the time Sasuke might have been worthy enough, it was far too late. All that remained of his family was Itachi, who Sasuke strove to surpass no matter what, even if it meant going further down the path Itachi did not want him on, even if it meant betraying the ideals of the brother he sought to avenge.
- But then he finally got exactly what he wanted. Itachi came to know his personal failure with Sasuke while revived under Edo tensei. He was wrong to push Sasuke down his path, wrong in failing to recognizing him, always teasing him, even to the end. And after seeing his failure, and knowing he would not be able to turn him away from his path, he decided to recognize what Sasuke might have always been capable of where Itachi was not. Itachi said that Sasuke might have been able to stop the massacre, but by being unable to see his brother as anything but a kid, he never considered that option until well after it was too late. In finally noticing his failure, he's able to give Sasuke the recognition he'd wanted for so long. Though Sasuke's basis for challenging Itachi's beliefs was done out of that desire for recognition, in doing so, in showing an autonomy that challenged his brother's goals, even though he might have been wrong, he finally became recognized by his brother at last. Itachi was finally able to compromise, and so Sasuke did, seeking the Hokages and gaining more information with which to challenge his goal of destroying the Leaf. His new perspective leads to new courses of actions, manifested through his own definition of Hokage, the position he then sought to fill. This new compromise is one born from the two paths Sasuke had walked. In taking the world's darkness onto himself, he walks Itachi's path, but in doing so he aims to save the ninja world, achieving Naruto's goal. The compromise here is in the unification of the two paths Sasuke had once walked, blazing a trail that was neither Itachi's nor Naruto's, but his own.
- Sasuke's plan was to force the world to recognize him: not from behind Naruto, or behind Itachi, but surpassing both. Naruto could not agree, leading to yet another conflict that would bear the fruit of compromise. Once again they played their ideals against each other, and the difference in the two becomes so clear with a scene added in the anime adaption. Sasuke alone, Naruto with his friends. Sasuke alone, Naruto with the Leaf, Sasuke alone, Naruto with the world. Sasuke alone...Naruto, with Sasuke. Sasuke believed that true strength was cutting off his bonds, yet in attempting compromise through challenging his beliefs, he failed to follow what he believed true strength was. Zabuza once claimed that shinobi were meant to be tools, tools that would have no problem cutting off their bonds, but Zabuza was never able to. Shinobi are people, not tools, as is shown time and time again. To accept that humanity brings with it baggage. The hate and vengeance that Naruto was forced to experience from Pain, or what emotions he felt from the betrayal that Sasuke's last minute turn enabled. That hate and disappointment is all too human, all too natural, and so he needed to address it through his shinobi way. But equally human is the desire for loved ones that neither Sasuke nor Itachi could truly break from. Naruto was able to bear his pain and conceive of a way to end the cycle of hatred, surpassing his opposing side while maintaining his beliefs, but Sasuke failed. The moment he decided to fight alongside Naruto, the moment he accepted Itachi's love, the moment he decided not to destroy the Leaf, and most importantly, the moment he made a concession in his beliefs for Naruto’s sake in the act of fighting him and him alone: that was when Sasuke lost. He failed to follow the path he'd laid out for himself, but in challenging his beliefs, in challenging Naruto, the two compromised, and Sasuke earned recognition from those who's paths he once followed. He did not bring revolution to the ninja world in the way he wanted, but through his compromise, he was able to serve, acting as the knife in the dark path he walks to defend the world from hidden threats, while Naruto stands in the light as a beacon of peace. The two of them, recognizing each other, walk down their paths, separate, but together. "I lost."
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