The final moments of Itachi Uchiha’s life are… heartbreaking. Even more so, knowing what we know now. From initial inception, Itachi seemed like a profoundly evil human being – one who slaughtered his entire clan, and deserted his home, leaving behind his baby brother to drown in the spilt blood of his brethren. He’s a shinobi who bore the hatred of a nation in place of the love of his family.
Itachi held the full weight of the shinobi world on his shoulders, and his very strength was a tragic contrast to the soft heart which behind the Sharingan, he had grown accustomed to hide. Naruto wasn’t just a story about being a ninja, but about what being a ninja meant to the various shinobi. Prothetically, Itachi Uchiha was one of the only shinobi with no subjective idea on what being a shinobi means, creating this complex dichotomy where his shinobi way could waver between self-sacrifice, and self-indulgence, the latter being a quality that the real Itachi seldom has.
There is an intrinsic sadness in his eyes, punctuated by the silence which he is constantly lost in. The sharingan is symbolic of an Uchiha’s ability to love and when that very strength is used for darkness, as windows to the soul, the eyes of an Uchiha weep with the blood that the user is resolved to spill. Such is the road which Itachi had chosen to protect his home and the one he loved above the village itself, Sasuke. The choice to slaughter his family and protect his village was reminiscent of the shinobi way, in that a true shinobi is one who values duty over family and strength over emotion. These are the themes that carry the series to its conclusion. Zabuza foreshadowed this idea in the first major arc of the series, but his choosing to die by Haku’s side conveyed an alternative ideal, and it was one that Naruto preached to every major villain in the series: “Bonds are everything in a world of pain and loneliness.” When Sasuke survived his battle with Itachi, we learn the true nature of his choices, and of the night of the massacre, where he supposedly murdered his entire clan in cold blood. In reality, his actions were to prevent a massacre which would have occurred against the village at the hands of his brethren. He abandoned his soul and ripped his own heart out of his chest, in order to protect his home.
Itachi was far from perfect, but he was one of the few Leaf shinobi who was arguably brimming with the qualities of a true hokage. But, he was also resolved to die at the hands of his little brother, to provide Sasuke with the closure he deserved. He filled Sasuke with ideas of hatred – a contrast to the love which took everything he held dear, in order to give him enough purpose and strength to survive in the death-riddled shinobi world. His mistake was thinking Sasuke’s hatred would not take the place of his soul, but following events would prove otherwise.
This article is not to praise Naruto as one of the best things ever. I like the show a lot, but in terms of shonen anime, it is not my favourite. But, Itachi is the reason that Naruto stayed with me for so long, and an attempt at explaining why that is leaves one inexplicably non-verbal. He’s one of my favourite anime characters, second to only Guts himself, a compliment reserved only for him and him alone.
I haven’t been on the Naruto bandwagon for a long time, and earlier this year, I finished the series and near the end, there was an itachi mini-series, filler arc, which since wasn’t in the original manga, I could not help but feel was made for me. Obviously, I’m not the only person who feels this way, as the popularity of itachi prompted a solo novel story, Itachi Shinden written by Takashi Yono, and illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto.
Personally, I feel a much deeper fondness to Itachi than I do Naruto. While I do feel a kinship to Naruto’s struggles of depression and loneliness, resembling my own emotions in relation to the world around me, Naruto reflects a part of me, while Itachi reflects the part of me I wish existed. Itachi represented an idea of a person we should strive towards. He was a prodigy, yet he disdained battle, he was a shinobi, yet he loved more deeply than most. There was no morality in his actions, even though they did not arise from a place of darkness. I wonder about that darkness; initially seen as evil-incarnate by his own design, this was a darkness he chose, yet never truly walked. He had the ability to stare deep into the abyss without blinking. There are moments in the anime where he’s shown looking up at the rainy sky, drowning in sadness, and these are some of my favourite moments in the entire series.
The shinobi world is harsh and unforgiving, and Itachi is a shinobi who has seen through the worst that humanity has to offer. He is wounded, he’s jaded, and broken, and yet, still keeps on moving. He has caused so many atrocities in the name of shinobi, all at the expense of his name, his title and his heart. The final moments of Itachi’s life are… heartbreaking, even more so, to me, and there’s a beauty to be found in the strength of such a fragile heart.