The trope is all over social media now. Fans recognize it when they see it. It’s the common plot point in anime when a fighter reveals a secret tactic or surprises the opponent with previously unseen knowledge. It dominates anime, and the trope is notorious for internet mockery.
However, this kind of plot twist (and many others) serve a higher purpose in the overall storyline. When a plot twist works, it can save a series from falling off a cliff regarding story development. However, when these plot twists fail, they can set a series back and sometimes characters, or even the story itself, never recover.
Naruto is no exception to this rule, and plenty of the plot twists over its run helped and hurt the show, respectively. This list aims to go over some of those key plot twists, but to make it interesting, Screen Rant decides to only focus on Part 1 of the series. Also, the plot twist is defined as a character decision, or story reveals that shifts momentum in the story and changes the direction of a character arc or storyline. Some of these entries hurt Naruto and hampered development. Other entries saved Naruto and grew the show's popularity.
Here are 10 Plot Twists That Hurt Naruto (And 10 That Saved It).
20 Hurt: Team 10 Comes to Save Sakura
The Forest of Death put Team 7 in real danger for the first time since the Land of the Mist. At the beginning of the second part of the Chunin exam, Sasuke and Naruto were both out of commission due to a fight with Orochimaru. That left Sakura to defend them against a team of Sound ninjas sent by Orochimaru.
So, why is Team 10 coming to save Sakura such a bad thing? Well, it is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, fans loved getting to see Shikamaru, Choji, and Ino showcase their abilities as shinobi. On the other hand, their teamwork, despite being seen as cowards early in the storyline, made Team 7 look weak in comparison. Some fans found it discouraging that the other rookie teams seemed to work so well together while that kind of teamwork is never shown by Team 7 early on. So this plot twist of a rescue by Team 10 did end up hurting the dynamics of Team 7 with fans expectations.
19 Saved: Orochimaru Places the Curse Seal on Sasuke
This plot twist is one for the ages. Sasuke Uchiha seemed like he could do no wrong up to this point. Sure, he did nearly pass away when he fought Haku (and would have if Haku was determined to end him). However, to this point, Sasuke seemed destined to skyrocket to the top of the Leaf Village. Until Orochimaru showed up.
The villain's debut in the series included leaving Sasuke with a parting gift that would lead to a massive shift in the narrative. Suddenly, the avenger had been given an opportunity for more power, but it came at a cost--he would have to embrace this curse mark and leave behind his village. The curse mark would go on to be a pivotal plot point for the remainder of the series.
18 Saved: Itachi Reappears in the Leaf Village
Fans knew of Itachi, but they did not know what to expect when he would finally reappear on the show. So, at the end of the Konoha Crush arc, when Itachi came back to the Leaf Village, the hype became real.
The plot twist lived up to expectation, too. Itachi displayed a formidable amount of talent in his first appearance and even got the best of Kakashi. Itachi instantly created a new sense of power in the series, and his reappearance pushed Sasuke to the edge. The domino effect of this plot twist escalated the series to a whole other level fans had not seen at the time.
17 Hurt: Haku Sacrifices Himself
It was the first Grade A mission the protagonist went on, and everything was living up to the hype. The series was displaying a profound ability to craft complex stories with moral ambiguity. At the climax of the arc, Naruto is standing face to face with Haku, who is challenging Naruto to fulfill his duty as a shinobi and end him. Instead, Haku sacrifices himself to save Zabuza, and, like that, the tension deflated.
The decision made sense, Haku continually refers to himself as a tool to be used by Zabuza. Haku is making a final act as that weapon and sacrificing himself for the one he cares about. That being said, the moment accidentally deflates all the tension built up with Naruto. Fans were itching to see if Naruto could go through with eliminating Haku, and instead, he does not have to make a choice. It was an unfortunate cop out even if the twist does make sense in the scope of the narrative.
16 Saved: Iruka Shows His Devotion to Naruto
The beginning of Naruto showed promise, but it also felt kind of dark. It sucks when the protagonist is that isolated. Fans can empathize with Naruto for being so lonely, but that would have worn thin quickly.
Luckily, the series turned away from that route and instead offered hope at the end of the opening. Having Iruka show care and devotion to Naruto meant a lot in the grand scheme of things. It helped developed Naruto and give him a path to go down that fans could actually get behind. It is hard to imagine the different outcomes the series could have done instead.
15 Hurt: Kabuto Quits the Exam
Okay with 7 teams making the final part of the exam there was always going to be an odd man out. Still, this was a bummer to see, and the series could have managed some different outcomes. Kabuto did not have to quit to make the numbers even.
Sure, Kabuto is a spy, and his mission was complete. However, some of those preliminary match-ups were duds and substituting Kabuto into them would have made for a better fight. For instance, imagine if Dosu had fought Kabuto instead of Choji (someone who could have easily quit before the matches). It would be a revenge fight, and Kabuto could just drop out before the final matches. The series could have kept his identity as the spy a secret until the plan was underway. The reveal would have been just as strong, and Kabuto could have displayed some powers earlier in the series.
14 Hurt: Hayate Gekko's fate
Hayate Gekko is an interesting character. His odd, sickly demeanor ended up being well-received by fans. However, that can all be tossed out the window, because, just like that, he was gone.
Now, it is understandable. The writer needs to reveal the plan between the Sound and Sand villages in some kind of organic way. Did it need to be Hayate who discovers their plot? Not really, and so his passing feels tragically underserved and random. Many shinobi pass away throughout the series. That is a reality. Still, this one felt a little too casual for most viewers liking.
13 Saved: Kakashi Passes Team 7
Okay, this point in the plot is technically a twist. Sure, it seemed inevitable, but Kakashi had not passed a team to that point. Team 7 failed the bell test, and none of them seemed capable of working together. So what makes it such a savior amongst plot twists?
Well, for starters, the show would not work if Kakashi did not pass them. On top of that, its the way the twist happens that makes such a difference. It is the first moment a team member makes a sacrifice for another team member. Sure, it’s only Sasuke offering his lunch to Naruto, but it symbolizes a growing bond. That bond develops over the entire series, and it can be traced back to this first moment. This plot twist makes their relationship possible.
12 Hurt: Naruto’s Counterattack on Kiba
Naruto will always have its silly moments. The series uses them to cut the tension and ease the viewer into the story. However, these silly twists do not always work for the best.
When Naruto tries to pull off a jutsu and ends up farting in Kiba’s face, it definitely marked a low point for the character. Kiba never fully recovered from that. Fans never took him quite as seriously thanks to this plot twist. It also made Naruto feel like a bit of a joke, which is what the writer intended, but it hurt his development in some people’s mind. The fight just would have been better off without this moment. No good came from this plot twist.
11 Saved: Shikamaru Becomes a Chunin
So the Chunin Exam story arc is one of those cherished memories for many fans. However, almost none of the leaf village finalist became Chunin. It would have been pointless to build up the arc so much to only have it end with no results.
Luckily, Shikamaru is chosen as a Chunin. The plot twist (be honest, many viewers did not see it coming) gave more meaning to the arc. It also developed Shikamaru as a character and helped cement him as a shinobi worth rooting for throughout the series. Without this moment, a lot of time goes down the drain, and that is not what fans want in entertainment.
10 Hurt: Shikamaru Quits in the Finals
So, remember that last entry? Well, this is the exact opposite. The match between Temari and Shikamaru was nearly at its end and fans were getting an excellent fight between two strategists. Then, suddenly, Shikamaru decides to put his hand up in the air and quit.
This move sucked. Shikamaru earned the respect of so many viewers in this battle, but then it felt like he threw it all away. Sure, the plot twist drove home his desire to be an ordinary slacker, but fans wanted, and expected, more from him. This plot twist felt like a blow to the gut and made many viewers think less of Shikamaru, at least for a little bit. Now, granted, those feelings would change over time, but that story could have been put on the right path here instead.
9 Hurt: Orochimaru Tricks the Sand Village
The Konoha Crush arc felt impactful, and it held weight. Seeing the Sand and Sound villages turn on the Leaf and enact a fierce campaign on the village was amazing. However, during the big reveal some viewers were left wondering where the actual Kazekage was. Spoiler alert: Orochimaru eliminated him and then disguised himself as the ruler of the Sand village to get them onboard.
It was a silly plot twist that harmed the power the Kage were supposed to have. After all, if Orochimaru could take out the two of them, what does that say about their ability? This plot twist made the Sand village look weak and did not excuse their actual reasoning for attacking Konoha.
8 Saved: Zabuza Was Still Alive
The first battle between two jonin-ranked ninjas happened in the Land of the Mist arc. Oh boy, this battle was worth the wait. Zabuza proved to be an intimidating opponent, and it felt like the entire team needed their full effort to stop him. When all was said and done it appeared that the team had defeated Zabuza and then a special ops shinobi from the Village Hidden in the Mist ended him.
Or so we thought. It turned out Zabuza was still alive and the shinobi was actually Haku (mentioned earlier in this list). Keeping Zabuza alive was the right decision. The twist exhibited the power some ninja are capable of, and it extended the arc without having to create a new threat. Not to mention the rematch between Kakashi and Zabuza was even more intense than the first one.
7 Hurt: Jiraiya Declines the Hokage Position
The position of Hokage was a little shrouded in mystery during the early parts of the series. Fans knew it was Naruto’s dream, but it was difficult to see how he could achieve it. After all, who decides the next Hokage if the current one passes before naming a successor?
Well, it turns out the elders of the village decide, and their choice seemed rushed and unthought out. When Jiraiya declines the position of the fifth Hokage, it feels like a slight on the job. However, he then explains that the last unrevealed legendary sannin, Tsunade, is the better choice. The elders would have known this, right? Hearing that from Jiraiya makes it seem as if the elders picked the next Hokage by whatever sannin was closest to them and not by actual qualifications.
6 Saved: The Third Hokage Takes Away Orochimaru’s Jutsu
Even villains need adversity in their character arcs. Without adversity, they just steamroll their opponents and seem overpowered. So, when the third Hokage took away Orochimaru’s ability to use his arms, it created an extra wrinkle in the character making him worth focusing in on.
Up to that point, Orochimaru felt unbeatable. Time and time again, nothing seemed to match up to his strength. Finally, this plot twist brought him down a peg and offered a way for viewers to see him as vulnerable. It made his quest for Sasuke seem more imperative and helped showcase Kabuto’s ability as well. Without this plot twist, a lot of other events do not hold the same weight.
5 Saved: Sasuke Learns the Chidori
Gaara seemed unbeatable. His ultimate defense was a daunting task that Sasuke felt powerless to overcome. Then fans heard it; the sound of a thousand birds chirping. Just like that, it was revealed that Kakashi had taught his pupil the Chidori.
The plot twist bolstered Sasuke and emphasized his ability to grow as a ninja. The twist also made it clear that all these characters were not finished growing and developing skills. Plus, the Chidori was able to crack Gaara’s defense which gave fans a new admiration for the technique that had only seen occasionally up to this point. Sasuke being able to master that jutsu in a month is a crazy idea, and it was a sign of the talent still to come.
4 Hurt: Sakura Offers to go with Sasuke
When Sakura confesses her love to Sasuke, it felt sincere, but a part of the moment felt off. Sakura is trying to get Sasuke not to leave, yet then she offers to go with him. It was a moment that felt out of character.
Sure, Sakura is clearly devoted to Sasuke and loves him unconditionally. However, this made her feel too desperate and seemed like a risk she would not actually take. Luckily, Sasuke refuses the offer, and the conflict resolved as expected. Still, this moment was basically Sakura saying she would join the enemy if it meant being with Sasuke. That felt below her moral standards as a shinobi and did not fit with the Sakura fans were familiar with by this point.
3 Saved: The Sasuke Rescue Mission Fails
One of the most effective kinds of plot twists is the one that leads into a cliffhanger. When these plot twists work they can set up a series to go the distance, but when they fail they can send a series into the dumps, and they never recover. So the final plot twist at the end of part one of Naruto had to be excellent, and, luckily, it was.
Having the rescue mission fails unearthed many possibilities for the next part of the show. Fans were left wondering if Naruto would be strong enough to bring back Sasuke and if Sasuke, in turn, would become powerful enough to beat Itachi. The plot twist raised the stakes and created a tension that fans waited for the entire series to see resolved. Without this mission failing the series would have limited directions to go down and would likely not be the success that it is today.
2 Hurt: Lee’s New Fighting Style
Yikes, this one is a cringe moment built off an inspiring story. To be clear, it was a miracle that Rock Lee was able to become a shinobi again. That plot twist worked well. However, the result of it fell flat.
Lee regained the ability to move after a successful surgery and immediately went to catch up to the rescue team. He caught up to Naruto and gave Naruto as a way out of his fight with Kimimaro. Lee brought “medicine” along with him, which is where this plot twist happens. It turns out the “medicine” intoxicates Lee and makes his moves unpredictable. Kimimaro is unable to judge Lee’s movements thanks to this fighting style. The problem is the writer could not decide if fans were supposed to take this seriously or not, so it balanced in this awkward middle zone. The result was a cringing mess that did not sort itself out until later in the fight.
1 Saved: Naruto Wins Tsunade’s Bet
Jiraiya told Naruto it took the fourth Hokage three years to master the Rasengan. Naruto had already spent weeks trying to perfect the technique. So, when Tsunade made a bet with Naruto that he could not learn it within a week, everything seemed hopeless.
Fans did not know if Naruto could actually pull it off. The only hit viewers had was a dozen broken trees and an exhausted Naruto who said he could pull it off (not many believed him). So, When Naruto was battling Kabuto, and suddenly it was revealed that he had found a way to use the Rasengan, you can bet that most fans probably leaped for joy. The fact Naruto won this bet was a turning point for his character and showed the progress he had made on his path towards becoming Hokage. It’s the kind of moment that makes this series so rewarding to watch and read.
Are there any other plot twists that hurt or saved Naruto? Let us know in the comments!