Naruto, beneath the flashy fighting and impressive techniques emblematic of a shonen series, has always been a story of characters struggling to reconcile peace. The ninja world is plagued with the same limited resources and power-hungry people as the real world. This means that ninja in Naruto, who are essentially just soldiers since childhood, act as the military that holds up their village, its leadership, and the feudal lords of the country their village resides within. The Naruto anime and manga seldom take time to talk about this quasi-political element of the series; if anything it feels like a backdrop almost exclusively reserved for offshoots and novelizations of the story. Naruto: Kakashi’s Story—The Sixth Hokage and the Failed Prince, oft stylized as Kakashi Retsuden, is a strong example of what those novels can do when centered around that backdrop on nearly every page.
The story takes place many years after the concluding events of the fourth great ninja war in Naruto Shippuden, all the way into the Boruto era. The titular character Naruto Uzumaki is (finally) Hokage, his teacher Kakashi Hatake serving as the Hokage before him, and the world is at relative peace. After the final war when all five major nations were forced to unite in a single alliance those same nations maintained that alliance in an almost NATO-like fashion. They stopped fighting along their borders in favor of international cooperation under a multilateral banner and ample trade. At this point in the Naruto world ninja from the era of the war often can’t find work and much of the infrastructure of main nation villages is hundreds of years ahead of the original series in terms of available technology.
But despite all this, all is not well. Nations and states outside of the five major ones are still wrought with conflict and poverty. Rogue ninja, with little to no opportunity for employment in massive peacetime, are hired under contract to snatch land and rule an area. In essence, the intense peace of most of the world relegated the negative elements to smaller offshoot regions. This story follows Kakashi in one of those regions, the Land of Redaku, as he investigates it at Naruto’s request.
Scarcity in the World of Ninja
The first striking part of the novel, both to the reader and Kakashi, is the incredible level of poverty within the Redaku. Because the rest of the ninja world is so bountiful even in comparison to the richest nations back in the era of the original series, the intense squalor of Redaku feels even stronger in contrast. Kakashi learns that in the era of the legendary sage of the six paths, the nation received a tool called the Shuigu. This magical tool provides the country with rain. If not for it, the isolated, mountainous country would receive almost no rainfall at all. The only sources of water are wells dotted across the capital city and some of its periphery, but even those fail to provide the way the rain is able to. Monarchs of Redaku are blessed with the ability to use the tool without complication. The current Queen, however, cannot.
Kakashi’s journey through the capital provides an interesting microcosm of poverty in a world where (essentially) magical powers exist. Kakashi feeds water to a young girl near death from dehydration by simply making it appear in the palm of his hand. He can weave a few seals with his hands and instantly replenish a well with many months of capacity. In natural juxtaposition with the origin story of this land, it feels strange that the alliance of great nations does not simply dispatch ninja to provide resources to places like this. Or, even more, that rogue ninja, now without work, don’t make use of their talents as ninja to provide in ways other than combat.
This all speaks to both what an international order built on major powers means as well as what its foundation does to the minds of people. Ninja, former soldiers, continue to provide for themselves in the only ways they know how. The alliance, founded on the principle of great powers helping great powers, doesn’t even know these small nations exist. All the while, a single ninja from them could lift a struggling city from drought with a day’s worth of chakra.
Layered Conflict and New Resolution
While the initial stretch of Naruto: Kakashi’s Story—The Sixth Hokage and the Failed Prince is meant to paint a picture of how much a once prospering nation struggles, the back half is about their response to that struggle. Without going into too much detail, Kakashi implants himself as a teacher within another Redaku city, learning that the country is looking to start a war with the Land of Fire in order to gain new territory and access to key resources. Kakashi and his new student, Nanara, younger brother to the Queen, are the backbone of the entire novel. Nanara is a sweet kid and practically worships stories about the sixth Hokage despite not recognizing Kakashi in appearance. Kakashi, good sensei that he is, teaches Nanara not just writing and arithmetic but also the moral realities of power. He imparts wisdom from the parts of the sixth Hokage’s journey that old war stories fail to mention.
This quasi-parental relationship is a wonderful template for the kind of peace that seems ideal in the world of Naruto. While ideally, international cooperation wouldn’t take the form of subversive operations, ninja of incredible potential like Kakashi helping nations makes sense. Within the story, the fact that Kakashi is so unbelievably strong means that combat takes a backseat to the context serving as its foundation. In strict disagreement with the way warfare and fighting gets spotlighted within the manga and anime, Naruto: Kakashi’s Story—The Sixth Hokage and the Failed Prince shows readers the importance both of who is given power and how the control of a narrative influences what those in power choose to do to preserve their versions of peace. The ending is by no means perfect (after all, what is?) but you’ll see for yourself that its a satisfying conclusion to an intriguing story.
Naruto: Kakashi’s Story—The Sixth Hokage and the Failed Prince is published in English by Viz. Check it out on their website. Featured image courtesy of Crunchyroll.