Ready for another trip in the world of possibile alteration of reality? I sure am. After changing the world by changing someone's sex and then by altering or discovering its hidden past, today I decided to focus on something else. Up until now we've altered things that characters find on the outside, in the world around them. Today, I want to focus on something that is inside. A character's temperament and insight on life.
So, if we focus on the Naruto series, which character's temperament, upon modification, would bring upon the biggest change in the plot?
Well, the main character, of course. So, today's 'What if...' is, as suggested by my good colleague Spectral:
What if Naruto was a reluctant hero rather than a brainwashed idealist?
Said like that, it sounds kinda harsh. Let's go over it in detail, lay some groundwork.
First of all, what is a Reluctant Hero? TvTropes has an entry about it, titled I Just Want To Be Normal. The title is exhaustive, and the presented quote by Albert Camus is even more explicit: "Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal."
Everyone that has read Naruto can see how this applies to its main character like a glove.
As we all know by now, the lot of a Jinchuuriki is heavy. As a kid, Naruto was ostracized. Most people acted like he didn't exist, not acknowledging the fact that he was even alive. Others displayed openly their disgust for his presence, even if not with more than a glare. Angry mobs and similaria are a fanon cliché without foundation. Nonetheless, Naruto found an objective in the role of Hokage, seeing in it a way for people to be forced to acknowledge his existence. After all, in a military-organized society, you can't not acknowledge the existence of your commander. His motivations evolve with time but it was this simple, childish notion that supported him in the first years of his life and distracted him by the anger that was building up in him.
There's a tiny iddle detail though that Naruto mercifully avoided during his childhood. Being Hokage isn't a means to an end, it's a goal at the end of a path. Naruto thought that by becoming Hokage he would make everyone acknowledge him but it actually works the other way around: in any organization, to become someone's superior, those people have to acknowledge your strength and respect you before you can actually gain that role.
That's where the turning point of this What If is. Naruto decides on his goal to become Hokage only for someone to explain to him, maybe out of spite or genuine concern, that it doesn't work like that. Disillusioned, Naruto falls back on anger again but eventually that kind of spite fades or is forced to fade. An orphan, a little kid, Naruto loses his dream before even starting on the path to it and is then forced to think about what to do with the rest of his life.
Point 1: Why a ninja still?
Naruto has found out that getting everyone in the village to acknowledge him via becoming Hokage is a pipe dream. Nonetheless, this Naruto still becomes a ninja. The point is, why? This finds explanation in the backwater level of general education and knowledge in the elemental countries. We found no traces of obligatory schools, much less universities. The only way to learn a trade is apprenticeship or to be born into a family one. Being an orphan and having a whole village prone on ignoring the fact that you breath, both of those options are out of the window. The only career that anyone can pursue, barring ineptitude, is being a shinobi.
In his training and academical studies, Naruto would find himself in a paradossal situation: if on one hand he would focus more on studying and class, his buffoon side heavily damaged by the death of his dream, on the other hand Naruto doesn't have any drive to be the best ninja alive. He's disillusioned, dejected. His aim is to be Hokage no more, it's just to be 'a ninja'. No, he didn't get a case of the Shikamaru syndrome. It's easier to explain if we talk about actual active duty.
Part 2: The Ninja who didn't overdo himself
In this AU, I don't see the whole scroll incident happening or at least, I don't see it happen with Naruto involved. At most, it plays out in the background while Naruto passes his exam. On this point, there's an age-old debate of how Naruto managed to try the graduation exam three times if all the genins are his same age. You'd think Sasuke would have tried graduating early as well if that was the case. The way I see it, it was just an hyperbole by Kishimoto that he probably didn't think people would analyse in depth. It's excusable, he has never met ME. So, this Naruto graduates at his first and only try with all the other Rookie Nine and doesn't get to know about his 'package' yet.
Regarding the team, there's any kind of possibility. Personally, I see this Naruto as a middle-tier student, which throws a wrench in most placings with canon characters. I would put him with a group of original characters, barring maybe the teacher, for the added reason that most of the other canon genins cannot give Naruto the emotional wake up he's gonna need down the road. Same goes for the missions. This Uzumaki, if he is to become a hero, he's gonna need another life entirely.
We're talking about a person who doesn't have any dreams nor objectives if not living life in peace, getting assuefated to people's cold stares, using as countermeasure the exact same method, ignoring those who ignore him, disillusioned with the world and humanity, emotionally shut off because he doesn't trust anyone to not suddenly start looking at him coldy as well, since everyone seems to be doing that for reasons unknown to him. A Naruto that will follow orders but not go out of his way to do anything extra, content with being a mostly passive observer of his own life. Not a whiner, mind you, just resigned. Because of that, people who have no interest in befriending Naruto like Sasuke and Sakura were at the beginning of the manga, or just consider him troublesome or a loser are not ideal as they are prone to just brush him off or put him down or simply, not having his prankster reputation, ignore him like everyone else. Not ideal at all. Hinata is maybe the only exception but she's too socially awkward around him to be of any help. Also, this Naruto lacks the never-give-up spirit that attracted her to him in the first place.
So, what exactly do you need to turn this shell-shocked Naruto into a hero?
I – Team 'Get out of your shell'
First of all, he needs a whole different team. First of all, an adult teacher able to understand what he went through and to help him. I see Anko as a suitable choice. She's hyper enough to force emotions out of him other than having gone and got over her own troubled past.
Then, his two team-mates. The first one should be himself, and with that I mean someone who acts like his canon self: a boastful, restless, 'surrender when the sun falls from the sky' kind of person. Someone who reminds him of what he once was, something that will earn pain and then anger out of him, and who won't give up trying to bond with him even when it comes to that. The point of it all is to show him that even if sometimes you don't get what you want, it's at least worh trying. All this to restore Naruto's faith in himself.
The second team-mate should be someone poorly willing to put up with Naruto's apathy to the world, someone with a firm set of morals, a personal code that just won't stand for the Uzumaki's attitude to life, without being interested in helping him get out of it. A triangle, basically. Team-mate 1 gets angry at Team-Mate 2 who gets angry at Naruto who gets angry at Team-mate 1. Though, on this character falls the important task of having the Jinchuuriki's back in a bad situation, showing him that even though he dislikes him doesn't mean he'll leave him to the wolves anytime soon. All this to restore Naruto's faith in everyone else.
All-Round characters able to help him resolve his issues and make him a normal person again. Not a hero, not a paragon, just a normal person with normal friends and normal emotional ties. Another advantage with this AU is that, getting the first of such ties later on in life than his childhood, it would prevent the creation of the unhealthy bond that ties Naruto to Sasuke. By the way, if I ever were to write this story, I would make both his team-mates girls. For the lulz.
II – Scrape the bottom and you find...
We have the people, now we need locations and situations. Something to really move our blonde boy's hearth and most importantly lurch his stomach. From what I've said above, one of the needed situation will have to be Naruto getting in a tight spot which will allow him to see just what being on a team is all about. However, that would only serve to cement his ties with his first friends and sensei, to turn him into a normal person. What we're trying to do here, though, is to turn him into a bona-fide hero. It's not enough for him to have ties, since if he learned to go out of his way just for his loved ones, that wouldn't exactly make him hero material, exception made for canon Naruto for the simple fact that he seems to be able to come to love the entire world.
So, what do we need to turn someone into a regular hero. For all the awesome he pulls out on a regular basis, Canon Naruto's outlook on the world can't be healthy. We don't want someone who loves the whole word, we want someone that goes out of his way to stop something that he doesn't like from happening, no matter who's involved or the consequences. With this Naruto, to make him like this, we need something to make him outraged, sad, angry. We need the blonde Uzumaki to see something, after being 'woken up' to his emotions by his friends, that makes him act. Someone in a situation that's worse than his own. Slave ring, kidnapped girl forced into prostitution, political prisoners, the works. Naruto needs to realized that while the world outside Konoha may be better, it can also get much much worse. And from there, explode. This would also be a good way for Naruto to discover his situation as a Jinchuuriki and with that, the reason almost all of Konoha gives him the cold shoulder.
Then, to tie him back to the main plot. I see only one way of going at it: making Naruto meet another Jinchuuriki, either Fuu or Utakata who, according to Deidara, were the ones whose villages didn't lift a hand to save them when the Akatsuki went after them. This must happen after the above-mentioned wake up call, not only because otherwise Naruto wouldn't know exactly what kind of tie he has with the other containers, but also because he would risk getting tied only to the Jinchuuriki cause. We want a larger spectrum hero.
So, with these events out of the way, our boy is now ready to embark on the path of the hero. Also, it gives him a reason to get involved in the Chunin Exam's crisis apart from his duty. Even if he's become selfless enough, this Naruto would still not exactly be opposed to Konoha burning if only for the reason that he could run away in the confusion.
Part 3: This time it's personal!
Quote from Jaws series apart, for this Naruto to get involved in the many plots of the Manga, it needs to become personal. Without his symbiosis with Sasuke, there must be other driving forces for the later happenings of the manga. Regarding the Chuunin exam, the thing that would drive him to fight Gaara is the fact that they're both Jinchuuriki and that, unlike his canon version, his way of doing things would be at least appealing. Getting revenge sounds oh so sweet, until his friends bash him upside the head reminding him that he would only make all those people right in their assumptions. Cue Gaara hurting one or more of them and Naruto kicking his ass.
Then, the meeting with Jiraiya. I don't see Naruto needing another teacher like in Canon, which removes the hot springs flag. What would move Naruto to go with him and collaborate would be the Third's death. Will of Fire ingrained in our boy's skull or not, Sarutobi still remains one of the few people who treated Naruto right in his childhood, so Jiraiya saying that he needs his help to respect his teacher's wishes and bring back a new Hokage would make the trick. Same thing for the Sasuke 'rescue'. Without Naruto as a team-mate and rival, Sasuke would have lesser ties to Konoha and at the same time he would be even angrier at Naruto for becoming stronger than him. Gaara would still go after the Uchiha first, after all. Being outstaged by a friend fighting for your sake is one thing, by a complete stranger and social outcast... Well, you see my point. Orochimaru would only need to ask. He would still defect, and Naruto would still go after him because he would be pissed that anyone from the village the old man loved so much would willingly deflect to empower the man who killed him. I leave to you the outcome of the fight.
So, at the dawn of part 2, where would Naruto be? He would have ties to Konoha, but just because of a few friends and Anko-sensei, not because of the whole village. Maybe Tsunade. I didn't really think about how that part could go down. His major interests would be Orochimaru and the Akatsuki, going after Jinchuuriki. That would push Naruto to make his biggest decision yet. Jiraiya would offer to train him in this version too, but Naruto would only accept if he promised to help him get the other Jinchuuriki out of harm's way. Upon a refusal, he would just leave on his own.
All in all, we have a more equilibrated Naruto who, althought with a worse childhood than normal, came out of it as a better person, without unhealthy precious people ties, who is able to spite and hate if they give him enough reason to but at the same time knows how to not let that control him. The main reason behind his involvement is not the Jesus-like agenda to bring peace to the world, but the simple fact that he can't and won't stand for things he won't like any more. He's tired of being a passenger of his own life train. He's decided to stand up for himself, what he believes in and the people who are important to him, without the much too easy way the desperate for attention canon Naruto annovers pretty much anyone he meets in that category.
With that, I mark the end of today's 'What if...'. Hope it got your mind juices going. It sure did mine.
Meinos Kaen out!