Day 8: Scene That Made You Cry: Haku and Zabuza “He was born in a snowy village”
Oh man. This arc. These characters. The feels.
I feel like this an odd choice just because Naruto is full of moments that try to tug at the heart strings, and we had characters far more established and beloved die (Jiraiya) or villains with more tragic pasts. But Haku and Zabuza did it first and did it perfectly. I find it hard to compare first arcs of long running shounens to the rest of the series but Naruto started with its best foot forward, in fact it is arguable that it started with its best arc.
It had the dramatic fights and the themes that Naruto would become familiar with before they became tired and overidealized. And the emotional bits never stop giving me the feels, that moment where Haku asks Naruto to kill him, Kakashi looking at Haku and saying “this child/boy is already dead,” Naruto raging at Zabuza and pushing him to tears, Kakashi telling Naruto not to look away from Zabuza dying (“It is the end of a man who lived a hard life”), realizing that Haku had spared Sasuke because he was a good person, even the aftermath when Sakura asks Kakashi if what Zabuza and Haku said were true, that they were just tools of trade.
It’s also one of the few arcs that really characterize Naruto and Sakura (and maybe Sasuke) as children. That yeah they were shinobi, but they were also confused, angry, sad kids who were being confronted by a terrible situation. The art reflects it (less on the manga side because I think in general his early stuff did naturally lend itself to Naruto and co looking younger), but in the anime there were scenes of Sakura sliding a very small hand into Tazuna’s larger one, or shots of a crying Naruto looking from the top to make him seem smaller, younger, the way you would look at a young child. There were even scenes of the kids asking Kakashi on things about shinobi, one of the few times they go to him for any kind of real emotional guidance.
I think people overlook these scenes but they did have a huge impact on Naruto, I think it strengthened his determination not to live as a tool and loose his individuality, how Sasuke was willing to bite the bullet for his teammates, and how Sakura was confronted by the very harsh reality of the real world. The ending was tragic, the loss of two wonderful characters, but at the same time hopeful.
There really is no better way to introduce the Naruto manga, story, themes, characters, and world. There are times when my faith in the manga wavers, but if it does I remember the first arc and I remember why I stick with it. It can be powerful and beautiful when it needs to be.