Throughout our lives, we might have encountered someone that we admired as a role model or has guided us in some life dilemma. This mentor could be a teacher at school, a coach, a boss or team leader at work, or a family friend. Whoever it is that person impacted your life in a positive manner. For this month’s OWLS topic, we will be writing about mentors or mentorships in anime and other pop culture media. Some topics we will be exploring include how a mentorship impacted a main character’s life, the types of mentor relationships a person could have, and/or personal stories about mentors or mentorships.
Whenever we think of a mentor, we think of someone who has had a positive influence on our lives or who has made us a better person in one capacity or another; be it physically, academically or even emotionally and psychologically. But what about someone who negatively affects us, yet still makes us stronger in the process? Can we still consider them a “mentor” in the traditional sense? For this blog tour, I would like to explore this idea of what I call the “anti-mentor” by using Itachi and his influence on Sasuke in the Naruto series as a case study.
The Child of Vengeance
Before the start of the series, Sasuke swore vengeance against his brother, Itachi, for killing his parents and the rest of the Uchiha clan when he was a child. Driven by his vengeance, Sasuke uses this throughout the series as a means to get stronger so that he can one day kill Itachi. When Sasuke finally comes face to face with Itachi, however, following the death of the Third Hokage, he is quickly bested by him. This encounter with Itachi is what starts Sasuke’s path towards the Path of Hatred.
In Part 1 of Naruto, our first impressions of Itachi are that he is a bad guy and that he has caused so much pain and trauma in Sasuke’s life without knowing why he actually did it. Because we have been following Sasuke, along with the rest of Team 7, up until this point in the story, we are naturally inclined to sympathise with Sasuke and, to some extent, understand why he is driven by vengeance against his brother. While Itachi’s appearance in Part 1 is relatively brief, his appearance does foreshadow things to come later in the series, especially his final showdown with Sasuke.
The Final Showdown
The Uchiha brothers would finally have their final showdown at the Uchiha hideout. Compared to their first encounter in Part 1, Sasuke seems to have the upper hand against Itachi this time around. However, Itachi still proves to be a challenge for Sasuke, using Tsukuyomi and eventually Amaterasu and Susanoo against him. While Sasuke, seemingly defeated, believes that Itachi wants to steal his eyes so that he can maintain his sharingan, he is surprised to find Itachi poking his head and smiling with tears in his eyes (a callback to the days when Itachi was training Sasuke when they were younger) before he dies due to exhaustion and injuries sustained from their fight. With this, Sasuke believes that he has finally gained his revenge against Itachi. Or so he thought.
The Truth behind the Uchiha Clan Massacre
Following their bloody battle, Sasuke is taken away by Zetsu to meet Tobi (AKA “Uchiha Madara”). In order to win Sasuke’s trust, “Madara” tells Sasuke the truth behind the Uchiha massacre and why Itachi did it. “Madara” reveals that the Uchiha were planning a coup against Konoha after being mistreated and placed under close surveillance by the Konoha leadership. Itachi, at the time, was working for the Anbu (Konoha’s black ops unit) and did not agree with the Uchiha coup against Konoha. Split between his loyalty to both Konoha and the Uchiha clan, Danzo gave Itachi an ultimatum: let the Uchiha go ahead with the coup, which would lead to the Uchiha Clan’s extermination, including his and Sasuke’s deaths, or exterminate the entire clan and Sasuke would be allowed to live. Itachi, who loved his brother too much, chose to save him at the cost of his clan’s extermination, including the death of his parents.
Itachi knew that he couldn’t forgive himself for what he did and chose to make Sasuke hate him for the rest of his life, feeling that Sasuke was the only one worthy to punish him for his crimes. To do this, he would lie to Sasuke and tell him that the reason why he killed the Uchiha clan was to showcase his power and left him alive so that he still had a worthy challenger one day. He would also use Tsukuyomi on Sasuke to make him relive memories of the massacre for the rest of his life.
Like the anti-hero, the anti-mentor is someone who does not have the conventional qualities of a mentor, yet is still able to make a positive change in someone’s life. Growing up, Sasuke looked up to his brother and wanted to be like him. Itachi, similarly, loved his brother and would always train him and tap his forehead as a sign of affection. However, their Uchiha lineage would ultimately cause them to have a complicated relationship. Despite this, Itachi always put his brother’s interests before his, even if it didn’t seem like it at first glance. Although he would constantly lie to his brother about seeking to become more powerful, Itachi knew that this, in turn, would make Sasuke stronger.
With that being said, we can thus look at Sasuke and Itachi’s final showdown from a different perspective. Instead of seeing it as a simple blood feud, we can also see it as a showdown between the student (Sasuke) and the master (Itachi). Like with any sort of narrative that includes this trope, it is expected that in order for the student to surpass the master, he has to defeat him. Sasuke seemingly achieves this and in return he learns that despite their complicated relationship, his brother still loved him.
Itachi would return to Sasuke one final time after Kabuto uses Reanimation jutsu to revive him. Unlike the other resurrected characters, however, Itachi is able to free himself from Kabuto’s control. While resurrected, Itachi seeks out Naruto to find out why he wants to help Sasuke so much. Seeing how much Naruto truly cares for Sasuke, he entrusts Naruto to look after him and save him from his Path of Hatred. Later on, Itachi and Sasuke fight together against Kabuto in exchange for Itachi giving his side of the Uchiha massacre. After they defeat Kabuto, Itachi tells Sasuke the truth behind his actions, which gives Sasuke a change of heart. Before Itachi dissapears one last time, we are left with this touching image.
Itachi is arguably one of the most complex characters in the Naruto series. Although his actions are questionable at times, his intentions are ultimately good and he does everything for the sake of his brother. While Itachi is far from the ideal mentor we have come to expect from other anime or visual mediums, he is an interesting case of a mentor who deliberately causes harm in order to make his student/brother a better person in the process.
If you missed yesterday’s OWLS post, be sure to check out LynLyn’s post on what makes Koro-sensei from Assassination Classroom a great mentor. Also, be sure to lookout for Scott’s OWLS post on Mechanical Anime Reviews tomorrow.
For a full list of July’s Blog Tour Schedule, please check out the OWLS Bloggers site.