In a long-running anime series, you’ve got to have a large catalogue of villains if you want to keep it going. This can be a little challenging, as you need to properly develop each villain, incorporate them into the larger plot, and conclude their stories in a satisfying way to make room for the next villain.
Naruto, in its early days, did pretty well with this. Each of the early villains played really well with Naruto himself, as well as other members of the cast. Zabuza and Gaara are excellent villains with decent redemption arcs, while Orochimaru is the perfect flat-villain for our hero.
Until they fuck him up entirely. But we’ll get to that.
As the series goes on, the villains of Naruto slowly declined in quality. We still had some pretty decent ones, such as Itachi, Pain and Tobi/Obito. However, the big ones, those being Madara and Kaguya, they simply became flat and boring. Hell, even the good villains are plagued with problems!
See, Naruto as a character is a very simple Goku stand-in. No, it’s not just because he’s a food-loving moron with a heart of gold who eventually becomes the most overpowered mother-fucker in the series. It’s because Naruto, like the beloved Saiyan, is not a character who develops in terms of personality. He is a flat character who inspires change in other characters rather than changing himself.
Writing villains for flat characters can be more challenging than you think. You can either write a villain with a traditional character arc who finds redemption thanks to the hero or a flat villain who cannot change and clashes with the hero in every way.
Take, for example, Goku and Freeza. Goku is a positive character who makes those around him better. Freeza is a negative character who manipulates others into being worse than they were. Because of who they are, conflict between the two is completely inevitable. Goku cannot inspire Freeza to be good, nor can Freeza manipulate Goku into being bad.
This is why Naruto and Orochimaru’s initial conflicts are so memorable! Naruto is weak, reckless but cunning, while Orochimaru is strong, strategic and rather straightforward. Conflict between the two is completely unavoidable, and it is highly engaging! They only met a few times, but they were some of the most memorable moments from the original series!
Unfortunately, this is where we hit the problem: Orochimaru developed. Not well, mind you. He was absorbed by Sasuke, and then he was a good guy when he emerged. After that, he and Naruto never even get to interact with one-another again in the whole series! Thus, the series is left with hollow and repetitive villains in Madara and Kaguya.
There’s also a huge problem with the traditional-arc villains, those being Gaara, Pain and Obito. See, they all have the same exact problem: they’re repetitive! All of these characters are exactly the fucking same!
Gaara was a great villain when he was introduced because we hadn’t seen someone like him before. He was easily recognizable as a Naruto clone. Someone with a Tailed Beast stuffed inside them and forced to grow up isolated and rejected. He was an interesting way of showing what Naruto could have become. Plus, he had a satisfying redemption later in the series.
But then they did it again. Twice!
Pain was a Naruto who became a horrible psychopath during a war. Obito was a Naruto who lost everything and lost his mind. Both of them return to themselves when they meet Naruto, who reminds them of who they used to be. They then move on to redeem themselves and help save the world from some terrible threat.
Emotionally resonant? Kind of. They would have been more so had we not already done that storythread! It sort of loses its impact if we see the same thing over and over again!
It seems that this was realized behind the scenes, so we went back to negative flat characters. Unfortunately, they don’t clash with Naruto nearly as well as Orochimaru did back in the early days of the series! As such, they become boring obstacles rather than dynamic characters.
Madara is basically an early-Orochimaru clone without the sadistic, crazy flare that made him fun to watch. Unfortunately, by this point in the series, Naruto has gotten crazy strong, thus removing the threat of the power gap that made his interactions with Orochimaru so engaging. Worse yet, Madara hardly ever interacts with Naruto! They never have a clash of ideals! Naruto has those with Obito while Madara sits on the side and waits for everyone to shut up so he can kill shit!
Kaguya is even worse off! She is basically brick wall with a personality to match. Her personality is non-existent, leaving nothing for Naruto to interact with. She isn’t a character; she is an obstacle for the heroes to overcome. Hardly an engaging villain, don’t you think?
Naruto villains are repetitive. They are flat and boring characters that slowly become worse and worse. By the end of the series, they aren’t even characters. They are obstacles that the heroes need to overcome.
But hey! At least they don’t get any worse! I mean, the series did end after the worst villain. There is no way that the villains could possibly get any worse than that!
Cough cough, Boruto.