Naruto Shippuden: Road to Ninja Is the Series’ Most Heartbreaking What-If Story

Beyond the Naruto franchise's manga and series, there have been 11 movies -- including one for Boruto. Among the Shonen Jump heavy-hitter's films is Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie, arguably one of the best to date. Delivering on the franchise staples and themes of pain and loss, the film tugs at heartstrings as Naruto briefly experiences a relationship with his parents -- Minato Namikaze and Kushina Uzumaki.

The "What-If" story gives Naruto the chance to explore the love and happiness he'd always wanted with his family if Minato and Kushina, the fourth Hokage and former Nine-Tails jinchuriki respectively, didn't die the day he was born.

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The story begins when Naruto, Sakura, Kakashi and Konoha's other core ninjas attack clones of the Akatsuki created by White Zetsu. After successfully defeating them and returning to the Leaf Village, all of Naruto's friends are warmly greeted by their parents. While Naruto stands alone and Sakura gets into an argument with her parents, everyone else is excited to hear that their respective parents are all submitting their children's Jonin applications.

Naruto looks to Iruka Umino to submit on his behalf, but he refuses since Naruto is still only a Genin. As Naruto and Sakura commiserate in their frustrations, Madara infiltrates the village and traps the two in an experimental Infinite Tsukuyomi. In this reality, Sakura's parents are dead and regarded as heroes for protecting the village from the Nine-Tails attack while Naruto's are still alive and well.

Naruto becomes furious at Madara for flaunting a fake version of his parents and decides to distance himself from Minato and Kushina. Still, to gather intel of Madara's whereabouts in this new world, Naruto must play the part of their son. He acts out and pushes them away as a means not to get attached because having his parents alive is a dream he's always longed for.

During a mission, Naruto rushes in -- as is his typical behavior -- but Kushina's concern gets the better of her, and she pushes him away from an oncoming attack. As a result, Kushina is injured, and Naruto is perplexed, trying to understand why she would save him. Minato lectures him on the love that comes with being a parent, and when a relieved Kushina hugs Naruto, he hugs her back and gives in to the illusion.

Naruto lived a very lonely childhood where Minato and Kushina were killed before he ever got to know them, and the village shunned him for being the Nine-Tails jinchuriki. He dreamt of having a family, complete with their love and support. Often, the series flashes to the iconic image of Naruto sitting alone on a swing, overlooking classmates who refused to be his friend, but here we get to see the opposite.

For the first time, Naruto is excited to go home because his parents are waiting to welcome him. He finds a photo album detailing the differences in this world -- seeing his parents present on the first day of school, Kushina pushing him on the same swing he used to mourn on, and his parents in every little moment of his life. Here, Minato even offers to submit Naruto a Jonin application. Even with the knowledge that this isn't real, Naruto (and the audience) can't help but be swept away in our favorite ninja's happiness.

Eventually, he chooses to embrace the difference between his real parents and the ones created by Madara's Jutsu. In the real world, Minato used remnants of his chakra to let Naruto know he believed in him, entrusting the Leaf Village's safety to him. However, in this alternate reality, Minato is more cautious and thinks that he shouldn't risk his life for everyone. Naruto remembers the sacrifice his real parents made and how that came from their love for him and decides to honor the path carved for him by their deaths.

Naruto resolves to move forward, even as Kushina begs him to stay despite finding the Naruto who exists in this reality. He thanks this version of his parents for getting mad at him, caring about his safety and finally allowing him to understand maternal love on a personal level. Naruto cherishes every moment Madara's illusion gave him.

Naruto's backstory is yearning for something he never had, and what makes this film so heartbreaking is that he gets a family and has to say goodbye to them. We are shown everything that Naruto has longed for, and even though he knows it's not real, there's a part of him that wants to stay. It goes beyond what Minato and Kushina have done for him, and Naruto even thanks them merely for being alive and well. He will always wish for a world where his parents had lived, and it's devastating to watch him enjoy that dream before it's dashed away.

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