In Naruto, a popular shonen classic by Masashi Kishimoto, there are many wonderful characters. It is understandable that there is a lot of debate within the Naruto community about which cast member is written the best given the show's big ensemble cast, each of whom has their own distinct character arcs and skills.
Shikamaru Nara is one such character who frequently pops up in fan debates. He is laid back and lazy. The character swiftly rose to the top of the cast since he was a master tactician and one of Naruto's closest friends. Here's how Shikamaru's lazy-genius attitude contributes to his status as one of the show's most intriguing and complicated characters.
The First Character arc of Shikamru
At the start of Naruto, there isn't much known about Shikamaru other than he’s seemingly lazy and has a very laid-back personality. He’s incredibly easy-going, unlike many of the other characters in the series who are high-strung, or simply just have a lot of energy like the protagonist, Naruto Uzumaki.
During the Sasuke Recovery Mission arc, Shikamaru is tasked by the new Hokage, the powerful Tsunade, with leading a team of genin to chase after Sasuke and bring him back to the Hidden Leaf Village. To most viewers, this likely seems like a suicide mission -- and Shikamaru probably wouldn’t be most people's first choice as a leader. But, he's a newly established chunin and Tsunade wants to test his leadership abilities. Many viewers likely expected Naruto to be tasked with the mission as he’s the main character of the series, bu, Shikamaru proves everyone wrong as the story arc explores Shikamaru's hidden strategic abilities.
Before the mission begins, Shikamaru tells the group that he doesn’t really care about Sasuke as a person. In fact, he doesn’t even really like him. Despite this, he understands Sasuke is an important member of the Hidden Leaf Village, and he vows to bring him back, even if it costs him his life. This is one of the most important arcs in Naruto , and it’s a great way to introduce a new angle of Shikamaru’s character, since viewers have only seen glimpses of his personality up until this point.
Viewers can take away two things about Shikamaru while watching this arc: one, he’s a surprisingly great strategist, regardless of the unexpected struggles his group faces, and two, Shikamaru is able to keep his calm in most situations, even in the face of death. Before the team leaves the front gate of the Leaf Village, Shikamaru devises the perfect plan; Kiba in the lead, Shikamaru behind, followed by Naruto and Choji, with Neji bringing up the rear.
Kiba leads the group because of his dog-like abilities; being able to track Sasuke’s scent. He also has Akamaru, an actual dog, which provides added precision in their tracking. He is also familiar with the territory, which comes in handy Shikamaru follows Kiba to give him orders as the situation changes. He also keeps watch for any enemy ninja coming at them from the front in case Akamaru and Kiba don’t sense them. Then come Naruto and Choji; Naruto can use his shadow clones, watching the team’s left flank, with Choji being the strongest physically, able to defend the team as he’s ordered from the right. Neji comes last, with his byakugan ability making him the best choice for defending the team from the very back.
It’s obvious Shikamaru considered his team’s strengths and put them to good use, positioning them where he best sees fit for the mission. However, the strategy isn’t foolproof, and given the circumstances and the fact they are chasing a group of five enemy ninja, the team slowly gets separated and must fight by themselves for the majority of the arc. Nonetheless, Shikamaru is able to build excellent strategies, proving he's not nearly as lazy as he seems.
He is also able to keep his cool even when under immense pressure. Again, the Sasuke Recovery arc showcases this skill. He carefully leads the Sasuke rescue team with precision, doing his best to come up with every possible outcome and counteracting it before it actually happens. Things don’t always go as planned -- however, the team doesn’t give up.
Shikamaru, the Shockingly Capable Strategist
In Naruto Season 2, Episode 68, “Zero Hour! The Destruction of the Hidden Leaf Village Begins!”, the team gets trapped by one of Orochimaru’s henchmen, a Hidden Sound Ninja named Jirobo; who traps them in an Earth Prison Dome of Magnificent Nothingness. In an attempt to escape, Kiba tries using an attack, but the dome quickly rebuilds itself. Shikamaru notices the damage from their attacks seems to heal slowly in one area compared to the others, and, by talking to Jirobo, he figures out it’s the point farthest away from him. So they attack the area and escape.
This is a great example of showing Shikamaru’s calmness and willingness to strategize even when faced with the impossible. He also won’t give up, especially when there are others relying on him. The only way he really gives up is if he’s too lazy to finish the task, or it takes too much effort, but there are no troubling consequences if he fails.