One of the initial messages imparted in Naruto was the importance of working hard to achieve one's goals. This was contrasted with the inclusion of geniuses who did not suffer the same hike of effort that those who lacked innate powers, skills and abilities went through. It was a strong message, informing viewers that anything could be achieved through sheer dedication to a craft; even those who appear to be without skill in anything could climb beyond the heights of those born with superior strengths. In fact, this was the very foundation of the dynamic between Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha.
Yet as the story progressed, there was an obvious shift in the message. The plot point of hard work versus genius became less of a focal direction as the characters shifted toward the ‘Child of Destiny’ approach. Some of the messages Naruto embodied were blurred by his heritage and the inclusion of fated conflicts. That said, the message was never discarded entirely. It returned in a way that no one would have expected and ensured that the theme of hard work would forever be a Naruto staple.
Naruto's Initial Message of Hard Work Versus Genius
It was made quite clear in the beginning that Naruto lacked the skill Sasuke had, perhaps through the blood of the Uchiha clan. While Naruto did have the Nine-Tailed Fox trapped within him, he still struggled to achieve some of the most basic ninja skills others completed with ease. However, when he did finally achieve it, his dedication to improving helped him skyrocket past his fellow ninja. This trait was one factor that made Naruto so endearing. The rise of the underdog is a long-standing tale in fiction that generally resonates with audiences.
Naruto's hard work versus genius message was reinforced with the introduction of Rock Lee and Neji Hyūga. They were essentially an advanced comparison between the two protagonists, showing just how far someone could rise with hard work and how disenfranchised someone could become when they believe solely in their own genius and fate. The Chūnin exam battle between Naruto and Neji is still considered one of the greatest fights in part one; it showcased the clash between the two different ideologies, ending with a victory for those who must work hard to keep up with their peers. For the most part anyway -- the inclusion of Kurama’s chakra may have assisted Naruto in the final stretch of the battle.
How Naruto's Theme of Hard Work Was Almost Replaced
Further on into Naruto: Shippuden, the message became diluted. Rock Lee’s place in the story withered along with much of the secondary cast, and Naruto began to unlock previously dormant powers. That is not to say this alone does not require dedication and hard work to achieve, but the stage was being set. The more power Naruto unlocked, the more his history was unveiled and the truth behind his abilities became far more apparent. The Nine-Tailed Fox may have given him a boost in chakra and strength, but the inclusion of his parentage and clan increased the concept of hereditary power even further, similar to that of Sasuke and the Uchiha.
Being the son of Minato Namikaze made him the son of one of the most formidable ninja to ever live, and from being a member of the Uzumaki clan through his mother, Kushina, Naruto was gifted with a clan trait of hefty amounts of chakra. If that was not enough, the Fourth Great Shinobi War revealed that he is the reincarnation of Asura Ōtsutsuki, who was considered the forebear of both the Senju and Uzumaki clans. All of these fated facts shifted Naruto from hard-working nameless ninja to a child of destiny, with power he was deemed to have from birth.
How Hard Work Made a Glorious Return in Naruto
When Naruto's message of hard work and dedication seemed to be dwindling into obscurity, one character reignited it in a manner that overshadowed many of the series' other themes. When all hope seemed lost against Madara Uchiha near the end of the war, Might Guy took the lead and faced him. Might Guy unleashed his Eight Gates power and showed that taijutsu still had a place alongside all the world-breaking ninjutsus that had been introduced. His fight with Madara was one of the most intense and exciting bouts of the entire war, and Guy almost was victorious -- and perhaps would have been if Madara could not regenerate.
What makes this so important is that Might Guy -- Rock Lee's teacher -- was the true carrier of the hard work and dedication message and always had been. He took Lee under his wing when the young ninja had no skill in any ninja arts, as Guy himself had been by his father. They were not children of destiny and did not have the blood of great ninja clans running through their veins. Might Guy was just a ninja who knew the importance of working hard when fate had not been kind in regard to bloodlines and skills.
Might Guy and Madara’s fight made it clear that Naruto's theme of hard work had not been discarded, but simply relocated to the true holders of the message. The lessons and values Might Guy passed on to Rock Lee will continue on with his son or pupil, and on and on it will go. While the Will of Fire is certainly an important teaching, Might Guy’s Power of Youth is just as important for the Hidden Leaf ninja to hold dear.