snaphappy_fma (snaphappy_fma) wrote in ship_manifesto,

"I Owe a Debt to Konoha" - Gaara and Naruto

Title:  “I Owe a Debt to Konoha” – Gaara and Naruto – Naruto

Author:  snaphappy_fma

E-mail:  snaphappy[underscore]fma[at]yahoo[dot]com

Fandom:  Naruto

Pairing:  Gaara and Naruto

Disclaimer:  Naruto was created by Masashi Kishimoto; I am not making any money from this.

Warnings:  Spoilers for the anime up to Naruto Shippuuden Episode 32, and the manga up to Chapter 281.  

Notes:  The dialogue quotes are from a hodge-podge of sources: the manga, the official English dub, the official English subs to the Japanese-language version, fansubs.




If Naruto Uzumaki’s life story stands for anything, it’s that heroes are made and not born. Naruto begins life as an unloved outcast who grows in stature to profoundly influence—usually without even realizing it—numerous others to grow and change themselves in his wake.


The person he has the most impact on is Gaara, the once-monster who later becomes the revered leader of the Sand Village.


The character of Gaara in Naruto has the most remarkable arc in all of anime. No other character transforms himself to the degree that Gaara does; and his transformation is due entirely to his relationship with Naruto.


But it is not only Gaara who grows because of Naruto, but Naruto who also becomes greater from knowing Gaara; because in seeing himself in another for the first time, Naruto learns compassion.






Sabaku no Gaara, “Gaara of the Desert,” is the third child of the Kazekage, or leader of the Sand Village in Wind Country. He is diminuative in stature, has red hair and a distinctive tattoo on the left side of his forehead. The large gourd he carries on his back contains special sand infused with his own chakra and soaked in the blood of vanquished opponents. His dark-ringed eyes give his face a mask-like appearance. He never smiles.







Naruto Uzumaki is an orphan who was shunned by everyone in the Hidden Leaf Village due to the Nine-Tailed Fox, or kyuubi, being implanted inside him soon after birth. The story of Naruto begins with Naruto’s adventures as a genin in Team 7 with Sasuke, Sakura and their sensei Kakashi. His dream is to become the Hokage, or village leader, someday.



First Meeting and Chuunin Exam


We first see Gaara when he arrives in the Hidden Leaf Village with siblings Temari and Kankuro for the Chuunin Exam. In the confrontation between Gaara and Sasuke (occasioned by Sasuke’s stopping Kankuro from bullying Konohamaru), Naruto barely registers on Gaara’s radar.


After Gaara and his siblings begin to walk away, Naruto calls after Gaara:


Naruto:  Hey!  I bet you’re dying to know what my name is—

Gaara:  I couldn’t care less.


Naruto seethes, as—as is typical—he is ignored while Sasuke takes the spotlight.


Gaara begins to reveal his past to Naruto and Shikamaru when he comes to kill Rock Lee in the hospital. When Naruto says that he has a monster inside him, Gaara replies that he does as well: Shukaku, implanted within him at birth, which caused the death of his mother. To Naruto’s growing shock, Gaara adds that his own father has tried to assassinate him numerous times and that he only feels alive when he kills others:


Gaara:  I exist to kill everyone… I fight only for myself, I love only myself.


Naruto realizes that… “he’s the same as me.” If not for Iruka’s acknowledgment of him, followed by Kakashi, Sakura and Sasuke believing in him, Naruto could have ended up like Gaara.



Gaara vs. Naruto


In Sasuke’s fight against Gaara in the forest, Sasuke’s third chidori leaves him helpless before Gaara, and then Naruto shows up. Instead of facing down Sasuke—the perfect one, the beautiful one, the pride of the Leaf Village—Gaara now finds himself pitted against Sasuke’s loud-mouthed, orange-suited moron of a teammate: Naruto.  As the fight proceeds, we find out more about Gaara’s past.


Gaara’s Past


In flashback, we see that as a little boy Gaara was feared by the entire Sand Village. He unintentionally hurts a little girl, and when he later tries to give her medicine for her injuries she calls him a monster and slams the door on him. Alone, he turns to the only person who cares: Yashamaru, his mother’s brother. Yashamaru gently tells him that love can heal wounds of the heart, and Gaara is grateful for his kind words.



Later, when a masked ninja assassin tries to kill Gaara, Gaara’s automatic sand defense reacts and delivers a death blow. When Gaara unmasks the ninja, to his horror he sees that it is Yashamaru. Dying, Yashamaru tells Gaara that Gaara’s father, the Kazekage, ordered him to kill Gaara because Gaara cannot control Shukaku and this makes him too dangerous to live.


Gaara, grasping at straws, asks if Yashamaru had done this unwillingly. Yashamaru says no—that he has always hated Gaara. He goes on to say that Gaara’s mother had died cursing the village and that Gaara’s automatic sand defense was her last act of hatred against the villagers. He then adds, in a bit of gratuitous cruelty: “You were never loved.” 


After Yashamaru blows himself up, hoping to take little Gaara with him (he doesn’t: the sand protects him), we can almost see Gaara’s psyche ripping to shreds. The kanji for “love” then forms on Gaara’s forehead, as Gaara proclaims his new credo:


I fight only for myself, I love only myself. I exist to kill.


Only in killing others will Gaara feel alive… until he meets Naruto.


Back to the Fight


As all this is recounted to him, Naruto now sees Gaara’s pain and its source; and when Sasuke tells Naruto that he never wants to see another important person die in front of him, a big piece of the puzzle falls into place for Naruto. As he looks at Gaara, he thinks:


I see… He’s like me… I thought he was strong because he was alone and fought only for himself.


But that’s not what being strong means. You can’t become truly strong if you only fight for yourself.


After Naruto and Gaara land on the ground, Naruto tells Gaara that he feels his pain, but that he will stop Gaara before he can hurt the people who are important to him. Gaara muses on this:


Gaara:  Love… is that why he’s so strong?


As Temari and Kankuro take Gaara to safety, Gaara apologizes to them, to the shock of both. Gaara has reached a turning point in his life, never again to return to the ‘monster’ that he was.



“I Owe a Debt to Konoha”


I have a confession to make. When I first saw Episode 124, when Rock Lee gets pulled back from the brink of death at Kimimaro’s hands floating on an island of sand, when the sand gently wafted by Lee’s uncomprehending face… I literally screamed aloud, “AAAGH!  IT’S GAARA!!” The shock and excitement of seeing Gaara coming to rescue Rock Lee, his nemesis from the preliminary Chuunin Exam match, was one of those thrilling moments in anime that I will never forget. 


My own anime geek-y reaction aside, this scene represents a milestone for Gaara. Although he and his siblings were ordered to rescue the Leaf Village ninjas, notwithstanding, for Gaara this is personal. When Lee asks why Gaara is there, in the anime Gaara replies, “I owe a great debt…” and as he voices the next words, “to Konoha,” we see a visual of Naruto leaping through the forest treetops. Filmically, it’s a breathtakingly beautiful transition: we understand that when Gaara says “to Konoha,” he means to one person in particular: Naruto. 


The manga conveys the same feeling:




Naruto’s Mirror Images:  Gaara and Sasuke


Two people who are very important to Naruto take divergent paths in life: Gaara, who transcends the literal monster within him to become fully human; and Sasuke, who rejects his bonds with Naruto and others and who falls into darkness and isolation. Like mirror images, one reflects Naruto’s greatest triumph, the other his most keenly-felt failure. As Live Journal user cephiedvariable put it, in her great essay on Sasuke and Naruto, “Thicker Than Blood,” Sasuke is Naruto's “greatest rival, his best friend, his greatest weakness and his worst failure.” 


At first Gaara and Sasuke share the same thinking: that hatred makes you strong, and that love—bonds with others—makes you weak; but Gaara is the only one who ultimately rejects this thinking. Sasuke hears these words from Itachi, and barely questions them before running off to join the loathesome Orochimaru to gain power for his revenge. Both Gaara and Sasuke have closed hearts, but Gaara chooses to open his. Gaara realizes from Naruto’s example that love is true strength; that that’s what makes Naruto such a charismatic presence and potential leader.      


Gaara sees Naruto’s one-sided devotion to Sasuke and accepts it: in his conversation with Lee after defeating Kimimaro, when Gaara says “even if you know that person was bad – people cannot win against their loneliness” – Gaara recognizes that Naruto is lonely for Sasuke, no matter how much the other boy’s betrayal and subsequent absence has hurt him. You love who you love: and Gaara knows that Naruto loves Sasuke.



Shippuuden:  Rescuing the Kazekage


During the long chase in the Kazekage Retrieval arc, Naruto is absolutely determined to rescue Gaara, going after Gaara even when he believes he is dead.


When the Leaf Village ninjas finally secure Gaara’s body, Naruto starts to lose it when Sakura indicates that Gaara is beyond hope; and when Chiyo, the Sand Village elder who performed the operation that implanted Shukaku in Gaara, tells Naruto to calm down, he explodes on her:


Naruto:  Shut up, goddamnit! If you Sand shinobi hadn’t put a monster inside him, this wouldn’t have happened! Did any one of you ask how he felt? Do you know the burden he had to carry?


Gaara awakens to find that Chiyo has sacrificed her life to bring his back. Now he can live free of the monster that had been within him his entire life: now he can live as a normal human being and as the leader of his people.


Gaara’s hero’s reception upon returning to the Sand Village marks his return not only literally, from the clutches of Akatsuki, but figuratively as someone who has traversed an arc all the way from monster to hero. It’s not hard to imagine that one day Naruto as the Hokage will receive a reception like Gaara’s.



I Thought This Was a Ship Essay!


So… where’s the yaoi?


First things first. In Naruto canon, there is no yaoi (to state the obvious). If there were any yaoi to be found, I think the OTP would be pretty clear: Naruto is obsessed with only one boy, and we all know who that is ;) – and it’s not Gaara.


In the fanfic world—in our own evil little fan minds—where we can have anything we want… well, yes, Naruto and Gaara—why not?


But—and this is only my humble opinion—I’m not sure I can see it even in fanfic and here’s why: it’s a one-sided love. There’s no question in my mind that Gaara loves Naruto, or what passes for love in Gaara’s heart thus far. Learning to truly love is a lifelong process for most of us and Gaara has a long way to come, given where he started from. But it’s the unrequited nature of Gaara’s love for Naruto that controls. I just can’t see Naruto reciprocating in that same way. 


Though—in an odd sense—Gaara’s love for Naruto can be seen as traditionally more romantic than it is anything else. It’s obvious that Naruto has no idea how much he’s changed Gaara’s life; and Gaara has never said as much to Naruto, probably because he cannot as yet express his emotions in that way. But in a weird sense… I like it this way. To me there’s a purity in Gaara’s feelings for Naruto, sort of like a Victorian novel where one character must hold back his/her strong feelings for another character due to circumstances beyond either person’s control… I can see Gaara having deep feelings for Naruto for his entire lifetime, but—in that bittersweet Victorian novel sense—never telling him. It’s my own fanciful interpretation, but one that for some reason I prefer: and a scenario that I find, actually, more moving than if they ever really got together. 



“Someday I Can Be Like Him”


Gaara once explained to his brother Kankuro what Naruto has meant to him:


Gaara:  Bonds with others…Seeing him fight so hard made me wonder what a bond really is. Now I think I understand, even if only a little. Pain, sadness… joy. These feelings allow you to understand others. Naruto Uzumaki… I feel like my fight with him taught me that… In order to escape a road of solitude, one has to work hard, and forge a new path with their own power. If I do that, then someday I can be like him.


He experienced the same type of suffering as me. And he taught me that you can change how you live your life.


At first, Naruto was an example for Gaara; and now Gaara leads the way for Naruto. As Kazekage he is ahead of Naruto—but he never would’ve become the Kazekage if not for Naruto. Coming full circle, Gaara is now the image in the mirror for Naruto to look at, to see there the finest reflection of his own heroic spirit.   





*I’m not good with links – hopefully you can cut and paste the URLs if the links don’t come out :)




Screencaps: and


Manga page from Chapter 213 - “I owe a debt to Konoha”





“Thicker Than Blood: Naruto, Sasuke and What Ties Them Together”

By Live Journal user cephiedvariable


A fine essay on Gaara and his uniquely tragic past can be found at:






IMHO, one of the greatest Naruto AMVs ever made:

“Konoha Memory Book” by Maguma



Tags: #anime/animation, #manga/comic, naruto

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