Itachi Uchiha has to be one of the most popular characters in the Naruto series. Quiet. Deadly. Unflappable in the face of overwhelming odds, and immensely powerful. There are plenty of reasons to love this character.
But perhaps the thing that makes him so popular with so many people, is both his relatability and his tragic end.
For a long time, from Naruto Chapter 139 to Chapter 394, Itachi had been treated as an impossibly powerful, incredibly cruel monster, who had slaughtered his clan, his own family,
and nearly all that was nearest and dearest to him, in order to gain as much power for himself as he could. That’s certainly how Sasuke, his brother, and we see him for the longest time.
But as we’ll show in this article, not only were Itachi’s reasons more complex than they might seem, but we see that Itachi was not just a man who died defending what he believed in.
But that he was a young boy, forced to grow up in a world that used him for their own gains, and forced to die before he ever reached his prime.
Itachi’s personal history is important to take into account when we want to look at his motives, and why his death is so tragic.
Itachi was born at some point during the Third Shinobi World War, which saw countless small conflicts between the Shinobi nations break out into a full-blown war between the Great Ninja Villages.
Although it is never clearly stated how much violence Itachi knew about or saw for himself, it was enough for Itachi to become a pacifist who tried to avoid violence wherever he could.
After the attack of the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox, Itachi would enroll into the ninja academy, and graduate within a year of starting.
From there, he would quickly rise to the rank of Chūnin within a few more, and eventually join the elite Anbu ninja, a covert division of special operative ninja who answered directly to the Hokage, the leader of the village.
Through his duty to his village, Itachi would develop a strong loyalty to Konoha, willing to do anything to protect it from falling into ruin.
Well, almost anything.
Itachi’s One Goal
The essential thing to remember about Itachi’s character, and the thing that distinguishes him from many other characters and antagonists in the world of Naruto, are his motives and goals.
Whilst many of the other characters in the Naruto series have lofty ideas of ending all wars, finding true peace between different nations, bringing an end to the human condition and suffering, Itachi is a character who is defined by just 2 simple characteristics.
Two pieces of information that keep him grounded when compared to other characters, and probably what has helped make him so popular:
The first thing to understand is that his loyalty to Konoha is immense, and is prepared to do anything in order to maintain the peace and safety of it, even if it comes to a great personal cost to himself.
Approximately 8 years before the start of the main Naruto story, Itachi learned that his family and clan, the Uchiha, were planning to stage a coup in order to take control of the village, after years of ostracization from the majority of the village.
Upon learning this, Itachi had a choice to make. Either:
- Join his family and attempt to assassinate the village leadership, which may result in an extended and bloody conflict that might grow into a civil war.
- Stay loyal to Konoha, and assassinate the entire Uchiha clan in order to avoid this.
Itachi has already seen what years of war would result in, and would do anything to avoid that. So, in the end, he chose the village over his own flesh and blood, leaving his little brother as the only surviving Uchiha in the village,
Because the truth is, there is one thing that Itachi was more loyal to than Konoha. One thing that made him disobey a direct order, and leaves one member of his clan alive when he should have killed them all.
His little brother.
Wait, He Was How Old!?
So, we’ve seen that Itachi is a loyal man, ready to give up his life and his morals for a cause he believes in. A ninja true to his word.
Now, what if I told you that Itachi did all of this before he was even old enough to drive?
One of the key details that are often overlooked when it comes to Itachi, is just how young he is when he makes these decisions.
He was only 5 years old when the Nine-Tails attacked Konoha. He was 6 years old when he entered the ninja training academy and was going on life-threatening missions before he was even 7 years old, which is almost half the normal age of graduation of 13.
Not only that, but he would become a Chūnin by the age of 10, and be enlisted into the Anbu black ops at 11. Itachi had a more distinguished career than the vast majority of adult ninja before most others even started theirs.
And this isn’t even mentioning the traumatic fate of his best friend and the slaughtering of his clan that he committed at just the age of 13.
The fact that the leadership of Konoha not only asked a 13-year-old boy to commit the heinous crime of killing his entire clan and community but expected him to be able to carry out this nigh-on impossible task flawlessly, is such an absurd turn of events. It would almost be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.
By the time the Naruto series’ main story begins, Itachi is somewhere between 17-18 years old. This makes him younger than pretty much every single character, bar the main cast, and is amongst the most powerful for most of the first half of the entire series.
Itachi would eventually die at the age of approximately 21, from a combination of using his power too much, a terminal illness that was slowly killing him, and a battle with his now 16-year-old little brother Sasuke, who still believed his older brother to be a monster who murdered their parents in cold blood for power.
We can see that Itachi’s story is filled with amazing feats and accomplishments, all whilst being incredibly tragic for a character his age.
Used by the institutions that he trusted to commit horrible acts, and being vilified for those acts, all whilst trying to protect his little brother long enough for him to exact his revenge on him.
It’s the central thesis of a lot of the Naruto series: The story of good people being turned into monsters by the world around them.