The Pain’s Assault Arc from Naruto: Shippuden is one of the most universally beloved anime arcs for good reason. The enigmatic and seemingly omnipotent Pain, who had been teased since the sequel series began had finally set his targets on the Hidden Leaf Village. Pain’s attack came not long after Jiraiya’s murder, the initial war declaration that prompted Naruto to undergo his most dangerous training regimen so far. The Pain arc did such a great job of tying together Shippuden’s loose ends so far that it seemed like a finale battle even if it wasn’t. And truly at that point, Naruto was as great as it had ever been.

Pain’s attack against the Hidden Leaf Village was hastened by his desire to capture Naruto and the Nine Tails as quickly as possible. After provoking the Leaf with Jiraiya’s defeat, it was only a matter of time until they retaliated against the Akatsuki leader, and allowing them to plan an assault could have proven fatal. Their sneak attack against the Leaf gave them an element of surprise and many lives were lost before the Leaf’s defense could defend against the Six Path’s of Pain’s guerrilla tactics but through it all, the Hidden Leaf remained strong.

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The Pain Arc Was Naruto at Its Very Best

Naruto hitting Pain with the Rasengan in the stomach.

During the Pain Arc, the stakes of Shippuden were as high they had ever been. Even though villages outside Konoha had been visited, the Leaf still symbolized the majority of the ninja world for many viewers. Its destruction was an all too familiar threat since both the Nine Tails’ appearance and Orochimaru’s invasion had shown that the village was far from invincible, but none of these threats had carried the weight that Pain did. If he succeeded, the world of Naruto would essentially have been ended.

The severe implications of the Leaf’s destruction made Naruto’s absence from the battle’s beginning all the more anxiety inducing. The entire arc built up to a clash of ideals between the series’ protagonist and Pain himself but for most of the battle, Naruto was still perfecting his Sage Mode at Mount Myoboku. Instead, the Six Paths of Pain had to contend with the brave shinobi defending the Hidden Leaf Village, and had the opportunity to witness firsthand the Will of Fire that kept them closely bonded. Even on pain of death, none of the villagers were willing to divulge the secret of Naruto’s location to the invader.

Their defense of the Leaf Village was liberal with crowd-pleasing moments. Characters that fans had grown to love over the series’ progression were confronting the biggest threat they had faced so far and for a while, they seemed to be winning. Even Sakura, who had been slowly slipping into irrelevancy after her impressive fight with Sasori stole the show once again, single-handedly organizing and managing the relief effort for villagers who had been injured. While previous Leaf assaults had shown how the village reacted to invaders from without, Tsunade’s decision to prioritize saving lives demonstrated how the village would react to threats that originated from inside the village.

By the time Naruto and Pain were finally brought face to face, the young shinobi had already come to understand the villain’s controversial philosophy on a personal level. Naruto arrived at the Leaf Village shortly after Pain’s Almighty Push had reduced his home to rubble. Pain believed that until someone had gone through the same experiences as another, they would be never be able to truly understand the hurt they had gone through. The Leaf’s destruction was Naruto’s first real taste of the pain that the Third Great Ninja War had caused Nagato, but it was Hinata’s perceived murder that pushed him over the edge and caused him to lose control over the Nine Tails.

After defeating Pain, Naruto’s decision to forgive the villain demonstrated that he had indeed conquered the Cycle of hatred. Despite acknowledging that Pain was behind the loss of his father figure and several innocent Leaf Villagers, Naruto chose to spare his life in order to break the cycle once and for all. His strange resolution ended up being just as well since it touched Nagato’s heart just enough for the Rinnegan wielder to restore all the lives that had been lost in his assault at the cost of his own. At that moment, Naruto truly became the Leaf Village’s hero. He was finally accepted and celebrated by those who had initially rejected him and came one step closer to his goal of Hokage.

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Naruto: Shippuden Changed After the Pain Arc

Kaguya cries in Naruto: Shippuden.

While the Naruto story continued well after the Pain’s Assault arc conclusion, there are several perceptible differences between the story pre-Pain and after. Many of them ended up being benign additions to the saga, but there are a few that select fans view as legacy breaking. For starters, the viewer’s perception ninja world grew abnormally fast after years of stagnation to accommodate the scope of the Fourth Great Ninja War. New and returning allies stole the spotlight or crowded the story out depending on who you ask. Most importantly, since Naruto had realized his goal of becoming accepted by the Leaf Villagers, his focus shifted mostly to recovering Sasuke and conquering the Nine Tails within him.

So, it wasn’t surprising that many were disappointed by the direction the Fourth Great Ninja War took. While both Naruto and Sasuke did receive some character development during this period, it was interspersed between legions of filler content. Some of the battles took days to complete and with the war's erratic pacing, merely watching them felt almost as long. Naruto’s final arc featured many of the series most exciting fights, but its overall perception is dragged down by the extreme lows it also contains. Even though filler content wasn’t new to Naruto, it was this arc’s liberal use of these story buffers and flashbacks that branded Naruto as infamously for having them.

The Pain arc offered a neat cut-off point for Shippudden before the story’s events became too convoluted. Had the series ended after Pain’s defeat, Naruto might have ended up regarded even higher than it is today. The firat half of Shippudehad minimal filler, effective pacing and best of all, no surprise alien villain twists to confound longtime fans. Even without Kaguya and the Otsutsuki storyline, Naruto’s legacy would have remained as unshakeable as it is today and might even be stronger had they been excluded.