In the ‘Pain arc’ of Naruto Shipudden the fight against the main villain spanned almost 7 episodes. But the particular scenes of the Naruto vs Pain fight I am referring to are in episode 167, where Naruto goes berzerk after seeing Hinata smashed to the ground—what followed was a chaotic sequence of blows exchange by two powerful monsters. Although, this fight had negative feedback from most fans, the ones that had some background in art actually praised it.
I am not here to tell you it’s the best animation in Naruto—or even the best-animated fight in the arc. I am just here to convey my thoughts about this fight. And knowing some more about it might help you understand where the animators were going with it. It’s a universal fact that once we understand each other, we can learn to appreciate the reasoning instead of blindly hating. Here is a greater video on the Pain vs Naruto fight by an experienced animator.
The most simple and straightforward way of judging if the fight was well animated is by counting the moving frames. To make things more impactful in motion, animators bend the drawings in all sorts of different ways and it looks wonderful in motion. The point is—please never judge animations by looking at a screenshot. And if you take a second look at the Pain vs. Naruto, you would find a pleasant lack of still frames and more dynamic movement. But this apart from the fact that it looks silly, right? Well—yeah that’s the point.
This leads me to talk a bit about the art style. Do you doubt if a world-class animator can tell a difference between good and bad drawings? Of course, he knows a lot more than we do—the reason why he chose to draw it that way was due to style. These exaggerated facial expressions and flexible cartoony figures aimed to convey a couple of things.
Firstly the emotion, which is quite apparent in the scene where Pain shouts “My pain is far greater than yours”—and proceeds to punch a crater into the ground. But he’s up against the senseless 4+ tailed state Naruto that has been entirely consumed by anger. Animation is not supposed to be realistic, it’s supposed to be more expressive than real life. That’s why we see warping surroundings, faces, and bodies, to express the emotions that characters are feeling. Both of them have lost a lot—even in the standard of this Ninja world, Naruto and Nagato have some of the most tragic life stories. At this moment none of them are willing to make any compromises for each other. They refuse to stand down—well until Naruto regains his senses at least.
Secondly, due to the sheer ferocity of the monstrous strength that is being displayed on the screen. Before these particular scenes, the whole Naruto franchise was comparatively grounded in reality. We saw characters fight, but we didn’t saw them do city-wide destruction. In this case, there were no strategies, or cunning 200 IQ moves—only a fight between two monstrosities. Naruto was consumed with ungodly amounts of anger after witnessing the death of Hinata by his very own eye. He had lost all sense, he was not a human at that point, but only a blood-lusted beast out for revenge(although I don’t blame the guy for it).
All these reasons do not make an art style objectively good. In my opinion, no art can ever be bad either, if someone gave their all for it and expressed some part of themselves while creating it. You are still free to dislike it, but remember to never be ignorant of the fact that this fight was a stylistic choice. And remember to avoid trying to insult an artist before understanding more about what he was trying to convey.
The main takeaways are—animations should always be judged in motion and making them realistic is only an option. In Animation, elasticity is used as a way of expression. To understand this even better, consider an example of an animation technique used in anime that mostly does not feature any elasticity. It’s known as CGI and most of the fans hate it! Although there are cases when it has been executed with perfection, like in the case of Land of the Lustrous.