Yes, you read that title correctly: the worst Hokage. Hiruzen Sarutobi is a man of many titles. He is the 3rd Fire Shadow (the translation of Hokage), the Professor, and the God of Shinobi. We can probably ignore that last one as both Hagoromo Otsutsuki and Hashirama Senju were also both called the same and were way more awesome. However, I’m of the opinion that Hiruzen is by far the worst leader in Konoha’s history. I’d like to convince you of this provocative belief through an examination of his shortcomings.
The Worst Hokage – Premise
As strong as he is as a shinobi, Hiruzen’s decision-making process leaves too much to be desired. He does little (to nothing) to curb the unnatural desires of his students. Hiruzen does zilch to protect his village’s jinchuriki (a child with the immense power of a tailed beast sealed within). He fails as a leader to create a loving, supportive atmosphere for Naruto. Hiruzen is in a position to influence the shinobi world but fails to move it forward in any meaningful way. He is too sentimental when it comes to his friend and neglects to see how he is taken advantage of from the shadows. Ultimately, Hiruzen is unable to build meaningful relationships to keep the village together. This failure forces his worst decision to manifest itself as an entire clan is slaughtered in the night.
Alert: This is definitely the most serious spoiler alert I’ve had to include in these articles. The only way to point out how awful a leader Hiruzen is for the Leaf Village is to use specific examples. He is a major character for only a handful of episodes but returns in numerous filler flashbacks. So, his reach extends further than the mere 80 episodes he is alive.
The Worst Hokage – Poor control of his students
Hiruzen is the greatest proponent of the Will of Fire. The Will of Fire is a love for the village as a family. As a teacher and mentor, he valiantly attempts to pass on his belief to his students, the legendary Sannin. Unfortunately, he does not see the way the Will of Fire philosophy twists in their minds. In Orochimaru’s case the fire catches but burns only to warm his desires. Orochimaru cares only to accumulate jutsu for himself and he’ll burn the village to gather more. Hiruzen must correct the issue but disappoints. Even in the decisive moments of his battle with Orochimaru, Hiruzen fails to correct his pupil. There is also the issue of his letdown in instructing Tsunade (who becomes a drunk and gambler) and Jiraiya (to stay closer to the Village and not fall to distraction by women). A student should reflect the master’s teaching as well as be a conduit to growth for the future. Do the students of the 3rd do that?
The Worst Hokage – No support for young Naruto
Hiruzen is the only leader of note at the death of the 4th Hokage. He is the only one to hear the words of instruction. The 4th Hokage didn’t want his son to be the focus of hatred and resentment as the new jinchuriki of the 9-tailed fox. But when you look at Hiruzen’s handling of Naruto you see no proactive steps. Adults tacitly pass on their bitterness to nearly all the children. Naruto is virtually ostracized. It is a wonder he survives on a day-to-day basis (just look at the lack of supervision he is afforded; just look at his lack of nutrition). Why didn’t Hiruzen recall Jiraiya immediately to look after his godson? Why didn’t he place Naruto with a family that would protect him and guide his growth as a shinobi?
The Worst Hokage – Poor team balances
Hiruzen is at the top of the Leaf Village’s command structure. He is influential in a way that only a true decision maker can be. He may have a couple of advisors, but ultimately all decisions in the village are his. There are two parts of his methodology when it comes to team building that I find questionable. First, he institutes the standard three-man team (going so far as to have most teams consist of two males and one female). We only get a little reasoning behind this decision with Hiruzen believing that a manufactured rivalry on teams could promote growth. I guess it could be a promising idea, but isn’t it a sexist idea? Second, for the team makeups themselves he doesn’t do a particularly respectable job at balancing roles. If we look at the initial 4 teams that make up the Konoha 11, then we have Team 7 (close-range specialists), Team 8 (sensory specialists), Team 10 (stalling/immobilization specialists), and Team Guy (close-range specialists). We’ll forgive him for Team 10 (because the Ino-Shika-Cho formation is a generational team), but why not balance teams to give them greater flexibility while on missions?
The Worst Hokage – Deceived by a friend
A good leader will absolutely need the support of advisors. Additionally, they will need to put the right people around them to facilitate their will because one person can’t do everything. Hiruzen is there for his village but the people around him don’t always act with his will in mind. This is most obvious in the case of Danzo. Danzo is a rival to Hiruzen in the ascension to Hokage. Because he is also a friend to Hiruzen, Danzo is given a prominent role in the ANBU and has permission from the Hokage to develop a black ops unit called ROOT. From the shadows, Danzo masterfully manipulates people like pieces on a shogi board. His goals are his own even if he professes to have the best interest of the village at heart. What kind of leader are you when your advisors turn out to have motives you can’t see?
The Worst Hokage – The civil war
Civil war is the worst kind of war. The brutality and fear of war being visited upon people you consider family has its own kind of horror. The manipulation from the shadows and the greed of people in power brings the possibility of civil war to the confines of the Leaf Village. The will of one young shinobi (Itachi) under pressure from both sides. He is bound by blood to remain loyal to his family; he is under orders from his Hokage to report on the rumblings made by his family. Manipulation is the course for Itachi by those he respects. His orders put him in an unimaginable, unenviable position. Hiruzen (through his mistake with Danzo) does nothing to alleviate the pressure between the administration of the Leaf Village and the Uchiha clan. It reaches a boiling point, putting all on the cusp of civil war. Is there a more accurate indicator of the breakdown in leadership than when civil war is your only option?
The Worst Hokage – Conclusion
Hiruzen Sarutobi has all the qualities of a splendid shinobi. However, being a splendid shinobi shouldn’t be the only qualification for a good Hokage. His strength on the battlefield does not translate to capable leadership behind a desk. Taint laces Hiruzen’s legacy by the negligence he displays. It is not entirely upon him. Though as a leader he must accept all blame along with any potential praise. As much as Naruto reveres the old man, the citizens of the Hidden Leaf Village don’t have a voice in my argument.
So, did I convince you? My goal is to show you Hiruzen’s shortcomings as Hokage. I believe that with more diligence and attention to important matters Hiruzen could have made a difference. Please, leave me a comment below or reach out to me on my social media (Twitter – Instagram)! I’d love to discuss this topic with you in a more personable way. Maybe this topic will make its way to a panel at Wizard World one day!
Featured image: Viz Media