During the Naruto franchise’s run, the readers and viewers were introduced to many ninja whom, while of limited impact to the main story, still registered a big impact with them. Perhaps no character exemplifies this greater than that of Rock Lee. Introduced initially as a rival to Naruto & Sasuke prior to being slotted into the background, the exuberant taijutsu specialist wound up being enough of a hit to warrant fairly high popularity poll finishes and his own spin-off gag manga. Despite this, the series wound up never really exploring his character too deeply after featuring him heavily in earlier arcs. While no means a terrible portrayal, the series nevertheless missed many opportunities to make Rock Lee truly special.
Here are 5 Ways 'Naruto' Messed Up Rock Lee (And 5 Ways They Rocked Him Out):
10 Messed Up: No Neji Fight
When Lee is first introduced during the onset of the Chunin Exams, audiences learn that he desires, above all else, to prove that ‘hard work surpasses genius.’ Though initially said in the context of defeating Sasuke, it is not long after that the audience discovers that his true target is his teammate, Neji Hyuga. In the flashbacks that ensue, it is shown that Neji is, to put it mildly, kind of a d-bag to Lee, belittling the latter’s lack of ninjutsu talent.
Being the man he is and having the teacher he does, Lee trains to prove Neji wrong/pop him in his mouth for running it too effin’ much. In time, Neji reforms and the ‘d-bag’ aspect dies down, but the ‘hard work vs genius’ debate is left lingering without resolution. With Neji’s death, the narrative faux pas is set in stone, with the writers never adequately releasing the tension they hyped up so many chapters before.
9 Rocked Out: The Weights
Perhaps one of the greatest Rock Lee moments was during his Chunnin Exams fight against Gaara. After failing to penetrate Gaara’s ultimate defense and seeing Lee would need more to defeat the future Kazekage, Guy grants Lee permission to channel his inner Piccolo and remove the training weights from his body. Both Sand and Leaf ninja scoff at the notion, thinking the advantage to be gained from doing so to be negligible at best. Arrogant smiles line their faces as Lee’s weights careen toward the floor, only for them to blow away upon the weights’ literal earth-shattering impact. Moments later, Lee is zipping around the arena and giving Gaara a run for his money that no one expected.
8 Messed Up: His Recovery
One of the portends to Lee’s eventual substandard portrayal was the quickness with which he is shown to recover from his catastrophic injury at the hands of Gaara. After Tsunade’s surgery, Lee prematurely goes into battle in order to assist in the retrieval of Sasuke, availing himself valiantly against Kimmimaro before running out of stamina and setting the stage for villian-turned-hero Gaara to rescue him.
Though a dramatic series of events, the ultimate lack of consequences for this recklessness comes off as poor writing--especially given the fact that it killed the dramatic build up earlier established regarding the extent of his injury and his distress over his future as a shinobi. As an alternative, the writers could have, instead, given him an extended recovery--exploring his character’s psychology as he works to regain and ultimately surpass his pre-injury form--akin to what audiences see from the Avatar in Legend of Korra.
7 Rocked Out: Drunken Fist
It can be easy to forget that Naruto & Sasuke’s first battle at the Valley of the End would have been preempted by Kimimaro if not for Rock Lee’s dynamic entry. Having just undergone Tsunade’s surgery, the impetuous young ninja chased after the Sasuke retrieval team in order to resume the ninja career that had just barely escaped a premature end.
During the fight, Lee pauses to take a dose of what he thinks is his medicine but what is, in actuality, a shot of sake. In a surprise twist, it was revealed that the inebriation enhances the ninja’s skills as opposed to dull them, being that he is a natural master of the drunken fist--on par with any other. The boost in skill stresses Kimimaro, causing him to dig deeper into his bag of tricks to stave off the onslaught, revealing just how formidable the young ninja truly is.
6 Messed Up: No Wife
By the time Boruto comes around, Lee is shown to have a son, Metal. Mysteriously though, the story fails to explicitly name a specific kunoichi as the mother of Lee’s newly revealed son. And while the failure hasn’t stopped fans from speculating, the lack of specificity demonstrates just how much neglect the character has suffered from the writers.
After all, it wouldn’t be difficult for a wife to be named for Lee given the limited number of available kunoichi at the end of the series. Failing to do so was simply gross negligence of the highest order.
5 Rocked Out: His Obliviousness
Because he is such an earnest student, Lee appears to hang on his teacher’s every word as gospel. This isn’t terribly hard to understand as Might Guy is probably the only person to believe in Lee’s ability to become a competent ninja. That said, this leads to instances where Lee’s devotion to his teacher makes him oblivious to things that should be fairly obvious.
A great example of this is at the conclusion of the fight with Sasori, when Kakashi’s so depleted from the battle that Might Guy volunteers to carry his rival on his own back as a way to sneak in extra training. The overzealous Lee, hoping to imitate his teacher, hilariously offers Neji his back and is immediately rebuffed--an answer he probably should have expected. The fact that he didn’t though, makes Lee awesome for being just that oblivious.
4 Messed Up: No Skill Development
Another glaring issue with Lee's character is the fact that the story fails to expand his skillset as a ninja aside from increasing the number of Gates he’s able to open. While that’s to be expected given his entire character’s premise as a ninja without ninjutsu, there have been enough auxiliary developments with other characters to warrant the expectation Lee’s abilities to include more than the Eight Gates. Writers could have given him weapons (like Ten-Ten), strategies (like Guy’s strategy against the Sharingan), or even summoning jutsus (like Guy), but they came with nothing. Again, this failure to grant him any unique development seems to be nothing short of neglect.
3 Rocked Out: Work Ethic
One of the great things about Rock Lee that all fans should admire is his work ethic. Rather than crumble at the fact that he is less talented than most other ninja, he instead steels his will and resolves to find a ninja way for himself through hard work and determination. No matter how dangerous or difficult, he never shies away from challenging himself and surpassing his own limits. Moreover, rather than run away from people who are naturally more talented than himself--like Hunter X Hunter character Killua--he runs toward them in order to see if he has what it takes. As a potential role model for younger viewers, this makes Rock Lee without equal.
2 Messed Up: Guy Clone
Lee’s sensei, Might Guy, is an awesome character that naturally made a huge impact upon Lee’s development and rightly so. As a result, it’s little surprise that, when Lee and Guy are introduced, Lee is fanatically devoted to his teacher, to the point of obsessively imitating the latter’s mannerisms. However, as the series progressed and the characters aged, one would have expected Lee to come into his own--integrating his teacher’s tutelage with his own unique life experiences. Sadly, the audience never got to see such come to pass, as the writers kept Lee’s portrayal limited to that of a Might Guy clone.
1 Rocked Out: His Ability To Forgive
It may sound cheesy, but one of the coolest & most distinctive moments for Rock Lee had nothing to do with him kicking butt and taking names but actually quite the opposite. In the previously mentioned fight against retconned Otsutsuki descendant Kimimaro, where Gaara eventually comes to his rescue, Rock Lee and his one time enemy share a few words prior to teaming up. Given the history between the two, namely Gaara catastrophically injuring Lee in an attempt to kill him, one would expect Lee to hold a grudge--especially since Lee almost lost his ability to be a ninja as a result.
But instead, Lee brushes the past off with only a slight quip, essentially forgiving Gaara. It may not seem like much, but the ability to forgive those who have harmed us and shown remorse is an extraordinary ability, as it shows maturity and an ability to leave the past in the past and move forward. We may not be able to emulate Rock Lee’s awesome physical feats and insane work ethic, but we can all make strides to emulate his awesome capacity for forgiveness.