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Naruto Creator Masashi Kishimoto Didn't Expect Rock Lee's Popularity

One aspect authors haven't got control over is how the audience will react to or view a certain moment or character. Of course, a writer can strive to influence the perspective of his readers with all the creative and stylistic tools at their disposal. However, absolute control over public opinion is virtually impossible. But that is not to say that this is always a negative thing. Sometimes the exact opposite happens and the author is pleasantly surprised by a positive reception they were not expecting. 

This happened to Masashi Kishimoto — unsurprisingly, considering how many characters and story arcs there are in "Naruto" and how impossible it would be for the mangaka to anticipate his audience's reaction to every one of them. In a 2015 interview with Anime News Network, the "Naruto" creator revealed the one character whose popularity among fans caught him by surprise: the taijutsu specialist Rock Lee (Yoichi Masukawa).

Rock Lee's popularity did not earn him more screen time

When asked if there were any characters whose immense popularity surprised him, Kishimoto answered "Rock Lee." This, in turn, led to the question of whether the fans' approval made Rock Lee more featured in the main narrative. Apparently, it didn't.

"Not necessarily." Kishimoto answered, "It's just what I heard. It kind of surprised me how popular he was, but it didn't necessarily lead to more plotlines with him in it, or anything like that. That's not to say that I didn't consider writing him in more or creating more stories about him, but the timing was never right, so I never had the opportunity."

The fact that Rock Lee was not included more is deeply felt by many fans. One Reddit thread started by u/gonchigonablas describes the character as having been "nerfed." Another by u/GreattFriend theorized, "He was way better and had way more potential than the already established [main character], so as an author Kishimoto had to break him to take away his potential." In the anime's early days, prior to Shippuden, the green jumpsuit-wearing ninja showed promising ability despite the fact that he was unable to use ninjutsu and genjutsu. Many fans seem to share the opinion that this potential got more and more diluted as the series progressed.

Most fans think Rock Lee deserved better

In yet another Reddit post, this time in the r/CharacterRant subreddit, u/Finito-1994 expresses disappointment at the diligent shinobi having been practically neglected at a later point in the story: "They did Rock Lee dirty." The user wrote, "They set him up fantastically, they gave him a lovable personality, a great drive and one of my favorite arcs in Naruto and then....they just left him there." Judging by the most upvoted comments on the thread, the majority of fans seem to agree with this unfortunate notion which goes to show that, indeed, Rock Lee was a really beloved secondary character who fans wanted more out of. "I will say part 1 Lee was exactly who I wanted," wrote u/Jeden-Rog, "But I completely agree with most of this rant."

In a story with a staggering amount of characters, some are bound to not get the spotlight as much. The fight with Sand shinobi Gaara during the Chūnin exams was arguably Lee's most unforgettable moment in the spotlight, as his English voice actor, Brian Donovan, also conveyed in an interview. Even if Rock Lee did not get more time to shine, at least that scene has been permanently elevated as one of the most epic, riveting fights in Shonen history.