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The Reason You Almost Never See Kakashi's Face In Naruto

Naruto's Kakashi Hakate is everything anyone would want out of a 2000s-era bishōnen. He checks all the boxes of the "beautiful boy" Asian character type: he's tall and mysterious, has spiky white hair, and is hyper-competent and stylized in battle. Kakashi is beloved for his well-rounded skill and heart, which balances his character against a pile of personal flaws. Being mysterious and aloof are the foremost elements that make Kakashi so compelling, and nothing highlights his mystery more than the omnipresent balaclava obscuring the lower half of his face. 

Many other ninjas in Naruto have costumes that obscure part or all of their face, but the mystique around Kakashi's reached a level of interest to which no other character can compare. Obito Uchiha (better known as Tobi) eventually took off his mask, Shino Aburame's coat collar could be buffeted this way and that when he fought to reveal the whole of his face, but Kakashi's black triangle of obfuscation has stayed infuriatingly put. 

Up until a couple of years ago, the title of this particular article we're presenting now would have omitted the qualifier "almost" when talking about never seeing Kakashi's face — the curtain was only pulled away to reveal the truth in the latter days of the Shippuden arc, and during a filler episode at that. Why all the fuss in keeping one man's face a secret? Is it soul-crushing angst, or the butt of a joke?

The fanon surrounding Kakashi

When anime fans are presented with a man like Kakashi — softspoken, aloof, quietly determined — whatever canonical detail is lacking in his background will almost certainly be filled in with the angstiest outcomes imaginable. That's what bishōnen are for, and that's what fans do. A prevailing Naruto fan theory links the compulsory need for Kakashi to mask his face back to his father, Sakumo, also known as the White Fang of Konoha. The Hatake clan are a historically significant one in the ninja village, and Sakumo was a legend in his own right, which meant his son Kakashi had a lot to live up to.

After a mission gone wrong when Kakashi was a teenager, however, Sakumo opted to abandon the objective and pull his team members out before their lives could be lost. For his courage, he received no reward and was, in fact, vilified as a coward by the people of Konoha in the aftermath. The rejection by his people drove Sakumo to depression and ultimately suicide.

Naruto fans like to believe that the dual pressures of his father's once-illustrious legacy and his subsequent downfall drive Kakashi to obscure his face, since he looks just like his father and may want to dampen the possibility of immediate recognition because of that striking physical similarity. Even without any canonical recognition, it's a powerful bit of fanon characterization that adds depth to Kakashi's occasional freewheeling and dodging of rules and decorum.

The original reason why Kakashi's face has been kept hidden

Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto has in the past explained some of his rationale in masking Kakashi's face, and it's... not that exciting. Kishimoto has explained that, since ninjas are inherently mysterious people, he thought giving them masks would amp up that enigmatic quality. However, as design continued, Kishimoto realized that masking everyone would make illustrating expressions difficult, so the general concept was abandoned and Kakashi became unique. In retrospect, the decision makes a lot of sense: Kakashi is a teacher to Naruto and many, many others, and all children view the adults who educate them with a certain sense of wonder. Masking his face only boosts that aura of mystique. 

When Naruto was in its earliest stages, Kakashi went through a lot of conceptual reworking (originally, he was designed to be a samurai) and was one of the earliest characters Kishimoto formed towards completion. He initially intended to premiere the character in the second chapter — before even Sasuke and Sakura, the characters who would become Kakashi's students — but Kishimoto's editors advised he hold off for a little while longer so they could finish fleshing out Kakashi's personality first. Once upon a time, Kakashi was rude and cranky before he became the laid-back, loyal friend and leader we know him as today. But that mask? It just had to be there through it all.

The joke about almost never seeing never see Kakashi's face

Whatever Kishimoto's original intent, it's safe to say that Kakashi's masked face is now a running gag, and denying the audience and fellow characters a look at his face is the punchline. Everyone – reader and fictional character alike – wants to know what's underneath the mask made of whatever Konoha's version of spandex is. How does Kakashi eat? Does he sleep with it on? Why is it there? 

These are all questions posed by characters on the series, and such inquisition actually became the focus of episode 101 of the anime; in English, it's entitled "Gotta See! Gotta Know! Kakashi-sensei's True Face!". Team 7 (Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura) spends the entirety of the filler episode scheming to surveil their teacher in hopes of catching him without his mask on. As they plan, the three kids postulate their own hysterical theories about his face — cartoonish buck teeth and lips, perhaps? Kakashi, however, is immediately wise to the stalking and deliberately fakes them out at every turn. At the end of the episode, Naruto, true to form, explodes and simply demands to know what Kakashi has under his mask. Kakashi smoothly obliges, and in a grandiose moment, pulls down his mask to reveal... another mask underneath. That's it — that's the episode.

Over a decade later as Shippuden was in its fading days, another filler flashback episode revisits Team 7's eternal struggle to know what's beneath Kakashi's mask. In the story, which was originally a one-shot manga given away at a special Naruto art exhibit in 2015, has Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke still wondering what their teacher looks like when they're approached by a local photographer named Sukea. He, too, is very interested in getting pictures of Kakashi without his mask on — it would be the biggest scoop of his journalism career in Konoha, after all.

After more convoluted misadventures, the kids fail once again in their task and give up. They go home, Sukea included, but surprise! — Sukea has been Kakashi in a wig and makeup the whole time. It's the Clark Kent Twist: nobody recognizes him with the mask off. The kids never learn the truth, and Kakashi says he wants to mess with them more before fessing up, but at last we know what he looks like. There's no big shock to it: he looks perfectly normal, but he might be a little shy about the mole you can see on his jaw. It's distinctive and adds character, buddy – don't feel bad about it. You lost a whole eyeball and replaced it with your dead best friend's magical one — what's a little beauty mark in the grand scheme?