I hate it.
But not just because the design is boring and uninspired. It's more than that.... The feeling it imparts is isolation.
This is not a happy, feel-good cover. It says nothing about Naruto finally meeting his goals. It says nothing about his happiness. It says nothing about his love of his team (or Sasuke). It does not tell a story about the character (Naruto).
Look at every other cover up until now. They are dynamic, involve multiple characters and are almost always engaging the audience. And if they're not, then the characters are fighting each other. But in almost every one, Naruto is looking at the reader.
Like the ending — where the Naruto we knew disappears while Sasuke is narrating, only to return in the epilogue as a hardened Hokage, with the hopefulness and boundless enthusiasm of his youth washed away by the burdens of adulthood — this cover reflects a Naruto that is alone in his responsibility for the village. This is his life now. And the fact that he doesn't engage the audience is a very strong statement of how much he has changed.
A good image tells a story, without having to use any words or cutlines or cues to inform the viewer. The viewer "reads" the image.
But there is no true story to read in this image. This is the end. Naruto has turned his back on the viewer. We can't know if he's happy or sad. Stressed or angry. We know nothing about the person he was before. We only know that he is the title that's on his back. And that he is alone in his responsibility of the village.
Think of the alternative way that the visual story of Naruto as Hokage could be told by simply having Naruto turn around:
- Naruto leaning against the balcony rail, smiling at the viewer, with the Hokage hat and cloak flung over his shoulder in a jaunty manner. The message here is that even though he's alone, he's happy and he's succeeded in his goal. He is making direct eye contact with the viewer, his number one fan, the only one who has truly been with him since the beginning. The message is "I did it! We did it!"
Or an alternative image of a more dynamic nature:
- Naruto leaning against the balcony rail, smiling at the viewer, the Hokage hat and cloak flung over his shoulder, and behind him is the whole village, with the rookies and Kakashi, Tsunade, etc. looking up at him smiling and cheering and holding signs saying congratulations. The message is that he's finally met his goal and the village is acknowledging him.
So that's just with him standing there. But the cover could also show Naruto as Hokage in any other way:
- Naruto laughing with Tsunade at the Hokage desk, but now he's in the seat.
- Naruto with the hat on, leaning his arm on the next youngest Naruto, and then the next, with the whole line of Naruto's looking up at the oldest, the Hokage who's finally achieved his goal
- Naruto with the other Hokages, standing around him smiling, while Naruto is in the center in brightest color being acknowledged by them.
So yeah.... If you think of all the choices that Kishimoto could have made for a dynamic, rousing sentimental ending...this cover — Naruto alone with his back turned to the viewer — is not it.
My honest opinion is that the cover reflects more about Kishimoto's feelings than it does about Naruto reaching his goals or being the last volume of the series.
I think Kishimoto was ready to be finished. So he drew the quickest, easiest, most non-sentimental cover he could. He portrayed Naruto as turning his back on his fans and his youthful adventures and giving himself up to his life and duty. (The show's over. The doors are closing, everybody out.)
I think Kishimoto wrote the end to Naruto with himself in mind. Naruto is jaded and tired, putting his work responsibilities above everything else. He is so tremendously OOC, it's like you're not even reading the same character. I think Kishimoto started his time writing Naruto as youthful and hopeful, but now he's 20 years older and tired of it, and sees how different life is now instead of when he was just starting out. He's jaded.
There are two take-aways from this cover: First is that Naruto is standing watch over his village. Second is that he's turned his back on everything else.
It's not a positive message.
So I can't help but think that somehow it reflects Kishimoto's feelings at the end of the series. He's turning his back too. He's ready to be done with it.
Yes, the cover shows Naruto as Hokage, but there were lots of different, more positive ways to show that. The image could have imparted a range of emotions such as humor or achievement or nostalgia or camaraderie. But instead the only emotion that is shown is closure.
Naruto is alone. His duty is more important that goofing off for readers anymore. This is the end. Show's over. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.