- "We're all the same species, so we know that motives for war are of no concern. Religion, ideology, resources, land, grudges, love, or just because they crave it... No matter how pathetic the reason, anything's enough for mankind to start a new war. War will never cease to exist. Human nature pursues strife, and we are their remedy."
- ―- Pain to the Akatsuki
The Akatsuki was a secret group of shinobi outside the usual system of hidden villages and nations led by Pain. Through its twenty-year existence, the organization was widely seen as criminal and terrorist, though its core tennet claimed the search to make the world a better place through their own means. The Akatsuki possessed no single base of operations, and instead operated in a network of lairs across the world, hidden and inaccessible to others.
The Akatsuki was founded by Yahiko, Konan, and Nagato shortly after the end of the Second Great Shinobi War in 90 AG. The three were orphans of the war, and created the Akatsuki in the hopes of using their bending to bring peace to their war-torn nation, the Land of Storms, and its hidden village of Amegakure, which, like all other smaller villages and nations, suffered greatly in the crossfire of the great world wars under the five great nations, provokers of th conflict.
Their revolutionary ideas brought forth many young Ame benders to their cause, and, with time, their exploits became known outside Amegakure. The group's early fame had much to do with Nagato's charisma, which kept all of his teammates united and motivated despite all animosities.
Amegakure's village head, the tyrant Hanzo the Salamander, quickly discovered the whereabouts of the group, and saw them as a threat to his leadership and the Land of Storms' status quo. He planned to have Yahiko, Konan, and Nagato killed and so fooled them into meeting with him. Once they got there, the trio was ambushed by Hanzo's men, who were able to mortally wound Yahiko. This led Nagato to a fist of pure rage as he summoned the Demonic Statue of the Outer Path with his Rinnegan and slaughtered them all, Hanzo included.
In his last words, Yahiko entrusted the continuation of the Akatsuki to Nagato and Konan. Broken with Yahiko's death, the duo came to believe that the world would never want real peace, and that the Akatsuki's former pacifist approaches wold never work. Nagato concluded that the world would only see the benefit of peace when it experienced enough war and deaths that they would never be able to stomach or want it ever again. Nagato then took the name of "Pain" and formed the Six Paths of Pain, integrating Yahiko's corpse as his own to continue leading the Akatsuki.
Recruiting the roster
After the end of the Second Hundred Year War, the Akatsuki started recruiting S-rank missing-nin, those being benders of immense power and unique abilities, mostly by kekkei genkai. Their competing personalities and life aspirations were unified behind Pain's goal of world domination, and as such they all joined by their own will and desire. Once the Akatsuki recruited its ten intended members, they began following a three-step process to fulfill Pain's objective: obtain money to support them; provide mercenary services under competitive rate with the money gathered in the first step, effectively putting the nations and hidden villages of the world out of business. Step two is followed with the capture and deployment of the Jinchuriki and the tailed beasts within them, which would be easily make them win any war. The third step would only be achieved with the disappearance of the shinobi nations and unification of the world, resulting in the end of all wars.
Involvement in the world
The Akatsuki experienced great success, as private benefactors and even officials within governments hired them to fight in battles and assassination missions they were unwilling to get involved duo to diplomatic reasons following the end of the war. By 126 AG, Kumogakure was the only hidden village that never hired the Akatsuki, while Iwagakure frequently employed their services. Despite their success, the Akatsuki remained mysterious and elusive, and many believed that they operated in uncharted lands beyond the South Sea. Despite this, the group faced internal trouble when then-member Orochimaru attempted to steal the body of Itachi Uchiha after he joined the organization, and was thus forced to defect for his treachery. During this time, the organization started to work towards capturing Avatars and stealing their tailed beasts.
Pain's actual objective about acquiring the beasts was to harness their chi to create a powerful forbidden technique that would wipe out one side of the globe and display the carnage to the other side stop fighting. If conflict started again, this forbidden technique would be reused, creating small periods of peace in an endless loop of causality. Because all but one of the Jinchuriki were in possession of hidden villages, capturing them risked starting a war or losing former clients. Nevertheless, the Akatsuki was able to capture the Four-Tails, the Five-Tails and the Seven-Tails without much incident shortly after the Third Great Shinobi War in 105 AG.
Emerging from the shadows
Their mission to capture the Jinchuriki elevated them from the shadows of their anonymity to the world, causing a growing concern among the nations. Following Gaara's capture by Deidara and Sasori and the extraction of the One-Tail, the latter was killed in battle in a joint effort between Konohagakure and Sunagakure forces that crossed the Si Wong Desert to rescue the Avatar. Not long after, Deidara and Sasori's replacement, Tobi, captured the Three-Tails, followed by Hidan and Kakuzu capturing the Two-Tails, although the latter two were killed by the Twenty Platoons. Months later, Deidara, Tobi and Itachi died in separate battles against Sasuke Uchiha.
This worried Pain, who then launched an assault on Konohagakure alongside Konan, leaving thousands dead. After a violent fight against Naruto in his Avatar State that led to the destruction of the Six Paths of Pain, Naruto was able to convince a dying Pain that a bloodless peace was more worth pursing than death. With Nagato gone, Konan parted her ways, but not before encouraging Naruto to find the peace she and her friends were never able to.
Downfall, dissolution and appropriation
Having in fact escaped Sasuke's attack, Tobi appropriated the resources of the Akatsuki, killed Konan when she tried to stop him, and gained the loyalty of Zetsu, its only surviving members, but remained in the shadows; he plotted to create the Eye of the Moon Plan through the Infinite Tsukuyomi, a forbidden technique he would cast on the world, ending all conflict so he could claim his place as an unimposed leader.
Continuing the Akatsuki's work, Tobi then went after the Eight-Tails, one of the only two remaining tailed beasts. While Tobi appeared successful, they were tricked by Killer Bee, the Jinchuriki of the Eight-Tails. Following Zetsu's report of Pain's death, Ozai discovered of Naruto's existence and his constant meddling on his plans.
Akatsuki members wore long, black cloaks with red clouds and interiors, as well as a chin-high collars. The red clouds represent the "rain of blood" that fell upon Amegakure during the First and Second Great Shinobi Wars , and symbolized the justice Yahiko, Konan, and Nagato originally wanted for the Land of Storms. Their robes are easily identifiable, allowing them to be noticed from a distance.
Another trademark of the organization is for members to cross out the symbol of their hidden villages on their headbands to showcase they abandoned their homes, although some opted to not wear headbands at all. Akatsuki members also wore nail polish of varied color on their fingers and toenails. During long travels, such as when Deidara and Sasori had to cross the Si Wong Desert to reach Sunagakure, members wore conical straw hats with ornamental torques and tassels that hanged down over their faces to remain unnoticed.
Each member of the Akatsuki was given one of ten rings, which could only be worn on a specific finger. Other than signifying the membership of an individual, it also allowed them to seal tailed beasts into the Demonic Statue of the Outer Path, where it indicates in which of the statue's finger should a member stand on. The rings are irreplaceable, as evidenced by when Orochimaru defected from the Akatsuki, he took his ring with him, and as a result his role could never be fulfilled by anyone else. Tobi sought for Sasori's ring after his death in order to replace him as Deidara's partner and the ninth member of the organization.
- Right thumb: "zero" (零); worn by Pain. Purplish-grey in color
- Right index finger: "blue" (青); worn by Deidara. Teal in color
- Right middle finger: "white" (白); worn by Konan. White in color
- Right ring finger: "scarlet" (朱); worn by Itachi Uchiha. Red in color
- Right little finger: "boar" (亥); worn by Zetsu. Green in color
- Left little finger: "void" (空); worn by Orochimaru. Blue in color
- Left ring finger: "south" (南); worn by Kisame Hoshigaki. Yellow in color
- Left middle finger: "north" (北); worn by Kakuzu. Dark green in color
- Left index finger: "three" (三); worn by Hidan. Orange in color
- Left thumb: "jewel" (玉); worn by Sasori and later Tobi. Purple in color
The members of the Akatsuki were organized in small teams of two, paried with one another duo to perceived similarities, such as Itachi and Kisame, or deadly combinations, such as Kakuzu and Hidan. While some of the pairs had better relationships with one another, few of them really got along with one another, and were merely united out of the same goal: to end the conflict in the world by playing all sides and acquiring power. Some members are even hostile against others who aren't their partners, though they meet so rarely that such concerns are moot. Teams travel around the world enacting the will of the Akatsuki, and only met when summoned by Pain, mostly in sessions which consists in sealing a tailed beast within the Demonic Statue of the Outer Path.
Pain and Konan
As childhood friends and two of the original founders of the Akatsuki, Nagato (as Pain), and Konan were the only members of the organization who constantly got along. As Pain was the leader of the Akatsuki, Konan usually deferred to him, doing as he wishes even despite her personally disagreeing with him. As the village leaders of Amegakure, Konan was the "angel" to Pain's "god", and both spread their will to the village. Together, they captured the Five-Tails and the Six-Tails.
Itachi and Kisame
Kisame and Itachi were one of the most formidable teams in the organization, as both members were infamous for murdering their fellow countrymen. Despite their conflicting personalities and worldviews, Itachi and Kisame got along well to the point of a genuine friendship. Kisame lusted for enemy blood, while Itachi was more reserved and as such acted as the leader of the group. Together they captured the Four-Tails.
Deidara and Tobi
Following Sasori's replacement for Tobi, the clumsy bender became Deidara's new partner. Tobi's clumsiness deeply annoyed Deidara, although not duo to bad faith but his own ignorance. Deidara's anger got in their way more than once duo to his irritation, and he contemplated killing Tobi, although he never followed through. Deidara took upon himself as Tobi's master, instructing him on the world. Together they captured the Three-Tails.
Kakuzu and Hidan
Kakuzu and Hidan were partnered out of their bending abilities; unique even compared to the rest of the Akatsuki, Kakuzu possessed five hearts while Hidan was effectively immortal. While a level of cooperation existed between the other pairs, Kakuzu and Hidan hated one another, and only worked together out of necessity. Kakuzu's obsession with money and honor was something heretical to the religious zealot Hidan. Despite their animosity, the two were the Akatsuki's most effective pair, known as the "Immortal Duo", believed to be unstoppable as long as they were together. Together they captured the Two-Tails and the Seven-Tails.
Zetsu was the only member without a proper pair, as his being was made of two separate personalities: White Zetsu and Black Zetsu. They argued often, but never allowed it to interfere with their tasks, most of which consisted of spying, assassinating, acquiring resources, and disposing of "undesirables". Zetsu was the only member to regularly meet with all others in person as a result of his bending abilities.
Sasori and Deidara
Sasori and Deidara were paired together when Orochimaru defected and Sasori needed a new partner. The duo clashed, but Deidara had a deep respect for his master, as both saw themselves as artists with little respect to the other's art: Sasori, as a puppet, believed that art was eternal, while Deidara believed that art was the sudden. Together they captured the One-Tail.
Orochimaru and Sasori
Orochimaru and Sasori were the first team to be formed after Pain and Konan themselves. Both traitors to their nations, the duo was incredibly effective, and they were close enough for Orochimaru to know Sasori's actual body beneath the carapace of Hiruko. Orochimaru's betrayal to the organization in trying to kill Itachi effectively killed their relationship, and even years after he left, Sasori was interested on his elusive activities.