Naruto

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Naruto is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto. It is a highly popular worldwide pop culture phenomenon, originating in Japan and achieving critical commercial success in the United States and elsewhere.[1] The animated television show from the Cartoon Network has spawned spinoffs in many different mediums, including video games, DVDs, action figures, card games, books and clothing.[2] Naruto was among the top ten Internet searches in 2009, according to a Yahoo! source.[3] Books about Naruto have been on the New York Times bestseller lists.[4] The story is about Naruto Uzumaki, a teenage ninja battling for recognition and aspiring to become the strongest ninja and leader, called a Hokage, who has an unfortunate and powerful secret sealed up inside his body.

Two children dressed up in ninja costumes.
Two children dress up in ninja costumes as characters Naruto Uzumaki and Kakashi Hatake.

Background

The animated television series is based on a comic published in the August 1997 issue of Akamaru Jump. Kishimoto was influenced by shōnen manga but strove to create unique characters.[5] Putting characters into different teams helped the storyline, as well as having each character be extremely skillful in one particular attribute while weak in others.[6] It appeared in the magazine Shonen Jump. The anime series began airing in the United States and Canada beginning in 2005, in the United Kingdom in 2006, and in Australia in 2007. The DVD vNaruto: Shippuden was released in North America on September 2009 and began broadcasts from Disney XD in October. The manga has sold over 89 million copies in Japan. Serialized in Viz's Shonen Jump magazine, Naruto has become one of the company's best-selling manga series.

Plot

Naruto Uzumaki is a young boy who has a Nine-Tailed Demon Fox sealed inside him. Twelve years earlier, the fox had attacked the ninja village and slaughtered many people, so the leader of the Fourth Hokage sealed the fox inside Naruto when he was a newborn, and everybody was told to keep quiet. Unfortunately, as Naruto is growing up, he's tricked into stealing a forbidden scroll, and through a series of plot twists and turns, he comes to realize that he -- Naruto -- is the carrier of the demon fox. Naruto and his friends Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno are assigned to form a team named Team 7 led by an experienced sensei named Kakashi Hatake. Team 7 must complete missions requested by villagers. During these missions, Naruto befriends other characters, masters new skills, gains new abilities, gets to know himself, his friends, and the other villagers better. Team 7 takes a ninja exam to qualify for harder missions. And the story develops from there.

Videogames, movies, books, card games...

In 2007, the videogame Naroto: Rise of a Ninja was written for Microsoft's XBOX 360, and game designer Sebastien Puel described its popularity.[7] The game recreated Naruto's entire world including his house, the University, the ramen shop.[7] Many of the game's designers and programmers had been Naruto fans before the code was written.[7] Designers built upon a Ubisoft engine called Jade, and used this as a starting point, and then added many upgrades to the point where they renamed the engine "fox".[7] Designer Puel describes how the game worked:

We wanted to tell the real story of Naruto. In the beginning Naruto (the player) is hated by the people of Konoha, without knowing exactly why. Progressively, Naruto (the player) comes to understand the reason for being rejected. Through his actions in the village, he will eventually be acknowledged by the population and respected as a ninja. That's really the basis of the game and what everything else is based on.[7]

The video game Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution was released to play on the Nintendo Wii and has been described as a "fun and fast-paced video game" which "delivers a frenetic brawler for you and up to three friends."[2] A USA Today reporter described the game in more detail:

Basic moves include dash, double jump, punch, mid-air attacks, counter moves and blocks. Advanced moves to pull off include Shino Aburame's "parasitic insects jutsu," Gaara's "sand burial" move and Naruto's "nine-tailed berserk" — each prefaced with a short but impressive animated sequence. Speaking of visuals, the game uses a fitting "cel-shaded" approach, which makes the fighters look like they're from a Saturday morning cartoon.[2]

In the movie Naruto: The Movie -- Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow (2002), the fledgling ninja discovers that the actress he's tasked with protecting is really a princess from a "magical land" but which has been overtaken by a powerful evil.[8] In the movie Naruto Shippuden, demons who once had tried to destroy the world are miraculously revived, and the only one who can stop them is the shrine maiden Shion; she has two powers (1) sealing demons and (2) predicting the future deaths of humans. Naruto's mission is to guard Shion but in this movie, she predicts his death.[9] The Naruto Shippuden series was brought to the Disney XD digital cable network in the United States in 2009; it's the sequel to the popular original "Naruto" series (which began in 2005) on the Cartoon Network.[10]

Critical reaction

New York Times television critic Mike Hale wondered why Japanese animation has an "image problem" in the United States.[10] He wrote:

Add it up and there must be Japanese television cartoons that share at least some of the narrative and visual splendor of the best anime films. In fact, more than a few of them are already on American television, hiding in plain sight on Cartoon Network's crazy-quilt schedule. Shows like "Naruto," "Fullmetal Alchemist" or "Samurai Champloo" put the vast majority of American-made cartoons to shame and can hold their own with most live-action prime-time TV; and by the standards of their network and their time slots, they're hits, with audiences in the high six figures.[10]

Hale commented that the "best Japanese cartoons" are about "coming of age" stories and had an emphasis on story-telling and emotion.[10] He described why Naruto's story was so compelling:

The most impressive may be "Naruto," which has the requisite fantastical premise. A fox demon that threatens a village is trapped in a human baby, who grows up an outcast; now a 12-year-old troublemaker, he determines to redeem himself by becoming the village's top ninja. The show also deploys the sort of visual touches that have migrated from anime into American cartoons: moments of stress or high emotion trigger wild distortions of faces and figures, or throw the whole cartoon out of its semirealistic mode into black and white squiggles.[10]

No wonder that Naruto comic books have sold over 71 million copies in Japan,[11] while in 2008 it increased to 89 million.[12]

One reviewer praised Kishimoto's skill at combining fight scenes, comedy, and deft artwork.[13] The anime and manga magazine Neo described Naruto as "irksome" and attributed the series' "almost sickening addictiveness" to its level of characterization.[14] Carl Kimlinger praised how even the "goofiest looking character" can act "damn cool" when he fights. H

References

  1. Why Is 'Naruto' So Popular?, NPR, January 26, 2009. Retrieved on 2010-03-02. “Masashi Kishimoto's Naruto is one of the most popular manga series in the U.S. Madeleine Brand talks with animation expert Charles Solomon about what led the Japanese series to top USA Today's bestseller list.”
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Marc Saltzman. 'Naruto' packs ninja action for the Wii, USA Today, 2008-01-21. Retrieved on 2010-03-02. “Now, Nintendo Wii owners can test their skills as a young ninja with Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution, a fun and fast-paced video game that, while not doing much to push the fighting genre forward, delivers a frenetic brawler for you and up to three friends.”
  3. Top 10 Yahoo! Internet Searches of 2009, CBS News, 2009. Retrieved on 2010-03-02. “TOP TEN OVERALL YAHOO! SEARCHES FOR 2009 1. Michael Jackson 2. Twilight 3. WWE 4. Megan Fox 5. Britney Spears 6. Naruto (Japanese Anime) 7. American Idol 8. Kim Kardashian 9. NASCAR 10. Runescape”
  4. Graphic Books: Best Sellers, The New York Times, February 25, 2010. Retrieved on 2010-03-02. “NARUTO, VOL. 47, by Masashi Kishimoto. (VIZ Media, $9.99.) Naurto learns more secrets from his past and moves closer to discovering the identity of his nemesis, Pain.”
  5. Kishimoto, Masashi (2007). Uzumaki: the Art of Naruto. Viz Media, 138. ISBN 1-4215-1407-9. 
  6. Kishimoto, Masashi (2007). Uzumaki: the Art of Naruto. Viz Media, 141. ISBN 1-4215-1407-9. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Gamespeak: Sebastien Puel: An interview with Sebastien Puel, game producer for the XBOX 360 exclusive, Naruto: Rise of a Ninja, CBS News, Oct. 15, 2007. Retrieved on 2010-03-02. “For the first time ever, we've recreated the true Naruto universe and as a result, we've also recreated a living and breathing Konoha. In "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja" fans and gamers can visit places like the Hokage's house, the University, Naruto's house, the ramen shop and a ton more places we want to keep as surprises. The best part is they're real places that are entirely open, not just backgrounds. Konoha in "Naruto: Rise of a Ninja" is made of hundreds of buildings, all climbable and explorable. Since the beginning, we had hoped that players would not only enjoy all the different types of gameplay opportunities within the city, but that players would also take the time to just wander the village, explore new and hidden places, discover a patio or find a new rooftop each time they come back to the city. To be honest, it still happens to me even after playing the game hundreds of hours! There are times when I'm walking down the streets and still discover things I did not know about ... in our own game!”
  8. Jason Buchanan. Naruto: The Movie - Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow (2002), The New York Times: Movies, 2002. Retrieved on 2010-03-02. “Based on the popular anime series of the same name, Naruto: The Movie follows the quest of a fledgling ninja who discovers that the actress he has been assigned to protect is in fact a princess from a magical land. Naruto has been hired to protect popular actress Yukie Fujikaze, but Yukie harbors a deep secret that could forever alter her protector's fate. Yukie is not only an actress, she's also a princess from the magical realm of Snow Country - which has recently been overtaken by a powerful evil. Now, as that evil strikes out with a vengeance, Naruto will find that overzealous fans are the least of his worries.”
  9. Naruto Shippuden, The New York Times: Movies, 2010-03-02. Retrieved on 2010-03-02. “Demons that once almost destroyed the world are revived. To prevent the world from being destroyed, the demon has to be sealed and the only one who can do it is the shrine maiden Shion from the country of demons. She has two powers--sealing demons and predicting the deaths of humans. This time Naruto's mission is to guard Shion, but she predicts Naruto's death. The only way to escape it is to get away from Shion, which would leave her unguarded, then the demon--whose only goal is to kill Shion will do so--thus meaning the end of the world. Naruto decides to challenge this prediction of death. ~ Baseline StudioSystems”
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 David Ward. Anime series secures slot on Disney XD, Reuters, Sep 11, 2009. Retrieved on 2010-03-02. “"Disney XD is a growing destination for our key demographic, boys 6-14, and we're looking forward to bringing the adventures of 'Naruto Shippuden' to our lineup," said Tracy McAndrew, director, acquisitions and co-productions, Disney-ABC Cable Networks Group.”
  11. The Rise and Fall of Weekly Shōnen Jump: A Look at the Circulation of Weekly Jump. ComiPress.com (March 6, 2007). Retrieved on November 22, 2008.
  12. Top Manga Properties in 2008 - Rankings and Circulation Data. Comi Press (December 31, 2008). Retrieved on November 10, 2009.
  13. Sparrow, A. E. (2007-02-027). Naruto Vol. 13 Review. IGN. Retrieved on November 13, 2008.
  14. White, Nik (September, 2006), at United Kingdom, "Naruto Vol. 1: Unleashed", Neo (no. 23): 70–71, ISSN 1744-9596