animefringe july 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
Naruto - Shuriken-Throwing Ninja Action!

Written and drawn by Kishimoto Masashi, Naruto began its run in Shonen Weekly Jump #43 in 1999. Now, four years and 173 chapters later, it's still going strong, its fan base increasing year by year. So much so, in fact, that it had spawned an anime series, which was slotted to prime time a few months ago. Following the anime is mass merchandising, from ninja headbands, to Nintendo fighting games, figurines and cards.

But isn't this just another ninja story?

A ninja story it is, with an excellent and huge cast of characters, each with their own motivations and idiosyncrasies, set in a world divided by ninja villages, with the main ninja village, Konoha, beautifully detailed and illustrated. But most of all, this is a story led by a little troublemaker, an orphan and a simple-minded fool with big dreams, all rolled into one bundle of messy blonde hair and cheeky blue eyes called Uzumaki Naruto.

Ostracized by almost everyone in the village because a nine-tailed demon fox was sealed inside him, Naruto grew up alone. His antics and troublemaking ways were his method of getting attention. He dreamt of becoming Hokage, the leader of the ninja village, in hopes that everyone would look up to him, and accept him. Unfortunately, his general klutziness in the ninja academy, and his eccentric jutsu (ninja techniques) creations did not exactly make him out to be the sort of ninja character that everyone looks up to. Iruka Sensei, his form teacher, was not exactly impressed with Naruto's 'sexy no jutsu' (transforming into a cute naked blonde girl), even though it might give him an awful nose bleed.

The story however, actually began when Naruto passed the exam and was promoted as a genin, the lowest level ninja. Here too is the bit where we are introduced to a whole mass of characters. Naruto was assigned a group and a Jounin instructor, one of the higher level ninjas. His teammates were Uchiha Sasuke, the top rookie of the ninja academy, and Haruno Sakura, the girl Naruto has the hots for.

Unfortunately, they all don't seem to get along. Naruto keeps trying to flirt with Sakura. She, having violent tendencies, tends to beat him up, and considers Sasuke to be more her type. Sasuke, however, is oblivious to all Sakura's attempts at trying to get together with him. He has his own agenda, as the story goes, to avenge the deaths of the all the members of his clan at the hands of his own brother. Oh, and did i forget to mention this? Sasuke and Naruto are both ticked off by each other. Naruto, because he considers Sasuke his rival, while Sasuke considers Naruto a big-mouthed idiot (though later, Sasuke does come around, and thinks of Naruto as more of a rival). And to top it all, their jounin instructor is a masked ninja named Hatake Kakashi who instructs them while being engrossed by a hentai manga called Come Come Paradise.

Perhaps what makes Naruto such a big winner is the characterization. Although the manga is called Naruto, there are a number of other characters who play huge roles in the development of the story. The story itself seems to become bigger and bigger, the plot ever more twisted and convoluted. There are sideline stories next to the main plot, though you might get the feeling that somehow, it's all going to tie together. Then, there's also the excellent artwork of Kishimoto Masashi itself, which speaks volumes and is simply delightful. Overall, Naruto appeals to almost everyone and there's always a character you can relate to.

The anime is currently not available or licensed in US, so unless you own a region-free DVD player (for non-region-two anime fans), understand Japanese, and are willing to splurge on Japanese DVDs, your best bet would be fansubs. The manga, however, is accessible through Shonen Jump, English edition, published by VIZ.