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Naruto (NARUTO -ナルト-, Naruto?, romanized as NARUTO in Japan) is a manga series written and illustrated by mangaka Masashi Kishimoto with an anime adaptation. The main character, Naruto Uzumaki, is a loud, hyperactive, unpredictable adolescent ninja who constantly searches for approval and recognition, as well as to become Hokage, acknowledged as the leader and strongest of all ninja in the village.
The manga was first published by Shueisha in 1999 in the 43rd issue of Japan's Shonen Jump magazine. As of volume 36, the manga has sold over 71 million copies in Japan. VIZ Media publishes a translated version in the American Shonen Jump magazine. Naruto has become VIZ's best-selling manga series. To date, the first 15 volumes are available. In order to catch up to the translated anime, VIZ plans to release volumes 16 to 27 three at a time over the months of September to December 2007.
The first of two anime series, produced by Studio Pierrot and Aniplex, premiered across Japan on the terrestrial TV Tokyo network and the anime satellite television network Animax on October 3, 2002, and is still being aired. Viz also licensed the anime for North American production. Naruto debuted in the United States on Cartoon Network's Toonami programming block on September 10, 2005, and in Canada on YTV's Bionix on September 16, 2005. Naruto began showing in the UK on Jetix on July 22, 2006. It began showing on Toasted TV on January 12, 2007 in Australia, although it could be watched on Cartoon Network in 2006. The first series lasted nine seasons, while Naruto: Shippūden began its first on February 15, 2007.
Twelve years before the events at the focus of the series, the nine-tailed demon fox attacked Konohagakure. Powerful enough to raise tsunamis and flatten mountains with a swish of one of its tails, it raised chaos and slaughtered many people, until the leader of the Leaf Village – the Fourth Hokage – sacrificed his own life to seal the demon inside a newly-born child, Naruto Uzumaki. The Fourth Hokage, who was celebrated as a hero for sealing the demon fox away, wanted Naruto to be respected in a similar light by being the containment vessel for the demon fox.
The Leaf Village, however, shunned him, regarding Naruto as if he were the demon fox itself and mistreated him throughout most of his childhood. A decree made by the Third Hokage forbide anyone to discuss or mention the attack of the demon fox to anyone, even their own children. However, this did not stop them from treating him like an outcast and as a result he grew up an orphan without friends, family, or acknowledgment. He could not force people to befriend him, so he sought acknowledgment and attention the only way he knew – through pranks and mischief.
However, that soon changed after Naruto graduated from the Ninja Academy by using his Multiple Shadow Clone Technique to save his teacher, Iruka Umino, from the renegade ninja Mizuki. That encounter gave Naruto two insights: that he was the container of the demon fox, and that there was someone besides the Third Hokage who actually cared for and acknowledged him. His graduation from the academy opened a gateway to the events and people that would change and define his world, including his way of the ninja for the rest of his life.
The main story follows Naruto and his friends' personal growth and development as ninja, and emphasizes their interactions with each other and the influence of their backgrounds on their personalities. Naruto finds two friends and comrades in Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno, two fellow young ninja who are assigned with him to form a three-person team under an experienced sensei named Kakashi Hatake. Naruto also confides in other characters that he meets throughout the series as well. They learn new abilities, get to know each other and other villagers better, and experience a coming-of-age journey as Naruto dreams of becoming the Hokage of the Leaf Village.
Throughout all of the Naruto plot, strong emphasis on character development changes the plot, with very few things happening because of chance. At first, emphasis is placed on Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura, who are the members of Team 7. However, other characters are developed, such as Kakashi, Tsunade, and Jiraiya, as well as Naruto's peers in the other teams and villages. Several major villains come into play as well, the first being Zabuza Momochi, a missing-nin from Kirigakure, and his partner, Haku. Later, in the Chunin Exams arc, Orochimaru is introduced as an S-Class missing-nin at the top of Konoha's most wanted list. Later still, a mysterious organization called Akatsuki begins to pursue Naruto for the nine-tailed demon fox inside him.
Naruto has a large and colorful cast of characters, running a gamut of detailed histories and complex personalities, and allowing many of them their fair share in the spotlight; they are also seen to grow and mature with the series, as it spans several years. As fitting for a coming-of-age saga, Naruto's world constantly expands and thickens, and his social relations are no exception – during his introduction he has only his teacher and the village's leader for sympathetic figures, but as the story progresses, more and more people become a part of his story.
The students at the Ninja Academy, where the story begins, are split up into squads of three after their graduation and become Genin, junior ninja. Each squad is assigned an experienced sensei. These core squads form a basis for the characters' interactions later in the series, where characters are chosen for missions for their team's strength and complementary skills; Naruto's squad 7 becomes the social frame where Naruto is acquainted with Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno, and their sensei Kakashi Hatake, forming the core of his world-in-the-making. The other three-man teams of his former classmates form another such layer, as Naruto connects with them to various degrees, learning of their motives, vulnerabilities, and aspirations, often relating them to his own. The groups of three are not limited to the comrades Naruto's age – groups in the story in general come in threes and multiples of three with very few exceptions.
Sensei-student relationships play a significant role in the series; Naruto has a number of mentors with whom he trains and learns, most notably Iruka Umino, the first ninja to recognize Naruto's existence, Kakashi Hatake, his team leader, and Jiraiya, and there are often running threads of tradition and tutelage binding together several generations. These role models provide guidance for their students not only in the ninja arts but also in a number of Japanese aesthetics and philosophical ideals. Techniques, ideals, and mentalities noticeably run in families, Naruto often being exposed to the abilities and traditions of generation-old clans in his village when friends from his own age group demonstrate them, or even achieve improvements of their own; it is poignantly noted that Naruto's generation is particularly talented.
Many of the greater lingering mysteries of the series are questions of character motives and identity. The legacy of Naruto's parents, the goals that guide Kabuto Yakushi, the identity of the mysterious person who orders the Akatsuki leader – these are only a few of the fundamental unanswered questions of "who" and, by proxy, "why" currently at the core of the series. The story is remarkably character-driven; the theme of causality runs inherently throughout the series as characters reciprocate for their past actions and relationships. In this respect, characters' respective destinies are very much intertwined, and large emphasis is placed on comradeship and 'bonds' between the community or individual.
Character names often borrow from Japanese mythology, folklore and literature (such as the names borrowed from the folk-tale Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari), or are otherwise elaborate puns; often there is a noticeable influence of the story behind the name shouldered by the character.
Even though it debuted some time after the manga, the anime quickly caught up, since one anime episode usually covers one or two manga chapters. To prevent overlapping, the anime's producers tend to organize content from the manga chapters into long, uneventful sections followed by short bursts of action, sometimes adding filler content in between. By the time the last canonical arc of the anime concluded, it was quickly gaining on the manga and consequently switched to anime-only filler episodes to allow the manga to broaden the gap once more. Most of the filler episodes are stand-alone stories, with a few being part of arcs that are several episodes long. The filler episodes lasted for 85 episodes, the duration of the first series. After the series moved back into manga-adapted episodes, it was renamed Naruto: Shippūden (疾風伝, Naruto: Shippūden? lit. Hurricane Chronicles). The new series premiered on February 15, 2007.
The anime generally remains true to the manga, usually changing only minor details (causes of death, loss of limbs, and other injuries have been lessened in the anime) or expanding on parts skipped by the manga. The filler arcs, though unreferenced in the manga (save for a few scant scenes), deal with the breaks between story arcs, most prominently the period between the mission to retrieve Sasuke and Naruto's departure from Leaf Village at the end of the original series. The filler arcs also often shine the spotlight on minor characters that have received little narrative attention otherwise.
New episodes, animated by Studio Pierrot, air weekly on TV Tokyo in Japan during the Golden Time slot (Japan's equivalent of prime time in the US). As of October 5, 2006, it shows on Thursday nights. The series has also spawned four movies, Naruto the Movie, Naruto the Movie 2, Naruto the Movie 3, and Naruto: Shippūden the Movie scheduled to premiere on August 4, 2007. The first three are available on DVD.
On September 10, 2005, Naruto had its hour-long premiere in the U.S. on Cartoon Network's Toonami. The first episode of Naruto premiered in Canada on YTV on September 16, 2005. In the United Kingdom, Naruto premiered on Jetix on July 22, 2006. In Australia and New Zealand it premiered on Cartoon Network on September 27, 2006. It also began showing on Toasted TV on January 12, 2007, in Australia.
In its English anime release, Naruto was aired with a TV-PG rating in the US and a PG rating in Canada. More explicit episodes, such as Jiraiya's debut and the battle with Zabuza, have been given a TV-PG-DS or a TV-PG-V rating. References to alcohol, Japanese cultural differences, mild language, mild sexual situations, and even blood and death remain in the English version, though reduced in some instances. Other networks make additional content edits apart from the edits done by Cartoon Network, such as Jetix's more strict censoring of blood, language, smoking and the like. So far, only one episode, the "lost OVA", has received a TV-Y7-FV rating.
The series' length and popularity is comparable to that of Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball, another popular action-oriented shōnen manga. Since its creation, Naruto has spawned a large number of fansites that contain detailed information, guides, and active forums. Some of the first and most popular sites targeted at English speaking audiences were established shortly after the first English manga volume was released in August 2003. Like many other manga and anime titles, Naruto has also spawned its own collectible card game.
Prior to the anime's North American debut in 2005, several scanlation and fansub groups translated the series and made it available for free download on the internet. Despite North American companies' perceived tendency to prosecute fansubbing groups more frequently than Japanese companies, there are some that have continued to translate new Naruto episodes due to the extremely large gap between the English and Japanese versions.
Volume 7 of the manga has recently won a Quill Award for best graphic novel in North America. In TV Asahi's latest top 100 Anime Ranking, Naruto ranked 17th on the list.