Near the end of 1999, a new manga series created by Masashi Kishimoto named Naruto debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump magazine in Japan. It followed a young ninja, Naruto, who lived in a fantasy world out of Japanese mythology. In the first issue, we discover that Naruto has a demon trapped inside his body. On the day of his birth, a colossal nine-tailed fox attacked his village, and the only way to stop the fox was to seal it within a baby. Twelve years later, Naruto has become a ninja, and must defeat the enemies who want to steal the demon fox within him… while also resisting the temptation to use the fox’s power for his own ends.
Naruto would go on to explode in popularity, becoming a sales juggernaut around the world. The Naruto manga, anime, video games, and merchandise have been sold in the millions. For nearly fifteen years, Naruto was one of the most popular media franchises across the globe. Even the word “Naruto” would become popular, becoming one of Google’s most searched terms throughout the later ’00s.
With the Naruto manga coming to an end in 2014, a new effort is being made to bring the franchise to the mainstream in the West. We are here today to reveal the secrets behind the world’s most popular ninja, from the series’ comic sales absolutely destroying those of Marvel & DC, to the feature film future of the franchise.
Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Naruto!
15. Naruto Is One Of The Biggest Selling Manga Titles In The World
It didn’t take long for Naruto to become a popular series in Weekly Shonen Jump. The first issue shows the interesting setting, the emotional depth of the main character, and clearly lays out his hopes and dreams for the future (as well as the things that will stand in his way). As the series went on, it gained a reputation for having battles that were won through intelligence and planning, rather than Dragon Ball Z style power levels (although it did fall into those towards the end). The series put a lot of emphasis on the romantic relationships between its characters, as well as adding an entertaining and surprisingly deep supporting cast. It was these last two elements especially that made Naruto a hit online and helped spawn numerous fansites.
When it comes to sales, Naruto is the fourth highest selling manga series of all time. It is beaten only by Dragon Ball, Golgo 13 and One Piece. This is very high praise, as Dragon Ball Z was the biggest manga series of the nineties, with One Piece taking over its place when it finished. Golgo 13 is on the list because it has been in publication since 1968! Golgo 13 is older than most of the people reading this article, and is still going strong.
14. Naruto Has Numerous References To Dragon Ball Z
Like most manga artists that work in the action/battle genre, Masashi Kishimoto was heavily inspired by Dragon Ball Z. He has stated this as fact in many interviews, as well as in the blurbs that were included in the collected Naruto volumes. This should come as no surprise, as Dragon Ball Z was a cultural phenomenon in Japan throughout the ’90s.
When it came to creating his own manga series, Kishimoto decided to include some references to Dragon Ball Z. The first one was a mask of Chiaotzu that was being sold at a fair. As the series went on, a much bigger reference was included, in the form of new characters that were directly inspired by Dragon Ball Z.
The world of Naruto is plagued by nine powerful demons, each based on a real animal, with a number of tails equal to its power. The most effective way of dealing with the demons is to seal them within a living human, where they will remain until that person dies. One of the current bearers of a demon was an old man named Roshi, and the demon he had contained within him was a giant four-tailed monkey, known as Son Goku. In Dragon Ball, Master Roshi was a mentor of Goku, who could transform into a giant ape and often carried a Dragon Ball that had four stars.
13. The Anime Was Full Of Filler
When a manga series becomes popular, it will usually receive an anime adaptation. When this happens, the anime is usually very faithful to the source material (minus some of the censorship that is required for television). If the anime becomes popular, then the manga will see an increase in readership and the series can grow as a franchise.
There is one problem, however. Some manga series can run for years before being completed. Usually, the anime series will be greenlit while the manga is still running. A single issue of a manga is around 18-20 pages in length. These issues do not contain enough material to fill a standard 22 minute episode of a TV show. In order to create enough material for a season, the staff of the anime will have to create their own stories to fill the time. These episodes are referred to as “filler” and are generally disliked by the fans. Nothing can happen in the filler episodes that will mess up the status quo, as they may interfere with the events of the source material when they are adapted.
Naruto is one of the worst series for having an abundance of filler. Over a third of all Naruto episodes were filler, with 43% of the sequel series, Naruto Shippuden, being created by the anime staff.
12. Cartoon Network Censored (And Uncensored) A Scene Of The Two Male Leads Kissing
It is a sad thing to say, but most series aimed at children will not depict homosexuality in any form. The supposed main reason for this (as explained by Olivia Olson, the voice of Marceline from Adventure Time), is that homosexuality is still banned in some countries around the world. With kids TV containing almost universal content in terms of appropriate material, they can be shown almost anywhere across the globe. Because of this, most creators don’t want to rock the boat. They would rather just imply a relationship between two characters of the same gender and let the Internet do the rest.
Masashi Kishimoto wasn’t having any of that! When he introduced Naruto’s main male rival, Sasuke Uchiha, he had the two of them kiss (accidentally) within a few panels of meeting each other. He beat the Internet to the punch before they could draw their own gay erotica of the two characters (although it didn’t take them long to catch up).
When the anime was being made, the kiss was kept in the original Japanese version of the episode. When the show was being dubbed for Cartoon Network, the kiss was edited out. The strange thing is, it appeared a few episodes later. The kiss was shown during a flashback sequence in the episode “The Broken Seal“. This made the initial censorship totally pointless.
11. The Iconic Headbands Were Created Out Of Laziness
If you go to any anime or gaming convention, then there is a good chance that you will see someone wearing a Naruto headband. These are a metal (or plastic) plate that is connected to a piece of black cloth. The plate will have the symbol of one of the ninja villages etched into it (or have it crossed through if they are a member of Akatsuki). The Naruto headband is the epitome of a cheap cosplay accessory. If you only have a couple of dollars to spend on a costume, then the headband might be your best option.
The ninja headband has become one of the most iconic images from Naruto. This is surprising, as it was designed out of sheer laziness.
During the pilot chapter of Naruto, the main character is seen wearing a pair of goggles. Masashi Kishimoto quickly realised that these were going to be a pain to draw every week, as he had to draw the light reflecting off them. He created the headband as a replacement, in order to have something that was easier to draw. He may have come to regret this decision, as almost every character in Naruto wears the headband. If he had just kept the goggles on Naruto himself, then he might have saved himself a lot of time.
10. The Show (Badly) Censored Some Underage Drinking
The Cartoon Network dub of Naruto was surprisingly lenient with censorship. This might be because fans of anime are jaded by the horrible editing that has been done to some shows, like Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon.
Despite the show being fairly faithful to the source material, there were still a few boundaries that couldn’t be crossed. The depiction of narcotics (like cigarettes, as will discuss later) was a big one that had to be changed. The most ridiculous of all censorship happened when an underage character accidentally got drunk.
During the mission to save Sasuke, Rock Lee escapes from hospital in order to help his friends. He takes a bottle of sake with him, mistaking it for medicine. He is dragged into a battle against a powerful foe named Kimimaro. Lee drinks the medicine and gets completely drunk. It is then revealed that he is a master of the Drunken Fist style of Kung Fu. By drinking the sake, Lee becomes a lot stronger and gains the upper hand against Kimimaro.
When it came to translating this scene for the English versions of the Naruto anime/manga, they had to remove the references to drinking. Rock Lee now drunk an Elixir (or a “potion” in the manga), this made him a master of the “Loopy Fist” style of combat. In both cases, the censorship is very light hearted and it is easy to tell what is really going during the scene.
9. Naruto Was Intended To Have A Contemporary Setting
Like most TV shows, a manga series has to go through the process of creating a pilot that needs to be approved before publication. In some cases, the author might be asked to create several pilots in order to get it right (as was the case with One Piece).
Naruto was no exception to this. In 1997, the first ever Naruto comic to be published was a pilot issue that was printed in Akamaru Jump magazine. Outside of a few shared elements, the pilot has many differences to the final Naruto comic. It shows an interesting glimpse into what could have been released, had the series been accepted without any changes.
In the Naruto pilot, the setting is a modern city, rather than a fantasy version of ancient Japan. Naruto himself is actually the demon fox, rather than a human who had the fox sealed within him. He spends the pilot issue solving a crime surrounding the theft of a painting (involving a man being shot with a pistol). In a lot of ways, the only thing that made it into the published version of the manga is Naruto himself.
8. The Author Of The Manga Waited A Decade To Go On His Honeymoon
The creators of manga are referred to as mangaka in Japan. In most cases, it is one individual who both writes and draws the series (though writer & artist collaborations are not unheard of). When it comes to a weekly series, this means that one person has to write and draw around 18 pages of a comic each week. They do have assistants and staff members who help them, but the bulk of the work falls upon one individual. This is without mentioning any work they might need to be put in for the anime, video game and movie adaptations.
In short, a mangaka’s life is devoted to their job. Unlike their Western counterparts, they see the financial rewards for their work. It is not unusual for the creator of a popular series to become a millionaire several times over. With that being said, what is the point of having countless riches if you don’t have the time to spend them?
Masashi Kishimoto was one such creator who devoted his life to his work. When he got married in 2003, he didn’t take any time off for a honeymoon, as he was too busy working on Naruto. Kishimoto and his wife finally had a honeymoon after Naruto ended… in 2014. His poor wife had to wait over a decade to celebrate their marriage.
7. Naruto Had A Live-Action Musical
The Japanese have a reputation as being technophiles. A lot of the technology and entertainment we consume is produced there. It took a long time for the Western world to catch up to Japan when it came to cell phone technology. Two of the biggest names in video gaming (Nintendo and Sony) are from Japan and the aesthetic of their games has been influenced by their country. It seems that the Japanese people are obsessed with technology and no longer care about traditional forms of entertainment.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as the Japanese love the theatres, especially when it comes to musicals. This has combined with the worlds of video gaming and anime on several occasions. There were popular musicals for franchises like Resident Evil, Hunter x Hunter, Phoenix Wright and Bleach.
In 2015, Naruto received a live-action musical. The show followed an abridged version of the Wave Country and Chunin Exam arcs. It was so popular that it had a second run in 2016. It only ran in a few cities in Japan over the past two years, but a DVD of the show was released if you want to see it.
6. The Kakuzu/Mobile Suit Gundam Connection
In the 312th issue of the Naruto manga, two new villains were introduced. They were called Hidan and Kakuzu, who were jokingly referred to as the “Zombie Duo”. The reason for this is due to the extreme effort it would take to kill either of them. Hidan was the priest of an evil religion. He had gained immortality and the ability to regenerate from any wound, due to the horrific rituals he performed and murders that he committed. Hidan had his head cut off at one point and survived it! He just had it sewn back on.
Kakuzu was difficult to kill due to the fact that he had five hearts. He could steal the heart of an opponent, which would extend his lifespan. In order to kill Kakuzu, you had to destroy all five of his hearts. This was no easy task, as his hearts gave him the ability to use the elemental powers of their original owner. This made Kakuzu a terrifying foe in combat.
In the same way that Naruto had references to Dragon Ball Z, there were parts of the series that were inspired by other famous manga and anime. The Gentle Fist fighting style is clearly a reference to Fist of the North Star, for example. Kakuzu has several attacks that are references to Mobile Suit Gundam, a series that is credited with popularising the “Giant Mecha” series in Japan. All of Kakuzu’s techniques are named after the different robots from the Gundam series.
5. The Author Made The Series Up As He Went Along
As mentioned earlier, the life of a mangaka is very hectic. The pressure of having to create a new comic every week, coupled with the other responsibilities in life, must be very difficult to deal with.
When it comes to creating their manga, the author does not have total control over the content. Each manga series in Weekly Shonen Jump has at least one editor assigned to it. Every week, the mangaka and the editor go over the planned events for the next issue of the comic. These editors have a great deal of control over the project. One example of this involves the Androids in Dragon Ball Z. According to Akira Toriyama, he had originally planned for Androids 19 & 20 to be the villains of the story arc. Due to one his former editors complaining about the design, he created Androids 16, 17 and 18. When that same editor complained about them, he created the different forms of Cell.
Due to the editor forcing changes upon a series, it is not unusual for a mangaka to abandon their original plans and just make it up as they go along. This was certainly true of Dragon Ball Z and after Naruto was finished, the author admitted it was true for him as well. He admitted to not having any plan for how the main cast could defeat Uchiha Madara (one of the main villains of the series). He had originally planned for Sasuke to become the Hokage at the end of the series, which also did not come to pass.
4. Censoring Cigarettes
Censorship is an odd thing. The rules can vary wildly depending on where you live and the product you are making. Most American TV shows are cool with gun violence but will shy away from anything related to sex. Japanese video games intended for consoles are strictly regulated, to the point where games like The Witcher 3 will have all of the nudity censored (despite it having the highest age rating). When it comes to PC games in Japan, however, then anything goes.
When it comes to a kids show, one of the things most likely to be censored is smoking of any kind. This happened with the character of Asuma in Naruto. Throughout the manga/anime, Asuma is always depicted with a cigarette in his mouth. This caused an issue when the show was being dubbed, as it would have been too much work to edit the cigarette out of every scene. Instead, they edited out the lit portion of the cigarette. This means that Asuma was always carrying a cigarette, it was just never lit.
Asuma got off lightly. If 4Kids had dubbed Naruto, then there is a good chance that they would have changed his cigarette into a lollipop.
3. The Series Ended With A Huge Reference To Its Main Competitor
Throughout its publication, Naruto was constantly battling for the top spot at Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. Its competition was One Piece, the highest selling manga series in the world.
The rivalry between One Piece and Naruto bears a lot of resemblance to the one between Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. One Piece is a cultural phenomenon in Japan. Despite many attempts, it has yet to break out of its cult status in the West. Naruto is not as popular in Japan as One Piece, yet it has a massive international following that helped even the score.
When Naruto ended in 2014, the final page of the comic contained a huge reference to One Piece. Naruto’s son paints the Jolly Roger of the Straw Hat Pirates (the main characters of One Piece) onto a monument that overlooks his village. In that same issue of Weekly Shonen Jump, the cover page of One Piece depicts the main characters of both series sharing a meal (though Naruto’s face is covered). This has been seen by many as a respectful admission of loss on Masashi Kishimoto’s part. The authors of both One Piece and Naruto have since done interviews together, where they discussed their light-hearted rivalry.
2. The English Dub Needed To Create An Annoying Catchphrase For Naruto
When it comes to translating a Japanese anime into English, the team behind the dub have to make the dialogue match the mouth movements of the original. In order to cut down on the editing, the English voice actors need to make their words match the flaps made by the mouths of the character as they open and close. This is not an easy skill to master and it makes dubbing anime more difficult than video games (where it is easier to change the character models to match the English dialogue).
The Japanese language has a lot of differences to the Romanic ones used in many parts of the world (which are all derived from Latin and share certain structures because of it). Things like honorifics, which are words used at the end of a sentence to indicate the amount or lack of respect that you are giving the person you are speaking to, can make localising into English a very difficult task.
In the original Japanese version of Naruto, the main character had a catchphrase that he would use at the end of most sentences. He would say the word “Dattebayo“, which has no English translation. When it came to dubbing Naruto into English, the creators had to make up for the extra mouth movements. They did this by giving him a new catchphrase. The English Naruto would say “Believe It” at the end of a lot of sentences. As you can imagine, this got old very quickly.
1. Naruto Is Receiving A Hollywood Movie Adaptation
There have been several attempts to make a live-action movie of famous anime franchises. Most of the time, these movies never get past the pre-production stage (like Akira, which was supposed to star Robert Pattinson). The ones that do come out tend to be awful, like the horror show that was Dragonball Evolution. In most cases, companies will buy the rights to a popular anime franchise and just never use them.
It has recently been revealed that Lionsgate is moving forward with a live-action Naruto movie. Unlike Dragonball Evolution, the creator of the series will be on board. Masashi Kishimoto has a lot of free time now that the Naruto manga has finished. He is going to have a large role in the production of the film (we’re guessing that he will do this after he finally gets back from his honeymoon).
The Naruto movie project is still in the very early stages of development. All that is known so far is that Michael Gracey (who is working on The Greatest Showman) is directing. There has been no word as to casting or who will write the film.
Kishimoto’s presence behind the scenes is somewhat reassuring and the project still has a long way to go before it hits the theatres. The commercial and critical success of the upcoming Ghost in the Shell movie, as well Netflix’s version of Death Note will probably have a huge bearing on the fate of this project. If both of them do well, then the chances of the Naruto movie being made (as well as other anime projects being greenlit) will be increased. Will any of these projects be good? Only time will tell.