You glimpse the commercials on Cartoon Network, and the reviews on the GameSpot front page, but each time you see Naruto your eyes go to that orange jumpsuit and eccentric headband and you think to yourself, "That's supposed to be a ninja? And the way he talks, with the screaming! They sure don't make ninjas like they used to."
And you're right. Naruto isn't like the mild-mannered Joe Musashi, the mature Ryu Hayabusa, or the schizophrenic Grey Fox, but whether you like it or not, he's quickly becoming one of the most important ninjas in video games. You can shun his spiky hair, whiskers, and all-caps way of speaking if you want, but you'll be missing out on great ninja action.
That's why we've started a new feature called Franchise Player. The point is to fill you in on shows, books, or movies that are spawning lots of video games. In turn, you'll have a better idea what's going on if you decide to pick one up, and you might also feel compelled to discover something cool outside the realm of gaming--in this case, a popular anime.
It's also worth mentioning that Naruto deals with adolescent themes and might be too extreme for small children. Watchful parents should note that the series contains cartoon violence and death--in the most dramatic ninja battles, characters frequently get stabbed, occasionally puke blood and rarely get ripped to tiny, bloody chunks. The series also has mild sexual content; the main character has the ability to transform himself into a near-naked girl, but there's no explicit nudity--just plenty of adolescent gags. For more information on the Naruto TV series, you can also visit TV.com.
So, what's the deal with Naruto? Well, it began as a manga (or Japanese comic book) about three kids growing up in ninja school. From there, it has spawned a popular anime, movies, and several video games. There are three friends: one booksmart girl, one quiet type whose parents were killed, and one loudmouthed bozo. There's also a reptilian villain and enough crazy magi-logical explanations to make your head eat itself. And through it all, the three heroes learn lessons about life, death, and coming of age. So it has a lot in common with another popular license: Harry Potter.
But Naruto is grounded in traditional Japanese story elements, with its chivalrous ninja masters, as well as the existential quandaries faced by heroes and villains alike. Beneath it all, there's the allegory for Japan's complicated relationship with Western culture. For instance, the main character is brash, arrogant, loud, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and he's the embodiment of a destructive force that nearly wiped out civilization. Oh say can you see, who Naruto's supposed to be?
No? How about specifics then?
Dislikes:The three minutes they take to cook.
Hobbies:Ingestion and comparison of cup ramens.
In many ways, Naruto leads the ideal teenage life. He eats all the time, he's a ninja, and no one seems to mind that he's constantly yelling. But ninja life isn't as idyllic as it seems. In the beginning, he's shunned by nearly everyone in his village, he has no parents to comfort him, and he has no idea why. Ramen is his only friend. Later, he comes to grips with the fact that he's a walking bomb (there's literally a nine-tailed demon fox in his stomach that wants to destroy the world), and gains the respect of other ninjas.
If you're playing a Naruto fighting game, there's absolutely no shame in choosing Naruto, just like there's no shame in ordering steak at a restaurant called "Steaks and Stuff." Bonus points for talking smack in all caps.
Sasuke is the ninja-school teen heartthrob, and even though he doesn't say much, his ninja skills practically scream "badass." When he, Naruto, and Sakura are tasked with stealing bells from their ninja master, only Sasuke's attempt forces their teacher to momentarily put down his favorite romance novel, Make-Out Paradise. But Sasuke conceals a dark secret, and is constantly torn between guilt, shame, and rage. He is so alone. No, wait, he is so utterly alone.
Anyone who chooses to fight as Sasuke in a Naruto game should act despondent, and upon either winning or losing utter "Whatever. Stupid game."
Name translation:The spring field of cherry blossoms.
Outwardly, Sakura admires Sasuke for the teen heartthrob he is, and shuns Naruto for being immature and annoying. But she has another side, known as Inner Sakura, that occasionally rears its head and has a lot in common with Naruto, especially in the screaming department. For most of the early going, she's used either as comic relief or to point out the obvious for younger viewers ("That wasn't him, it was a clone!").
But her talents, or lack thereof, make her the best character to choose in any match of any Naruto game. If you beat someone with Sakura, either you're a true ninja master, or they're a worthless grasshopper. Or both.
Now that you're familiar with the backstory and characters, here are a few words you're likely to hear a lot of when either watching the show or playing the games.
ChakraThe combination of body and spirit energies that, when combined with fancy hand signals, creates ninja magic.
Sexy JutsuA technique Naruto employs whereby he transforms into a naked girl, which causes his enemies to backflip, fire blood out of both nostrils, and pass out. (Cultural Note: In Japan, a nosebleed is a sign of arousal.)
Replacement TechniqueOne quickly changes places with an object or animal and then lures the enemy into attacking it. Useful in combat as well as blind dates.
KunaiA distant cousin to the Hollywood bullet, these ninja throwing knives are seemingly unlimited in supply and only ever graze heroes, yet always strike bad guys in major internal organs or pressure points.
Hidden Leaf VillageAlso known as Konoha for short. This is the hidden village full of ninjas where Naruto grows up. Instead of standing armies, all the states in Naruto's Japan have similar hidden villages bursting with superstealthy assassins.
HokageThe Hokage is the boss ninja of Hidden Leaf Village. He or she delegates contracts to his subordinate assassins, wears the fanciest clothes, and has to be respected by everyone. This is who Naruto wants to be. Capisce?
Now that you know the backstory, characters, and some of the terms, here are a few of the Naruto games that either have shipped recently or will hit stores soon. Be sure to check out the video in this feature for a more in-depth look at these games, and thanks for reading!
Ships: October 30, 2007
Ships: October 23, 2007
Ships: October 23, 2007
Ships: September 4, 2007
Ships: August 28, 2007
Ships: June 12, 2007
Is there something you think Naruto neophytes should know about? Or do you just want to represent for pirates? Don't be shy; do be clear and concise.