Naruto, on TV Tokyo
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Well, I should start with some background information. The show is set in a world which seems to be a mix of the traditional and the modern. There are many lands, though five of them are considered the most important: The Lands of Fire, Wind, Water, Earth, and Lightning. Each country has a hidden village where shinobi (ninja) are trained to serve as that country's army, among other tasks (though such villages seem to be populated mostly by ordinary civilians with regular jobs). The shinobi in this series use techniques called jutsu, which are separated into different categories, the main three being ninjutsu (secrecy and skill techniques); genjutsu (illusion techniques); and taijutsu (body techniques). Pretty much all types of jutsu require the use of energies called chakra, and ninjutsu and genjutsu also usually require hand seals- different hand and finger positions that focus the chakra. There are countless different jutsu, with different degrees of difficulty, some of which are only possible for certain clans or even individuals. Most of them seem like they'd be completely impossible in real life, like weird magical powers or something. Also I should mention, while most animals you see in the series are just animals, there are some "summoned" animals that are intelligent, and can talk, and can even use jutsu, themselves.
The story of Naruto takes place mostly in Konoha, aka the Hidden Leaf Village (or the Village Hidden in the Leaves), in the Land of Fire. Each of the five major shinobi villages is led by a Kage, the most elite ninja in the country. Hidden Leaf Village is led by the Hokage. Twelve years before the start of the series, a nine-tailed fox demon (Kyubi) ravaged the Hidden Leaf Village. Finally, the Fourth Hokage sealed the demon's spirit away in the belly of a baby, Naruto Uzumaki, thus putting a stop to the beast's rampage. However, in so doing, he lost his own life, and was replaced in his position by the Third Hokage, Hiruzen Sarutobi, who came out of retirement. Meanwhile, Naruto grew up not knowing about the beast within him. He was an orphan, and everyone in the village shunned him- some because they knew the fox demon was within him, and others, I guess, were just following their example. So he became something of a troublemaker, just to make people notice him. But he also hopes someday to become Hokage, himself.
Note: Originally when I wrote this review, I listed nine seasons, which is how they're numbered in the U.S. But I've decided to switch to five seasons, which is apparently how they're numbered in Japan. (My movie reviews still mention the old season numbers, though. I really should change that someday.)
The story begins when Naruto is 12 years old. He's a student of Konoha's Ninja Academy, instructed by Iruka Umino, who was also an orphan, and sympathized with Naruto. Naruto had failed to graduate twice, because he couldn't adequately perform a simple Clone Jutsu. After failing to graduate the Academy for the third time, he's tricked by another sensei, named Mizuki, into stealing a sacred scroll, from which Naruto learns the forbidden Shadow Clone Jutsu, which is far more powerful than an ordinary Clone Jutsu, creating a much greater number of clones, as well as giving them solid rather than illusory bodies. Mizuki also tells Naruto the truth everyone was forbidden to tell him, about the fox demon within him. Then, after Naruto saves Iruka when Mizuki tries to kill him, Iruka allows Naruto to finally graduate. At this point, he becomes a Genin, which is a rank of ninja apprentice who has graduated the Academy. Genin are assigned to groups of three, and each group is trained by an elite Jonin ninja. Naruto is assigned to Squad 7, which is led by Kakashi Hatake. The other Genin in Squad 7 are Sakura Haruno (on whom Naruto has a crush) and Sasuke Uchiha. Sakura finds Naruto annoying, and she has a crush on Sasuke, who isn't really interested in anyone. He just wants to avenge the death of his clan, who were killed by his older brother, Itachi. Naruto can't stand Sasuke, because Sakura likes him, and because everyone thinks he's such a great ninja. Around this time, Naruto also meets a young boy named Konohamaru, the grandson of the Third Hokage, who also wants to become a ninja, and looks up to Naruto. Konohamaru often hangs out with a girl named Moegi and a boy named Udon, and the three of them will eventually be enrolled in the Ninja Academy and study under Iruka (though Konohamaru already had an elite ninja trainer named Ebisu, with whom Naruto doesn't get along).
Before long, Squad 7 goes on a mission escorting a bridge-builder named Tazuna to the Land of Waves. They will eventually be attacked by a rogue ninja named Zabuza, who was working for a shipping magnate/criminal kingpin named Gato. Also working with Zabuza was a boy named Haku. This story arc goes on for awhile, and we get to see some cool ninja action, including the use of the Sharingan (a technique which is supposed to be unique to members of the Uchiha clan like Sasuke, though Kakashi also possesses the skill). We also see Naruto release the power of Kyubi, though he can't control it consciously at this point. After that mission is completed, Squad 7 just has very simple missions for awhile, but before long begins the Chunin Exam story arc, in which Genin from all the major villages gather in the Hidden Leaf Village to compete for the chance to advance to the rank of Chunin. There are several squads from the Hidden Leaf Village taking the exam, though the story mainly focuses on four of them. These include the rookie squads, 7, 10, and 8, as well as a second-year squad.
Squad 10, led by Asuma Sarutobi (son of the Third Hokage and uncle of Konohamaru), includes Ino Yamanka (a onetime friend and current rival of Sakura's, who also has a crush on Sasuke), Shikamaru Nara (who'd rather lay around watching clouds drift by than actually fight), and Choji Akimichi (who's constantly eating junk food).
Squad 8, led by Kurenai Yuhi, includes Kiba Inuzuka (who has a dog named Akamaru that often joins him in battle), Shino Aburame (whose main jutsu involves bugs), and Hinata Hyuga. Hinata's one of my favorite characters in the series. She's very shy, and has a crush on Naruto, though he seems oblivious to this. She also greatly respects him and draws inspiration from him. As a member of the Hyuga clan, she possesses a skill known as the Byakugan, which is in a way similar to the Sharingan, but more powerful.
The second year team of Genin, led by Might Guy (who thinks he has a rivalry with Kakashi, though Kakashi seems barely aware of this), includes Rock Lee (whom Naruto calls "Bushy Brow"), Neji Hyuga, and Tenten. Lee can only use taijutsu, and he has a crush on Sakura, and he resembles Guy, to whom he is almost like a son- though they're not related. Neji is Hinata's cousin, but he's from a lesser branch of the clan. He's very powerful (one of the most promising Genin), but still has lower status in his clan, and for this and other reasons has a deep hatred of the main house of the Hyuga clan (including Hinata).
There are various squads of Genin from other hidden villages who enter the Chunin Exam, but the most important team, led by Baki, comes from the Hidden Sand Village (aka Sunagakure), in the Land of Wind. The Genin include three children of the village's leader, the Fourth Kazekage. They include Temari, Kankuro, and Gaara. Like Naruto, Gaara has within him a demon, the Shukaku, which makes him very powerful, and everyone in his village hates and fears him. This eventually drove him crazy, and he now believes his purpose in life is to kill everyone. Mostly he seems interested in killing the most powerful opponents, such as Sasuke Uchiha, but no one's life seems to have any value for him, including his family. Still, he seems for the most part content to go along with his family's plans.... There's also an older team of Genin from Hidden Leaf Village taking the exam, which includes Kabuto Yakushi, who's taking the exam for the seventh time. He'll befriend and help the rookies, somewhat. And there was a team of Genin from Otogakure, the Hidden Sound Village, in the Land of Sound (formerly known as the Land of Rice Fields). Not being one of the five major lands, it doesn't have a Kage, but is ruled by a powerful ninja named Orochimaru, who will become a very important character in the series. He wants to learn every jutsu in the world. And he was once a student of the Third Hokage, and might have become Fourth Hokage, if not for his evil ways. The fact that he was passed over for that position has left him with a deep hatred of the Hidden Leaf Village, and his former sensei Sarutobi.
The Chunin Exam is divided into three or four parts. The first part is a written test, administered by a proctor named Morino Ibiki, though the test isn't exactly what it seems. Those who pass move on to the second stage of the Exam, which is administered by Anko Mitarashi. Squads of Genin are given one scroll, either "Heaven" or "Earth," and need to make their way through a dangerous forest, trying to capture whichever scroll they don't have from another squad, while protecting their own scroll, and bring both to a building at the center of the forest. During this exam, Squad 7 is attacked by Orochimaru, who inflicts a cursed seal upon Sasuke, which could make him more powerful when activated, but also drive him mad and make him lose control of himself, so he'll have to learn to prevent the seal from taking over. Orochimaru's purpose isn't entirely clear, but it turns out he's done this to others before, only one of whom- Anko- survived.
The second season begins partway through the second test of the Chunin Exam. After enduring other attacks, the second stage of the exam is successfully completed. However, it turns out that Kabuto and his squad are actually spies for Orochimaru, from the Hidden Sound Village. The third stage, proper, of the Chunin Exam will be postponed, because more Genin have passed the earlier stages than expected. So first there will be preliminary matches, overseen by Hayate Gekko. Genin will be randomly paired to fight each other, showing off their skills. After Sasuke's match, he is taken away by Kakashi, who places a protective seal over Orochimaru's cursed seal on Sasuke's neck, which should help Sasuke control it. Orochimaru shows up and tries to take Sasuke, who he hopes will serve him, but Kakashi prevents this. Anyway, there are lots of awesome fights during the Exam, most of which I don't feel the need to specify any details of. But one very important fight happens between Gaara and Lee, the latter of whom ends up so badly injured that there's a chance he might have to permanently abandon his dream of becoming a ninja. Later, Kabuto is sent to kidnap Sasuke, but Kakashi again prevents it. After the preliminaries, Kakashi will provide Sasuke with some one-on-one training, while Naruto is briefly trained by Ebisu.
Later, Naruto meets Jiraiya, who is one of three legendary ninja known as Sannin (the other two Sannin are Orochimaru and Tsunade, who hasn't been seen yet, at this point in the series). Jiraiya calls himself the toad sage, since he can summon a powerful, giant toad. But Naruto calls him "pervy sage," because he's something of a peeping tom (and also enjoys Naruto's sexy jutsu, in which he transforms himself into a beautiful, naked girl). But Jiraiya ends up training Naruto in various things, including summoning a toad. Despite early troubles with the technique, Naruto eventually manages to unleash Kyubi's chakra so that he can summon Gamabunta, the chief of all summoned toads. (Kyubi strikes a deal with Naruto, allowing him to call upon its chakra at will, without it taking over his mind.) Chief Toad will come to think of Naruto as his servant. (And Naruto will learn to summon various other toads.) Meanwhile, Kabuto talks to Baki about a secret alliance between the Sand and Sound villages, which plan on attacking the Hidden Leaf Village. Hayate overhears this, but is killed by Baki before he can inform anyone.
Finally the third stage of the Chunin Exam begins, with more great fights. The Kazekage of the Hidden Sand Village sits in the stands with the Hokage, watching the events. The proctor of this stage is Genma Shiranui, since Hayate is no longer around. We also learn why Neji hates Hinata's house of their clan, but eventually Neji will learn a secret that causes him to change his mind. Anyway... after a bunch of cool ninja matchups, the Exams are interrupted before they can be completed. In the midst of Sasuke's battle against Gaara, Temari and Kankuro grab their brother and retreat, with Sasuke chasing them through the forest. The Sand and Sound ninja begin their attack on the Hidden Leaf Village, and the Kazekage turns out to be Orochimaru in disguise. He'll take the Hokage hostage, and there will be a long and grueling battle between the two, ultimately ending in the Hokage's death and Orochimaru's arms being rendered useless, so that he can no longer use jutsu. Kakashi sends Sakura, Naruto, and Shikamaru, along with a summoned dog called Pakkun, to chase after Sasuke and stop him from pursuing Gaara and the others. Meanwhile, Iruka leads an evacuation of students from the Ninja Academy, including Konohamaru and his friends. Eventually Sasuke catches up to Gaara and fights him, but then Naruto and the others catch up and Naruto fights Gaara. Gaara's Shukaku emerges, and Naruto has to summon the Chief Toad to help him out.
After Gaara is defeated (and starts to reevaluate his feelings), and Orochimaru's invasion of the Hidden Leaf Village is thwarted, there is a funeral for the Third Hokage. Then, Itachi Uchiha arrives in the Hidden Leaf Village, along with Kisami Hoshigaki. They are members of the Akatsuki, a group of very powerful rogue ninja that once included Orochimaru. They want to capture Naruto, because of the Kyubi inside him. Before they ever find him, however, they are delayed by Kakashi, who ends up getting badly hurt by Itachi's Tsukuyomi ninjutsu. Naruto, meanwhile, heads off on a quest with Jiraiya. They're looking for Tsunade, which Jiraiya says is because she can heal Kakashi. But there's another reason, which Jiraiya doesn't let Naruto know yet.
Sasuke chases after Itachi and fights him, using the Chidori ninjutsu Kakashi had taught him while training for the third stage of the Chunin Exam. But he ends up getting hurt just like Kakashi, so Tsunade will have to heal him, as well (eventually). But first, Naruto and Jiraiya have to find her. Tsunade is an infamously bad gambler, so she's always on the move, which is why it's so hard to find her. Of course, like most characters in this show, she has her own tragic backstory. Both her little brother Nawaki and her lover Dan (the uncle of Tsunade's friend and current traveling companion, Shizune) had once hoped to become Hokage someday, and both had been killed long before that might have become a reality. (When Tsunade finally meets Naruto, he reminds her of them.) However, shortly before Jiraiya and Naruto find her, Tsunade is approached by Orochimaru and Kabuto. Orochimaru wants her to restore the use of his arms; in exchange, he offers to use a jutsu he's developed to bring her brother and lover back to life. Meanwhile, Jiraiya teaches Naruto an extremely powerful ninjutsu called Rasengan. When they finally find Tsunade (along with her pet pig, Tonton, and Shizune), Jiraiya reveals that Tsunade has been named the Fifth Hokage, but she rejects the position. She also rejects Orochimaru's offer, planning to kill him instead. So there's a major battle against Kabuto, and then between the three Sannin, with no clear winners. Incidentally, I should mention that as Gamabunta is the beast most commonly summoned by Jiraiya, Orochimaru has a giant summoned snake named Manda and Tsunade has a summoned giant slug named Katsuyu (who can also break up into lots of smaller slugs). Anyway, Tsunade finally changes her mind about becoming Hokage, so she and Shizune head back to the Hidden Leaf Village with Naruto and Jiraiya.
Tsunade heals Kakashi and Sasuke, but fears that Lee's injuries may be too severe to heal. There's a risky operation she could perform that might give him a chance... but the odds are 50/50 it would kill him. However, Lee chooses to have the operation, as he doesn't want to live if he can't be a shinobi. There's also a little story arc about Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura travelling to the Land of Tea, to serve as bodyguards to a runner named Idate, who is competing in a race to determine which clan would rule their village. Of course there are ninja working for the rival clan trying to stop them.
After the events of that story arc, Sasuke becomes upset that he's not getting stronger, compared to Naruto. And of course he's still upset that he's nowhere near strong enough to beat Itachi. So when four powerful shinobi, each with a cursed seal, are sent by Orochimaru to bring Sasuke to him, he's willing to go, in the hopes of becoming stronger. On the journey to the Land of Sound, Sasuke will be sealed in a barrel for a process that will advance his own cursed seal to the next stage, so for the time being he's out of commission. Meanwhile, Tsunade sends a team of shinobi to retrieve him. The team will be led by Shikamaru, the only Genin to officially pass the Chunin exams and move up to the rank of Chunin. His team includes Naruto, Neji, Choji, and Kiba (along with Akamaru, of course). Once they catch up to the Sound Four, they'll all be trapped by one of the ninja, Jirobu, while his comrades take Sasuke and continue on their way. Eventually the Hidden Leaf ninja escape, and Choji stays behind to fight Jirobu while his friends chase the others. This pattern continues with Neji facing off against Kidomaru while the others continue the chase. Then there will be a faceoff between two brothers, Sakon and Ukon, whose ninjutsu allow them to share a body, so I guess they count as one. They'll fight Kiba and Akamaru, while the final member of the Sound Four, Tayuya, faces Shikamaru.
Meanwhile, Naruto takes Sasuke, but doesn't get far. It turns out Orochimaru is dying, and requires a body to serve as a vessel for himself, so that he can be immortal. He had selected Sasuke, but his servants don't get Sasuke to him in time, so he has to use someone else, and it will be a few years before he can attempt another transfer. So... there is another ninja named Kimimaro Kaguya, who had hoped to become Orochimaru's vessel, but an illness made this impossible. So he goes instead to retrieve Sasuke, whom Orochimaru still hopes to use later on. Kimimaro takes the barrel from Naruto, who now must fight him. Sasuke finally emerges, stronger than ever, from the barrel, and goes on ahead toward Orochimaru's lair, while Kimimaro prevents Naruto from following. But then a still-recovering Rock Lee shows up to fight Kimimaro, while Naruto resumes the chase. Though Lee puts up a pretty good (and amusing) fight, ultimately he's rescued by an unlikely ally: Gaara! And his siblings, Kankuro and Temari, help the others. Even though the Sand Village had so recently been aligned with the Sound Village against the Hidden Leaf, they're now aligned with the Hidden Leaf Village against the Sound. Meanwhile, Naruto finally catches up with Sasuke, and the two have an epic battle. We also learn a bit more about Sasuke and Itachi's past, and that Sasuke hopes to achieve a power his brother has: Mangekyo Sharingan. In order to obtain that power himself, Sasuke will have to kill Naruto.
When Kakashi learns where Naruto has gone, he goes after him. Meanwhile, Naruto and Sasuke continue to fight, with power-ups from Kyubi and the cursed seal, respectively. In the end, Sasuke wins, but decides not to kill Naruto, after all. He continues on to Orochimaru. Kakashi arrives too late to help, but he brings Naruto back to the Hidden Leaf. But Naruto will never give up hope of getting Sasuke back, because, in spite of their differences, he considers him a friend, and also because he promised Sakura he would bring Sasuke back home. (Which goes to show how much had changed since the start of the series.)
Later, Jiraiya leads Naruto and Sakura on a mission to the Land of Rice Fields, to search for Orochimaru's hideout. They meet a kunoichi named Sasame, whose cousin Arashi is working for Orochimaru, and they try to help her get him back. Ultimately, they fail to find Orochimaru and Sasuke, and the Leaf ninja head back to their village. Their failure makes Sakura decide to train harder. She begins studying under Tsunade to become a medical ninja. (Which I find quite interesting, because now each member of Squad 7 is being trained by one of the Sannin.)
Soon after that, Mizuki breaks out of prison, along with a pair of large and powerful brothers named Fujin and Raijin. Mizuki wants to obtain Orochimaru's power. Naruto, Iruka, and Pakkun chase Mizuki, and will be joined by Mizuki's fiancee, Tsubaki, who wants to stop Mizuki from doing all this crazy stuff, herself. And um, Ino, Shikamaru, and Choji show up to hold off Fujin and Raijin, though they only manage to hold them long enough for Tsunade to show up and save them. Meanwhile... Mizuki's ambitions come to naught.
Then Naruto continues to pester Tsunade to allow him to go searching for Sasuke yet again. But he ends up going with Hinata, Shino, and Kiba, to search for the Bikochu beetle, which was thought to be extinct, or at least nearly so. But it would be able to track Sasuke's scent, if they could find one. Unfortunately, there were also three ninja from the Kamizuru clan, of the Village Hidden in Stone, looking for the Bikochu. They hated the Aburame clan, so they wouldn't mind killing Shino. But mainly they just want to get the bug for a plan in restoring the honor of their dwindling clan, which had been defeated by the Aburame many years ago. Anyway, I enjoyed this arc because Hinata got a chance to shine, which I always appreciate.... But even though the Kamizuru were defeated and our heroes got the Bikochu... things didn't quite work out as they'd hoped. Again.
Well... I suppose a lot of season 4 consisted of filler stories, a couple of which I mentioned, and a bunch that I didn't. The same is true for season 5. While some fans may dislike the filler stories, I personally enjoyed them. But they're not really important to the overall story, they don't advance the plot of the series. Anyway, even though I'm omitting most of the filler stories, I'll mention that the final story arc at the end of season 5 involves Gaara, Temari, and Kankuro becoming instructors for a group of young ninja apprentices in the Sand Village. Most of the kids choose to have Temari or Kankuro as their instructors, because they're scared of Gaara. But one girl, Matsuri, chooses Gaara (whose attitude has mellowed somewhat, ever since his battle with Naruto at the end of season 2, when he learned that caring for friends makes Naruto more powerful). However, Matsuri is soon kidnapped by a team of ninjas from Takumi Village, which supplies the ninja villages of various lands with weapons. These rogue ninjas want to create an ultimate weapon, so they can become stronger than the Five Lands, who they feel have mistreated them. Their plan calls for the resurrection of the long-dead founder of their village, Seimei, but to do this, they require the Shukaku's chakra. So they really want Gaara. He and his siblings pursue the ninjas, and are later aided by a team from the Leaf Village, led by Shikamaru. In the end, Seimei is defeated by Gaara, and everyone heads home. Then there's just some wrapping up of the series. Jiraiya returns after having done some research, and having concluded it would be at least two years before the Akatsuki were ready to make a move, so he would use that time to further train Naruto. The two of them leave Konoha for that purpose. Meanwhile, all Naruto's friends who remain in Konoha decide that while he's off getting stronger, they'll also have to train as hard as they can, together, to keep up with him. Also, Ino decides that she should study to become a medical ninja, like Sakura.
The series is followed by another series, Naruto Shippuden, which picks up two and a half years later, once again following the manga.
So. Summation time. "Naruto" is a pretty cool show, both serious and humorous, and it seems to just get cooler the further in you go. There's a tremendous amount of stuff to learn, including a great deal of backstory for a lot of characters. Even some of the ones you have every reason to hate, many of them you may end up also sympathizing with somewhat. It's all very interesting and complicated. Oh yeah, and of course all the opening and closing theme songs kick an unbelievable amount of ass....
There are a few movies and OVAs based on the series. I've seen all three movies, but so far I've only seen the second OVA.