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Manga / Naruto (1997)

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Naruto the fox demon.

Naruto is an extremely well-known series about a 12 year old boy named Naruto Uzumaki and his desire to become the most powerful Ninja in his town. What's unknown to some is that the original concept didn't even involve ninja!

Sometimes referred to as "Chapter 0", the original pilot for Naruto debuted in a 1997 issue of Akamaru Jump. It is remarkably different from the final product. There are no ninja, none of the characters besides Naruto, the Nine-Tailed Fox, Teuchi (the Ichiraku Ramen guy), and a very early version of the 3rd Hokage appear, and the atmosphere is completely different.

The story begins with a backstory. Several years ago nine powerful men risked their lives to seal the famous and deadly giant Nine-Tailed Fox of Mt. Oinari. All but one perished in the attack. The surviving man took pity on the Nine-Tailed Foxes' son and took him in. This kit turned out to be Naruto Uzumaki. Usually living in human form, Naruto is a demon living amongst humans. Despite the peaceful relations between demons and humans, Naruto can't blend in with everyone else. He's a spoiled, bratty boy who causes nothing but trouble.

In order to stop Naruto from becoming a monster like his father, Naruto's guardian the Chief gives him the task of going into the nearby city and bringing back a friend. Naruto is forbidden from returning home until he makes a true friend. While in the city Naruto meets two artists: the friendly trainee Takashi Takano and his jaded drunkard teacher Kuroda. Naruto befriends Takashi, only for that night Takashi to be murdered. Naruto is framed for the murder. Naruto promises to find the real killer and spends the next week looking for him. He eventually finds the killer, brings him to justice, and gains the trust of Kuroda.

The oneshot ended up doing so well that two years later it was revitalized into a full-fledged manga. The rest is history.

This manga contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Kuroda drinks a lot.
  • And the Adventure Continues: While Kuroda has regained his faith in the idea of friendship, he's a bit too busy to accompany Naruto to the mountain. Naruto doesn't mind, and instead sets out to make other friends.
  • Artistic License – Law: Naruto, who's been arrested on suspicion of theft and murder, is allowed to go free and investigate the crime because Kuroda agrees to take his place in prison.
  • Asian Fox Spirit: Naruto is a young kitsune who lives as a human boy, however everyone in his town knows his heritage.
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops: The Big Bad is Inspector Matsushita, and The Dragon is the nameless police officer assigned to watch over "Proof."
  • Berserk Button: The chief, who seems to be generally calm and stern, flies into a rage whenever Naruto pushes his buttons concerning his friends, whether by suggesting the chief doesn't have any, or that he should join them in death.
  • Blunt "Yes": Naruto complains about how his mission to find a friend is a "dumb training exercise," and Kuroda cynically says, "Yeah, really dumb." Naruto's shocked reaction indicates that he wasn't expecting Kuroda to agree so readily.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Takashi is killed by being shot in the head.
  • Bowdlerization: In the scene in which Takashi is murdered, his killer draws a silenced pistol and points it at his head, before pulling the trigger. Takashi's head is cut out from those pages in the localized version.
  • Characterization Marches On: In the final manga, Naruto starts out as a mischievous boy who plays pranks to attract attention, with said pranks always being lighthearted. Those his age that dislike him do so because they they find him annoying and immature. Here, Naruto is genuinely a complete jerkass and his pranks are much more mean spirited. The first thing we seem him do is trick a guy into a hole and pee on him. Naruto's apparently also pooped in the Chief's bed. People mostly don't trust Naruto because of this, not because he's a demon (though he does suffer a bit of Fantastic Racism for not being a human).
  • Chekhov's Gun: The scene in Saburo's studio establishes that Naruto can transform into humans, and that the painting has a distinctive smell
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Saburo's attempted murder of Kuroda turned Kuroda very cynical.
  • Driven to Suicide: Saburo couldn't handle Kuroda becoming the new chairman of the Cultural Advancement Committee, so he stabbed Kuroda. Overwhelmed by remorse, he, painted his final painting, then killed himself.
  • Early Installment Character-Design Difference:
    • Naruto's Sexy Jutsu has clothes on, albeit skimpy clothes, and has a fox tail (because Naruto hasn't gotten the hang of a full transformation).
    • The Chief is an early version of the Third Hokage. He looks quite different.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • There are no ninja, the story takes place in Mount Oinari rather than Konoha, and the cast is almost completely different (though Tazuna resembles Kuroda). Naruto is more bratty than in the manga and he is the son of Kurama.
    • The manga is set in contemporary Japan, not a Retro Universe Fictional Earth. Guns are present and technology is more advanced.
    • Naruto can use jutsu but only transformation jutsu and only if he places a naruto cake on his forehead.
  • Fantastic Racism: One panel shows that Naruto is looked down upon by some for being a kitsune.
  • Furry Reminder: Naruto has a better sense of smell than humans.
  • Glamour Failure: Naruto's transformations are flawed, such as how his Sexy Jutsu has a fox tail.
  • Goggles Do Nothing: Averted. Naruto uses goggles when he rides around on his scooter.
  • Handshake Refusal: Naruto feels a bit awkward after Takashi's request to shake his hand (although he doesn't necessarily dislike it), so he hesitates to do so.
  • Jerkass: Naruto, at first. In addition to what's mentioned in Characterization Marches On, he casually suggests that the chief should "join" his dead friends.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: Naruto is framed for killing Takashi. Naruto ends up on a quest to find the real killer. The killer turned out to be Sergeant Matsushima.
  • Mr. Exposition: Takashi, being a fairly knowledgeable character and one of the few willing to talk to Naruto, gives Naruto and the audience details on the rift between Saburo and Kuroda.
  • Nice Guy:
    • Takashi is polite, friendly and is on the cusp of befriending Naruto just before being murdered.
    • Hiroshi is an upstanding young man and a trustworthy friend who helped one of his friends when the latter broke his leg.
  • No Name Given: Quite a few of the characters' names are unknown, most notably the chief, who's only referred to by his title, the demon fox, and the police officer guarding the painting who turns out to be Matsushima's accomplice for the theft and murder.
  • The Nose Knows: Naruto's keen sense of smell becomes crucial to finding the thief who stole the portrait, who smells just like it.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The officer who was an accomplice in the theft of the painting reacts this way when Naruto points out that he recognizes the scent of the painting. He tries to kill Naruto, but fails, enabling Naruto to impersonate him and confront Matsushima.
    • Matsushima himself panics upon being unmasked as the thief and the murderer, and tries to shoot Naruto dead.
  • One-Word Title: As a Protagonist Title of their first name.
  • Protagonist Title: First name version.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After pressing the chief's Berserk Button, Naruto transforms and tries to escape.
  • Sole Survivor: The chief is the only member of the group of nine warriors who lived through the battle with the fox.
  • Stock Shōnen Hero: Surprisingly it's averted. Naruto is one of the Trope Codifiers but displays almost none of the characteristics in the pilot. He's not an Idiot Hero, not Oblivious to Love, has no interest in friendship, and doesn't seem to be interested in fighting.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Naruto starts out as a much bigger jerk than in canon, and the story is about him learning to make friends.
  • Tragic Mistake: Saburo tried to kill Kuroda to take his job. It ruined their friendship, and Saburo, overcome by remorse, took his own life.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: One of Hiroshi's friends badmouths him in spite of everything that Hiroshi did for him and the rest of their friends. Luckily, their mutual friend calls him out on it.
  • Urban Fantasy: The main manga is set in a Retro Universe that mostly resembles feudal Japan. This is firmly a modern (1990s) setting. It's more like Boruto than Naruto.
  • Urine Trouble: Naruto pees on one other boy for getting him into trouble.
  • Vague Age: Naruto's age isn't specified, though it's presumably the same as his main series counterpart. Likewise, no one else has their ages referenced.
  • Villainous Breakdown: As the culprit's being arrested, he frantically tells the officers not to believe Naruto, only to learn that his accomplice sold him out.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Saburo and Kuroda were friends until the latter got the job the former wanted, resulting in Saburo trying to kill Kuroda. Takashi suspects that Saburo's final painting symbolizes his desire to reconcile with Kuroda.
  • Wham Line:
    • While Kuroda is obviously bitter and cynical, Naruto and the viewer don't know how bad it is until Takashi explains his Freudian Excuse.
    Takashi: He was stabbed by his best friend, Saburo!
    • After searching for the real killer for a week without any luck, Naruto goes to the man who'd guarded it... and finds one of the culprits.
    Naruto: (flippantly) Maybe you're the real criminal.
    Guard: (annoyed) Get real. I only came inside to use the toilet. I never even touched the painting.
    Naruto: Oh yeah? Then why is it... that you smell exactly like it?
  • Wham Shot:
    • Takashi hears someone moving around at night, whom he assumes is Naruto. The next panel shows a silenced pistol pointed at his head.
    • After Matsushima's accomplice reports in, claiming to have killed Naruto, Matsushima himself engages in some Evil Gloating. Then the accomplice shows his fox tail, revealing him to be Naruto in disguise.