Masashi Kishimoto Doesn't Feel Like He 'Created' Naruto

Masashi Kishimoto's "Naruto" is one of the most popular manga series in the world, with 250 million copies sold worldwide as of 2019. Between 2002 to 2017, the successful manga was adapted into two equally popular anime, "Naruto" and "Naruto: Shippuden," which collectively include a whopping 720 episodes. Team 7 has captured manga and anime fans' attention for decades with revolutionary fight sequences and compelling storylines, but the personality of Naruto Uzumaki has played a key role in the series' success.

The protagonist possesses a few irritating habits early in the series, like unwarranted cockiness and incessant shouting, but it's hard not to admire his ambitious spirit and undying loyalty to friends. Despite being an orphan who is shackled with a demon fox and shunned by The Hidden Leaf Village, Naruto eventually proves his skill as a ninja, wins the respect of the village, and achieves his dream of becoming Hokage, despite the odds. Like many stories before it, "Naruto" follows the story of a dark horse, the ever-popular underdog, who overcomes immeasurable challenges and achieves a seemingly impossible dream. That story is difficult to resist, especially after learning that Naruto wasn't conceived from the writer's imagination but rather from Kishimoto's childhood insecurities.

'I wanted Naruto to be different.'

When an artist's work captures the public's attention, it's only natural to assume that they must be pretty proud of themselves, but Masashi Kishimoto is a modest man. In a 2008 interview with The Los Angeles Times, he was hesitant to say that the character was solely the result of his imagination. "When Naruto was born, it was more like he somehow came out, rather than my creating him from some inspiration," he said. "The only image I had in mind was a character who was a naughty boy." Fortunately, the artist had a close relationship with such a lad. "I was a poor student, but unlike Naruto, I was the type of poor student who gave up easily and pondered things that weren't worth pondering," he explained. "I wanted Naruto to be different. He was created based on my self-image of my own childhood, but different from how I really was."

In the fiction world, it's often considered a big no-no for a writer to use themselves as inspiration for their protagonist, and an even bigger taboo to attempt to fix your own flaws through your protagonist. Typically, we want to create a better version of ourselves, which can lead to a boring and idealized protagonist. However, the popularity of Naruto proves that there is an exception to the rule when a talented artist is involved.

Kishimoto used himself as a template, giving Naruto the ambition and determination he wished he had as a child but avoided the pitfalls of a self-insert by embracing imperfections. "I personally never thought of [Naruto] as perfect," he explained to Publisher's Weekly in 2015, "Naruto is a reflection of myself, and I don't think of myself as special." 

Perfect heroes are boring

The mangaka told The Los Angeles Times that Naruto's "knucklehead" behavior and "weaknesses" make him easier to "empathize or identify with" than a faultless hero. Masashi Kishimoto carefully avoided creating a perfect hero, and he told Publisher's Weekly that he only gave Naruto one special quality, which is that he doesn't get "bogged down with all sorts of issues or difficulties or hardships." To highlight this trait in Naruto, the artist had to create a character that is totally consumed by the past.

Young Sasuke is a total brat who spends the majority of his time feeling sorry for himself and hurting other people's feelings. Occasionally, Sakura and Naruto are able to penetrate his perma-scowl and connect with him, but he goes off the rails when he's older and is consumed by hatred. Sasuke's sudden descent into villainy led some fans to wonder why Kishimoto, a writer capable of developing such a complex character as Naruto, would reduce Sasuke to a one-dimensional figure. In an interview with Kana, the mangaka revealed that he used Sasuke to teach Naruto what could happen if he allows himself to dwell on negative experiences:

"Sasuke let himself be controlled by hatred. A hatred as strong as the love he used to feel. But for Naruto, the loss comes with a self-reflection about revenge, pain, and how personality and actions can evolve based on that. After seeing what revenge did to Sasuke, Naruto shows an enormous amount of self-restraint and he feels he must learn to control himself to not become like this."

Not only is "Naruto" one of the most popular and influential stories in the entire world, but it's also a masterclass on creating interesting and effective characters. Own your bragging rights, Kishimoto sensei, you more than deserve it.