Why Is 'Naruto' So Popular? Masashi Kishimoto's Naruto is one of the most popular manga series in the U.S. We explore what led the Japanese series to top USA Today's bestseller list.
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Why Is 'Naruto' So Popular?

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Why Is 'Naruto' So Popular?

Why Is 'Naruto' So Popular?

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ALEX COHEN, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

(Soundbite of TV show "Naruto")

Mr. NARUTO: Believe me, I'm Naruto Uzumaki. I like instant ramen in a cup and I really like the ramen Iruka-Sensi got me at the Ichi Racoon Noodle Shop, but I hate the three minutes you have to wait after you pour the water in the ramen cup.

BRAND: That's "Naruto," the latest anime character from Japan that has become a huge hit here in the U.S., maybe the most popular character since "Pokemon." Animation expert Charles Solomon is here to explain the "Naruto" phenomenon. And Charles, I've never heard of "Naruto."

Mr. CHARLES SOLOMON (Animation Expert): Masahi Kishimoto's "Naruto" is the misadventures of a ninja in training. It's hugely popular. It was the first manga to appear on the USA Today bestseller list. There's something like 85 million volumes of the book in print. There are two animated series, three features, and a whole range of "Naruto" merchandise.

BRAND: That's amazing. And "Naruto" is a young man, right? He's got blonde spiky hair and blue eyes.

Mr. SOLOMON: Yeah, he's about 12 when the series starts. And years ago, his village, his ninja village, the village hidden in the leaves, was attacked by a nine-tailed fox demon. And somehow the other ninja imprisoned that spirit within his body. So, he grew up an orphan, and rejected, and unloved. And he's a real kind of come-from-behind kid. He can be mischievous, he can even be obnoxious, but his heart is in the right place and he gives everything his all.

BRAND: Let me just read this statistics because I find this amazing. "Naruto" was the number seven top search of 2008 in Yahoo behind Britney Spears and Barack Obama, but ahead of Angelina Jolie and "American Idol." Can you tell us what the appeal is? What is it about "Naruto"?

Mr. SOLOMON: I think it's something both boys and girls can have a lot to fun with. And the fun doesn't stop when you turn about 10 or 12 the way it did for a lot of "Pokemon" players. It's an adventure story. Now, it's like the "Hardy Boys" and "Nancy Drew" were to another generation or, I guess, "Tom Swift" and the "Bobbsey Twins" to the generation before that. It's a kind of rollicking adventure story that I think everybody enjoys, particularly when they're younger.

BRAND: But there must be lots of characters like that coming out of Japan's anime and manga culture. Why has he, "Naruto," broken through?

Mr. SOLOMON: "Naruto" is someone who comes from behind against all odds. Here's a clip from the third movie where he and his friend Sakura and Rock Lee have been beaten down by bigger, stronger, meaner characters, but because they made a promise and because they believe in what they're doing, they can't be beaten.

(Soundbite of "Naruto" movie clip)

NARUTO: I made a...

SAKURA: I made a...

NARUTO: Made a promiseā€¦

SAKURA: To a friend.

NARUTO: To a friend.

ROCK LEE: To a friend.

NARUTO: I promise to protect us, no matter what!

BRAND: Let's talk about what this - how this is different from American animated series.

Mr. SOLOMON: In America's series, you never get the feeling that a character's life is at stake, for example. There's much more risk here. When "Naruto" goes into a fight, he really could be hurt. And the humor is broader. At one point, he's been eating too much of the wrong things when they're trying to trap this rare scent-tracing beetle, and he has an attack of flatulence and blows the mission literally and figuratively.

BRAND: Again, 12-year-old boy humor.

Mr. SOLOMON: Yeah, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: The latest news from the anime front with animation expert Charles Solomon. Thanks, Charles.

Mr. SOLOMON: Thank you.

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