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Ninja manga series “Naruto” on Nov. 10 marked the grand finale of its phenomenal 15-year run that gained international fame and surprised even its creator.
The manga work, written and illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto, appeared in Shueisha Inc.’s Weekly Shonen Jump comic anthology.
The story centers around the eponymous character who cooperates with friends, rises above his rivals and mentally and physically grows to become the greatest ninja.
The ninja saga, along with Eiichiro Oda’s “One Piece” pirate manga series, has been the driving force behind the popularity of Jump magazine.
Spanning 71 volumes, “Naruto” was also a big hit overseas, with global sales topping 200 million copies as of September.
Fifteen years after the adventurous story of Naruto first appeared in the magazine in 1999, the young ninja, who used to be seen as a dropout, finally saves the world from destruction and completes his long, difficult path in the manga’s 700th episode.
The Asahi Shimbun conducted an exclusive interview with reclusive manga artist Kishimoto just hours after he completed Naruto’s journey. Excerpts from the interview follow:
Question: What are you feeling now?
Kishimoto: Because I just completed the last episode less than 12 hours ago, I do not have any real feeling (that “Naruto” has ended). I have had to meet a deadline every week for 15 years, so I feel that there’s a deadline for next week. I thought of many things to do after (“Naruto”) ends, but I do not know where to begin. I want to do something other than manga. Don’t worry, I will continue creating manga.
Q: When did you decide how to end “Naruto”?
A: Since the work was first serialized, I have been determined to end the manga series with the battle between protagonist Naruto and Sasuke, who has been his rival since the start of the story. I later decided on the details, little by little, such as whether they would fight each other as friends or enemies, their feelings and dialogues, while I was drawing the series. Around two years ago, I began to feel the story was approaching the finale.
When the series started, the editor responsible for my work told me, “Continue the series for at least five years.” The tough work of continuing to draw “Naruto” for the weekly magazine occasionally made me think that I would like to finish the series. I did not think “Naruto” would last for 15 years.
The story lasted for such a long period because the characters “stuck it out.” When I attempted to quickly offer an answer (to issues raised in the story), the characters did not allow me to do so. If I had made them act as I wished, the reality would have been lost.
Because manga artists are always working inside rooms, it is difficult for us to see firsthand if our works are really popular. It was not until I received many fan letters from overseas that I realized (“Naruto” is) popular outside Japan. Some of those letters are written in languages I do not know, so I understand that my work is read by people in various countries.
One fan mail contained a photograph of a small child dressed as Naruto striking a pose. Such attachments make me happy.
Q: Were you conscious of “One Piece”?
A: It is impossible to be unconscious. (Both “Naruto” and “One Piece”) are serialized in the same magazine, and “One Piece” has always been running ahead of the pack. I have been able to work so hard writing “Naruto” thanks to “One Piece.”
Q: You will turn 40 years old on Nov. 8. How do you feel about that?
A: I remain a child in terms of mentality. Nothing has changed from age 25, when the series started. I just worked at the desk to create high-quality, interesting manga, and 15 years passed before I knew it.
Q: What would you want to tell your old self?
A: I hope to tell my 23- or 24-year-old self, who painted Naruto and other characters on copy paper just as I wanted on the veranda of my family’s home: “Cherish him. You will write a serial manga for 15 years using the character.”
(This article is based on an interview by Atsushi Ohara.)
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“I will continue creating manga,” he said. “I will release extra ‘Naruto’ episodes next spring.”
He also mentioned a film adaptation of the manga series, titled “The Last: Naruto the Movie.” It is scheduled to hit theaters Dec. 6.
“The latest film is a love story,” Kishimoto said. “It will depict what happened between the 699th and 700th manga episodes. I designed the characters and helped make the story.
“Although I wanted to write about the romances of Naruto and his friends in the manga series, it was too difficult,” he continued. “I am not good at writing romances because I feel embarrassed when trying to do so.”
A musical adaptation of “Naruto” and an exhibition featuring the manga work are also planned for next year.
“I am looking forward to all of those adaptations,” Kishimoto said. “The planned exhibition will be a huge one. ‘Naruto’ fans will be able to be immersed in its worldview, while those who do not know much about ‘Naruto’ will look forward to reading the manga.”