Monday, April 3, 2017

A Guide to Naruto for the Curious

I have had a connection with the Japanese anime Naruto since I started watching torrents of it back in 2003. It turned into an obsession two years ago when I rediscovered it on Netflix and Hulu. Last week, the anime finally ended its run after 15 years on the air.

Now I have time on my hands - I can turn my Google Chromecast to Naruto without fear of someone else coming into the room to watch something else. Unfortunately, many of my friends probably don't have that luxury.

But never fear! I've got your back with this little primer. Want to know about what I'm obsessing? Want to know specific episodes to watch so you're not inundated with filler and flashbacks and only get the good stuff? Read on.

Naruto isn't divided into seasons, so instead I'm going to divide everything by story arcs.

Introduction (Naruto episodes 1-5)

Overview: We are introduced to Uzumaki Naruto, a very annoying 12-year-old orphan who lives in the Village Hidden in the Leaves (which is in the Land of Fire) and goes to the Ninja Academy. The adults in the village know he has a demon fox (the Nine Tails) inside him that was sealed there by the Fourth Hokage (the leader in the village), but Naruto just thinks people ignore him because he's obnoxious. He confides in his teacher, Iruka, that he wants to be Hokage someday so everyone will acknowledge him.

He graduates from the Academy and is put on a team of other Genin (low-ranked ninja) named Uchiha Sasuke and Haruno Sakura with Jonin (high-ranked ninja) Hatake Kakashi as their mentor. Sasuke is also an orphan, the lone Uchiha left in the village after his older brother destroys his family. Sakura is crazy about Sasuke and pretty shallow. Kakashi dislikes all of them and only acknowledges them after they demonstrate teamwork.

Naruto Character Building: Naruto learns the Shadow Clone Justu, a technique he uses frequently through the series.

Backstories: Naruto (kinda), Iruka

Episode Must-Watch: Episode 1 - "Enter Uzumaki Naruto!". Everything gets laid out there!

Other Key Episodes: 4-5

The Zabuza Arc (Naruto episodes 6-19)

Overview: Team 7 (Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, and Kakashi) get a mission to the Land of the Waves, where they are assigned to protect a builder. This man is in charge of a bridge that will connect the land to other areas so they don't have to rely on shady shipping companies for trade. The shady shipping company has hired a rogue ninja, Zabuza, to kill the builder Tazuna.

Zabuza has his own protegee, Haku, a boy with a unique gift to manipulate ice. He battles Sasuke and Naruto, and when it looks like Sasuke has died (he hasn't) Naruto erupts and the Nine Tails emerges and gives Naruto crazy powers. Haku ends up giving his life to save Zabuza from being killed by Kakashi, and Zabuza uses that selfless act to kill the guy that hired him. The bridge is built and the Land of the Waves begins an era of prosperity!

Naruto Character Building: Naruto's Nine Tails power is first seen. It's an orange glow around him, and provides him with uncontrollable power.

Naruto also learns valuable ninja techniques, like focusing his chakra to walk up tree trunks. He also gives some pretty inspiring speeches to Haku, Zabuza, and villagers inspiring them. (Hint: He inspires a lot of people in this series.)

Backstories: Haku

Episode Must-Watch: Episode 17 - "White Past: Hidden Ambition". This is when Naruto's hidden power emerges. It also shows Haku's painful past.

Other Key Episodes: 7-10, 13-19

The Chunin Exam, Part 1 (Naruto episodes 20-25, 27-37)

Overview: After doing a bunch of missions as Team 7, Kakashi recommends that they do the Chunin Exam, which will promote them to the middle level of ninja. This test is done with other Genin from the nations around the Land of Fire, which means we meet other ninja, and not all are good guys. The most feared are from the Land of Wind - a trio of siblings named Gaara, Kankuro, and Temari. Gaara is quiet but deadly with his powers of sand manipulation.

We also meet other Genin from the Hidden Leaf Village - Team 8 (Hinata, Shino, Kiba) and Team 10 (Shikamaru, Ino, Choji) who are also rookies with Team 7, and one team that's a year older, featuring Rock Lee, Neji, and Tenten. An older Leaf ninja, Kabuto, uses his knowledge of the exam to help Team 7 out. But he's actually a bad guy!

The ninja endure two tests - one test of the mind, and another a physical test in the Forest of Death. In the forest, Team 7 encounters a rogue ninja named Orochimaru, who is incredibly dangerous develops a great interest in Sasuke. He wants the power of immortality, and has created a jutsu that helps him transfer himself into another younger body. He's decided Sasuke's body is perfect.

All the rookies and Lee's team pass the two exams and move on.

Naruto Character Building: Naruto really shows his never-give-up spirit here. He uses the Nine Tails' strength to defeat Orochimaru's snake, and then his Shadow Clones to secure what they need to move on in the Exams.

Backstories: Sakura, Ino

Episode Must-Watch: Episode 36 - "Clone vs. Clone - Mine Are Better Than Yours" shows Naruto's ability to beat an enemy.

Other Key Episodes: 21-23, 27-37

The Chunin Exam, Part 2 (Naruto episodes 38-51)

Overview: This is where Naruto starts to shine. The remaining Genin are pitted against each other in individual battles. Winners advance, losers are out. Lots of flashbacks help round out our cast.

Sasuke is the first fight and wins. Sakura and Ino face off in a frienemy battle where they take each other out. Shikamaru defeats a Sound ninja with his shadow justu. Kiba and his dog Akamaru are defeated by Naruto, who uses the Shadow Clone technique to beat him.

Hinata fights Neji, her cousin. Both of them posses the Byakugan eyes, which can see chakra and also can block the flow. Neji beats her to the brink of death, even while Naruto encourages Hinata on. Neji holds a sense of regret because Hinata is from the head family and he is from the branch family. Naruto promises to beat Neji.

The best battle is Gaara against Lee. Initially Lee looked incapable of beating Gaara, especially because he can't use special ninjutsu, but his incredible knowledge of taijutsu shows that he can go toe-to-toe against the powerful foe. But we see that Gaara is out for blood, and while Lee is out to win, Gaara is out to kill. Gaara uses his sand to crush Lee's arm and leg and beat him down. Only interference by Lee's mentor Mighty Guy prevents Gaara from killing Lee.

Naruto Character Building: Naruto is the ultimate cheerleader. He inspires Hinata to use her all against Neji, even though she's terrified of fighting him because he's superior in talent. He cheers on Sasuke and Sakura, his teammates. And he urges Lee to continue fighting Gaara with all he's got.

No matter how much he gets beaten down, he always gets up and continues fighting. This happens in every Naruto fight!

Backstories: Sakura, Ino, Hinata, Lee

Episode Must-Watch: Episode 45 - "Surprise Attack! Naruto's Secret Weapon." Everyone starts to realize this Naruto kid isn't just a jokester.

Other Key Episodes: All of them are pretty great in this arc.

The Chunin Exam, Part 3 (Naruto episodes 52-80)

Overview: The Genin finalists are sent to train for their one-on-one tournament to see who will advance to the rank of Chunin. (Losers can still be Chunin if they show the knowledge of a Chunin.)

Naruto meets an eccentric ninja named Jiraya who seems more interested in womanizing than helping, but eventually he teaches Naruto to summon frogs from another land. (This sounds weird but will be fleshed out more later.)

The final Chunin tournament is a spectator sport, including the Kages from the Leaf and Sand Villages. Naruto fights Neji, who is driven by his destiny to win...until Naruto defeats him and convinces him to chart his own path. Shikamaru fights Temari, and even though it looks like he will win with his clever thinking, he ends up giving up and forfeiting the match. Sasuke and Gaara begin their much-anticipated match, but it is revealed that the Sand ninja have partnered up with Orochimaru and other Sound ninja to wipe out the Hidden Leaf Village.

Gaara can't do his job, though, because Sasuke wounds him, and Temari and Kankuro have to take him away from the village. Team 7 chases them, and Sasuke and Sakura are injured and unable to fight. Naruto fights Gaara, and we learn Gaara's tragic backstory: he also has a creature inside him, like Naruto. He has been attacked countless times but always kills his attacker. He has been marked as dangerous and doesn't have any friends until Naruto reveals his similar past and shows a willingness to befriend Gaara. Gaara and his siblings get away, with Gaara apologizing to his siblings for being terrible to them.

Meanwhile, back at the village Orochimaru fights the Third Hokage, an older man who was forced to be Hokage after the Fourth Hokage was killed by the Nine Tails Demon Fox. He keeps up with Orochimaru for a while, but then uses a forbidden technique to steal Orochimaru's arm functions, killing himself in the process.

Naruto Character Development: Naruto can turn any enemy into a friend, and we see that with Neji and with Gaara. He uses his frog-summoning technique to help fight Gaara's Demon Kabuki named Shukaku. Sasuke realizes how strong Naruto is becoming, and starts to feel a bit threatened of his teammate's rapid progression.

Backstories: Neji, Gaara

Episode Must-Watch: I'll include two here: Episode 62, "A Failure's True Power" shows how a ninja like Naruto won't ever give up. Episode 79, "Beyond the Limits of Darkness and Light" finishes Naruto's battle with Gaara.

Other Key Episodes: 53-57, 60-68, 73-80

The Sannin Arc (Naruto episodes 81-96)

Overview: Now that the Third Hokage has died, a new Hokage must be found. Everyone thinks that Jiraya should take on the role, but he is willing to search out his former teammate, Tsunade, who would fit the mantle. He takes Naruto with him, not only to train him, but to prevent him from being taken by a mysterious group known as the Akastsuki. One of the members just happens to be Uchiha Itachi, Sasuke's brother who killed everyone in the Uchiha clan.

Itachi and his comrade Kisame infiltrate the Hidden Leaf Village to find Naruto and fight Kakashi and fellow mentors Sarutobi Asuma and Yuhi Kurenai. It's discovered they are trying to find Naruto and not Sasuke. Sasuke finds out Itachi has been in town and chases after him.

Itachi and Sasuke have a confrontation and Itachi completely beats him down. Naruto escapes with the help of Jiraya. The Akatsuki members disappear for a time while Jiraya tracks down Tsunade. Also tracking down Tsunade is Orochimaru and Kabuto, who want Tsunade, a medical ninja, to get Orochimaru the use of his arms back.

Naruto uses his amazing use of persuasion to get Tsunade to consider the Hokage position, not only by challenging her to a fight (he loses miserably) but also by reminding her of two people: her younger brother (dead), and her boyfriend (also dead) who both wanted to be Hokage.

It turns out Orochimaru was also teammate to both Tsunade and Jiraya and they were known as the Legendary Sannin. They have a giant fight and Jiraya and Tsunade win but Orochimaru gets away. Tsunade is then named the Fifth Hokage.

Naruto Character Development: Naruto has no idea how someone could be asked to become Hokage and say no. His determination and his "ninja way" (never going back on his word and never giving up) get Tsunade to agree to become Hokage.

Naruto also learns his most important jutsu besides Shadow Clone. It's called the Rasengan, and it was actually created by the Fourth Hokage. It takes two Narutos to make it right now because he's still working on it.

Backstories: Tsunade

Episode Must-Watch: Episode 95, "The Fifth Hokage! A Life on the Line!" shows Naruto's Rasengan for the first time. Tsunade also makes her choice on who to follow between Jiraya and Orochimaru.

Other Key Episodes: 82-85, 90-96

Sasuke Recovery Team (Naruto episodes 98-100, 107-135)

Overview: Sasuke and Naruto both recover from their injuries, and Sasuke is now insanely jealous of Naruto. He challenges him to a duel, and they battle on the roof of the hospital until Kakashi can come and stop it. Sasuke starts to realize that not only is Naruto getting better at his abilities, but he's surpassing Sasuke.

Orochimaru is still interested in Sasuke, and sends four Sound ninja to offer him a place by Orochimaru's side. Sasuke initially says no, but is about to leave when Sakura tries to get him to stay, declaring her love for him. He knocks her out (but first says "thank you" so that means something?) and joins the Sound Ninja Four.

Tsunade charges Shikamaru, the only ninja to be promoted to Chunin in the exams, to get Sasuke back. He gets Kiba, Neji, Choji, and Naruto to join him. The fights are crazy and amazing, and Choji and Neji defeat their Sound ninja foes but are both on the brink of death.

Lee undergoes surgery from Tsunade to fix him from his fight with Gaara, but recklessly leaves before he's fully recovered. He goes to help his Leaf ninja friends and helps Naruto as he alone chases after Sasuke.

It looks like the remaining Leaf ninja are going to die, but then suddenly the Sand Siblings appear! Temari helps out Shikamaru, Kankuro helps Kiba, and Gaara (twist!) helps Lee.

Naruto and Sasuke meet at the Final Valley, have a major showdown, and Sasuke wins. He joins Orochimaru and Naruto promises Sakura back at the Hidden Leaf Village that he's going to bring back Sasuke, no matter what.

Naruto Character Development: Sasuke sees Naruto's talents that he's picked up. In the Final Valley battle Naruto gets a sheen of orange from the Nine Tails that covers him and makes him do crazy stuff. He also makes that promise...

Backstories: Choji, Kiba, Sasuke (finally!)

Episode Must-Watch: The Final Valley fight between Naruto and Sasuke, which is 132, "For a Friend," 133, "A Plea from a Friend," and 134, "The End of Tears"

This ends the Naruto anime. They have a bunch of fillers but they're not worth watching. At the very end, Sasuke is training with Orochimaru, Sakura asks to train under Tsunade, and Naruto goes off with Jiraya to train. 

3 years pass...


Akatsuki and Jinchuriki (Naruto Shippuden episodes 1-32)


Overview: Naruto returns as a 16-year-old looking better than ever. All his teammates (except Sasuke, who's still doing the bad-guy thing) have become Chunin. Naruto takes part in a new team with Kakashi and Sakura. They go out with Guy's team of Lee, Neji, and Tenten to help out the Hidden Sand Village.

Gaara has completely turned his life around and is now the Kazekage. But the Akatsuki return and kidnap him because they want his Demon Tunooki. It turns out Gaara's One Tail and Naruto's Nine Tails are and are part of nine different creatures scattered throughout the land and controlled by different people called Jinchuriki. The Akatsuki are trying to get all the tailed beasts (in order, 1-9) to resurrect an ancient demon and pretty much end the world.

They successfully get the One Tail out of Gaara, which kills him. Naruto and the other Leaf ninja fight the Akatsuki and get Gaara's body back. Sakura fights an Akatsuki member, Sasori, who used to be a Sand ninja long ago. It's a long fight, but she uses her new strength abilities to defeat him with the help of an older Sand ninja, Granny Chiyo (who is also Sasori's grandmother).

Gaara is resurrected when Granny Chiyo uses a forbidden jutsu to give her life force to him.

Naruto Character Development: We see Naruto has been working on refining his Rasengan. He's a bit more mature, but not by much.

Backstories: Sasori, Granny Chiyo

Episode Must-Watch: This arc better expands on the other characters of the Narutoverse, especially Sakura. Her fight against Sasori with Granny Chiyo is stellar. It starts at episode 20, "Hiruko vs. Two Kunoichi!"

Other Key Episodes: 1-11, 17-32

The New Team 7 (Naruto Shippuden episodes 33-53)

Overview: Sasori, before his death, reveals that he has been in contact with Orochimaru's henchman Kabuto, which means he has information about where Sasuke is. Tsunade challenges Naruto and Sakura with the task, but the previous battle took a toll on Kakashi and he is unable to fight. Instead, Tsunade calls on a Black Ops ninja from the ANBU named Yamato. A figure behind the scenes Danzo, asks that a member from his Foundation also be put on the team. His name is Sai.

Naruto and Sakura welcome Yamato, but Sai is unemotional and shows little sympathy for anyone or anything since he was trained in such a shielded manner. Yamato encourages teamwork, but it's hard.

The team disguises itself and meets Kabuto and Orochimaru. Their disguise is immediately uncovered by Orochimaru, who taunts them with news of Sasuke. Naruto is so enraged that he begins to transform - a frightening side effect of the Nine Tails. He battles Orochimaru in this state, which causes him to be cloaked in Nine Tails chakra and sprout tails. (The more tails sprouted = the more chance the Nine Tails will emerge fully and Naruto will die.)

Orochimaru escapes and Naruto recovers enough to chase him down with the rest of Team 7. In the lair, they find Sasuke, who shows little emotion for his former teammates. He has no desire to go back to the Hidden Leaf Village, which breaks Sakura's heart and angers Naruto, who promised to bring him back. Alas, it doesn't happen. But Sasuke does begin to feel like Orochimaru is holding him back from his true desire to gain enough power to kill Itachi.

Naruto Character Development: We'd heard in the previous arc about the Nine Tails Cloak, and now we see it in person. It's much more than that orange sheen we'd seen, which means the Nine Tails can really take hold of Naruto.

Backstories: Sai

Episode Must-Watch: Episode 52, "The Power of the Uchiha" reunites the old teammates, but for the worse.

Other Key Episodes: 33-37, 40-44, 48-53

Hidan vs. Shikamaru Arc (Naruto Shippuden episodes 54-56, 73-88)

Note: This one is a personal favorite!!

Overview: Kakashi and Yamato share training duties for Naruto, who is going to strengthen his Rasengan. He learns more about chakra, which helps him perfect his form. By the end of this arc, he has created the Rasen Shuriken, which no one has ever developed before.

Meanwhile, two Akatsuki members named Hidan and Kakuzu are spotted after they destroy a Hidden Fire Temple and take one of the dead monks to collect a bounty. This dead monk is the friend of Asuma, and he, along with his former protegee Shikamaru, and two other ninjas go to find them. They meet Hidan and Kakuzu. Kakuzu doesn't do much right now, but Hidan is terrifying (he's immortal) and kills Asuma in front of Shikamaru. Before Hidan can kill anyone else, the Akatsuki are summoned elsewhere.

Shikamaru is devastated by the death of his mentor. He is determined to get revenge, as are his former teammates Choji and Ino. They go with Kakashi and track the two Akatsuki down. Shikamaru really shows how intelligent and smart he is with his plan, and he takes Hidan one-on-one and blows him up, burying his body parts.

Kakuzu is also kind of immortal because he has five hearts - each one possessing a different kind of chakra nature. It takes Kakashi, Ino, and Choji everything they have to beat him, but then Naruto shows up with his Rasen Shuriken and ends up taking care of it. But this arc isn't about Naruto - it's about Shikamaru, and it's amazing.

Naruto Character Development: Rasen Shuriken. At first it's implied that he can't throw the jutsu, and if he uses it too much he could severely injure himself. Well, Naruto proves that theory wrong later because he  has so much chakra between him and Nine Tails.

Backstories: There's a bit with Shikamaru and a bit with Asuma, but not to a large degree. Shikamaru's arc is progressing forward, and Asuma's death persuades him he's on the right path.

Episode Must-Watch: Um, can I say all of it? No? Okay, then watch 87, "When You Curse Someone, You Dig Their Own Grave." No wait! Watch 82, "Team Ten."

Other Key Episodes: 73-88

Sasuke and Team Hebi/Taka (Naruto Shippuden episodes 113-118, 121-126)

Overview: Orochimaru decides it's time to use Sasuke to create a new body for himself. Sasuke wants none of that, so he kills Orochimaru, rather quickly. He goes off and selects members of Orochimaru's group to be a part of his new team: Suigetsu, a ninja from the Hidden Mist; Karin, who can sense chakra and also hand it out; and Jugo, who a curse mark that makes him go crazy.

Leaf ninja discover Itachi, and a group of Naruto and his friends are dispatched to find him. If they find Itachi, they can find Sasuke. Itachi meets Naruto and encourages him to help his friend.

Sasuke encounters Deidara, the Akatsuki who escaped during the Gaara arc, but this time Deidara dies trying to blow Sasuke up with him. (Sasuke survives.)

Naruto Character Development: This meeting between Itachi and Naruto is very important later on.

Backstories: Deidara

Episode Must-Watch: 126, "Twilight"

Other Key Episodes: 113-114 (There's not much in this arc.)

Jiraya and Pain (Naruto Shippuden episodes 126-133)

Overview: Jiraya has always been outside of the Hidden Leaf Village, gathering information on behalf of his home. He tells Tsunade he might have information about the Akatsuki's leader, known as Pain, and he'll have to go to the Hidden Rain Village to find it.

Jiraya successfully gets inside the village that usually keeps outsiders away. He captures and interrogates Rain ninja and finds that Pain lives up in the tallest building but gives them good things. The ninja provide dead bodies for the tower and give them to the Angel.

Well, Jiraya's arrival alerts Pain, and he attacks. Jiraya discovers that there is not one Pain...there's six! And Jiraya also discovers that one of the Pains is his former student Yahiko.

The fight is tough, and Jiraya uses his Sage power and summons frogs (like Naruto did way back) to help him. Two of them, the Toad Sages, help Jiraya amass great power, but he is still unable to win. He writes a message on one of the Toad Sage's backs and DIES.

Naruto Character Development: You see what potential Jiraya sees in Naruto when he tells the Toad Sages that Naruto should be trained in Sage mode - an art that very few people have in this world. As of these episodes, we only knew Jiraya had a Sage mode. Afterward, I can only think of a handful of other people that could do it.

Backstories: Jiraya, Yahiko, Nagato, Konan

Episode Must-Watch: Episode 133, "The Tale of Jiraya the Gallant"

Other Key Episodes: This is a short arc, so watch all of them for quality tears to flow at the end.

Brother vs. Brother (Naruto Shippuden episodes 134-143)

Overview: Itachi and Sasuke finally meet up in an Akatsuki safehouse. Initially the fight is all genjutsu-related (genjutsu being a mental trick that makes the person see things that aren't there, and that is a special ability of the Sharingan eye), but then crazy stuff goes down. The building collapses, various body parts are lost (or not?) and other Sharingan abilities surface like Amaterasu, Tsukuyomi, and Susano'o.

Eventually they are bloodied and bruised, but it looks like Itachi is going to win. But then he dies! Turns out he was dying before this fight took place. Sasuke passes out.

He wakes up after being taken and treated by Tobi, an Akatsuki member who until recently had looked like an ignorant buffoon. But that was all a trick - Tobi was really hiding his true self, Uchiha Madara. Madara was around during the creation of the Hidden Leaf Village and was killed (seemingly) by the First Hokage. But here he is.

He tells Sasuke that Itachi's purpose for killing the Uchiha clan wasn't about vengeance - it was about preserving the Hidden Leaf Village from a coup d'etat by the clan! Itachi's loyalty was stronger with his village than with his family.

It looks like Sasuke's story is done, since Itachi is dead - like he wanted in the first episodes of Naruto. But now he's found a new purpose - destroy the Hidden Leaf Village for what they did to Itachi. He and his teammates join the Akatsuki and hunt down the Jinchuriki of the Eight Tails, a ninja rapper from the Hidden Cloud Village named Killer Bee.

Naruto Character Development: None, though Sasuke progresses rapidly here.

Backstories: Itachi

Episode Must-Watch: Episode 138, "The End"

Other Key Episodes: 136-141

Pain Attacks Hidden Leaf Village   (Naruto Shippuden episodes 154-169, 172-175)

Note: Many Naruto fans say this is the peak of the Naruto story. Lots of awesome stuff happens.

Overview: News of Jiraya's death is brought to the Hidden Leaf Village by the Toad Sage, along with Jiraya's last message and one of the Pain bodies that Jiraya defeated. Naruto is in shock and takes an episode to deal with his mentor's death, but then the Toad Sage says that Jiraya wished for Naruto to learn the Sage Arts. So Naruto travels to Mount Myoboku to train.

Meanwhile, many Leaf ninjas are trying to figure out the Pain body and the message. Eventually Shikamaru finds out that the message says, "The real one is not among them." As this is happening, Pain attacks the village with all six of his bodies. All the ninjas fight, and Tsunade takes it on herself to protect the villagers. The Pain that has the body of Yahiko uses his power to completely flatten the village.

Naruto appears, having progressed rapidly in Sage Mode, and he fights Pain. It is a hard fight, and it looks like no matter what amazing ability Naruto brings, it doesn't defeat the enemy. But when Naruto is cornered, Hinata comes to his aid, doing her best to protect the man she loves. She is stabbed by Pain, and Naruto releases the Nine Tails Cloak, immediately sprouting four tails and quickly growing to nine. It looks like he's going to completely go off the rails, when...

...in Naruto's mind, the Fourth Hokage emerges and stops the transformation, reeling in the Nine Tails power and preventing him from taking over Naruto. How can he do this? He was the one that put the Nine Tails into Naruto, since the Fourth Hokage is Naruto's father!!!! He tells Naruto he has faith in him, and he will be able to control the Nine Tails.

Naruto is inspired by the actions of his father and discovers the true Pain's body - the sickly, diseased body of Nagato, Yahiko's teammate, who now controls his friend's dead body. Naruto uses his power of love to inspire Nagato to spare the village and resurrect the people he's killed before he himself dies.

Naruto Character Development: Naruto learns Sage Mode, which gives him strength and the ability to sense where people and things are. We see him be devoured by the Nine Tails cloak to the ninth tail when he is at his breaking point and thinks everything is lost. Hinata confesses her love for Naruto, which had been long suspected. And the village acknowledges Naruto and celebrates him as a hero - something that Naruto craved since the very beginning of the show.

Backstories: Nagato, Yahiko, Konan

Episode Must-Watch: Episode 168, "The Fourth Hokage"

Other Key Episodes: 152-169, 175. They're the best episodes of the series!

The Five Kage Summit (Naruto Shippuden episodes 197-222)

Overview: After the Hidden Leaf Village attack, Tsunade's defense of her villagers has left her weak and in a coma. Danzo sweeps in and takes claim of the Hokage title.

Other nations are nervous that Sasuke and the Akatsuki are becoming a danger, and the five greatest nations in the land decide to gather together to discuss the problem. This is crazy, because these nations often spend time fighting and killing each other's ninjas. They decide to go to the Land of Iron as a neutral site.

The Cloud ninja are upset because it looks as if Sasuke killed Killer Bee, the "brother" of the Raikage. Naruto finds this out and tries to intercept the Raikage on his way to the summit. He pleads for the Raikage to call off his command to kill Sasuke, but the Raikage refuses. Naruto is so panicked by everyone's resolve to kill Sasuke, when he swore to bring him back to the Hidden Leaf Village, that he hyperventilates. Yamato has to take him to an inn to recover.

There is much tension at the summit, because everyone blames everyone else for things of the past. Then Sasuke attacks the summit, and the kages all fight together, realizing they're allies in this fight. Madara appears and declares war on the nations and his intent to bring every person under his control.

Danzo left the party early, and Sasuke tracks him down and fights him. Danzo dies in the fight. Meanwhile, Sakura has decided that Naruto shouldn't be responsible for Sasuke, and decides to kill him herself. She tries, but it doesn't work. Naruto and Kakashi are forced to intervene, and Naruto reminds Sasuke of his commitment to bring him back to the village.

In the end, the five nations decide that they need to fight Madara together, and they form the Allied Shinobi Forces to prepare for war. Oh, and Tsunade wakes up!

Naruto Character Development: Sasuke gets angry that Naruto keeps getting better and better. Naruto stays committed to his promise of bringing Sasuke back. We see Naruto unable to shield his emotions - something we haven't seen before. Usually he would fight or create mischief, but he breaks down here.

Backstories: Danzo

Episode Must-Watch: Two that show the Five Kage group together (which is always great): Episode 201, "Painful Decision" and 222, "The Five Kage's Decision"

Other Key Episodes: 199, 202-206, 212-216, 218-219

Preparing for War (Naruto Shippuden episodes 243-256, 261)

Overview: Since Orochimaru's death, Kabuto has been unsure of his place in life. But he implants himself with some of Orochimaru's DNA and transforms himself. Through research he also is able to figure out how to bring bodies back from the dead - something Orochimaru used to do. He can make the bodies do his bidding, some with their memories and emotions intact, and some that have been made into mindless soldiers. Madara allies himself with Kabuto to use this undead army, along with an Akatsuki member that has been flying under the radar - Zetsu. They have a giant white Zetsu army of their own.

The Five Kage know that the Eighth and Ninth Jinchuriki - Killer Bee and Naruto - are the ones Madara is looking for to unleash his plan, so it's decided to send them away from the fighting. Naruto is not told of the impending war, but sent on a high-level mission. Yamato and Guy accompany him. Eventually he realizes he is there to do more training.

During this training, he is required to snatch the power of the Nine Tails. In the struggle, he meets his mother, Kushina, who also is stored in his mind. She reveals that she was the Jinchuriki of the Nine Tails before Naruto. She tells him how she met and fell in love with Minato, the Fourth Hokage, and about the day Naruto was born and they both were killed defending him from - surprise! - Madara.

With her help, Naruto separates the Nine Tails power from him and turns into a flame-o ninja. The Nine Tails resents Naruto's interference, but instead of coming at him with hate, Naruto smiles and tells him he's going to change the Nine Tails one day, just like he does with pretty much everyone else.

In the war preparations, the Five Great Nations are mixed up and split into ability companies, like close-range fighters, distance fighters, etc. Kakashi is the head of a company, and while the Raikage is the leader of the Five Great Nation army from afar, Gaara is placed the head of all the companies on the ground. Gaara pleads with the forces to think of themselves not as ninjas of their respective lands, but as shinobi fighting for a collective cause.

Naruto Character Development: Major stuff. Taking the chakra power from Nine Tails gives Naruto a whole lot of power. He also meets his mom and gets a ton of knowledge about stuff that had been previously forbidden to reveal to him.

Backstories: Minato, Kushina, Naruto

Episode Must-Watch: Episode 247, "Target: Nine Tails"

Other Key Episodes: 245-249, 252-256, 261

The Fourth Great Ninja War: Zetsu and Reanimated Shinobi (262-270, 272-278, 282-283, 296-302, 321)

Overview: The five companies are spread throughout the land where it has been rumored the reanimated shinobi and white Zetsu are located. At headquarters, the Raikage leads with the Hokage, and two Leaf ninja - Shikaku (Shikamaru's dad) and Inoichi (Ino's dad) prove that they are incredibly intelligent and strategic.

The reanimated shinobi cause a lot of painful memories to return for people like Kakashi (Zabuza and Haku), Choji, Ino, and Shikamaru (Asuma), Sai (his "brother" Shin), and Gaara (his father, the Fourth Kazekage). The only way to defeat these reanimated shinobi is to seal them away, which proves difficult.

Meanwhile, the white Zetsus come into contact with the ninjas and can create copies of those ninjas, which results in a lot of confusion over who is real and who is not. Fighting at some places comes to a standstill.

Naruto, as he trains with his new powers with Killer Bee, senses the troubles outside. He realizes that there is a war going on because of him, and he doesn't want to stay back. Iruka appears and is supposed to stop him, but instead secretly encourages him to do his thing!

The Raikage and Hokage meet up with Naruto and demand that he stay behind, but he refuses. He pleads his case, and both the Kages reluctantly agree to let him go. Naruto splits himself up with his Shadow Clone jutsu and can identify which ninjas are real and which are white Zetsus.

In all of this fighting, Naruto meets up with reanimated Itachi and Nagato. They have their memories for a while, but then Kabuto makes them mindless. However, Itachi is able to overcome the control by Kabuto and decides to track him down and beat him. He makes sure to tell Naruto to bring Sasuke back - he's the only one who can.

Naruto Character Development: Naruto can identify true and false ninjas. Pretty much everyone he meets has had connections with him before, showing how far-reaching he has come over the years.

Backstories: Too many to count, but I would highlight Gaara, Sai, Choji, the Raikage, and Killer Bee

Episode Must-Watch: Episode 321, "Reinforcements"

Other Key Episodes: 261-262, 267-270, 275-277, 296-299

The Fourth Great Ninja War: Madara and Obito (Naruto Shippuden episodes 322-346, 362-375, 378-388, 391-393, 414-415)

Overview: One of the reanimated shinobi ends up being Uchiha Madara in his original form, which begs the question, who is the other Madara? 

The Five Kages come together to take on the reanimated Madara because of his insane power - no other ninja can even come close to fighting him. While they come at him again and again, he steps it up every time and takes them down, near death. 

Naruto meets the masked Madara and the reanimated Jinchuriki, meaning he also comes into contact with all their Tailed Beasts during the fight. He shows them that he wants to help them, which the Beasts are not expecting. They offer to help Naruto if he can help them stop Madara's control over them, which Naruto does. They also tell Naruto all of their names - including the Nine Tails' name. 

When Nine Tails finds out about Naruto's willingness to help, he sees Naruto in a completely different light - not as someone who controls the Beasts, but who assists them. He tells Naruto he is willing to help him out completely. Naruto, who calls him Kurama for the first time, is grateful that the monster inside him is finally his friend. He goes into "Kurama Mode" which is even more powerful than his previous shiny self.

Sasuke has been out of the fight for a while, but is looking to defeat Naruto once and for all. As he travels, though, he passes the reanimated Itachi, who is going the other direction to fight Kabuto. Sasuke pursues Itachi, and the two of them fight and defeat Kabuto. Kabuto is forced to release his reanimation jutsu. Itachi tells Sasuke that he will always love him before he finally disappears.

It looks like Madara is going to be contained because of this, but he is able to break free of the jutsu and be back in his real body.

Guy and Kakashi assist Naruto as best they can, and they also fight against the masked Madara. Kakashi realizes his Sharingan is connected to masked Madara's connection, and Naruto finally is able to get the mask off and reveal that this man is...his former teammate, Obito!

Obito was declared dead during the Third Great Ninja War, and gave Kakashi his Sharingan before he died. Turns out he used his transparency power to go through the dirt and meet an elderly Madara, who was keeping himself barely alive with the help of Zetsu. Madara recruits Obito to do his dirty work.

Obito was the one that steered Nagato and Konan (after Yahiko's death) to reboot the Akatsuki as a criminal organization. He was behind everything!

Sasuke is conflicted after his encounter with Itachi. He goes to the Hidden Leaf Village with Orochimaru and his teammates. He uses Orochimaru's reanimation power to raise up the four dead Hokages, including Minato. After hearing their stories of loyalty to the Hidden Leaf, Sasuke decides to help get rid of Madara, and the reanimated Hokages are going to help.

Madara has joined Obito's fight, and Sasuke and the reanimated Hokage assist Naruto. Minato sees Naruto! (Yay!) The remaining ninja from the Five Nations also make it to the battle. Crazy powers emerge. Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura take the lead. 

Kakashi and Obito fight the best fight of all of Naruto. Obito wins, uses all of the Tailed Beast power, and creates a god-like version of himself, mirroring the originator of ninjutsu, the Sage of Six Paths. But Naruto - even though it seems impossible - is able to talk Obito down and connect with his humanity. But before Obito can be fully converted, Kurama is taken from Naruto, which pretty much kills him, and Sasuke is mortally wounded by Madara. Madara takes control of the Tailed Beast power and controls Obito with Zetsu's help.

Meanwhile, the Sage of Six Paths visits Naruto and Sasuke's mind as they both teeter on the brink of death. Seeing their potential to unite the shinobi world, he gives each of them half of his power. They don't die!

Naruto Character Development: Naruto finally gets Kurama to be his friend. Naruto meets up with his dad again and they get to team up and fight together, so Naruto sees for himself how amazing his father is. Naruto gets to team up with Sasuke, though Sasuke's intentions aren't fully clear, and Naruto knows it.

Backstories: Madara, Hashirama (the First Hokage), Tobirama (the Second Hokage), Obito, Rin (Kakashi and Obito's teammate), Kakashi (finally!)

Episode Must-Watch: This is a HUGE episode list, so I'm going to pick a few.
Episode 329, "Two-Man Team"
Episode 339, "I Will Love You Always"
Episode 343, "Who Are You"
Episode 366, "The All-Knowing"
Episode 375, "Kakashi vs. Obito" (my personal pick)

Other Key Episodes: Check out the list in the heading. It cuts out the filler episodes and only focuses on the meat!

The Fourth Great Ninja War: Six Paths and Kaguya
(Naruto Shippuden episodes 417-421, 424-426, 458-459, 463, 470-474)

Overview: Naruto and Sasuke come back with Six Paths power and wage a huge battle with Madara. But Madara is still able to activate the ultimate jutsu: the Infinite Tsukuyomi. Sasuke is able to block the jutsu for himself and the rest of Team 7, but all the other ninja are put into their own personal dream world. 

But when everything is looking rosy for Madara, he is betrayed by Zetsu! He stabs Madara and causes the chakra of all the trapped ninja to combine, along with Madara's power, to recreate the being that Zetsu belongs to: Kaguya, the Rabbit Goddess, and the Sage of Six Paths' mother. 

Kaguya continues the Infinite Tsukuyomi, and Team 7's target turns to her. She has the ability to move them all to different dimensions in order to get rid of them, but they are with her thanks to the Six Paths powers. At one point Obito sacrifices his life to save Kakashi. Before he dies, he gives Kakashi his other Sharingan - but briefly. This means Kakashi has massive power, and creates his own Susano'o to assist his students in the fight. 

Using this opportunity, Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura beat down Kaguya and defeat her. They seal her and Zetsu away. Madara, who has lost his power, dies. The reanimated Hokage leave, and Naruto says a tearful goodbye to his father. 

Naruto Character Development: Naruto gains the power of the Six Paths, and he is able to use the power of all the Tailed Beasts. He, Sasuke, and Sakura use teamwork to bring down Kaguya, which was something they struggled doing at the very beginning. 

Episode Must-Watch: Episode 473, "The Sharingan Revived"

Other Key Episodes: Once again, there is a lot of filler in between the main canon. Watch the ones listed above and avoid the others. 

Naruto vs. Sasuke (Naruto Shippuden episodes 475-479)

Overview: All Sasuke and Naruto have to do to release the ninja world of the Infinite Tsukuyomi is to form the hand sign of the rabbit. But Sasuke refuses. His answer is now clear: he is going to wipe the world of the Tailed Beasts and current Kages, take on the mantle of Hokage, and establish a new ninja world. Naruto hates the idea and challenges him. 

Kakashi is too weak from his Sharingan transformation to do anything, and Sakura is placed under genjutsu by Sasuke. Naruto is furious, and the two meet once again at the Final Valley, the site of their first major showdown. 

At first the fight is power vs. power, growing in size till Sasuke's giant Susano'o is fighting Naruto's Kurama. The fight is even, and they are both weakened. But they still punch each other a bunch. Sasuke can't get why Naruto keeps trying, but Naruto's answer is the same as it was years earlier: Sasuke is his friend. 

Sasuke has one more chance to kill Naruto, but Naruto, with very little chakra left, manages to create a simple Rasengan with the help of all the people he's helped over the years. Their attacks merge, cause explosions, and make both of them lose their dominant arms. Both are knocked unconscious. 

Their minds merge, and Sasuke sees for himself all of the trouble Naruto has gone through over the years - all that character development we've talked about - just to bring back Sasuke. Even though we'd seen it, Sasuke hadn't. He also sees Naruto - who used to be a loner pariah - gain more and more friends, while he has held everybody at arm's length and considers no one a friend. 

But then he realizes Naruto is his friend, Naruto cares deeply about Sasuke...and Sasuke concedes. He and Naruto talk, and Naruto finally fulfills his promise. 

Sakura emerges from the genjutsu, and she and Kakashi race to the Final Valley, where she helps both of them stop their bleeding from their missing limbs. Now Sasuke and Naruto form the sign of the rabbit together, the ninja world is released from the Infinite Tsukuyomi, and the Fourth Great Ninja War comes to an end. 

Sasuke, though, is guilty of many crimes, and is arrested. Naruto heals up and begins his education to prepare himself for his likely future as Hokage. He pleads for Sasuke's case, and the new Hokage - Kakashi! - pardons Sasuke. He goes off away from the Hidden Leaf Village again, but this time to atone for all of his past mistakes. 

Naruto Character Development: Amidst all that development, we see Naruto is still the same: stubborn and insistent that his friend come home. 

Backstories: Naruto and Sasuke

Episode Must-Watch: Episode 478, "The Unison Sign"

Other Key Episodes: The other four episodes. 

Epilogue (Naruto Shippuden episodes 484-500, The Last: Naruto the Movie)

Overview: Sasuke has an adventure outside the village, showing his commitment to the Hidden Leaf Village and to all the ninja. 

Shikamaru has his own adventure, showing some growth of his relationship with Temari of the Sand, and Ino begins a connection and relationship with Sai. 

In The Last, which was the first Naruto movie that was released as canon to the story, Naruto realizes Hinata is in love with him, and he realizes he's in love with her, too. But of course, it can't be that simple, as the fate of the whole world hangs in the balance, too. 

Finally, the Hidden Leaf Village gathers together to celebrate the marriage of Naruto and Hinata! Naruto asks Iruka to act as his father for the wedding, bringing the whole story full circle. 

Naruto Character Development: Naruto isn't really in these TV stories that much, but in The Last he matures and falls in love.

Backstories: This is more of a future-building epilogue. Naruto and Hinata gets married and they have Boruto and Himawari. Shikamaru marries Temari and they have Shikadai. Sai marries Ino and they have Inojin. Sasuke does marry Sakura and they have Sarada. Choji marries a Cloud ninja and they have Chocho. All these children create the cast of Boruto, the next television series. 

Episode Must-Watch: Episode 500, "Hidden Leaf Shinobi, The Perfect Day for a Wedding, Part 7: The Message" (the final episode)

Other Key Episodes: The Last is a great movie! 



So there you have it! I cut out a bunch of characters and backstories in order to keep this as short as I can, but when you're trying to consolidate 720 episodes into an article, it's going to be pretty long! 

I love this anime, and I love the message that it promotes. It can border on crazy and weird, but never forgets its roots. It's no wonder Naruto has emerged as a worldwide phenomenon with millions of fans who have followed Naruto's story from when they were very young!


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