Naruto Shippuden is an incredible mix of ninja tradition, based on both classic fictional characters and a few real-life ninja as well. Read on for a run-down of the stories behind some of your favorite characters!
“Sasuke” is the stereotypical name for a ninja in Japan. Why? Because of book “Sarutobi Sasuke” (Leaping Monkey Sasuke), first published in Japan in 1912. It was such a huge hit that his name became the de-facto name for a ninja in Japan.
Statue of Sarutobi Sasuke, the original Sasuke! Imabari Station, Shikoku, Japan
Sasuke may be the star of Naruto, but the original star of the ninja world is Jiraiya. He’s considered the first ninja superhero of Japanese pop culture. He first appeared in an 1806 Japanese book called “The Story of Jiraiya.” Orochimaru and Tsunade made their debut in the very same book.
Vintage Jiraiya print by Kuniyoshi Utagawa (1850's)
In the original Story of Jiraiya, there’s no Sasuke. Jiraiya joins forces with Tsunade to defeat. Orochimaru. These are the characters Masashi Kishimoto used to create Naruto.
How famous is Jiraiya in Japan? So famous that he was the focus of one of Japan’s first special-effects films back in 1921. Check out his transformation into a toad at 12 minutes in.
Hanzo is based on a real-life person named Hattori Hanzo, who served as the Shogun’s tactical advisor in the late 16th century. In fact, one of Tokyo’s subway lines is actually named after him: The Hanzomon Line.
Illustration of Hattori Hanzo from Ninja Attack!
Ninja haven’t really disappeared. There are people out there who perform the same role ninja did in times of old, today. They’re called “special forces.” (The Navy Seals’ takedown of Osama Bin Laden is about as ninja as it gets.)
Matt Alt is the author of “Ninja Attack! True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws”