- Particularities of Boys’ Manga in the Early Twenty-First CenturyHow Naruto Differs from Dragon Ball
Naruto is a ninja manga, and the apparent popularity of “ninja” in the West surprises Japanese people a lot.1 Naruto is flourishing within the expressive space that was opened up by its precursor, Dragon Ball. Author Kishimoto Masashi has talked several times about Dragon Ball’s influence on him and his respect for its creator, Toriyama Akira. Similarities between the two works are, for example, the visual pleasure derived from depictions of untamed, three-dimensional body movements, and the fights that impress readers with martial-arts physicality. Yet, this is not limited to Naruto. The expressive space of Japan’s shōnen (boys’) manga, especially those serializations in the magazine Shōnen Jump with scenes that are extraordinarily drawn out due to endless chains and repetitions of bodies colliding with each other in fights—all of these can be traced back to Dragon Ball. The characters’ fights are a matter of life and death. Every single character goes to the limit of their abilities, and readers empathize with them. Naruto’s battles fascinate because of their surprising developments, which unfold when the combatants trick each other with the help of ninja techniques (ninjutsu, or jutsu) and cunning. A character might, for example, be about to fail, but then we learn that apparently inferior movements were actually clever tactics, serving to generate an advantage over the enemy. In such moments, we as readers are as much deceived as are the characters.
Naruto’s ninja techniques are both magical and supernatural, but besides physical attacks that damage the rival’s body, other jutsu are frequently employed as well, such as disguise, doppelganger, mental possession, hallucination, and hypnosis. In particular, the bunshin no jutsu (doppelganger technique), that is, splitting oneself up into many illusions of oneself, forms the basis of the ninja techniques in Naruto. Protagonist Uzumaki Naruto goes to great trouble to acquire a move that translates as “Multiple Shadow Clone Technique” (tajū kage bunshin no jutsu), which later becomes his specialty. [End Page 113] Let us have a look at one of the battle scenes. At the so-called chūnin exam (which the characters take to achieve a higher ninja rank), Naruto meets Hyūga Neji. Neji tries to find out who the real Naruto is among the dozen of his shadow clones. Yet, his attacks make only clones disappear. Thinking rationally, he decides that the real one must be the one who is fighting most defensively, the one with the lowest frequency of attacks.
But turning the page, we see that Neji has been outwitted by Naruto and has attacked yet another shadow clone.
This is a very simple example, but it may demonstrate how the doppelganger jutsu itself is used as a tactic to lead the opponent astray initially, and then serves to confuse him more by second-guessing his next step. Further, it is remarkable that everything “visible” in this scene turns out to be an illusion generated by the rival ninja’s skill.
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In any case, both characters and readers are fooled. Or more accurately, things are shown in a way that misleads the reader by means of page layout and panel arrangement. In the Naruto world, fights almost always have this [End Page 114] aspect of deception. Precisely, therefore, the ninja-technique world of Naruto may be determined as a space where the “visible” is not to be trusted. The visible is ever suspect because it might be an illusion. Even when taking into account that the story contains elements such as the doppelganger, disguise, and spirit possession, it is fair to say that among all visible things, the doppelganger is the most unreliable.
This lack of trust in the visible is not found in Dragon Ball. For example, if we look at Naruto’s shadow clone technique, it is not possible to tell on sight whether the Naruto we see is a clone or the original. And this applies to the readers, who do not live in...