Jonathan Clements gets into the hidden meanings of Mamoru Hosoda's Summer Wars.
“You know,” says Mamoru Hosoda, “I have been directing films for over a decade, and until now I haven’t killed off a single human being. I’m a little bit proud of that. I ask another director how they’re doing, and they’ve already lost track of the body count! I’ve made a lot of works for children with Toei Animation in the past, so obviously that steers me towards a certain resistance to death. But even in Summer Wars, I resisted the death that we had in the script, even though it was clear that it was a narrative necessity. It was a big challenge for me.”
After the worldwide success of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006), the Madhouse production team was made an offer they could not refuse: the chance to make a new anime feature. Whereas TGWLTT had been based on an acknowledged classic of Japanese science fiction, known to every generation in Japan since its 1965 debut, this new film would be all-original. It was a tall order for screenwriter Satoko Okudera and director Hosoda, but the result is sure to become a classic of anime. That is, at least, precisely what the creators are aiming for – for all its immediacy and heartfelt sentiment, Summer Wars has also been carefully constructed as a ready-made family favourite, designed to take the place on future Japanese TV schedules that might be occupied in Britain by The Great Escape or The Wizard of Oz.
Summer Wars is Ghost in the Shell for the Facebook generation, with a self-aware artificial intelligence escaping from a sea of data and somehow attempting to influence the real world. But its inspiration is much more down-to-earth, said to commence shortly after the release of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, with the petrified director Mamoru Hosoda’s first visit to see his fiancée’s family, and the awful, overwhelming realisation that he faced a tsunami of information on family histories, feuds, and tragedies which was simultaneously nothing to do with him and yet the foundation of his life to come.
Director Kenji Kamiyama on Eden of the East, Catcher in the Rye, and things to do with ten billion yen.
“Ten billion yen is a lot of money for an individual,” says Kenji Kamiyama, “but the value of the money itself isn’t enough to change a country’s destiny. You need the initiative of the individual. I thought about how much money would be right. The basic idea was to have an amount that would be very good for one person to live on, but not enough for a revolution.”
And then, in Kamiyama’s anime series Eden of the East, he dumped the huge sum (£76 million and change) in the hands of a mystery man who fraternises with NEETs, slacker youngsters “Not in Education, Employment or Training”.
“People in modern Japan, especially the young, don’t really feel: ‘I am rich, so I’m happy.’” explains Kamiyama. “People compare their own situation to that of others, and that is a deformed kind of happiness. Consequently, people don’t feel the motivation to work, and they can’t feel content.
“This led to the phenomenon of NEETs. Because these people have no excitement or passion in their lives, their lives become flat. They secretly start to wish that something exciting or surprising would happen, good or bad, just so that they can feel that they are alive.”
In Eden of the East, a Tokyo missile attack and a multi-millionaire windfall should be enough for any slacker, except it comes with a price. Leading man Takizawa and his rivals have each been given ten billion yen with which to transform Japan. The catch is, if they run out of money, they die!
Japanese pop star Takanori Nishikawa caught in public toilet with foreign journalist… oh, wait, it’s only Tom Smith.
“YO!” chirps Takanori Nishikawa, the man behind the J-pop sensation T.M. Revolution. Active since the 1990s, his music spreads much further than the decade that brought us the Spice Girls and Pokémon, and is still proving strong today. One of his newer singles “Save the One, Save the All” is the theme to the fourth Bleach movie, The Hell Verse, and his tenth studio album Cloud Nine hit Japan on the 30th of this month. But that’s not important – not right now. What’s important is his hand. It’s up there, in the air, waiting for me to give it some skin and seal a high-five – and I’m leaving him hanging as I panic with my zipper.
No one ever teaches you how to respond when a pop-star greets you – do you play it cool with a “’sup?” Is a friendly “Hey there!” a bit too familiar and corny? A simple “Hello” sounds far too formal, but what I do know is that not responding to a high-five is a definite no-no. In my defence, it’s not everyday I have one of Japan’s best loved musicians throwing his palm in my direction as I try to finish off what was previously a peaceful and stress-free whizz in the men’s room.
Besides his music, the little fella, barely higher than my shoulder, is renowned for his charisma – after all, it led to him being crowned the cultural ambassador of his home region Shiga – and I’m not surprised. It’s a couple of hours before his first performance in the UK with his rocking side project abingdon boys school (it has to be lower-case, them’s the rules), and he’s standing opposite a stinking urinal, wearing Doc Martins, jeans that have the union jack plastered all over them, a cardigan that is similarly red, white and blue, and a smile almost as wide as that YouTube kid who got an N64 for Christmas. He’s loving every (stinking) minute of his time in Blighty-land.
In 1996, T.M. Revolution (Takanori Makes Revolution) set out to change the Japanese pop world with his debut single “Dokusai - monopolize –“. He captured the flare of Japan’s visual kei scene – notorious for its flamboyant outfits – and combined it with a high energy pop beat and vocals so catchy that it’s impossible to go to a contemporary Japanese karaoke joint and not hear someone murdering a T.M. tune.
While his debut was more mild turbulence than full-blown revolution, his third single “HEART OF SWORD - Yoakemae –“ caused a chart-based uprising when it was chosen as the third ending to the wandering assassin series Rurouni Kenshin (only the videos of which have been released in the UK under the name Samurai X).
That began a long love affair between Nishikawa and the anime industry, most notably seeing the pint-sized popster pen several songs for the Gundam Seed universe – he loved recording the tracks so much that the series producers let him star in the show by voicing ZAFT pilot Miguel Aiman, as well as Heine Westenfluss, whose appearance resembles the singer.
The anime tie-ins don’t stop there! Several recently released series in the UK feature music from the revolution-maker in his abingdon boys school guise, including D.Gray-man, Darker than Black and Sengoku Basara. You can catch him this month in all his pop-based T.M. glory in the opening to Soul Eater with his track ‘Resonance’, the music video to which features clips from his previous videos. Watch out for the water-based segments, they’re originally from “HOT LIMIT” – I still thank the musical gods that he did not turn up to the toilets wearing that outfit from the video...
The Soul Eater complete series box set is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment. Takanori Nishikawa’s antics can be followed on Twitter. His account is @TMR15 and he occasionally tweets in English. He is donating all the proceeds from his 30th March Tokyo concert to Japan Quake charities.
Babes vs Zombies? Helen McCarthy dons cowboy hat and poncho to check out Yohei Fukuda's Chanbara ("Swordplay") Beauty.
Three people meet in a Japan overrun by the hungry dead: a bikini-clad beauty wielding a samurai sword, her chubby sidekick, and a biker chick with a shotgun. Evil mastermind Dr Sugita has created an army of zombies to win absolute power. Can our reluctant heroes stop him, or will their human weaknesses and lost loved ones add them to the zombie buffet?
Based on a 2004 slash-'em-up game made for the PS2 and ported over to cellphones in 2006, the movie Chanbara Beauty expands the game premise of girls hacking their way through legions of the undead. Slightly. Aside from a sidekick who makes Joxer from Xena: Warrior Princess look like the Mighty Thor, not much has changed: underdressed babes, over-ripe extras, some endearingly pathetic special effects and a script from the school of bare necessities.
Yet, in its own way, the movie honours its roots. The box art alone tells you it has no pretensions to greatness, but it’s as much fun as a chocolate-fuelled, Lambrini-spiked sugar rush.
Sword-swinging, swashbuckling females on heroic missions go far back in Japanese legend. One of the most beloved and influential of modern times is the heroine of Riyoko Ikeda’s manga and anime The Rose of Versailles. Zombie hunter Aya’s swordplay links her to that history, and her rose tattoo, like the rose ring in the anime Revolutionary Girl Utena, underlines the link. The traditions of the genre demand overwhelming opposition, lost love, honour, and, most important of all, secrets. Chanbara Beauty has all of the above.
The Japanese title is a triple pun. As well as its reference to the rose, it’s a play on onechan, or big sister, Japanese for any older girl too young to be called auntie, and chanbara, samurai swordplay movies packed with action and drama. Many chanbara movies packaged the struggle against oppressive overlords and would-be dictators in attention-grabbing, gore-laden action – another tradition honoured here.
Some of Fukuda’s framing echoes the chanbara tradition, with classic shots of poised swords and motionless protagonists caught in an eternal moment. His zombies stand in effectively for chanbara peasants, mere spear-carriers for the evil machinations of their masters and the lofty ideals of the samurai. Chanbara makers like Akira Kurosawa and Masaki Kobayashi probably never envisaged protagonists in blinging bikinis, but changing times are a common chanbara motif.
An explicit homage to a Western source is an optional Japanese movie extra, but Chanbara Beauty picks the best in its nod to Quentin Tarantino’s number one psycho, GoGo Yubari from Kill Bill. Older film fans may note a nod to Raquel Welch’s 1971 cowboy flick Hannie Caulder (or to Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name) in star Eri Otoguro’s poncho and cowboy hat. Otoguro looks gorgeous, but acting honours, such as they are, go to deadly mama Manami Hashimoto. Turn off your critical faculties and enjoy.
As Makoto Shinkai's 5cm/second finally gets a UK release, Andrew Osmond goes looking for anime background detail.
On the DVD of Makoto Shinkai’s new film, 5 Centimetres per Second, the director discusses the role of scenery in his anime. “We don’t necessarily portray the scenery realistically,” he says. “Rather, we want to portray the scenery in the characters’ memories... During the movie, you might think you’d be able to see the exact scenery if you go to the actual location, but if you actually go there, you’d say, ‘Hey, the colours were different,’ or ‘The details were different.’ What we portray is the image of the scenery, so we’re not necessarily obsessed with how it looks in real life.”
Nonetheless, one way in which anime often differs from other animation is in its extremely “realistic” backgrounds, based on actual places. (A recent example is Kenji Kamiyama’s Eden of the East, where much of the action takes place in the Lalaport Toyosu shopping mall in Tokyo’s Kotu-ku district.) It’s less unusual in Western CGI films – think of the Paris kitchen in Pixar’s Ratatouille – but the drawn hyperrealism of 5 Centimetres would strike many Westerners as weird. From the film’s opening minutes, we’re bombarded with scenic images, some edited as fast as a Michael Bay actioner. They show details as mundane as the lettering on the controls of a washing machine, or the platform signboards at Tokyo’s Shinjuku station, that giant maze designed by a demented Dungeon Master.
As Shinkai says, landscape in anime is bound up with nostalgia. Another nostalgic director, Isao Takahata, explained why he didn’t just make his memory-lane drama Only Yesterday in live-action. “I don’t think audiences watch live-action features carefully,” he said. “However, they’d be forced to for an animated feature, because animation catches things we do and reflects reality more solidly than it actually is.”
Shinkai extends this principle by having his characters isolated from everyday Japan, desperately seeking a way back to the world they only now appreciate. In his breakthrough short film, Voices of a Distant Star, Shinkai showed a girl in a space war, light-years away from home, as she forlornly recalls the sights and sounds of Japan, “like the sound of raindrops hitting an umbrella, like the softness of spring soil.” In The Place Promised in Our Early Days, the sleeping-beauty heroine is trapped in the silent quantum interstices of God’s dreams. She laments, “The world is so beautiful, but I’m so far away from it... all alone.” 5 Centimetres traps its hero in a snowbound void, and later uses the metaphor of a space probe, endlessly flying into deep space.
Such things only have the meanings humans give them. In the first section of 5 Centimetres, watch how the snowy landscape “changes” from a realm of misery to something sublime, matching the hero’s perceptions. And at the film’s end – no spoilers – watch the signboard to the side of the picture in the last scene, and consider what it might mean. Another "realistic" detail, or the key to the whole film?
5 Centimetres Per Second is out on UK DVD on 14th March from Manga Entertainment.
Andrew Osmond looks at the cream of the homebrew anime crop.
Makoto Shinkai is one of the most famous anime directors in the world today, but he took the toughest path to the top. He initially decided to make complete anime films by himself, starting with the five-minute film She and her Cat. Solo anime is an enticing and terrifying prospect. You’re the sole creator, so when impressed friends ask who did what on your film, you can proudly say everything. You can articulate your tastes and idiosyncrasies; you can bare your soul.
But solo animation is hard work, a journey that might never end (unless the computer is doing it for you). Shinkaipoints out that your priority must be to finish the thing, even if that means ditching many of the impressive shots you’d planned. If Shinkai hadn’t finished Voices, he’d have had a very pretty showreel to send to animation companies. Because he did finish it, he’s now the world-famous director of the staffed feature films The Place Promised in Our Early Days and the new 5 Centimetres Per Second.
This lovely seven-minute short was created by student Sumito Sakakibara, while he was studying in London at the Royal College of Art. Its influences include Yasujiro Ozu and Isao Takahata (Only Yesterday), while a playful demon character harks back to Japan’s early picture scrolls. “Kamiya’s Correspondence took me a solid year to make,” Sakakibara says, “working day and night. The drawings were drawn straight into Photoshop using a Wacom tablet and composed in AfterEffects. It saved me from having to scan a deadly load of paper!”
A WOLF LOVES PORK
A piece of low-tech genius, created by animator Taijin Takeuchi. It’d be a shame to spoil this beautifully droll film, but ask yourself the “Road Runner” question afterwards; were you rooting for the wolf or the pig? Wes Anderson, the indy-icon director who recently directed an animated version of Fantastic Mr Fox, astutely sums up stop-motion as “That magical effect where you can see how it is accomplished.” It’s a perfect description of A Wolf Loves Pork, the director of which would go on to reprise his achievement on a much larger scale, professionally.
Amber Lawrence on the top ten ways to perfect cosplay without ending up on a snark site. Pics by Paul Jacques.
The most important thing anyone needs to know about cosplay is that it’s all about putting on a silly costume for a day, hanging out with your fellow geeks and revelling in geekish joy. But if you combine the increasing numbers of people getting into cosplay and the speedy and anonymous nature of the internet, you end up with a lot of websites out there dedicated to showcasing “Cosplay Fail”. So, if you want to have some costumed fun for the weekend but are worried about faceless internet critics nitpicking at your efforts afterwards, here are our survival tips…
1. DON’T cosplay as someone you know nothing about
They've got it right, unless they think they are Jordan and Peter.
It’s really nobody’s business which character you choose to cosplay as, but it’s one of those weird things that net critics like to jump on. You don’t have to sit through every episode of Bleach before you cosplay as Ichigo or Rukia (let’s face it, you’d be there a while), but it’s a good idea to know a bit about a character you want to cosplay as anyway. Not only will it give the critics less to moan about, but it’ll also help you figure out cool poses for photos (and give you something to talk about if you meet other fans of your character).
2. DON’T try to run before you can walk
Maybe you’ve seen the photos of last year’s Eurocosplay winners and been inspired to get into the hobby, and it’s understandable that you’d want a costume that’s just as impressive as theirs. But if you don’t have much experience, you may want to think a little smaller for your first cosplay. The cosplayers with the most impressive costumes usually have years of experience, and they all started small too. You’ll always feel happier about a simple, well-made costume than one that’s over-complicated and inexpertly made. And on that note…
3. DON’T cut corners with your costume
It wouldn't be the same if she was painted pink.
Everyone has real-life commitments like work, school or family, and it’s normal to feel stressed as events loom. But don’t feel tempted to cut corners just to be finished in time. There are a few things you can get away with – messy seams on the inside of your costume, a fancy dress prop that looks the part – but unfinished hems, unpainted props and cheap party wigs will ruin the overall look of your costume. If it’s not coming together in time then don’t rush – there’ll always be other events.
4. DON’T ignore your body type
Everyone knows that anime characters don’t have realistic body proportions, so we’re not saying that you shouldn’t cosplay if you don’t match up. But there are certain characters with distinctive physical attributes and may look odd on a cosplayer without them – a petite woman cosplaying as Matsumoto from Bleach or Tsunade from Naruto, for example, or a not-entirely-musclebound man taking on Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star. Don’t despair, as there are always ways around these problems, whether it’s as simple as adjusting the cut of your costume or as extensive as building a muscle suit. But it all starts with you being aware of these problems in the first place.
5. DON’T forget your makeup
This is one that can go two ways. No-one has completely clear skin, and cameras can be extremely unforgiving when it comes to an uneven skin tone, so even if your character doesn’t seem to wear makeup, it’s a good idea if you do. A well-applied makeup scheme can do a lot, from disguising blemishes to seemingly changing the shape of your eyes or mouth. Be careful not to overdo it, too (unless you want to look clownish). Practice makes perfect with this, so experiment with your makeup before the event.
6. DON’T use your own hair
This would not be improved by an afro wig. Or would it...?
There are exceptions here. If you’re cosplaying as that most unusual of things, an anime character with a normal hair colour, and it happens to match yours, then you can probably get away with it. But don’t be tempted to think that you can save money on a good wig by trying to dye your hair a crazy colour. It never, ever looks right.
7. DON’T forget about your footwear
Ironically, it’s the characters with nondescript shoes that can trip you up. You may think that people will be too interested in your Alucard coat and hat to notice that you’re wearing an old pair of trainers, but internet critics always pick up on inappropriate shoes. You may not have any completely accurate footwear, but at least make sure your shoes match the rest of the costume.
8. DON’T lie about your costume
Not everyone has enough time, money or skill to make their dream costumes, so commissioning one made to your measurements is a reasonable alternative. No-one will look down on you for doing it… as long as you don’t try to pass it off as being your own work. Don’t enter craftsmanship competitions, don’t make up stories about the construction process, and if anyone asks, tell them the truth about where your costume came from. Lying about your costume is the cardinal sin of cosplay, and while internet critics will eventually forget about dodgy seams or a bad wig, they’ll never forget a person who claimed they made something when they didn’t (and won’t let you forget either).
9. DON’T take it too seriously
It's all good fun until someone tries dropkicking a passer-by...
Remember what we said right at the beginning about how cosplay is about geekish fun? Never lose sight of that. In internet terms, haters gonna hate, and if someone wants to snark about someone they’ll find some excuse or another for doing it regardless of all of the above. Feel free to disregard everything we’ve said here and cosplay as whoever you want, don’t visit snarky websites, and have fun with your hobby. That really is the best advice we can give you, with the possible exception of…
Helen McCarthy takes on Japan's walking dead in Tokyo Zombie.
Tadanobu Asano is a magnificent actor, the Toshiro Mifune of his generation. He works with great directors – Takashi Miike, Nagisa Oshima, Takeshi Kitano. He can play comedy and tragedy, is comfortable in physical and contemplative roles. He’s even making his mark on screens outside his own country, with roles in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and Peter Berg’s upcoming Battleship.
Like Mifune’s, Asano’s career embraces both serious cinema and the kind often described as disposable. Tokyo Zombie falls into the second category, but don’t pass it by: it’s disposable, yes; flawed, definitely; enjoyable, massively.
Based on the manga by Yusaku Hanakuma, Tokyo Zombie is the story of two downtrodden workers with a passion for ju-jitsu. Asano shows little of the effortless cool that led Spanish newspaper El Mundo to label him “Johnny Depp’s Japanese cousin” – he’s an Afro-haired dork named Fujio. His bald co-worker Mitsuo (actor-composer Show Aikawa) trains him to fight. They get more fight practice than they bargained for when an army of the undead shambles from a toxic waste dump to rip Japanese society apart.
The buddy-movie beginning looks set to segue into a road movie, but a twist separates the odd couple and pushes us straight into post-apocalyptic territory via an animated interlude. Five years down the line, Tokyo is a feudal nightmare where rich survivors live in protected enclaves, enslaving the poor and forcing them to fight captive zombies for entertainment. Fujio uses the skills his old friend taught him to stay alive and keep his new family safe, but there’s a Mitsuo-shaped gap in his life. The relationship is so brilliantly written and acted that the interplay between the two characters goes on, despite the absence of one of them for a good chunk of the film.
The brilliance is uneven. The gags veer from inspired to gross. The mix of live action, animation, screwball humour and lo-fi sfx is choppy and occasionally annoying. Yet the movie’s heart, the relationship between two likeable losers, is strong and solid. Asano and Aikawa create humanity out of absurdity, credibility out of confusion. Despite the zombie apocalypse, the film has more comedy than gore, because the zombie motif is just an excuse.
Tokyo Zombie is a bleak allegory of modern Japan, where whining, emasculated men and disengaged youth grovel to overbearing women old and young, a gerontocracy where the ultimate symbol of the State is a helpless retard. The women in the movie, dead or alive, are aggressive, unsentimental and terrifyingly adult. The men are passive, infantile and fixated on each other.
This is not a horror movie. It’s a film about growing up, embracing responsibility and accepting that you can’t outrun, or fight off, death without also losing the things that make life worth living – friendship, love and the ability to choose, if not your own path, then at least the way you walk it. Tokyo Zombie delivers a lot of fun, but at its heart is a big question: what happens next for Japan?
Tokyo Zombie is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.
Tom Smith on the late, great Eri Kawai, lyricist on Bamboo Blade.
Responsible for some of the most memorable jingles and themes to hit Japanese television, Eri Kawai recorded and wrote everything from catchy commercials, to the opening songs of countless films, dramas and anime, including music featured in the comedy classic Crayon Shin-chan, the live action version of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and her most popular track according to last.fm, ‘Almateria’, the beautiful opening from the Tales of Symphonia anime.
Bamboo Blade was amongst her final projects before she lost her struggle against cancer on the 4th of August, 2008. And while her haunting vocals are absent from the series, her spunky, charming lyrics live on in the title’s opening and closing themes, ‘Bamboo Beat’ and ‘Star Rise’.
Both of the themes are composed by Koma2 Kaz – the creative force behind a string of J-pop hits, including many arrangements for the Japanese man-boy trio w-inds. – and feature the vocal delights of Bamboo Blade’s Japanese cast as they sing Eri’s lyrics, which capture the essence of the series and the traditional kendo mindset.
These same lyrics caught the attention of Japan’s online anime communities, but not for their lyrical links to the traditional way of the sword. The closing song begins with the English line ‘I’m calling past star rise’, which sounds suspiciously similar to ‘anko iru pasuta raisu’ in Japanese, meaning ‘red bean paste with pasta rice’ when translated back into English. This culinary take on the lyrics has since appeared on forums across Japan and appears to be the preferred take on the lyrics if Japan’s video sharing sites are anything to go by.
If you’re still not entirely convinced that Eri Kawai is a big deal in the anime world, then it’s clear you haven’t picked up either of her Animage albums. Both CDs are packed with her cover versions of anime’s most popular series – everything from Evangelion to Cardcaptor Sakura, Laputa and many, many more. And that’s without including her original work in the Aria franchise, Utawarerumono, Air: The Movie, D.Gray-man, Romeo x Juliet… and the list goes on.
Sadly she did not get to see the release of her final album, Kaze no Michi e (To the Way of the Wind). Five new songs had been recorded for her new album prior to her premature death, including ‘Toki no Kisha’, written by famed video game and anime composer Michiru Oshima (Fullmetal Alchemist, Ico, Zelda: Twilight Princess). But, instead of opting for a five-track mini-album, her record label decided to create a fitting farewell full-length album by combining those songs with tracks from her early 1997 EP Ao ni Sasageru, and throwing in two bonus tracks for good measure. The album is available outside of Japan via HearJapan and, as a final tribute to the star whose voice graced so many fantastic anime, all proceeds of the record go to Eri’s family.
In the words of the fallen star, banbuu biito wo narashite – let the bamboo beat ring out.
Actor Kan Tokumaru, who died on 6th March, was a constant presence in the world of Japanese voice-overs. Born in Shizuoka, Japan with the name Kimio Murano, his earliest appearances on TV were in live-action shows such as The Guardman and Seven Lawyers. He moved into cartoons in 1975 with a role as Furusawa in Tomorrow's Joe, beginning a voice acting career that would span the next four decades. His best known roles were arguably in games, particularly as Junichiro Takagi in The Idolm@ster and both Fan Li in Gaiking and Gaia in the Gundam series. He would find himself reprising these parts in game spin-offs well into the first decade of the 21st century.
Tokumaru specialised in gruff managerial types, a role he would also play to perfection as "M" in the Japanese dub of the Bond movie Live and Let Die. Other dubbing roles in the Japanese versions of foreign works included supporting roles in Silent Running, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dirty Harry.
Matt Kamen weighs the difference between the original series and the newer Shippuden episodes of Naruto.
With hundreds of episodes under Naruto’s belt, it can be easy to forget just how far the world’s favourite orange ninja cadet and friends have come since their first days at school. The release of the complete first season of Naruto Shippuden seems the perfect time to look back at some of the key players in the saga, and see where the new series finds them – and haven’t they grown…?
Then: When Naruto first began, the eponymous hero was frankly a bit of a jerk. Loud-mouthed, obnoxious and a prankster, with ambitions far above his abilities, few realised his behaviour was a defence mechanism to protect himself from the ostracism of his peers. Then again, having a legendary nine-tailed fox demon sealed inside you is bound to weird some people out....
Now: Shippuden finds Naruto much more competent; a skilled fighter, aware of his limits but always pushing them, and almost religiously devoted to protecting his friends. He’s still light-hearted, and a two-year gap in his training puts him largely behind the rest of his fellow trainee ninja, but he’s slowly gaining control over the fox spirit within, making him all the more determined to succeed!