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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…?

Naruto Uzumaki

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!

Sasuke Uchiha

Then: top of the class, Mr. Popularity, teacher’s pet – Sasuke was the best around and he knew it. Like Naruto’s bragging, Sasuke’s bad attitude is more understandable when viewers learn he is the only survivor of his clan – the rest wiped out by his own brother, Itachi – leading the young ninja to become the best he can be as he seeks vengeance.

Now: Oh, poor Sasuke. A walking lesson in the dangers of pursuing revenge, by the time Shippuden starts he’s alienated his friends, had curses tattooed into his body, and betrayed everything he held dear to increase his power. Where will his vendetta against Itachi lead him, and will he ever make his way back to his friends? Naruto, at least, refuses to give up on him.

Sakura Haruno

Then: A touch on the shallow side, Sakura buried her more violent tendencies deep under the surface in order to present a sweet persona, attempting to win Sasuke’s affections. Immensely infuriated by Naruto’s shenanigans, she’s reluctant to acknowledge any of his accomplishments and often uses him as a target for her frustrations.

Now: Sakura has blossomed into a potent user of ninja healing magic, has dropped a lot of her disdain for Naruto and even – grudgingly – respects him. Just as determined to rescue Sasuke from himself, Sakura still retains an angry edge than makes her a dangerous enemy in combat!

Kakashi Hatake

Then: Dry, wry and detached – at least if anyone asks! The teacher and trainer of Naruto and friends’ Team 7, Kakashi maintains an air of disinterest, with many of his lessons bordering on bullying his students. But it’s all to teach them teamwork, and his aloof demeanour is a sham – he really cares deeply for his charges and is one of the few people in their home village of Konohagakure to treat Naruto like a real person.

Now: With Team 7 more competent in their own abilities, Kakashi is able to take a more direct role in combat. He still has several lessons to impart though, and mysteries of his own past have yet to be revealed!

The Bad Guys!

Then: Sasuke’s brother Itachi was a main antagonist in the original series but the real villain was Orochimaru. Sociopathic and prone to kidnapping people to perform experiments on them, his ambition to learn every ninja art made him a terrifying enemy. With a penchant for using snake-themed attacks and weapons, and a whole village expressing twisted loyalty to him, Orochimaru was one of the most dangerous foes Naruto would have to face, until….

Now: The Akatsuki organisation steps up into the role of the big bad! Though they appeared briefly in the first series, it’s only in Shippuden that they become a force to be reckoned with. Consisting of nine powerful ninja, all of whom have abandoned their home villages, this coalition of criminals has plans from world domination to a nefarious plot requiring the capture of all the mythical tailed beasts – including the one buried inside Naruto! Orochimaru may have been bad news, but at least there was only one of him; Akatsuki is nine times the trouble!

They’ve trained hard, grown apart and are faced with even greater dangers, but teamwork, friendship and no shortage of shuriken should see them through even great challenges in the future!

Naruto: Shippuden season one is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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