The second it was announced that the creator of Naruto, Masashi Kishimoto, would be making his first ever appearance at this year’s New York Comic Con (and the United States), I made a silent promise to myself that come hell or high water, I would attend. Naruto is one of those iconic manga epics, with over 70 volumes and a slew of movies that supplement the equally lengthy anime, and as I queued up with fellow fans, it struck me just how popular the series is.
Once seated and weirdly serenaded by a techno version of the Spongebob Squarepants theme song, the panel moderator welcomed Viz Media’s President and CEO, Ken Sasaki to the stage, where he regaled us with the impressive selling power of Naruto (220 million copies, bringing it to the third highest-selling manga of all time). It wasn’t long before the crowd got antsy, however, and with a thunderous roar of welcome, I laid eyes on the creator of one of my all-time favorite properties.
He politely bowed to the crowd before settling in and pleasantly chatting away in response to the questions put forth by the moderator. Things I learned from this panel included:
- At no point in time did he ever imagine Naruto would get to 72 volumes, in fact, he thought it’d be canceled 10 weeks in (something that is a common happening in the world of manga).
- When asked if there was pressure to keep the story going, he laughed, but admitted that he put his foot down on ending it, since he knew how he how to end the story. Everything about Naruto and Sasuke’s reconciliation in the Valley in front of the hokage statues was something that was in his head early on.
- While he was finally able to get married, relax, and watch his kids grow, he still hasn’t had the time to go on a proper honeymooon!
- At this point, discussion turned to his “rival,” One Piece creator, Eiichiro Oda. Kishimoto had a good natured laugh talking about how often they would cross each other’s path and their long standing friendly competition. When he told Oda he was ending Naruto, he said it felt like he may have inspired him to create an ending for One Piece.
- Kishimoto first realized Naruto got big when he started receiving fanmail in languages he couldn’t read. The reality of its reach sunk in when he got a hold of YouTube and took in the passion of fans over the internet, especially when he saw people cosplay his characters for the first time. At this point, he grinned and announced he just realized that the crowd was full of cosplayers, to whom he apologized for designing complex costumes for his characters.
- As a young person, he enjoyed and drew inspiration from manga like Monster, 20th Century Boys, Phoenix, and Slam Dunk, so it was always a goal to succeed in the serialized magazine, Shounen Jump.
- Our moderator then stated that in America, Shounen Jump launched with what he described as the American Golden Age in manga, with Naruto alongside chapters of Bleach, Dragonball Z, and of course, One Piece. Kishimoto humbly expressed how happy and embarrassed it made him for his work to be referred to as part of the Golden Age.
As a treat, we even got to watch his sketch two pieces LIVE, one of his title character, and one of the character Jiraiya, using a cosplayer in the crowd as his model!
Kishimoto finally got to talk about Boruto. It was the first movie he got to work on from beginning to end in order to bring his work to life for the last time. Viz was even kind enough to screen the trailer, after hearing cheers from the enthusiastic crowd, myself included. Boruto, an epilogue of sorts, will follow Naruto’s son, who is a chip off the old block.
Once there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, Kishimoto was asked if he had a closing statement, which he did:
“I heard that there were many fans who weren’t able to make it today and to hear that after seeing how many people are already here, you know, this is just a little title that I started working on many years ago without ever thinking about any effect it might have, much less a following! All I can say is to know how many of you, how many fans love my work, that follow my work. It’s just, it’s so faithful. The only thing I can even think of saying is THANK YOU.”
In response, all I can say is: No. Thank YOU, Kishimoto-san. I’m nearly thirty years old, and it was your work, your acute ability to make a Hispanic girl from Texas, half a world away from Japan, fall in love with manga for the first time at 15, and for that, I really am eternally grateful to have fallen in love with Naruto and his story.