NARUTO: The Whorl Within the Spiral, Minato Namikaze’s special manga, just released and it’s an incredible example of what to do (and what to avoid) in a one-shot. Roughly three months ago, Shueisha’s Jump Comics shared the results of the “Narutop 99” character poll held in celebration of the NARUTO franchise’s 20th anniversary. Original creator Masashi Kishimoto would create an original short manga for the winner of that poll with details and scenes never before seen elsewhere in the story. On April 13th, 2023 the winner was revealed to be Minato Namikaze (the fourth Hokage) to much celebration and, in some cases, little surprise.
I fully understand why Minato won. From his introduction into the series, he’s always been one of the coolest characters. During part 1 of NARUTO he mostly comes up as a renowned hero who (aside from pretty obviously being Naruto’s father) defended the leaf village from the nine-tailed fox. Minato is also just…so cool. I can recall growing up wildly excited to play as Minato in NARUTO video games because of his quick attacks and flashy teleportation. In most games his popularity and mystique was tacitly acknowledged by him being hard to unlock relative to other characters — typically you had to win a difficult fight against a boss or multiple characters at once.
Personally, even thinking all of this, I voted for the 7th place winner, Sakumo Hatake, Kakashi Hatake’s father, and for a very specific reason: he was spoken highly of but I have no idea what he did. I’m of the opinion that a one-shot manga after a series is useful for three broad types of goals. One: rebooting a series by building up from existing material. NARUTO already has a sequel in the form of BORUTO so that’s not a good goal here. Series like BLEACH, which lack sequel series, can make good use of this though. Two: giving context and depth to known facts about the series, which is what NARUTO: The Whorl Within the Spiral does. Three: introducing new facts about known characters to spark new storylines. I voted for Sakumo because I wanted to read a story I hadn’t already imagined myself. Ultimately though, this one-shot following the second goal is smart. The Whorl Within the Spiral disappointed some fans (if social media responses are any indication) because it didn’t reveal anything particularly new. But, for a series that isn’t going to resume, I think this is smart. While I share in the slight frustration that I can’t read wholly new NARUTO manga forever, this one-shot manga did incredibly well at expanding a known series of events, showing those events with wonderful art, and being self-contained, not needing follow-up chapters to make sense.
Spoilers ahead for Minato’s one-shot manga.
The Orange Ninja’s Red and Yellow
Much of the manga, to my surprise, centers Kushina Uzumaki (Naruto’s mother, if you’ve somehow forgotten) and her experiences as the nine-tailed fox’s host. Some of it is content we’ve already seen in some form such as Mito Uzumaki explaining to Kushina how to live as the host of a vitriolic fox demon by filling herself with love. Most of it, appropriately, we have not seen. NARUTO: The Whorl Within the Spiral showed some interactions related to Kushina teaching Minato her clan’s sealing jutsu, a glimpse of the second shinobi world war, and, most importantly, the final stage of Minato’s creation of the rasengan. The context of the second shinobi world war is important as it gives context to Kishimoto’s immediate juxtaposition of how different villages treat their jinchuriki (those who host tailed beasts). Roshi and Han, ninja from the stone village and jinchuriki of the four and five tails respectively, aim tailed beast bombs at Minato and Jiraiya’s platoon at the beginning of the chapter, saying “if you really want to fight us…you better bring the Nine Tails’ jinchuriki” as an indication of the necessary firepower to contest theirs. Them summoning partial tailed beast avatars is a separate discussion entirely that I won’t get into here. The important detail from this scene is that jinchuriki are, at this point, assets of war.
Kushina is compared to these two by Minato as he makes a connection between the display of power that just almost killed him and the power within Kushina. Kushina, for her part, is kept within an area fortified by a seal of her clan’s own creation. Her characterization across the NARUTO franchise (especially in the video games) has always upset me, and sadly her presentation here is, unsurprisingly, focused on her love for Minato. NARUTO: The Whorl within the Spiral made it quite clear that the Rasengan was in fact created for Kushina to use against other jinchuriki. I would’ve appreciated at least some indication that she at least attempted to learn it — otherwise, it feels odd that a jutsu made for her to use and that she named is never used by her in combat. That aside, I appreciated seeing more of the tender connection build up between her and Minato. For a person that was likely only seen as the power inside of her, I imagine it was touching for Kushina that Minato invented a technique for her based on the tailed beat bomb rather than giving her guidance on using the tailed beast bomb herself.
Minato being Minato and Theme Elevated
When this chapter first started circulating around social media, the images I saw first were of Minato basically dunking a rasengan on the Nine Tails. This fight found an immediate spot amongst my favorites for that panel alone. But it, and the creation of the rasengan, included lots of callbacks that were very satisfying. This, to me, had even more of an impact than adding new material fans weren’t semi-familiar with. Minato, while struggling to keep the rasengan stable, gets the hang of things from an otherwise innocuous question from Jiraiya about which of two popsicle halves he wanted. This was a clear nod to Naruto mastering his wind-style version of the rasengan after a similar conversation with Kakashi, both showcasing Minato’s genius and the brief sparks of it we see in Naruto throughout the series. When the Nine Tails attempts to possess Kushina we see additional callbacks to Naruto’s own fight to control the Nine Tails’ chakra. Just like in that fight, love empowered ninja (and their chakra) to beat out the Nine Tails’ hatred.
The central theme of the chapter was bolstered by an additional to a common NARUTO motif: the spiral. The sections about taking a flat, fixed spiral and elevating it into a three-dimensional helix were surprisingly beautiful. Ending its physical representation with a view of the Hokage monument, serving as a view of one’s loved ones, was similarly touching to see. NARUTO is as much about breaking cycles of pain and hatred as it is about cool fights and powers. NARUTO: The Whorl within the Spiral using the helix illustrated that aspect of the series in a way that ranks above most others in all source material in my opinion.
The First of Hopefully Many One-Shots
While this story was precipitated by a NARUTO anniversary and character poll, I really really really hope Kishimoto puts out more of them. He made it clear in interviews that he was rooting for Kurama (the Nine Tails) in the poll, going as far as expanding his drawings related to the poll results from the top 20 characters to the top 22 just to include Kurama. He also indicated that the 57-page story was more than he originally anticipated. This, to me, says that Kishimoto enjoyed this process and, hopefully, would enjoy creating other new stories just as much.
One of the many difficulties of this kind of work is creating content that meets expectations without inadvertently contradicted the long-established facts of a completed manga series. I think exploring the past of characters is a perfect vehicle for doing this, especially given how many people throughout NARUTO are introduced and contextualized with grandiose statements about their past that we never get to dig into. Arcs during the manga that explored the past of characters like Kakashi and Itachi were incredible, just as this one was. We’re also set to get more episodes of NARUTO as part of a special anime project this coming September. While it hardly feels fair to ask more from Masashi Kishimoto, I would be lying if I said I didn’t leave the one-shot wanting one for all of my other favorite characters.
To that end, I would strongly encourage all those who love the NARUTO franchise to do what they can to support the official release. NARUTO: The Whorl Within the Spiral leaked a couple of days early and the internet lapped up fan translations. I understand wanting immediate gratification, especially back when the series was not simultaneously published in English and fan translations were weeks ahead of the official English ones. But the anime and manga industry is already one known for its strenuous conditions, lower-than-deserved pay, and rampant piracy. The fact that creators are willing to put out entire stories years after a manga has ended speaks to their passion. It deserves support, so support the official release of all things NARUTO when you can. NARUTO: The Whorl Within the Spiral is available on Shueisha’s MangaPlus.
Images via Crunchyroll and the Narutop99 Website
NARUTO © 1999 by Masashi Kishimoto/SHUEISHA Inc.