ShoPro Entertainment, Inc., which recently announced its impending merger with Viz, LLC (see 'Manga Merger'), announced today that it has secured from worldwide licensors TV Tokyo Corporation and Shueisha Inc. the television, home video and merchandising rights to Naruto for North America and Latin America. According to the press release from ShoPro, 'Naruto's television broadcast partner and key licensing partners will be determined shortly.' Although it may appear quite possible that the newly combined ShoPro/Viz entity will keep home video rights for itself (Viz does after all have the rights to other key anime properties such as Inuyasha), no such announcement has been made yet.
Naruto is certainly one of the most sought after anime properties left. With over 120 episodes (and counting) the hugely popular anime series is based on the manga first introduced in Shueisha's Weekly Shonen Jump in 1999. Naruto quickly became Japan's most popular ninja manga and Masashi Kishimoto's manga series, which like the anime is still ongoing, has now reached 26 volumes and sold close to 49 million copies in Japan. The Naruto manga has been serialized in the monthly U.S. edition of Shonen Jump since 2003 and the Naruto manga volumes published by Viz are among the very bestselling graphic novels released in the U.S.
According to Animenation's 'Ask John' columnist, one of the most perceptive observers of the manga and anime scene in the U.S., 'the 2002 Naruto anime series is arguably already more popular in America than Cowboy Bebop or Trigun...it's impossible to go to an American anime convention or online bulletin board without seeing or hearing about Naruto.'
Given the right television exposure here in the States Naruto is an anime series with Dragon Ball Z -type potential. Produced by Studio Pierrot the anime targets tweens and teens and has demonstrated enormous success in Japan both in TV ratings and in stimulating sales of licensed merchandise such as toys, trading card games and video games. Clearly Naruto is a property to watch closely.