Naruto: the crazy story of the arrival of the little ninja in France, 20 years ago

It’s been 20 years this year that an orange and yellow flash struck down the manga section of French bookstores. With 25 million copies sold since, Naruto is still and always in the hearts. In 2021, it even sold 3.4 million volumes, or one every 10 seconds.

To celebrate this anniversary, Kana editions will publish this Friday, May 6, a special edition of manga Masashi Kishimoto lighthouse. Baptized Hokage, this one is even unique in the world, since it will be a deluxe version with a cardboard cover and haloed with many bonuses in order to seduce the very first fans of the little blond ninja. CNEWS interviewed Christel Hoolans, general manager of Kana and Lombard editions, but also Benoît de Tauriac, managing director at ADN and creator of Kana Home Video, two key personalities at Kana who have seen this hero evolve through his 72 volumes and his 700 episodes.

Published in 1999 in Japan, Naruto arrived in France three years later, but nothing was won for Kana at the time. The end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s were marked by a time of transition in France, where it was necessary to find the succession to Dragon Ball, but also to the many successes drawn from the Dorothee Club, which most of the manga released in the 1980s in Japan were coming to a halt. The revival then came from a new wave of heirs always put forward within the Weekly Shônen Jump, famous Japanese pre-publication magazine which brought together the majority of today’s heroes.

“It was a time when we did our publisher ‘shopping’ by reading the magazines that came out in Japan. We received them by boat, recalls Christel Hoolans. Yves Schlirf, the founder of Kana could not read Japanese, but he very quickly turned to shônen, with in particular Detective Conan and Saint Sieya (The Knights of the Zodiac). We were dissecting the Shônen Jump and Yves came across Naruto, where he was hooked by the drawing and the density of the story and especially the theme of the ninjas. You should know that in Belgium and France, we did not have today’s competition among publishers. We usually made our offers when volume 3 or 4 was out”.

And to continue: “Above all, when we launched into this market, we were nobody for the Japanese. Markets outside Japan were not a priority and it was difficult to get appointments. At the Shueisha, we were received by people who were very polite but not really interested. Yves Schlirf and François Pernot were not really convinced during this interview. But just at the end of this meeting, both showed their Japanese interlocutors a press article published in Japan which was interested in Kana. It was this article that caught the attention of the Japanese present, who then called people who were really in charge of the license”.

A risky bet for an unknown franchise in France

It is therefore only from there that the adventure naruto could start for the publisher, but if the success of the little ninja seemed written in Japan, imposing a new franchise unknown in France was a risky bet. In a landscape monopolized by old cartoons translated into manga (City Hunter, Ken the Survivor, Fly…), the very recent Naruto, which had no animated series in France, still had to find its place. . “As an example, Saint Seiya had no trouble finding its audience in our market. I would say that sales of Naruto really started to take off from volume 4. It had to be made known to booksellers, then word-of-mouth work was done between readers. The growth then never stopped”, enthuses Christel Hoolans.

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Above all, Naruto is “a French cultural exception, since Masashi Kishimoto’s manga remained number 1 for more than ten years while this series has never been in its country of origin”, she underlines. At the same time, “Naruto has become one of the pillars of the manga market, with a before and after, as was the case for Dragon Ball [NDR aux éditions Glénat]. All of this was greatly amplified by the cartoon, for which we bought the rights in France and acquired the rights to use the Naruto merchandising. For the 20th anniversary, we have 100 licensees who will be able to make products with the Naruto brand in France. This is the first manga brand that we have worked on in 360 degrees”.

And Benoît de Tauriac to add: “When we signed Naruto, we had the ambition to make it the new Dragon Ball and today, the merchandising is indicative of the dynamism of the brand since we are not on an audience niche, but very mainstream”. T-shirts, figurines, sneakers and toys bearing the image of the Kishimoto ninja universe can be found in supermarkets, while Palymobil plans to launch an officially licensed range at the end of the year.

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Because the two decades of the saga have left their mark on the generations, with newcomers to the playgrounds from CM1/CM2 up to the thirties, who discovered it as teenagers in the early 2000s. booksellers always note sustained sales of the manga, “the anime is the most broadcast in France, on three television channels G1, J1 and Mangas, but also on VOD on YouTube, MyTF1, Netflix, Amazon, ADN. Naruto is in the top 3 or 5 of the most viewed children’s series on Netflix. On DNA, Naruto is part of the top 5, and it is 9 million views in 2021”, welcomes Benoît de Tauriac.

A cine-concert next October

2022 will therefore mark an important anniversary that Kana also intends to carry with a real event. “In October, we are going to have something never done on Naruto with a symphonic film-concert in Paris at the Palais des Sports and also in seven cities in France”, announces Benoît de Tauriac.

Finally, Kana intends to offer a new setting to match its success. “The Hokage edition must offer new content in each volume, as well as chapter zero never before published in France. The whole thing having been totally approved by Masashi Kishimoto”, specifies Christel Hoolans.