How Naruto’s Chakra System Functions as a World-Building Tool

How Naruto’s Chakra System Functions as a World-Building Tool

Power Systems and World Building Continuity

Back in 2020, I wrote an article about world building in anime. I discussed how story, characters, locations, culture, and scale all play a role. But, one thing I left out of that article was how a power system can be one of the most effective forms of world building.

Obviously, power systems don’t apply to all anime. They don’t even apply to most anime. But, a power system is instrumental to the world building of my favorite anime series, Naruto.

So, today, I’ll be exploring how the chakra system from Naruto, Shippūden, and Boruto helps to build the world. More specifically, I’ll be focusing on how it’s used to expand the scope of the world. What we know about chakra evolves throughout the series, but never feels like it breaks the rules.

Laying a Foundation for the Chakra System

We’re introduced to the concepts of chakra and natures almost immediately in Naruto. In the very first episode of the series, we learn about the Shadow Clone jutsu. This is a jutsu that uses chakra but involves no transformation in nature.

It doesn’t take long for nature transformations to show up, though. By Episode 5, we see Sasuke use the Great Fireball Technique against Kakashi. So, right from the start of the series, we could see that elemental jutsu were possible. But, at this stage, we didn’t have much in the form of explanations.

Sasuke using the Great Fireball Technique from the anime series Naruto Episode 5
Sasuke using the Great Fireball Technique

Chakra natures aren’t formally explained until pretty far into the series. But, even before that occurs, we know that there are differences between the natures. Fire, Wind, Lightning, Earth, and Water are the natures that encompass most of the jutsu we see early on.

These five basic chakra natures are the foundation upon which the rest of the power system is built. That’s not to say they’re the only basic chakra natures. But, I’ll get to that soon.

Building Upon the Chakra System

It doesn’t take long for the first expansion of the chakra system to appear. In Naruto Episode 13, we see our first Kekkei Genkai, Haku’s Ice Release. Though, at this point in the series, it’s referred to as a “secret jutsu” instead of a Kekkei Genkai.

Kekkei Genkai are the next logical step within the chakra system. We had basic chakra natures, and now we have combined chakra natures. Haku’s Ice Release is a combination of Water and Wind Release. This sets the stage for later Kekkei Genkai nature transformations.

Haku using the Crystal Ice Mirror jutsu from the anime series Naruto Episode 13
Haku using the Crystal Ice Mirror jutsu

Some examples that show up later in the series are Lava Release and Magnet Release. Lava is a combination of Fire and Earth while Magnet is a combination of Wind and Earth. There are many other combined chakra natures like these. And after seeing a few, you can start to figure out how they’re created.

If you already know about Ice, Lava, and Magnet Release, it’s not hard to figure out Boil Release. It’s just a combination of Water and Fire.

With Kekkei Genkai established, we’re then introduced to Kekkei Tōta, which are the next step up. Kekkei Tōta combine 3 basic chakra natures instead of 2. That makes sense, right? If 2 natures can be combined, why not 3?

Expanding the Scope of the Chakra System

The chakra system as I’ve explained it so far is surprisingly limiting. There are only 5 basic natures and only so many ways they can combine. So, you might expect that we’d learn of all the possible combinations and that would be the end of it.

Well, it’s time to expand the scope of the chakra system. And this expansion happens in two ways. First, there’s the introduction of additional Kekkei Genkai created from the same combinations. The most famous examples of this are Wood Release and Mud Release.

Both of these natures combine Water and Earth. So, does that mean that anyone who can use Wood Release can also use Mud Release? No. A key part of Kekkei Genkai is that they’re unique to specific bloodlines. So different bloodlines have access to Wood and Mud Release.

A reanimated Hashirama Senju using the Deep Forest Emergence jutsu from the anime series Naruto Episode 71
A reanimated Hashirama Senju using the Deep Forest Emergence jutsu

The other way the series expands the system is by introducing Yin and Yang natures. These are basic natures just like Fire, Wind, Lightning, Earth, and Water. So, shouldn’t their introduction break the rules of the world? Not exactly.

You see, Yin and Yang natures are separate from the elemental natures. They don’t interact with the strength/weakness chart of the elemental natures. And they also don’t combine with the elemental natures. So, they don’t interfere with the rules already in place.

Additionally, they help to explain some jutsu that seemed to fall outside of the rules. The Shadow Paralysis jutsu is one such example. Now, instead of saying it’s a natureless jutsu, we can point to it being a Yin Release jutsu.

Applying the Chakra System to Characters

Up to this point, I’ve explained how the expansions to the chakra system never broke the rules of the world. With each expansion, the system gained more depth. And with an understanding of that depth, viewers can make predictions about unknowns.

But, there are times when these predictions fail. And Wood Release is the biggest culprit of this in Naruto. We know Wood Release is a Kekkei Genkai of the First Hokage, Hashirama Senju. But, his granddaughter, Tsunade, can’t use it. In fact, nobody else in the Senju bloodline can.

The explanation for this? That simply being a member of a specific bloodline doesn’t guarantee a Kekkei Genkai. So, is this an issue with the world building? Not yet.

Yamato using the Domed Wall jutsu from the anime series Naruto: Shippūden Episode 41
Yamato using the Domed Wall jutsu

There are other characters we meet who can use Wood Release despite not being members of the Senju clan. Yamato is the most important. Now, when he’s introduced, it’s easy to think that this breaks the rules of the world. But, that’s not the case.

Yamato can only use Wood Release because he has the DNA of Hashirama implanted into him. And that logic is the same for most other characters who can use Wood Release. Generally speaking, they all have Hashirama’s DNA or are the Jinchūriki of the Ten-Tails.

There’s one exception to the rule who I’ll get to in a bit.

Kekkei Genkai Without the Bloodline

I mentioned that Jinchūriki of the Ten-Tails can use Wood Release even without Hashirama’s DNA. This isn’t a phenomenon unique to the Ten-Tails. Multiple of the Tailed Beasts have Kekkei Genkai that they pass on to their Jinchūriki.

Three other Tailed Beasts also have Kekkei Genkai. These are Shukaku with Magnet Release, Son Gokū with Lave Release, and Kokuō with Boil Release. This means that the Jinchūriki of each of these Tailed Beasts can also use these chakra natures.

Naruto using a Lava Style Rasenshuriken from the anime series Naruto: Shippūden Episode 242
Naruto using a Lava Style Rasenshuriken

Technically speaking, Naruto is the Jinchūriki of all 9 Tailed Beasts (not the Ten-Tails). Because of that, and the chakra he received from Hagoromo Ōtsutsuki, he has access to a lot of chakra natures. Naruto can use Fire, Wind, Lightning, Earth, Water, Lava, Magnet, Boil, Yin, Yang, and Yin-Yang Release.

However, the only chakra nature Naruto can use naturally is Wind Release.

At this point, it’s a bit strange to look back at the history of chakra natures in Naruto. Seeing Naruto be able to use this many natures doesn’t at first seem like it fits within the rules set at the start. But, even at this point, none of the rules have been broken.

So, now we need to make the jump to Boruto.

Does Moegi Break the System?

Look, I know a lot of people hate Boruto. But, one of my favorite things about watching it is seeing how it sticks to the system set up throughout Naruto. This is why the chakra system is such a great tool for world building.

I can see characters use a jutsu and figure out what chakra natures they must have based on it. Or I can see what clan a character is from and infer their chakra natures and jutsu. And for the most part, these kinds of predictions work.

There’s one exception, though. And, of course, this exception ties back to Wood Release.

Moegi using the Gravel jutsu from the anime series Boruto: Naruto Next Generations Episode 212
Moegi using the Gravel jutsu

For some unknown reason, Moegi can use Wood Release. She’s not related to Hashirama. She’s not the Jinchūriki of the Ten-Tails. And, as far as we know, she doesn’t have Hashirama’s DNA implanted in her. So, is the chakra system finally broken? Maybe.

It’s been a few years since Moegi’s Wood Release was revealed and we still don’t know how she has it. The series as a whole is coming up on its 20th anniversary this October. And in all that time, Moegi’s the one character who seems to break the rules.

Even filler characters follow the rules of the chakra system. So, let’s hope that one day we get an explanation for Moegi. It could be as simple as saying that she does have Hashirama’s DNA in her. But, we’ll also need an explanation for why that’s the case.

Naruto Chakra Nature Quiz

Naruto Chakra Nature Quiz

Find out what elemental chakra nature(s) you have!

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Not every anime can use a power system as a tool for world building. Generally, this is something reserved for shounen battle series. Not only because they’re the ones that have power systems, but also because they’re long. It takes a lot of time to make a power system complex and consistent enough for this.

That’s not to say you need hundreds of episodes. Fullmetal Alchemist does a good job in about 50 episodes. But, even 50 episodes is longer than most anime.

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