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|Team 7 returns to Konoha to continue with their lives as regular Genin, accomplishing menial missions. Eventually, whilst playing with Konohamaru and his friends, Naruto meets with two of the three Genin from Sunagakure (Hidden Sand), Kankurō and Temari and shortly learns the reason for their presence; Chūnin Selection Exams are in effect. Naruto is thrilled about the possibility of becoming a Chūnin, and though he fails to, various events during the exams drastically affect his ability and enrich his social relations (much later in the manga, when Naruto reminisces on how he was alone but slowly more and more people became his friends, we see a growing line which first contains Iruka, Kakashi, Sasuke and Sakura, and later expands to include people he met on the Chūnin exam). During the exam, Naruto finds himself for the first time in a truly desperate situation, up against Orochimaru - an S-ranked criminal so powerful that the Sandaime Hokage later mentions that there is nobody in Konohagakure that can fight him equally (even he himself, he admits, cannot). Naruto and Sasuke's reactions to the situation are a complete reversal of what happened in the Wave Country mission - Sasuke is paralyzed with panic while Naruto fights on fearlessly, at one point stopping Orochimaru's huge summoned snake in its tracks on his own, and muttering to Sasuke, in a moment of glorious comeuppance that marks another milestone in their rivalry, "are you all right... scaredy-cat?". Naruto eventually snaps Sasuke out of his panic, and when Naruto is knocked out Sasuke continues to fight Orochimaru. Uzumaki Naruto fails the Kuchiyose no Jutsu (Summoning Technique) Enlarge Uzumaki Naruto fails the Kuchiyose no Jutsu (Summoning Technique) Naruto vastly improves in ability during the three stages of the Chūnin exam; beside winning his first true fight (against Kiba) by having shadow replications perform a combo attack, he improves his chakra control by practicing walking on water, learns how to call upon Kyūbi's energy at will and how to use the summoning technique to call a toad to his aid (the former skill essential for the usability of the latter, as without Kyūbi's chakra his summons are generally not much more than tadpoles). He uses these skills to a powerful effect in later battles, and at the climax of the arc triumphs against Gaara, an opponent Sasuke could not face equally, thus reversing their roles and inducing in Sasuke deep feelings of inferiority - though Sasuke still attempts to maintain the same attitude in front of Naruto, in an attempt to cling to his former superiority. At an early point Naruto tells Sasuke that he wants to fight him during the exam; Sasuke acknowledges Naruto in his own way later on when he tells him that he wants to fight him as well. In the month between the third stage preliminary matches and the third stage main matches, Naruto meets Jiraiya - one of Konoha's legendary three - for the first time. Jiraiya agrees to be his sensei and is the one who teaches him most of the advanced techniques he learns during that time. He also undergoes a brief training period under Ebisu, who earlier saw him as nothing more than the container of the demon fox but after spending some time with him decides that he is indeed a true ninja of the leaf. Naruto's defining trait of being extremely spirited and never giving up is further emphasised in this arc. During the written test part, when given a choice between taking a question or not taking a question - when not taking it would mean failing the exam, and taking it but not answering correctly would mean failing and staying a genin forever - he not only chooses to take the question, but loudly proclaims his resolve to will himself to be Hokage even if he stays a Genin forever, inspiring many people in the room to do the same (in a twist, it later turns out that the whole point of the "question" was to see who was fit and who wasn't fit for being a Chūnin, an occupation in which one does not have a choice of whether to undertake missions which risk everything or not, and Naruto has answered correctly by merely deciding to confront it). He also faces up with determination to Hyūga Neji and Gaara — two opponents that, he frankly admits to himself often at various points during the arc, terrify him. Naruto's encounters during the Chūnin exam arc are characterized by Naruto relating to or opposing to sentiments and outlooks on life, and it is through this relation that he makes many new friends (and on three different occasions, by defeating an enemy). He gradually bonds with Rock Lee, a Taijutsu expert, who represents the ideal of hard work prevailing against all odds and stands up against the much more powerful Gaara during the third stage preliminary exams, even while unconscious. Naruto deeply identifies with Lee and feels very sorry for him when Gaara beats him (since he does such a thorough job as to, according to the doctors' first impressions, permanently cripple Lee.) Another contrast that deeply affects Naruto is the clash between Hyūga Hinata, the forsaken heir of the Hyūga clan head house, and Hyūga Neji, her cousin, who is much stronger but will never be the heir because he is a part of the branch house. Naruto watches the start of the fight with little knowledge of either fighters (apart from that Hinata is a nice person, as she offered to let him copy off of her paper in the written test stage and offered him medicine immediately after his fight with Inuzuka Kiba); however about a minute later, after Hinata mumbles quietly that she just wanted to change herself and Neji lectures her about the supreme rule of destiny and how people cannot change, Naruto is already shouting into the stadium for Hinata to stand up for herself. She loses the fight, much like Lee loses his own fight with Gaara - still standing at a point where she should technically be dead; when she finally goes down, Naruto is so overwhelmed with sympathy for her predicament and antagonism for Neji's attitude that he closes his fist around her overflowing blood and flings it at Neji, promising to her that he will beat the Hyūga prodigy himself. Naruto struggles against the powerful Hyūga Neji Enlarge Naruto struggles against the powerful Hyūga Neji Naruto's fight with Neji a month later is a very dramatic one. As techniques are used and advantages are gained and nullified, Neji lectures Naruto much like he did earlier with Hinata, telling him that dropouts remain dropouts and cannot change. Naruto suffers somewhat of an emotional impact when Neji gives him a speech about the Hokages being people who were destined to become so, and how one cannot become one just because they want to; ultimately, however, he'll have none of it and keeps confronting Neji about his attitude, until Neji tells him of the tragedy of his father's death and the Hyūga fate of hatred. Naruto eventually wins the battle through sheer motivation and believing in victory, and in the process changes Neji's outlook on life one-hundred and eighty degrees, inspiring him to create his own fate and forming another important bond. "Stop talking about fate and how it can't be changed," says Naruto sardonically, "you're not like me. You're not a dropout." The climax of the arc is Naruto's battle with Gaara. Gaara represents the opposite reaction to Naruto's very predicament; Naruto looked for acknowledgement and attention to form his identity, while Gaara built more and more walls around himself, eventually concluding that his purpose in life was to kill everybody that was not him. At first Naruto is clearly outpowered, but later in the fight he gains more ground by using clever tactics and employing the techniques Jiraiya taught him. Most of all what enables him to triumph is his devotion to those important to him, which turns out to be a source of much greater strength than Gaara's hatred, contrary to Naruto's first impression that Gaara's state of mind makes him somebody he could not possibly face. After the battle ends, Gaara wonders whether he'd be able to love again, and appears later in the series as a positive character and another important friend Naruto has made during this arc.  Sasuke arc Making his last stand against Sasuke, Naruto goes through his one-tailed Kyūbi transformation Enlarge Making his last stand against Sasuke, Naruto goes through his one-tailed Kyūbi transformation Naruto's influence on Sasuke, though profound, is powerless to prevent Sasuke from deciding to become a Nukenin (Missing-nin) and leaving Konohagakure to receive training from Orochimaru. Sasuke's decision to leave is the result of a chain of events that rekindles his hatred and desire to avenge his clan so much that it overshadows all other influences in his life. Despite a five man attempt by Kiba, Shikamaru, Naruto, Chōji, and Neiji to bring back Sasuke, and even Naruto upgrading to a One-tailed incarnation of the Kyūbi's power, interference by the Sound Five and Sasuke's refusal to go back (while refusing to kill Naruto which would have gotten him the Mangekyō Sharingan) makes the retrieval operation fail; and if it wasn't for the Sand Ninjas and the emergency treatment back at Konoha, then the entire group and Rock Lee (he joined later) would have been killed. This experience is traumatic to Naruto, as he has promised Sakura to bring Sasuke back and this is the first time he is unable to live up to something he promised to an important person. Unlike Jiraiya, however, who from his own experience with Orochimaru believes that Sasuke is too far gone and that Naruto should forget about him and concentrate on his own survival, Naruto believes that there is hope for Sasuke yet. He tells Sakura that he will, one day, bring Sasuke back to the village and live up to his promise.  Naruto II arc Uzumaki Naruto at age 15, after his two and a half year absence. Enlarge Uzumaki Naruto at age 15, after his two and a half year absence. After this failed attempt to retrieve Sasuke, Naruto learns that circumstances have granted him a 2 and a half-year window to prepare himself to face Orochimaru (who had to switch bodies prematurely and now has to wait 3 years before executing his original plan of transferring into Sasuke) and defend himself against additional kidnap attempts from the shady organisation Akatsuki (who, according to Jiraiya's information sources and for reasons unknown, halt their plans to attempt capturing Naruto for three years). Naruto takes this opportunity to undergo intensive training under Jiraiya, as does Sakura under Tsunade. As Jiraiya was the Fourth Hokage's sensei, this places Naruto in a very good position to actually fulfill his dream to become Hokage or at least become a ninja of great renown, as most legendary ninja and Hokage are closely tied to one another through student-teacher relations. Though she does not tell him this, Tsunade is already certain he will grow up to become Hokage. So, after 3 months, Naruto heads off to train with Jiraiya. In the anime, Naruto's filler adventures take place during the 3 months before he leaves with Jiraiya. When Naruto returns to the village two and a half years later, he finds out, much to his chagrin, that he is the only one of his former-Genin social circle who is still a Genin. During his absence, the rest have become Chūnin (and Hyūga Neji even made Jōnin). In this new arc of the story, dubbed Naruto II, we see the growth of all of the characters, including Naruto. Naruto shows physical growth, sports a new outfit, and appears to not only have increased in strength and techniques, but intelligence as well (the pervertedness of his Sensei also seems to have rubbed off on him). However, He has little time to wander the village and greet all his old friends, as the Hokage sends him, Sakura and Kakashi on yet another rescue mission, this time to retrieve the captured Gaara (who has become the fifth Kazekage during Naruto's absence) from the hands of Akatsuki, who plan to extract the sealed demon from him for purposes yet unknown. Jiraiya's information sources indicate that Akatsuki has been growing impatient with their lack of success capturing Naruto. Thus this clash with Akatsuki seems to have been inevitable. They are first confronted by Itachi and Kisame, who turn out to be body substitutes by means of Shōten no Jutsu (Shapeshifting Technique), and defeat them. Upon arrival at the grotto where Gaara is being held, the group figures out that a barrier jutsu seals off the entrance. Naruto and Kakashi decide to confront Deidara while Chiyo and Sakura face Sasori, with Gai's team being preoccupied with a trap triggered by them breaking the seals. Both pairs defeat the Akatsuki members, and Gai and company defeat their clones. Upon retrieving Gaara from Deidara's clay bird and realizing he's dead, Naruto manifests Kyūbi's power into a similar form which he used against Sasuke, but this time almost advances into a two-tailed state. The fact that Kakashi knew how to contain Naruto's further transformation using a special seal he received from Jiraiya implies that Jiraiya has also witnessed Naruto's transformation during the last three years.|
Submitted by kiba