Gaara (我愛羅?) is a fictional character in the Naruto manga and anime series created by Masashi Kishimoto. Kishimoto designed Gaara as a foil to the series' titular character, Naruto Uzumaki, as the two were born through similar circumstances, but develop vastly different personalities as they deal with their troubled upbringing. Initially introduced as an antagonist and Naruto's rival, the two eventually develop a bond as kindred spirits and become close friends as the series progresses.
In the anime and manga, Gaara is a ninja affiliated with Sunagakure, and is the son of Sunagakure's leader, the Fourth Kazekage. As a fetus, his father attempted to turn him into a human weapon by placing a tailed beast into him, and he was ostracized by the Sunagakure villagers. As a result, he develops into a ruthless killer, slaying others without remorse, and treating his siblings Kankuro and Temari with contempt. His battle with Naruto during the series changes this outlook, and he begins to aid others in order to emulate Naruto. In Part II of the series, he becomes Sunagakure's Fifth Kazekage. Gaara has appeared in several pieces of Naruto media, including the second featured film in the series, the third original video animation, and several video games.
Numerous anime and manga publications have commented on Gaara's character. IGN labeled the disparity between Naruto and Gaara as "emotional" and "a tad creepy". Anime News Network called Naruto's fight against Gaara the high point of the entire series. Among the Naruto reader base, Gaara has been popular, placing high in several popularity polls, and always making it to the top ten characters. Numerous pieces of merchandise have been released in Gaara's likeness, including plush dolls and key chains.
Creation and conception
Naruto author Masashi Kishimoto created Gaara as a foil to the series' protagonist, Naruto Uzumaki. He and Naruto have a similar background: he was rejected by his peers and fellow villagers for being the host of a tailed beast, Shukaku, a situation that Kishimoto describes as "very much like Naruto's". Gaara's development from this state into a highly withdrawn, sadistic character was intended to induce sympathy for him from readers, as it was contrasted against Naruto's development into a cheerful troublemaker. Additionally, his design was designed to look like the Tanuki since Kishimoto thought that it would make him a good rival for Naruto's Nine-tailed Demon Fox since several parts from the Shukaku were considered by Kishimoto to be opposite ones from the Demon Fox. Gaara's backstory became one of Kishimoto's favorite stories from Part I; Kishimoto had to revise his illustrations in such chapters in as he wanted readers to understand more Gaara's mental state.
Gaara's initial attire, along with the costumes of his siblings, were difficult for Kishimoto to draw on a weekly basis. Because of this, Kishimoto gave the three of them simpler costumes towards the end of Part I; Gaara received an outfit with an upright collar. In addition to being easier to draw, it was used to demonstrate the change in relationship between Gaara and Naruto following their previous fight. Kishimoto cites The Matrix, one of his favorite movies, as an inspiration for Gaara's new costume, and he considers it to be his favorite costume of the three siblings.
Gaara's background is primarily expanded upon in flashbacks during Naruto manga volume fifteen. Before he was born, Gaara's father had the tanuki-like One-Tailed Shukaku (一尾の守鶴 Ichibi no Shukaku?, English TV: "Shukaku the Sand Spirit"), a tailed beast, sealed into his body while Gaara was still in his mother's womb, giving him the power to manipulate sand. The Fourth Kazekage, Gaara's father and the leader of the village of Sunagakure, intended to use Gaara as the village's personal weapon. Gaara was trained by his father throughout his childhood to help gain control over the abilities granted to him by Shukaku. Despite this, Gaara was ostracized by the Sunagakure villagers, who viewed him as a monster for being the host of a tailed beast. Shukaku would occasionally manipulate sand against Gaara's will to harm other villagers, cementing their perception of him. These attacks on the villagers convinced Gaara's father that he was a failed experiment, and he ordered Gaara's assassination. All of the attempts on Gaara's life failed, as Shukaku would always protect Gaara from harm and kill the assassin. Realizing that he had been abandoned by his family, Gaara adopted the belief that he could only rely upon himself and Shukaku, and that he had to kill others in order to confirm the value of his own existence.
Gaara adopted a mainly sadistic demeanor and exceptional bloodthirst. His drive to kill is his most fundamental characteristic at the start of the series. After his introduction in the yearly ninja examinations, Gaara has little interest in the actual examination but rather in seeking to kill or seriously maim anyone who makes the mistake of insulting him. As he battles stronger opponents during the course of the examinations, Gaara begins to believe that he must kill anyone he perceives as stronger than him because they are a threat to his existence.
Gaara's quest for stronger opponents leads to his crossing paths with Naruto Uzumaki. Recognizing Naruto as a formidable opponent, Gaara threatens the life of one of Naruto's friends to force him to fight. He treats his battle with Naruto as a contest to determine whose philosophy is correct: his belief in fighting for himself or Naruto's belief in fighting for his friends and allies. Naruto defeats Gaara, and as a result, Gaara adopts Naruto's philosophy, realizing that fighting for others yields greater strength than fighting for one's self. He makes amends with the many characters he had alienated, apologizing to those he hurt and improving his relationship with his family. At the same time, Gaara's fundamental characteristic becomes the desire to protect as many people as he can, as in doing so he will be able to find true strength. This culminates in his replacing his father as the leader of Sunagakure during Part II of the series, and he states his greatest desire is to give his life for the villagers for Sunagakure regardless of the opinions they hold of him.
Due to having Shukaku sealed within him, Gaara has control over sand. Gaara always carries sand with him in a calabash-shaped gourd on his back, which is in fact also made of compacted sand. To attack his opponents, Gaara uses sand to engulf them, and he can compress the sand, crushing them in the process. When Gaara is attacked, a shield of sand automatically blocks the attack, a result of Shukaku being sealed within him. Gaara also covers his skin with a layer of sand as a precautionary defensive measure. By the end of Part One, Gaara also demonstrates his ability to use sand to carry himself, effectively allowing him to fly.
Like other hosts of tailed beasts, Gaara can manifest aspects of the tailed beast sealed within him. By covering himself in sand, Gaara can take on the appearance of a miniature Shukaku, increasing his speed and strength in the process. As he does so, he allows Shukaku's personality to influence him, making him more violent and bloodthirsty. Once he has completed his Shukaku replica, Gaara can fully bring out Shukaku's personality by forcing himself asleep. Doing so allows Shukaku to control the replica and fight using its full strength so long as Gaara remains asleep. Though he loses Shukaku to the Akatsuki, Gaara maintains his ability to control sand.
Gaara first appears in the series when he is sent to Konohagakure, a rival ninja village, to take part in the Chunin Exams, twice-a-year ninja exams for ninja that wish to increase their rank. In truth, he is sent in order to infiltrate Konohagakure in preparation for an invasion by Sunagakure and its ally, Otogakure. During the exams, however, he is injured by Sasuke Uchiha, and is unable to participate in the invasion. The invasion proceeds without him and Gaara flees Konohagakure, but is pursued and defeated by Naruto Uzumaki on the village's outskirts. Sunagakure is defeated in Gaara's absence and the two villages sign a peace treaty to end the fighting. Later, Sunagakure sends Gaara to help in preventing Sasuke from defecting to Otogakure, which becomes a mutual enemy of both Konohagakure and Sunagakure. While he is able to help protect Konohagakure's ninja from Otogakure's forces, he is unable to prevent Sasuke from escaping.
In Part II of the series, two and a half years after the failed attempt to retrieve Sasuke, Deidara, a member of the criminal organization Akatsuki, is sent to Sunagakure to capture Gaara. Deidara manages to capture Gaara by threatening Sunagakure, and the members of Akatsuki extract Shukaku from his body. Gaara dies in the process, but is revived by Chiyo, an elderly Sunagakure ninja who sealed Shukaku inside him, sacrificing her own life so that he can continue to protect Sunagakure. Some time later, he goes to the meeting of the five Kage, where he replaces the Raikage in his fight against Sasuke who came to kill the current Hokage, Danzo, attempting to reason with him during their fight. After the Akatsuki's leader Madara Uchiha announces a war to capture the last two tailed-beasts, Gaara decides to protect Naruto.
Appearances in other media
Gaara has made several appearances outside of the Naruto anime and manga. He is present in the second Naruto feature film, Naruto the Movie 2: Legend of the Stone of Gelel. He protects the Land of Wind from an assault by Haido, the antagonist of the film, and later battles the lightning user Ranke, one of Haido's subordinates, and defeats her. Gaara is also present in the third original video animation released in the series, in which he participates in a tournament of various characters from across the series. Naruto video games commonly feature Gaara, including the Clash of Ninja and Ultimate Ninja series. In some games, he uses his Shukaku form for combat, as well as other moves not seen in the anime or manga. Naruto Shippūden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen EX marks the first appearance of Gaara in his Part II appearance in a video game.
Gaara has ranked highly in the popularity polls for the series, continuously placing in the top ten and reaching seventh place once. The last such poll was in 2006, in which Gaara was in 7th place. Several pieces of Gaara merchandise been released, including key chains of his Part I and Part II appearance, plush dolls, and a limited edition figurine.
Anime and manga publications have praised and criticised Gaara's character. IGN noted that Gaara was an "anti-Naruto", possessing a "dark, solemn character" as opposed to Naruto's continuous cheer and excitement. In another review, IGN also called Gaara's background "emotional" and "a tad creepy" due to the disparity between the development of Naruto's and Gaara's personalities. Anime News Network celebrated the "depth and emotion" that Naruto's and Gaara's similarities added to the plot, and commented that "nowhere in the entire series run does Naruto shine brighter than in the peak period of his battle against Gaara". They also complimented Kishimoto's visual presentation of Gaara in the manga, referring to "chilling [glimpses] of Gaara's crazed, exposed face". Mania Entertainment noted that Gaara and Sasuke's first fight shows how the former has a "fragile" psyche despite his violent attitude. His backstory was also praised by Mania Entertainment since it includes "a ton of legitimate emotion" allowing viewers from the series to understand more Gaara's personality. Liam O'Brien, Gaara's voice actor in the English adaptation of the anime, has been praised. IGN noted that he did an "excellent job" of making Gaara sound terrifying to the viewer, and Anime News Network noted him as one of the best voice actors in the series.
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