Sarutobi Sasuke (猿飛佐助?) was a famous legendary ninja in the Japanese folklore. He is generally believed to be an Meiji period fictional creation based on the historical ninja Kouzuki Sasuke (上月佐助?), although some argue for his actual existence.
Sarutobi, meaning 'monkey jump', is written with two kanji; saru (猿) is the character for 'monkey', and tobi (飛) is the character for 'jump'. He was known for his monkey-like agility and quickness, especially in trees. Many depictions portray him as having been orphaned and raised by a band of monkeys, therefore giving rise to the monkey-like abilities.
Sasuke is commonly listed as the member/leader Sanada Ten Braves, a legendary group of ten ninja that supposedly assisted the warlord Sanada Yukimura at the battles of Osaka Castle during the Japanese civil war, and he is by far the best known and most popular among them. When appearing with Kirigakure Saizō, one of his fellow Ten Braves, he is often thus contrasted with his best friend/arch-rival, who usually has an elegant, or at least clean-cut, appearance and magic-like ability. Sasuke is generally said to be a Kōga ninja, whereas Saizō is an Iga ninja. As such, when the two appear together, they are almost always depicted as arch-rivals and later, after being recruited to the Sanada cause, best friends. (This rivalry parallels the Iga-Kōga rivalry and the Hattori-Fūma rivalries in ninja fiction.) It is said he fell in battle against the forces of Tokugawa Ieyasu during the Siege of Osaka in the summer of 1615.
In popular culture
As Sarutobi Sasuke is most likely a fictional character created for popular consumption in the first place, he could be said to exist only within popular culture. Whatever the case, his image has been very influential in ninja fiction. The character was immortalized in contemporary Japanese culture by Sampei Shirato's 1962 manga of the same name. Thereafter the name Sasuke became something of a default ninja moniker.
He is the titular character of the films Ibun Sarutobi Sasuke (known in the west as Samurai Spy), Sânada Daisûke to Sarutobi Sasuke, Sarutobi no Ninjutsu, as well as of several other movies simply named Sarutobi Sasuke (1918, 1919, 1922, 1966); another such film is Sarutobi Sasuke Senjogadake no Himatsuri. Toei Animation's second full-length movie was Shônen Sarutobi Sasuke, dealing with Sasuke's childhood, which was followed by a TV series. This film was also the first time when both Sasuke and anime were introduced to the western audience (in 1961), although all the references to him being a ninja were removed in the English-language version. He is also the titular character of an anime series Manga Sarutobi Sasuke, where he is portrayed as a young ninja, and of Sarutobi Sasuke, one of the more famous gag manga by Shigeru Sugiura.
Sarutobi Sasuke is a character in the anime and manga series Samurai Deeper Kyo, in which he serves Sanada Yukimura as the leader of the Ten Braves - the same role he has in the manga BRAVE10 and in the film Kamen Rider Den-O: I'm Born!. He also appeared in the historical anime and manga Shura no Mon (serving Sanada Tsubura), in the taiga drama series Tenchijin, in the anime Sanada Ten Braves and in the film Goemon. In the video games Sengoku Basara and Sengoku Basara 2 (and the anime based on them), he is portrayed as a laid-back but cunning ninja. In the Super Sentai series Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, the main character Sasuke is a direct descendant of Sarutobi Sasuke.
Ninja characters by the name of Sasuke appear in the anime series Ranma 1/2, the video games Captain Commando, Gotcha Force, Ninja Boy Sasuke, Ninja Master's -Haoh-Ninpo-Cho-, Samurai Warriors and Suikoden II, the Legend of the Mystical Ninja video game series, and in the trading card game Yu-Gi-Oh!. His legacy is also almost omnipresent in the anime and manga franchise Naruto in which several characters are named after him, including Sasuke Uchiha, Asuma Sarutobi and Hiruzen Sarutobi the third Hokage, Konohamaru Sarutobi, and Sasuke Sarutobi as Hiruzen Sarutobi's father. In the parody series Ninja Nonsense, all of the male ninja are named Sasuke.