The (Real-Life Science) Behind Naruto and Boruto

By Christopher Meharg

 

I know you are probably surprised to hear the word science associated with Naruto and its sequel Boruto.  However, if you look beneath the surface, there is a surprising amount of science in a world running on sparkly magical ninja bullshit.  I’ll start with Naruto, where several of the characters and powers have biological underpinnings.

The Biology of Naruto

Tsunade

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Tsunade, one of the legendary three ninja (sanin), and the best medic in the ninja world, uses her chakra to perform impossible feats of healing.  These powers can also benefit her in battle by allowing her to heal almost as fast as she can be injured (creation rebirth).  Tsunade explains that her creation rebirth skill uses her body’s energy (chakra) to rapidly stimulate the growth of new body cells to heal the injury.  This is, of course, impossible, as human cells take at least 24 hours to replicate.  The real science comes in the form of the drawback Tsunade suffers from using this technique, rapidly aging her body, and shortening her lifespan.

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This is due to the Hayflick limit.  The Hayflick limit is the number of times a human cell can divide before it stops, which is about 60 times.  The reason our cells have to stop replicating after 60 divisions is to protect the DNA, which is shortened after each time it is copied for cell division.  The important parts of our DNA are protected from this shortening by segments of DNA called telomeres.  The telomeres are located on the ends of chromosomes and shorten every time the DNA is copied.  When the telomeres become too short, this sends a signal to the cell to stop dividing.  If a cell divides too many times, then important segments of DNA that are needed for the body to function could be damaged.  FYI– some cells, like stem, cells make an enzyme called telomerase that repairs and lengthens the telomeres that allows cells to divide more than 60 times.

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This all links back to Tsunade, because she forces her cells to divide sooner and more frequently than they normally would.  This causes the cells of her body to hit the Hayflick limit sooner than they should, meaning that while she might chronologically be in her 50’s, she looks far older.  The length/age of one’s telomeres can also be referred to as one’s genetic age and can at least in part help to explain why some people might look older or younger than their stated age.

 

Rock Lee

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Rock Lee, the epitome of hard work and determination, fights by opening the 8 gates in order to increase his own power.  The 8 gates are based in eastern mysticism (Hinduism), but there is some science behind how they work.  As explained in Naruto, when Rock Lee opens the gates, he is releasing the physiological limits placed on his body, which comes across as a load of bunk, or at least it does until you take a closer look.

The fight or flight response is the human body’s reaction to stressful situations, where it prepares the body to fight back or run away.  When the flight or fight response stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and has the adrenal gland release epinephrine, this increases the heart rate, blood sugar, and shunts blood flow to the muscles and lungs.  This is all ancillary to the final step, which involves removing mental blocks on the brain.

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Yes, you heard me right, our own subconscious brains put a limit on our bodies’ performance.  The reason is that if our muscles contracted at full power, they run the risk of ripping themselves apart, and breaking the bones they are attached to.  However, the flight or fight response loosens these limiters, allowing the body to use more of its full power.  This explains the stories of extreme strength that people have in life-threatening situations.  This is not something that can be consciously activated as Rock Lee does, but it does explain his powers and the damage it does to his body when he uses the 8 gates.

 

Kimimaro

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Kimimaro was one of Orochimaru’s most loyal subjects, and one of his best fighters, but he was also almost permanently bedridden due to an unspecified disease.  The Naruto anime gives scant few details on Kimimaro and his disease, but there is enough to make a few well-educated guesses as to what he was suffering from.  The first choice would probably be some sort of genetic condition, but I do not think that this is the case because Naruto tends to use cut and paste genetics, so any sort of genetic condition would have been easily fixed.  Plus, Kabuto adds Kimimaro’s genes to his own later in the series and I don’t think he would do that if there was a risk of getting sick from it.  That doesn’t mean that genetics isn’t involved in some way.

I think that Kimimaro is suffering from tuberculosis; my reasoning for this is due to his pale skin, coughing, and weakness.  These symptoms match some of the symptoms of tuberculosis, though Kimimaro doesn’t cough up blood until after he is fighting Lee and Gaara.  Coughing up blood is also a symptom of TB, but it could be passed off as being caused by damage taken during the battle.  Now some of you might be thinking, but how could he have lived for so long with tuberculosis, even with all of the medical care he was receiving?

However, the thing is that tuberculosis can be a chronic disease in some cases, meaning that the patients can live with it for years before finally succumbing to the illness.  I have other evidence for TB’s being Kimimaro’s lung disease, and that is that he was kept in an underground prison in less than ideal conditions for a number of years before being found by Orochimaru.  Those conditions are a prime breeding ground for TB and other bacterial infections.  Lastly, it is possible to inherit a predisposition for TB.  Studies are still being done to determine the extent of the weakness and the exact genetics involved.

 

The Science of Boruto

Ukyo Kodachi

Under the direction of Ukyo Kodachi the use of science and technology in the Naruto universe has taken a surprising turn, becoming more center stage to the plot.  These new technologies have also been based at least in part on real world science.  The reason for this is that Ukyo Kodachi was inspired by a love of science instilled in him by his father, and his love of science fiction video games.

While I’m not a huge fan of ninjas in general, I do like the more realistic turn Bortuo is taking and I am looking forward to whatever he is coming up with next.

 

Wall Walking

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The ninjas in Naruto use chakra to walk on walls, unlike those of us in the real world who have to use technology to even attempt similar feats.  Boruto seems to be changing with the introduction of the ninjas at the Science Research Center.  These researchers have come up with shoes that will allow ninjas to walk on walls without using chakra.  Mitsuki states that these new shoes use Van Der Waals forces to stick to the wall.  Van Der Waals forces are minute attractive forces between polar molecules.  These forces are electrical in nature, positive molecules being attracted to negative molecules.  While Van Der Waals forces are individually very weak, when combined together they can be very strong, so the more that are present, the stronger the force becomes.  This is how geckos and other small animals are able to walk on walls, as their feet have an extremely large surface area through many folds on the macro and micro level.  The new ninja shoes are most likely using a similar idea to have a large surface area to increase Van Der Waals forces.  Scientists and researchers have even made adhesive tape based on this property.

 

Noise Canceling Technology

The second technology that Ukyo Kodachi has introduced is noise canceling technology, which is also based on real world science.  It just so happens that noise canceling technology also exists in the real world.  Whether real or fictional noise canceling technology is based on the property of destructive interference.  This is what happens when two waves that are out of sync with each other come in contact with each other.

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When the peak on one wave is perfectly timed up with the valley of another, as pictured above, the two waves cancel each other out.  When this happens to two sound waves, the sound vanishes.  The way real world noise canceling technology works is that the device has a small microphone that hears the incoming sound waves.  A computer chip then determines the exact frequency and volume needed to cancel out the incoming sound.  In the final step a speaker broadcasts the sound to cancel the incoming sound.  This is the same regardless of whether it is noise canceling speakers, or a system to cancel noise in a whole room as is the case in Boruto.

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Sadly, however, noise canceling systems have a few drawbacks.  The problem with noise canceling systems is that they are less effective in canceling rapidly changing sounds like people talking.  By the time the system has detected the sound, and determined the sound needed to cancel it, the sounds would have already changed.  This makes the system less effective in completely canceling sound, especially when people are talking.  So, while the science behind the noise canceling room in Boruto is real, it would not be able to completely mute the sound of their voices.

 

Healing Spray

In the latest chapters of Boruto, Sarada is using a healing spray to heal a wound on Konohamaru’s face.  This might seem like a little too much science fiction, but in actuality such things are already being tested in the real world.  The manga does not give much in the way of details other than Konohamaru’s face looks pretty injured before the spray, and and it looks almost normal after.  One fact that we do know is that the injury itself in a burn caused by taking a fireball to the face.

Current healing sprays use a mixture of chemicals that prevent bacterial growth, speed wound healing, and form an artificial temporary layer of skin over the wounded area.  These sprays are only used on shallow surface wounds, as deeper wounds might need additional treatments.  This matches its use to treat Konohamaru’s burn.  Now it would only aid in healing and not completely heal the wound.  It would have the benefit of covering the wound, preventing infection and making it look a bit nicer as seen in the manga.

Doctors in Germany are testing an advanced healing spray that uses stem cells.  The stem cells form a better protective covering over the damaged area than a chemical covering would.  The stem cells also help in jump starting the healing process.  The one problem with this is that there is the problem of rejection if the doctor doesn’t use a spray with the patient’s own stem cells.  I realize this is less of a problem in Naruto, where organ rejection isn’t really a thing.

 

Shin Uchiha

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Shin Uchiha, the first antagonist of Boruto, is a man who really doesn’t understand biology.  I could go on forever about what he doesn’t know, but I will try to be brief.  Shin Uchiha is a man who has taken to constantly transplanting the organs of others into his own body, usually with a lack of aseptic technique, putting him at risk for a large number of infections.  We are also told that he has a unique gift in that his body doesn’t reject the organs that are transplanted into him.

This is a problem because even if Shin is blood type AB positive and doesn’t have any of the Human Leukocyte Antigen complex (HLA) genes, he would still be at risk for rejecting the organ.  Then there is also the problem that lacking the HLA genes would put him at a higher risk of infection from certain pathogens.  Rejection is not a problem when the organs come from his own clones.

The second issue I have with Shin Uchia’s understanding of biology is his understanding of evolution.  He seems to think that the most important part of Darwin’s theory of evolution is the survival part, when in reality it is the reproduction part.  An organism can be great at surviving anything that is thrown at it, but if it does not reproduce and pass on its genes to the next generation then in terms of evolution it is worthless.

Shin also wants to start a new ninja war in order to drive the evolution of new and more powerful ninja.  This wouldn’t exactly work because of the role the environment plays in human development, plus the fact that ninjas are only a small part of the greater population.  There is also the fact that just because a gene might benefit you in battle, it might harm you in other ways.  For example, there is a gene found in many Scandinavian cross-country skiers that increases the person’s ability to perform in cold weather, but it also raises your risk for a heart disease.

What his war would really do is start a giant selective breeding program selecting for combat ability (this is also referred to as eugenics).  Eugenics programs have been tried in the real world and they have all ended badly for a variety of reasons, some obvious some less so.  From a scientific stand point a human eugenics program is doomed to failure because no program can include the entire population, and that makes it near impossible to change the rate of recessive traits in the population.

 

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this stroll through the science of Naruto and Boruto, if you want more articles like this you can check out my website Anime Science 101.

 

Christopher and Anime Science 101 are also on Twitter.

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