Since the Naruto series is narrated from the protagonist Naruto’s point of view, there was initially little to no information about the Sannin, as their history took place long before Naruto was born.
So, what does Sannin mean and what is the history behind its three members: Tsunade, Orochimaru, and Jiraiya? Let’s find out!
What Does Sannin Mean?
In Japanese, ‘san’ means three and ‘nin’ means ninja. Simply put, Sannin simply means three ninja. In the context of the Naruto franchise, this is the collective name for the group of three legendary ninja from the village of Konohagakure, considered to be three of the greatest ninja of their time.
The trio was made up of Tsunade, Jiraiya, and Orochimaru. They made their debut in episode 83 of the anime and in volume 16, chapter 139 in the manga.
The trio first met each other at six years old when they were paired together by Hiruzen Sarutobi, the Third Hokage, or leader of the village of Konohagakure. He had hoped that the Sannin would be the protectors of the village against all sorts of evils.
Hiruzen Sarutobi taught them how to fight and defend their nation as they fought alongside one another during the Second Shinobi World War.
The Trio in the Sannin
In Naruto, the Kage is regarded as the strongest ninja and leader in their village. These leaders have the ability to defend and rule the village and are tasked with fighting, training, and making decisions for the village and its citizens.
As for the Sannin, fans of Naruto often make the mistake of classifying the Sannin as Kage as well. However, Sannin is merely an honorary title. The three members of the Sannin are:
Throughout the series, Tsunade is seen as a character who has suffered many losses and gone through several difficulties.
For one, due to her participation in the Second Shinobi War, she developed a phobia for blood, which made her unable to protect her village and take the Kage title for the village of Konohagakure, Naruto’s home.
She also lost the man she was in love with, Dan Katō, in the Second Shinobi War after she failed to heal him, which devastated her and made her unable to love again.
Jiraiya is another member of the legendary Sannin. Throughout the series, he makes a major impact on others, including Naruto. He had an unshaken loyalty to the village of Konohagakure, and years after the Sannin separated, he visited often to provide protection to the members. He was also a tutor, writer, and mentor.
Orochimaru was an orphan who was taken in as a pupil by Hiruzen, the leader of Konohagakure. From a young age, he showed extreme brilliance and had a sadistic and twisted personality that his teammates noticed from childhood. It is often said that it came from the pain of losing his parents.
He later became a villain in the anime and manga series, seeking to acquire immortality through different unethical experiments on humans.
The Strength of the Sannin
According to Tsunade, the trio frequently argued about everything. The rifts mainly happened because of how different they were from each other.
They had different temperaments (Jiraiya often being the hot-headed one), different notions of good and bad (Orochimaru was sadistic from childhood, while Tsunade was compassionate), and different life goals (Jiraiya wanted to be a writer, while Orochimaru wanted to achieve immortality).
Despite their differences, the Sannin were incredible together. Their strength was immense, as all three of them were Kage-level ninjas. The Sannin all had roles to play in the plot of the anime and manga and in the lives of different characters.
For example, in episodes 132 and 133 (in the manga, chapters 377- 383) of Naruto: Shippūden, Jiraiya defeats the Six Paths of Pain (an alias for an outer technique that allows one to control six bodies as if they were their own). He loses his life after this battle, but not before using the last of his strength to send out a message about the true identity of Pain to Naruto.
Tsunade used her medical ninjutsu to save many lives during Pain’s invasion of the Hidden Leaf Village (Konohagakure) through episodes 152-169, and 172-175 of the Naruto: Shippūden anime and volumes 45-48, chapters 413-453 of the manga. Her medical-nin bought Naruto enough time to come and save the village.
Although Orochimaru was one of the earliest villains in the anime, in episode 341 of the Naruto: Shippūden anime (Chapter 592-594 of the manga), he agrees to help in the Fourth Shinobi War.
What Happens to the Sannin?
The Second Shinobi War, or Second Ninja War, started as a result of economic disparity between different nations. After the horrendous effect of the First Great Ninja War, there were little to no resources left for survival, which led to a fight for these few resources.
The nations that participated in the war were Konohagakure, Sunagakure, Iwagakure and Amegakure. The Sannin fought against Hanzō (Amegakure’s leader) in episode 128 of the Naruto: Shippūden anime, and survived.
This made them the only ninja from Konohagakure to survive Hanzō’s attacks, which led to the victory of their village, although it suffered great losses. It was during this battle that they got their name (Konohagakure’s Legendary Sannin) from Hanzō after he had a taste of their strength.
After the war, Orochimaru was shunned after it was found that he was conducting unethical experiments on other fighters in order to gain immortality. Jiraiya went on to train younger generations of fighters and write books, and Tsunade was so affected by the horrors of the Second Shinobi War that she didn’t want anything to do with ninjitsu anymore, so she retreated and lived a quiet life for a very long time.
When Hiruzen finally stepped down as the third Hokage, a search for a replacement began. The people of the village looked to the three Sannin legends as suitable candidates because of how respected they were as ninja.
Jiraiya, who was recognized as the team leader and strongest ninja, was one of the first choices for the village leader, but he was uninterested in the role. Tsunade was also uninterested in becoming the next Hokage, as she was no longer interested in ninjutsu altogether.
The only person who desperately wanted the title of Hokage was Orochimaru. However, the knowledge of his illegal experiments prevented him from gaining the title.
In episode 95 of the anime and chapters 168-169 of the manga, many years later, Tsunade eventually overcomes her fear of fighting after she saves Naruto from Orochimaru’s attacks and claims the title of the Fifth Hokage.
Current Activity of the Sannin
Although the Sannin were a group of renowned ninja who existed long before Naruto was born, they are still active in Naruto’s lifetime, and their early actions echo throughout the series.
Jiraiya becomes a mentor, travels, and teaches people different skills and words of wisdom. He trains Nagato, a poor orphaned boy from Amegakure during the Second Shinobi War, who later goes on to become the leader of the village Akatsuki. Jiraiya is later killed by Nagato.
Orochimaru knows time is not on his side and he’ll soon die without completing his personal quest, so he needs the body of a young man in which he can transfer his soul and then continue his mission.
Sasuke, born into the Uchicha ninja family, a strong ally to Konohagakure, meets Orochimaru, who promises to train him into a strong ninja. Unknown to Sasuke, Orochimaru is using him to further his quest for eternal life.
Tsunade meets Sakura, a young woman who had fought alongside Naruto and Sasuke. After Sasuke leaves the team, Sakura goes to Tsunade for training to become a better ninja.
In later life, Tsunade becomes a Konohagakure council member, a group of people who assist the Hokage in governing the village.
Fans of Naruto are often confused about the differences between the Kage and the Sannin, who they are, and what their roles in the series are.
After reading this article, however, you should understand the important differences between these two titles and know the answer to the question: what does Sannin mean?
The legacy of the Sannin should not be overlooked or forgotten. Each member accomplished great things, some sinister, that affected the story of Naruto and the lives of the characters.