The Sage Mode transformation is one of the most important abilities in the Narutoverse, which grants access to Nature Energy. It significantly boosts the user’s strength, speed, and sensory abilities. However, it is immensely challenging to learn as Jiraiya, a legendary ninja in his own right and a disciple of the Toad Sages for 30 years, could not master it entirely in his lifetime.
Knowledge of the Sage Mode has been a hallmark of some of the most powerful characters in the series. In fact, it can be argued that the strongest of each generation were Sage Mode users in some form; Hagoromo Ōtsutsuki (The Sage of Six Paths) in the pre-Shinobi era, Hashirama Senju in the Warring Clans era, Minato Namikaze during the Third Shinobi World War, Orochimaru in the Sannin era and Naruto Uzumaki during the Fourth Shinobi World War and onwards.
Let us see how these characters wielded their own variant of the Sage Mode with great effectivity in the interests of good or evil.
Sage Mode is a state of power that can be tapped into by blending one’s own chakra with the nature energy existing in the world, creating Senjutsu Chakra. Sage Mode and Senjutsu Chakra grant its users a plethora of powers, including expanded sensory capabilities, additional strength, chakra reservoirs, and buffs to the current taijutsu, ninjutsu, and genjutsu repertoire of the Sage Mode user.
It is theorized Sage Mode can be taught to summoners of the Sage Animals, which include the toads of Mount Myobuku, the serpents of the Ryūchi Cave, and the slugs of Shikkotsu Forest; though there are no recorded instances in the latter case.
The only documented case of a Sage Mode user who did not learn it from the Sage Animals is that of Hashirama Senju, the First Hokage. It is a running gag amongst the Naruto fandom that if a character performs plot-bending nonsensical feats, the mangaka explains away by citing that they were infused with the cells of Hashirama Senju, granting them special abilities.
Well, no character was infused with more Hashirama cells than Hashirama Senju himself. A more rational explanation is that the First Hokage could learn and master the Sage Arts independently due to the close and special connection to nature granted to him by his kekke genkai¸ the Mokuton.
Training for Sage Mode
Sage Mode is known to be taught at two places, namely at Mount Myobuku by the toads and at the Ryūchi Caves by the snakes. The pre-requisites to even begin learning Sage Mode include extremely strong and durable bodies, physical energy, and extremely high Chakra reserves.
Therefore Naruto Uzumaki and Hashirama Senju were able to wield the Sage Mode to its fullest potential and can have said to have mastered it as they were from the Uzumaki and Senju clans, respectively. These were sister clans renowned for their powerful life force and their dense and vast chakra reserves.
Additionally, Naruto was the jinchuriki to the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox, which granted him further gargantuan chakra reserves once he tapped into its power. Conversely, Orochimaru could not master Sage Mode despite knowing and understanding the nature of Senjutsu Chakra and possessing great chakra reserves.
This was because decades of self-augmentation, biological experimentation, and his technique of switching hosts had eroded his body and diminished its life force every 3-4 years.
To train oneself to access Sage Mode, the user needs to stay perfectly still and balance their physical and spiritual energies, i.e., their Yin and Yang Chakra, with the nature energy surrounding them.
If too little energy is poured into this technique, it fails to take effect, while if the balance is skewed towards too much nature energy being accessed, it begins to overpower the user’s chakra system and turns them into a stone statue of whatever summon animal’s technique of learning Sage Mode is being used.
To assist in training in the Sage Arts, the toads of Mount Myobuku also have additional tools, such as an oil which, if rubbed on the body, makes it more sensitive to the Nature Chakra around and aids the body in passively absorbing it. They also use a staff that knocks out the natural energy being accumulated from a body when struck, reversing the petrification process if the user is showing signs of having absorbed too much natural energy.
On the other hand, if one is learning the Sage Arts in the caves of Ryūchi, the method of learning is more straightforward but much more dangerous. The candidate to become a sage, a snake summoner, in this case, is bitten by the Great White Snake Sage, who injects Senjutsu Chakra through its fangs into the candidate.
If their body is strong enough to survive this infusion, it accepts this chakra without reservation and becomes a Sage. However, if it is not, then the candidate dies, and their body is consumed whole by the Snake. There are stages of Sage Transformations that grant various levels of power to the user, each having its own unique advantages and disadvantages that we will discuss in the section below.
Despite being the oldest known toad summoner and one of the only exponents of the Sage Arts since the Warring Clans Era in the Naruto world, Jiraiya had yet not mastered the Sage Arts completely, only being capable of an Imperfect Sage transformation with the aid of the Toad Elders, Fukasaku and Shima.
As Jiraiya cannot align and balance his own chakra with nature chakra properly, the Toad Elders Fukasaku and Shima attach themselves to his shoulders and gather nature energy in his stead and transfer this energy to him in a balanced quantity.
This is an imperfect transformation, as it is not Jiraiya who is himself balancing his chakra with natural energy, and as a result, his body takes on some toad-like attributes such as an enlarged nose with warts, a goatee, and sharper teeth along with toad-like irises which is a signature feature of the Toad Sage Mode.
He can also manifest webbed feet to enhance his maneuverability if the fight takes him to a watery environment.
This transformation greatly boosts his physical durability and gives him access to the Toad Kata style of Taijutsu and Ninjutsu while also giving him access to unique Genjutsu he was unable to perform; with the aid of Fukasaku and Shima. Let’s see the advantages and disadvantages of this transformation.
- Increased durability to the body, expanded Chakra reserves, and sensory capabilities.
- Enhanced maneuverability in water-based environments
- Access to the Toad Kata style of taijutsu, along with the use of Combination Techniques combining Jiraiya’s Fire Release techniques with that of toad oil provided by Fukasaku or Shima, or with Shima’s Wind Release techniques for added destruction and damage to the opponent.
- Shima and Fukasaku can also make up for Jiraiya’s natural lack of aptitude in Genjutsu by utilizing the powerful technique Demonic Illusion: Toad Confrontation Chant, by harmonizing their voices with each other with one toad singing the melody and the other singing the lyrics, which attack the auditory senses of the opponent disorientating them and rendering them paralyzed.
- The greatest advantage granted by the Imperfect Sage Transformation is that it circumnavigates the biggest weakness of the Sage Mode, i.e., the requirement that one must stay perfectly still while gathering nature energy and mixing it with one’s own chakra to create Senjutsu Chakra, which cannot be met in the heat of battle. In the Imperfect Sage Transformation, it is Fukasaku and Shima who stay perfectly still on Jiraiya’s shoulder and gather nature energy to mix with Jiraiya’s chakra allowing him to move around and fight without exhausting his reserves or falling prey to an attack due to being still. Moreover, there are other ways to work around this drawback, which we shall explore further in this piece.
- As the Sage Transformation is not perfect, the degree of strength, sensory capabilities, and Chakra boost granted by this mode are not as much as one collects nature energy and harnesses Senjutsu Chakra on their own.
- The area of the body that needs to be protected is also increased as if either of the Toad Elders is removed, attacked, or in any way made to change from their still position; the Senjutsu Chakra and Sage Mode will fade away from the user quickly.
There are three known users of the perfect Sage Transformation, namely Naruto Uzumaki from the Pain Arc onwards, Minato Namikaze, the Fourth Hokage, as seen in the Fourth Shinobi World War Arc, and Hashirama Senju who is known to be a Sage from the Warring Clans Era.
Perfect Sages are different from those who are capable of the Imperfect Transformation as they can harness nature energy and wield Senjutsu Chakra on their own and do not take on any animalistic traits on transformation, apart from orange sclera and toad irises which are a signature feature of the Toad Sage mode.
Again, Hashirama Senju is an exception in this aspect, as his Sage Mode is not associated with any particular summon. Rather, his Sage Mode is characterized by yellow irises, with pigmentation around his eyes that extends to his ears, as well as a round marking on his forehead with a central dot.
Perfect Sage Mode greatly enhances the sensory capabilities of the user, allowing them to sense targets across vast distances. It also boosts the taijutsu of the user, allowing them full access to the Toad Style kata, wherein the Senjutsu Chakra surrounds the body of the user like an aura, allowing them to increase the range and strength behind each blow.
Furthermore, this aura or cloak of Senjutsu Chakra is invisible to the naked eye or to dōjutsu users unless they have mastered the Sage Arts themselves. Therefore it is especially effective in the battle against them. This aspect of the Frog Kata taijutsu is a vital tool for the Sage Mode users, as from the Pain’s Invasion arc forward, many of the major antagonists that have come forth have been dojutsu users of some kind or the other.
- Increased durability to the body, expanded Chakra reserves and sensory capabilities.
- Full access to the Toad Kata style of taijutsu, along with the use of Combination Techniques combining Naruto’s Wind Release techniques with that of toad oil provided by Fukasaku and fire provided by Gamabunta.
- Perfect Sage Mode is especially advantageous against opponents who use chakra-absorbing techniques as most ninjas are unfamiliar and untrained in handling Senjutsu Chakra. Therefore, as soon as they absorb a certain amount, the petrification process will be triggered in the opponent, and they will be turned to stone.
- The user gets aware of any use of chakra around them and thus can sense attacks without needing to see them.
- Those capable of using the Perfect Sage Mode have not been shown to use the Sage Art: Amphibian Technique to fuse with the Toad Elders. Therefore, they must face the downside of not being able to accumulate Senjutsu Chakra during battle, as they cannot fulfill the criteria of staying absolutely still to get in touch with nature energy to meld it with their own chakra.
- If one enters a battle unprepared or is ambushed, then there shall be no time to enter Sage Mode more than once, even if one is a fully trained Sage, as the criteria of staying absolutely still will not be met.
Bypassing the Disadvantages
Sage Mode users have shown various ingenious methods to bypass the inherent disadvantages of entering and maintaining the Sage Transformation, such as:-
- The user can use the Shadow Clone Technique to accumulate Senjutsu Chakra elsewhere. As soon as the Shadow Clone is dispelled, the Sage Chakra will be transferred to the original, and the transformation into Perfect Sage Mode will begin in them nigh instantaneously. However, this limits the number of shadow clones that the user can create to about five clones only, as making any more will throw the Shadow Clones off their focus necessary to get in touch with natural energy.
- Hashirama Senju had his unique way of bypassing these disadvantages as he would traverse around the battlefield on one of his giant wood constructs created using Mokuton and sit perfectly still on its head, gathering or replenishing natural energy in the midst of battle.
- If the Sage Mode user is a perfect jinchuriki working in tandem with their Tailed Beast, then they can enter Sage Mode nigh instantaneously as their Tailed Beast aids in accumulating nature energy and transforming it into Senjutsu Chakra lying still within, while the Sage Mode using jinchuriki is free to move around outside.
There is one more known way to access Senjutsu Chakra and bypass its disadvantages that we will discuss in the following section.
Corrupted Sage Mode/ Curse Mark Sage Mode
The origins of the Corrupted Sage Mode stem from Jūgo’s clan, which showed remarkable affinity to sense natural energy around them, and their bodies were attuned to it, giving them the ability to naturally transform natural energy into Senjutsu Chakra.
This gave them access to a transformation akin to Sage Mode, which greatly boosted their physical strength and ninjutsu and also gave them access to feats of shape-shifting but at the cost of deteriorating mental stability and sporadic outbursts of violent rage.
It is theorized that it was this susceptibility to fits of uncontrollable rage that is responsible for the decimation of the numbers of Jūgo’s clan and almost their eradication as he is the only known living member. Orochimaru himself traced the roots of Jūgo’s clans’ power to the Ryūchi Caves and learned to access Senjutsu Chakra there.
However, he could not enter Sage Mode due to the fragile nature of his body and soul because of his abuse of the Living Corpse Reincarnation technique to constantly switch hosts. He bypassed this disadvantage by combining the Senjutsu Chakra he could access with the mutative enzymes found in Jūgo’s blood and bodily fluids to create the juinjutsu that would become infamous as the Cursed Mark of Heaven and Earth technique.
This technique would grant users similar boosts in power and transformative abilities as Jūgo, though to a lesser extent. However, this would also leave them susceptible to Orochimaru’s control and influence and prone to irrational bursts of rage, and bloodthirstiness, and erode their sanity over time.
On the sealing of Orochimaru into the Sword of Totsuka by Itachi Uchiha’s Susanoo, Kabuto traced his former master’s path to the Ryūchi Caves, where he mastered the Sage Mode transformation and further biologically modified his body with the cells of Orochimaru and Juugo so he could use Jūgo’s ability of his body being able to absorb natural energy passively.
Jūgo’s Sage Transformation causes his skin to darken and harden to a hide-like brown and a massive black stripe appears on his forehead and down the bridge of his nose.
Kabuto’s Sage Transformation, on the other hand, only enhances his snake-like characteristics as he directly learned it from the serpents of Ryūchi Caves as he gains yellow, snake-like irises, darkened sclerae, purple pigmentation around the eyes, and grows four horns along with his head and shoulder blades which he claims symbolize his transformation “from a snake to a dragon.”
- As Jūgo’s cells can passively absorb natural energy and transform it into Senjutsu Chakra, the major disadvantageous requirement of Sage Mode, i.e., the necessity to stay still, is bypassed.
- The mutative nature of Jūgo’s enzymes also grants the users of this transformation the ability to shape-shift their appendages to increase their force or range, along with greater endurance and durability as the skin also hardens to limit any damage.
- Masters of the Snake Sage Techniques of the Ryūchi Cave can use natural energy to breathe life into inorganic substances and control them to do their bidding.
- Use of the Corrupted Sage Transformation is accompanied by uncontrollable bursts of rage, bloodthirstiness, eroding sanity, and animalistic tendencies. This dramatically boosts physical strength, durability, ninjutsu, and bodily adaptability but severely compromises the ability to fight strategically.
Question: What is the most powerful Sage Mode?
Answer: The most powerful variant of Sage Mode is the Sage of Six Paths Sage Mode which is granted by the Sage of Six Paths, Hagoromo Ōtsutsuki, to a reincarnate of his son Asura Ōtsutsuki who displays iron will and determination. It is granted in the hopes that they will use this power to end the eternally recurring war between the Ōtsutsuki brothers, Indra and Asura, and also bring an end to the Cycle of Hatred.
This power was granted to Naruto by the Hagoromo Ōtsutsuki when he was put in a near-death state by Madara Uchiha, who was the jinchuriki of the Juubi at that point in time. It elevated Naruto’s chakra and physical energy to levels beyond the parameters of the standard Sage Mode, as he was able to interact with the Truth-Seeking Balls in this state. It also gave Naruto an understanding of the true nature of chakra, as he could wield it directly in order to use a technique analogous to the Creation of All Things to restore Kakashi’s eye from nothing and save Might Guy from almost certain death after he had opened all Eight Gates.
He can further use this ability in conjunction with the Nine-Tails Chakra Cloak Mode to perform god-like feats such as levitation, increasing his speed so as to catch and surprise a pure Ōtsutsuki like Kaguya and tank a Chidori while taking no damage.
Question: Is it possible to master Sage Mode without the help of a summoned beast?
Answer: Yes, this is seen in the case of Hashirama Senju, who mastered Sage Mode without the aid of any summoned beast. He was already able to sense natural energy due to the special connection he had with nature because of his Kekkei Genkai, the Mokuton (or Wood Release). There are other ways to master a diluted form of Sage Mode, too, as seen in the case of Jūgo’s clan or someone who masters their cursed seals to the 2nd level, as seen in the case of the Sound Four, Kimmimaro and Sasuke at the end of the Sasuke Retrieval Arc.
Finally, Madara Uchiha also gained access to Senjutsu chakra during the Fourth Shinobi World War by absorbing chakra from Hashirama Senju using the powers granted to him by the Ten-Tails and as a wielder of the Rinnegan without affiliating himself with any summons.
Question: Is Sage Mode the strongest power-up in Naruto?
Answer: Though it is difficult to compare the raw power boost granted by Sage Mode to other significant power-ups such as the Eternal Mangekyou Sharingan, the Byakugou Seal, or the Rinnegan it can be said that Sage Mode is uniquely suited to battle against the final antagonists of the Naruto series and its sequel series, Boruto: the Ten Tails and the Ōtsutsuki. It was the Ōtsutsukis, starting with Kaguya Ōtsutsuki, who introduced chakra into the Narutoverse thus starting and influencing the history of Shinobi from the very beginning.
The Ōtsutsuki’s are able to manipulate chakra in its elemental form, without the aid of hand-signs and often hold the power to absorb any chakra-based attacks and assimilate it to add to their own powers thus rendering the greatest strength of Shinobis futile. The same holds true for the Ten-Tails and its jinchuriki on whom chakra-based attacks have no effect. However, Ōtsutsuki’s, the Ten-Tails and its jinchuriki can be harmed by Senjutsu-based attacks as they are not familiar with this form of chakra, with the exception of Hagoromo Ōtsutsuki (the Sage of Six Paths) who is considered the first Sage.
Further, if someone attempts to absorb Senjutsu chakra without familiarizing themselves with nature energy, they run the risk of turning into stone forever. Even if they are able to break out from this state, it leaves them completely immobile and defenseless to an attack that can shatter their physical form or be sealed forever. Therefore, though it cannot be conclusively said that Sage Mode is the strongest power-up in the Narutoverse, one can easily argue that it the most important.
As we have seen, the Sage Mode transformation has various pros and cons, with the boost in raw power, sensory abilities, and unique chakra being invaluable in various battles across the series.
However, the criteria of staying perfectly still or immobile to gather nature energy for this transformation has proven to be a major hassle, with various characters coming up with innovative solutions and loopholes to bypass this requirement or render it redundant.
Finally, what cannot be denied is that Sage Mode and its associated transformations have been crucial in driving the story of Naruto forward. From Sasuke’s betrayal under the influence of the curse mark to Naruto’s heroic arrival during Pain’s invasion of Konoha, this transformation has left an indelible mark on the series.
- Naruto: The Official Character Data Book
- Naruto Fourth Databook
- Naruto Secret: Scroll of People Character Official Databook
- Naruto Secret: Scroll of Formation Character Official Databook
- Naruto: The Official Character Data Book