Orochimaru (大蛇丸, Orochimaru) is a major antagonist of the Naruto series. Recognised as one of the most powerful ninja Konohagakure ever produced and one of the “Three Legendary Shinobi” (伝説の三忍, Densetsu no Sannin), he operated as a ANBU-level shinobi in the village within the Root faction prior to his defection from the village in pursuit of his own self-serving desires. He was the main antagonist throughout most of Part I and is currently a major antagonist in Part II.
Orochimaru was originally a pupil of Hiruzen Sarutobi as part of a three-man team, consisting of himself, Jiraiya and Tsunade. Even at a young age, Orochimaru stood out as a prodigy his talents, knowledge, and determination were considered by his sensei a prodigy only seen once in a generation.
During the Second Shinobi World War, Orochimaru and his former team-mates fought Hanzō, who gave them the title of Konoha’s “Three Legendary Shinobi” (伝説の三忍, Densetsu no Sannin) as a reward for surviving their battle. On their way back to Konoha, they encountered three Amegakure orphans, who Orochimaru proposed to kill to put them out of their misery, but Jiraiya chose to train them instead.
Some time after Team Hiruzen was disbanded, Orochimaru became an ANBU and a member of Root, working directly under Danzō Shimura. On one occasion, he encountered Kabuto Yakushi amongst a group of orphans that were aiding Nonō in healing Konoha-nin. He enquired whether or not the boy who had displayed remarkable skills with medical ninjutsu wanted to be a shinobi. After he declined, Orochimaru lamented that it was a waste of talent. After accompanying Danzō to the Konoha Orphanage to speak with Nonō, he and another shinobi subtly threatened to rob the orphanage and kidnap the orphans if she refused the mission. Five years after Kabuto who had volunteered to accompany them when they demanded an orphan to replace the Root member that had been killed recently was on a mission in Iwagakure and had his cover blown, Orochimaru appeared to the young man once again.
Taking him back to his hideout, Orochimaru explained Root’s elaborate plan to have Kabuto and Nonō kill each other. As they had become risky assets to Root because of what they knew (and the great skills they possessed as spies), eliminating both of them by “mutual kill” was the safest way of dispatching them, and that Orochimaru was meant to be sent to kill the one who survived this ordeal. After this Orochimaru inveigles Kabuto into allying himself with him and gives him a new background story. From then on Orochimaru and Kabuto worked together on experiments while Kabuto also spied for him, gathering information.
According to Tsunade, Orochimaru had always been twisted, even back when he was a child. His sadistic attitude was presumably due to the death of his parents. At some point after losing them, Orochimaru found a white snake near his parents’ grave, told by Hiruzen how a white snake is known to represent good fortune and rebirth, Orochimaru became inspired. Ultimately, he began to study kinjutsu and became obsessed with learning all ninjutsu. Jiraiya theorised that Orochimaru went down this path in an attempt to forget his painful memories. Sarutobi in particular had very high hopes for Orochimaru, often berating the clumsy Jiraiya and telling him he should be more like his team-mate. After becoming the Third Hokage, Sarutobi hoped that one day Orochimaru would succeed him. He eventually became Anko Mitarashi’s mentor, teaching her ninjutsu and taking her, along with nine others, as a subject for the Cursed Seal of Heaven.
While Orochimaru’s ambitions did include becoming the Fourth Hokage, his eyes were set upon goals quite alien to the ideals traditionally associated with the title and emphatically embraced by his teacher. Hiruzen knew that “a shinobi’s true strength will manifest when protecting something important”, and the Hokage’s role is to love and protect the people of the village as if they were a family. For Orochimaru, however, Hokage was nothing more than a potential conquest on the way to what truly interested him: power. This mindset influenced the image he had on people around him, with a young Ibiki Morino seeing him as “something inhuman in human form”.
Hiruzen had hoped to make his student see the error of his ways, but as more time passed, it became evident that Orochimaru was a lost cause. When Hiruzen finally retired years later he chose a student of Jiraiya’s, Minato Namikaze, over Orochimaru as his successor, thus making Minato the Fourth Hokage. Realising that he had hit a dead end in his quest to become the ultimate being and therefore had nothing to gain from staying in Konoha, Orochimaru began to be less discreet with his actions.
Over the years, he had been kidnapping his fellow Konoha shinobi and used them as human guinea pigs. He experimented on them to develop techniques that would grant him immortality, as he had already decided that he would settle for no less than to learn all of the techniques in the world (a task that would take much more than one human lifetime). When the many disappearances were finally traced to Orochimaru, Hiruzen knew that it was his duty to kill him. At the time however, Hiruzen was unable to bring himself to kill his prized student for whom he had such high hopes.
Before Orochimaru defected, he kidnapped sixty children and injected them with the First Hokage’s DNA, hoping to recreate the First’s Wood Release techniques. Before he could finish his work he was forced to leave Konoha, but he believed all the test subjects to be dead. Yamato was the only survivor of the experiments, and had gained the use of the wood element. Orochimaru conducted similar experiments on Danzō, endowing the elder with the Wood Release and multiple Sharingan.
Orochimaru defected from the village and joined the elite criminal organisation of Akatsuki. His former team-mate, Jiraiya, tried to convince him to reconsider, but to no avail. Although the role Orochimaru played in Akatsuki is unclear, it is known that he was partnered with Sasori prior to his defection (the two apparently had great respect for each other when they were partners; Sasori also claimed that he and Orochimaru did a lot of good deeds when they were together in the organisation).
It was around this time that Itachi joined Akatsuki after conducting the Uchiha clan massacre. Orochimaru saw his opportunity to gain possession of the Sharingan, and soon Orochimaru made his attempt to steal Itachi’s body. Orochimaru tried to use his Living Corpse Reincarnation, but Itachi used his Sharingan to reverse it and cut off Orochimaru’s left hand to prevent him from breaking the genjutsu, causing him to leave Akatsuki to acquire a new body. For Orochimaru’s defection, Sasori developed a grudge, and when Orochimaru sent Kabuto to spy on Sasori and Akatsuki, Sasori in turn brainwashed Kabuto to counterspy on Orochimaru, but Orochimaru discovered this and undid the brainwashing, thus retrieving Kabuto as his right-hand man. He eventually founded his own village, Otogakure, to perform various experiments on his prisoners. Orochimaru had also searched for the Totsuka Sword, an ethereal sword, for all his life, unaware that it was in the possession of Itachi’s Susanoo.
At some point, when the Kaguya clan attempted to destroy Kirigakure and were themselves destroyed instead, Orochimaru was on the outskirts of the village, watching and commenting on their foolishness. It is there that he met Kimimaro and, Kimimaro being the sole survivor, was taken in by Orochimaru, in the hopes of becoming his new vessel.
At some point, Orochimaru began researching the source of Jūgo’s powers and in the process uncovered the Ryūchi Cave.