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The ANBU (暗部; English TV "ANBU Black Ops"; Literally meaning "Dark Side"), short for Ansatsu Senjutsu Tokushu Butai (暗殺戦術特殊部隊; Literally meaning "Special Assassination and Tactical Squad"), take orders directly from the Kage, performing special high-level missions, such as assassinations and torture. The ANBU usually work in teams formed to the requirements of the mission, ensuring maximum success. The shinobi in the ANBU are hand-picked by the Kage; chosen for their individual capabilities and special skills. Age, gender, background, or previous rank bear no weight in this decision. They wear their mask even in their own village, for their identity as an ANBU agent is to be known only by the Kage and village elders, with the exception of Konohagakure's "Root" ANBU members who, unless ordered to, will otherwise only act on the orders of Root's leader(s).
There are apparently no true ranks within the ANBU, unlike within the regular forces. Team leadership and hierarchy seem to be based on merit and experience. The leaders of the teams are called squad leaders (分隊長, Buntaichō), a position held in high regards.
The ANBU wear porcelain animal masks in order to distinguish themselves from normal shinobi and to conceal their identities. They also have standard uniforms consisting of black and grey armour, metal arm guards and gloves, ninja sandals with spikes for travelling into mountainous regions, three ninja pouches on their back-waist and a signature spiral tattoo on their shoulder (left shoulder for male ANBU members, and right shoulder for female members). Some ANBU wear black cloaks over their standard uniforms, and squad leaders may wear white cloaks. Most ANBU carry a sword, which is usually strapped to their backs.
ANBU are under direct control of their Kage. They protect the village from exceptional threats, conduct high-risk missions into enemy territory, and deal with extremely strong ninja. They are also responsible for carrying out assassinations, tracking, surveillance, and missions requiring specially trained ninja. Some ANBU serve as interrogators that probe the minds of enemy ninja to learn information valuable to the village. If an ANBU is mortally wounded in battle, they are required to destroy their bodies to prevent any information from getting into enemy hands.
In Konohagakure, there exists a special branch of the ANBU known as the Root. It was created and led by Danzō, who sends its members on missions that he believes will benefit Konoha. Root members are trained to abandon all forms of emotion in order to follow its leader(s) orders unquestioningly. Root members also have a seal located on their tongue. This seal prevents a member from speaking about the leader(s) and Root. This was to ensure that, if a member ever left or got captured, information regarding Root would not be leaked.
Kirigakure also has their own special branch of ANBU, known as the Hunter-nin. They solely hunt down missing-nin and kill them, then retrieve the head as proof, while disposing the rest of the corpse on the spot to not leave behind any information for the enemies. Due to their duties, they are codenamed as the "Undertaker Squad".
ANBU have a detailed knowledge of the human body, and can use such techniques as the Temporary Paralysis Technique and Time Reversal Technique to take advantage of this.
In the Naruto Shippūden 3: Inheritors of the Will of Fire, one ANBU is seen carrying a pigeon under his coat, as a means of communication.
- In Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution 2, the storyline was based on the ANBU.