The "origin of the TMNT" refers to a series of events present in most TMNT fictional universes, which ultimately culminate in the mutations of Splinter and the Ninja Turtles. Most versions are similar to outline of Splinter's tale in the first issue of the Mirage comics. Hamato Yoshi is slain by Oroku Saki and Splinter takes refuge in the sewers, where he discovers four baby turtles have been dropped by a young boy. One day Splinter returns to find the turtles crawling in a strange ooze, and their mutations into humanoid creatures begins.
Though most versions of the origin include these similar elements, many differences are present. Some delve deeper into the past, some have added minute details, and some have even altered the origins of the ooze or the identities of the characters. The most well known versions are those presented in the 1990 film and the 1987 cartoon series, although they are wholly irreconcilable with one another.
The Mirage version of the origin story lays out what would become the most common elements among the origin stories. It is recounted to the Turtles after their first successful battle.
Decades ago in Japan, there existed a ninja clan known as the Foot. Among the Foot's ranks was Hamato Yoshi, Splinter's original owner. From his cage, Splinter enjoyed mimicking Yoshi's movements, forming the basis for his knowledge of ninjutsu. Hamato Yoshi often clashed with a fellow member of the clan, Oroku Nagi, over the love of a woman named Tang Shen. When it became clear that Tang Shen loved only Yoshi, Nagi arrived at her home and savagely beat her. She was saved by Yoshi, who in a moment of rage, killed Nagi with his bare hands.
Knowing that the Foot Clan would not accept the murder of another member, Yoshi, Tang Shen and Splinter fled to New York City, where he founded a small martial arts school. Meanwhile, the Foot continued to train Nagi's younger brother, Oroku Saki. Fueled by a thirst for vengeance, Saki eventually became a high-ranking member of the organization, and was tasked with leading a branch of the Foot in New York. Once there, Saki adopted the mantel of the Shredder and led the clan to the highest ranks of the underworld, specializing in burglary, espionage, and assassination. Yet the entire time, Saki sought the opportunity to avenge his brother by slaying Hamato Yoshi.
One night Yoshi returned home to find his apartment ransacked, Tang Shen lying dead on the floor. Yoshi then saw the Shredder, who, revealing his identity as Oroku Saki, promptly killed Yoshi with his blades. Alone and heartbroken, Splinter escaped into the sewers, rummaging for food to survive.
In 1969, a young boy was carrying four baby turtles home from the pet shop. A blind man was crossing the road when a truck labeled "T.C.R.I." almost ran him down. A young man behind the boy with the Turtles ran out to save the blind man, bumping the boy with the turtles and knocking the jar from his hands. The jar broke when it landed in the gutter, and the Turtles were washed down a sewer drainage grate. As the truck swerved, the back doors flew open. A container of green glowing goo fell out and was subsequently washed down the drain with the baby turtles. The turtles landed safely, until the jar of goo fell beside them, coating them with its contents.
Moments later, Splinter came across the babies, gathering them into a can. He didn't realize he was coating himself with the green goo as he gathered them up. In very little time, Splinter and the turtles evolved and mutated into anthropomorphic beings with intelligence and emotion rivaling that of a human. Their mutation near completion, and educated, the rat named the Turtles after Renaissance artists - Leonardo, Donatello, Michaelangelo, Raphael. For the next fifteen years, Splinter raised and instructed the young turtles, his sons, in the martial arts in order avenge his master.
It is later revealed that the ooze was created by a group of benevolent aliens known as Utroms.
This origin is shared with the Image continuity and the Palladium source books.
The 1987 series deviates noticeably from the Mirage origin, completely removing Tang Shen and Oroku Nagi, and actually turning Hamato Yoshi into Splinter. In the series, Splinter relates his origin not to the Turtles, but to reporter April O'Neil.
As in all versions, Hamato Yoshi and Oroku Saki were members of the Foot Clan in 1960s Japan. Here the Foot Clan is portrayed as a peaceful organization, Yoshi himself a quiet man who loved Renaissance art. He had a long standing rivalry with Oroku Saki, who always planned to overthrow Yoshi as leader of the clan. When a master sensei arrived, Saki planted a dagger in Yoshi's dogi (fighting outfit), framing him in an assassination attempt. Dishonored, Yoshi was excommunicated by the Foot and fled to New York, where he lived homeless in the sewers.
In Japan, Saki turned the Foot into an army of crime, using their ninja skills for personal gain.
Far later in New York, a boy dropped a fishbowl of baby turtles down a storm drain. Yoshi found them and raised them as pets. One day he discovered the turtles crawling in a broken canister of glowing, purple ooze, and proceeded to clean them. Yoshi later realized that the ooze was a powerful mutagen, capable of mutating any lifeform by combining their genetic code with the DNA of whatever animal it last touched. As the turtles had last touched Yoshi, they became humanoid. Yoshi, however, had most recently been in contact with the rats, and thus became a half-man, half-rat mutant.
As ever, Yoshi named his sons after Renaissance artists and taught them ninjutsu, although in the cartoon it was for protection rather than vengeance. Seeing his capacity to break boards, the Turtles began to call their master Splinter, a name which he willingly adopted.
The alterations in this origin story were likely due censorship placed on death within children's cartoons. It also served to introduce the gimmick of the cartoon's mutagen; its property to merge animal and human DNA was unique to the series and was used extensively in the origin stories for various mutants in the toyline. Whereas most versions depict the mutagen as a product of T.C.R.I., here it is created by Krang, who allowed Saki to dump it in the sewers in hopes of killing Hamato Yoshi.
This origin is shared with the comic series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, where it is again recounted to April.
However, it was later retconned in the main series' 45th issue so that Hamato Yoshi was framed for the actual murder of one of his students and that the Turtles were still infants after their mutation and grew to become teenagers while Splinter raised them and trained them in ninjutsu.
The origin in the movie continuity is largely similar to the Mirage version. It does, however, contain some minor differences.
The character of Oroku Nagi is removed completely. And Hamato Yoshi's conflict is with Oroku Saki directly. The film shows that the two were bitter rivals in most things, but none more fiercely that for the love of a woman named Tang Shen. Shen persuaded Yoshi to flee with her to New York to avoid having to fight Saki for her hand in marriage (although not directly stated, this would have presumably been a fight to the death). However, they are followed by Oroku Saki, who kills them both in their home. Splinter leaps from his cage and permanently scars Saki's face. In retaliation, Saki slices off a portion of Splinter's ear. From there on the story remains primarily unchanged. Splinter discovers four baby turtles crawling in a puddle of ooze in the sewer. Their mutations begin and Splinter teaches them martial arts. However in this version, Splinter does not train the Turtles in ninjitsu with the direct intent of vengeance upon Saki, as he does in the Mirage comics, but rather (just like in the 1987 series) for protection and as a way to remain unseen by a world he feels "could never understand" and "could never be ours".
Of note is that the ooze here is not a product of TCRI, but the similarly named TGRI. The company is revealed to be a normal scientific firm that created the ooze by accident, rather than an alien front like its comic book counterpart.
While it is never explicitly stated, it is likely that this origin is shared by the live action television series Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. The series never reveals a proper origin story, but certain visual cues, such as Splinter's damaged ear, seem to imply similar events to those of the movies.
Many of the elements present in Mirage comics are present: Shredder kills Hamato Yoshi, his pet rat, Splinter, is heart broken and starts living on the streets, witnesses turtles being dropped by a boy when a man tries to help a blind old man crossing the street about to get hit by a T.C.R.I. truck and being exposed to a mutagen flying out of the same truck, gets exposed to the mutagen himself, takes the turles to a shelter, witnesses them mutating, gaining human-body characteristics and becoming smart and decides to teach them ninjutsu which he learned by copying his master's moves while training to protect themselves.
However, there is one major difference in the reasons why the Shredder killed Hamato Yoshi. In this version, Tang Shen and Oroku Nagi aren't present. In this version, the Shredder was actually an evil Utrom named Ch'rell, a being who nearly conquered the universe. That's why his punishment was banishment. While being transported by a ship lead by Mortu, Ch'rell escaped and sabotashed the ship, which caused it to crash on Earth. The ship landed in feudal Japan, where Ch'rell heard the legend of the awful demon the Shredder who took over the noble warrior, Oroku Saki. Ch'rell then took the identity for himself after he stole an exo-suit the Utroms made from leftovers from their ship.
In this version, Hamato Yoshi was a Guardian of the Utroms, sworn to keep the Utroms' secret identity and real nature from the rest of the world and protect them from Ch'rell. When he and the Utroms moved to New York City, his friend, Yukio Mashimi, betrayed him. The Shredder and his Foot Ninja (along with his servant, Hun) went to Yoshi's apartment and tried to make him tell them where the Utroms are. However, Yoshi refused and was killed by the Shredder. Splinter tried to save his master and clawed Hun (leaving a scar), but to no avail.
In this version (as seen), the Shredder had direct influence in the origin of the turtles (much like in the 1987 cartoon).
IDW (2011 Comics)
The IDW comic provides a very different and more complicated origin that uses elements from the 1987 and Mirage continuities.
In this incarnation, Hamato Yoshi and Oroku Saki were members of the Foot Clan in Feudal Japan. Hamato Yoshi disagreed with Oroku Saki's views on attacking enemies mercilessly, so he left with Tang Shen and had four sons with her.
One night, Tang Shen was killed by an attack led by Oroku Saki, her dying words being a request to Yoshi to escape with their children. Hamato Yoshi would raise his four sons while traveling the lands, but would eventually be killed along with his children after the Shredder found them.
In 2011, Hamato Yoshi and his sons were reincarnated as a rat and four turtles respectively and were used as test subjects in a research facility called Stockgen, run by Baxter Stockman. April O'Neil was an intern at Stockgen who gave the rat and the turtles the names Splinter, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo. Their mutations here were the result of an experiment by Stockgen to create mutagen for creating more powerful soldiers for Krang. Thanks to an experimental brain serum that was injected into him, Splinter remembered his past life as Hamato Yoshi.
As the Turtles grew and mutated, Splinter led them to flee Stockgen and go into hiding, but lost Raphael. Until Raphael was reunited with his brothers, Leonardo, Donatello, and Michelangelo wore red bandannas to remember him as it was his favorite color. Once Raphael returned, he became the sole turtle to wear red and Leonardo, Donatello, and Michelangelo wore their respective colors of blue, purple, and orange (implied to be their favorites).
Unlike in the Mirage comics, Splinter did not initially train the Turtles in ninjutsu for revenge against Shredder, since he did not discover that Shredder was still alive until their training was over.
In this incarnation, Oroku Saki and Hamato Yoshi were a part of the Hamato Clan. The two were rivals, but two never fought more over anything than over the love of Tang Shen. However, she chose Yoshi and the two married. They had a child named Miwa together. One day, after learning his true identity, Saki came into their home carrying claw-like weapons attached to his arms (he later gained the title the Shredder) and started a fight with Yoshi. A fire was started, in which Tang Shen perished and Saki became bald and disfigured. Saki stole Miwa in the confusion, renamed her Karai, and raised her as his adopted daughter, as he began rebuilding the Foot Clan.
Seeking to start a new life while respecting Tang Shen's wish to see America, Yoshi fled to New York City, where he bought himself four baby turtles. On the way to his apartment, he bumped into what appeared to be a strange man. Sensing something odd about him, he followed him and found himself in front of a meeting between the Kraang. The Kraang attacked, but he defeated them. A canister full of a strange ooze hit Yoshi and turtles, causing them to mutate. As Yoshi had stepped on a rat as he was spying on the Kraang, he ended up transforming into a giant anthropomorphic rat, while the baby turtles, since they had been in contact with human hands, ended up rapidly evolving into humanoid forms.
He took the name the turtles gave him, Splinter, and taught ninjutsu for self-protection of the outside world. He gave the names of four Renaissance artist: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael.
This Incarnation took thirteen years before the turtles were mutated. Many years ago, Oroku Saki was a leader of a peaceful clan called the Foot. One day, chaos emerge from the depths. To save his clan Saki made a deal with an oni, which it was a krang, with a powerful suit of armor that would make him invincible. But the armor corrupted his soul turning Saki into a terrible nightmarish demon called the Shredder. Karai, Saki's daughter developed the Hamato clan to fight him. Karai sacrificed herself to banish Shredder and herself into the Twlight Realm.
500 years later, when Yoshi is a child, his mother Atsuko left to defend the world when the Shredder will return. Yoshi was left alone with his grandfather Sho and he was never been the same ever since.
As an adult Yoshi, became a movie star that goes by the name Lou Jitsu. There he meets Big Mama who was watching him. They went on a date together for the next few days until one night when Yoshi talks to her into marrying her Big Mama reveals herself as a Jorogumo Yokai and captures him to make him fight many monsters at Battle Nexus.
Later on, Huginn and Muninn are assisted to be Draxum's gargoyles and they kidnapped Yoshi his lab. There, Yoshi meets the infant turtles in the box. Draxum mutates them to be the strongest warriors, but Yoshi won't allow it. He destroys the lab and he saved the turtles along with the other Yokai trapped inside, but he got mutated into a sewer rat thanks to the mutagen that splattered on him. With the lab destroyed Draxum knew it was gonna take years to build it.
Above the surface, Yoshi was unwilling to return to the Yōkai world that had exploited him, and unable to return to his human world, With his new sons, Yoshi took the turtle children partway underground to the sewers of New York City where he set up a lair for them to live in. The turtles were not only to be raised as Yoshi's own sons, but the mutations had in fact made them biologically related to him as well as to each other through him.
- The origin of the Turtles borrows elements from the origin of the Marvel Comics superhero Daredevil: an old man crossing the street, an out of control truck carrying radioactive isotopes, a young man pushing the old man out of harm's way. The only difference in plot is the isotope hitting the four baby turtles, instead of the young man near the eyes.