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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Manga Review: Naruto GN 54; Bleach GN 38; One Piece GN 60

It seems like fate (or perhaps hitsuzen) that I should get volumes of the holy trinity of Weekly Shonen Jump titles at the same time, right? So naturally, I’ll review them all in the same post!

Review warning: Post contains spoilers for Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece's latest volumes. Read on with caution!

Naruto volume 54
Author: Masashi Kishimoto
Viz Media/Shonen Jump
192 pages

Viaduct To Peace: Naruto and his team engage in an intense battle with the Akatsuki organization as both sides seek the power to determine the future of their land. Internecine fighting weakens the Akatsuki, but will their dark forces sideline Naruto?

Maybe the previous volume set my expectations too high, but this latest book was only pretty good. Considering how much is going on at this point in the story, however, ‘pretty good’ isn’t good enough. 

For a story that should be going full-steam into an oncoming ninja war, it’s being hampered by a bloated cast and too much going on at once. Kishimoto is having a hell of a time juggling all his characters and plot threads, and it shows.

Having said that, there are quite a few things to love about the fifty-fourth volume of Naruto. Really! Like the fight between Gai-sensei and Kisame. It’s been a while since we’ve really seen Gai-sensei fight, so seeing him beat the lights out of Kisame was nice. And then – bam! – flashback time and suddenly we are given a view of Kisame we’ve never had before. Flashbacks are probably the best part of this series, highlighting one of Kishimoto’s strengths: giving characters necessary layers through looking at their past, especially if they are coded as villains.

For example, the flashbacks with Konan and her team were absolutely lovely and heartbreaking at the same time. And those little frog suits were adorable. That last shot of the overgrown headquarters with the three tiles was just . . . guh. No words.

However, the rest of the volume seems really messy. A ton of characters pop up to take a piece of the action while Naruto is shuffled to the side for his own protection. That doesn’t really work, considering Naruto is supposed to be the heart of the series. As a denouement for an all-out ninja war, the rushed pacing and frenzy of characters puts a damper on what could have been a terrific collection of chapters.

Bleach volume 38
Author: Tite Kubo
Viz Media/Shonen Jump
200 pages

Fear for Fight: The Soul Reapers must guard the four pillars that are protecting Karakura Town from destruction at the hands of Aizen's minions. Standing guard are assistant captains Yumichika, Kira, Hisagi and Ikkaku! But when Ikkaku goes down, will Karakura Town fall with him...?!

Bleach was actually worse than Naruto by comparison. It was such a ‘meh’ volume, I can’t think of much to mention about it. The problem is that it was nothing but fights. Nothing but fights. And you might think that works in a shonen series, but not when there is any plot advancement to be seen because of said fights. 

Yes, we had one pillar collapse. Yes, we’re seeing a lot of Aizen’s Fracciónes get in on the action. But that is about it. And that’s not much to stretch across one volume of manga.

There are a lot of new, second-tier villain types now running around, all with exotic-type names and I frankly can’t keep track of them. Besides, knowing Kubo, we won’t have much time to get to know them before Seireitei’s finest blows them away. Speaking of which, we’re also seeing a lot of new ban kais and hados/kidos that happen to perfectly combat their handler’s combat partner. Like how Kira’s hado makes things heavier as he slashes – like his enemy’s wings! How serendipitous.

Still, reading Madarame and his Division squabble over his failure to keep his pillar standing up was actually pretty nice. I do enjoy reading division dynamics play out on the page, so Madarame and Komamura’s conversation was a breath of fresh air in a hopelessly lifeless volume.

We can go back to Ichigo’s fight soon, right? Or maybe do some serious plot hurrying up? Because at this rate, I’ll be out of community college by the time all of Aizen’s cronies are defeated.

One Piece volume 60
Author: Eiichiro Oda
Viz Media/Shonen Jump
208 pages

With the epic Paramount War now over, the scene shifts back to when a young Luffy first met Ace. Luffy, Ace and their friend Sabo get into all types of trouble as they grow up in a tumultuous time. Then, back in the present, Luffy will need to find the strength to recover from the loss of his brother.

And then we have the sixtieth volume of One Piece – which was absolutely wonderful. After some lackluster volumes of shonen, Oda brought exactly what I needed at the right time. The previous volume brought along the end of a great war as well as an era in the golden age of pirates. With this volume, it is the beginning of a brand new era – with pirates like Luffy at the very forefront of it all. The greatest tragedy of it all, of course, being that it came out of the death of two great men: Whitebeard and Luffy’s own brother, Ace.

But before we can get to this new era, Oda walks us through the rest of the flashbacks concerning Luffy, Ace, and their childhood friend Sabo. These chapters aren’t arbitrary looks into their pasts; they bring some real context to their lives as well as upcoming events. Plus, wee Luffy is just adorable as a bucket of kittens. Rubbery kittens, that is. But if Luffy and Ace’s story doesn’t at least pull at your heart a little¸ you are probably a robot. And not the good, Franky kind (okay, he’s a cyborg, but whatever).

Then we get back to the present, in which the gears of the world are already moving even with the absence of Luffy, who is still hidden away of the island of women. His realization that he is not alone even after the death of Ace and that he still has his straw hat crew. Speaking of his crew, we get to see what everyone’s been up to since they split up several volumes ago. I think my favorite ‘post time skip’ characters right now are Usopp and Nico Robin. And Franky, just because. Although I really hope Usopp loses all that extra weight soon, or else they’ll be using him as a cannonball. Whoops.

So, here’s why Oda does denouement volumes better than Kishimoto. Despite his huge – and I do mean huge – cast list, I was able to follow the story more with One Piece than I was in Naruto. Plus, Oda is doing a better job developing his verse’s politics and world-building. And now that Luffy has made a bold statement ushering in a new era of piracy, one can only imagine what kind of world Oda will be introducing us to in the next couple of volumes. Something spectacular, that’s for sure.

And to think, Eiichiro Oda is only halfway done with his planned story. Wow.