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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Manga Review: Naruto GN 55

Review warning: Post contains spoilers for Naruto volume 55. Read with caution!

Naruto volume 55
Author: Masashi Kishimoto
Viz Media/Shonen Jump
200 pages

The Great War Begins: Evil masterminds Kabuto and Madara instigate a skirmish with Naruto and friends on Turtle Island. The Allied Shinobi Forces prepare to attack, but are they ready for Kabuto's horde of reanimated dead ninja?!

This feels like the volume that should have came after fifty-three, quality wise. After a rather lackluster and spotty as hell fifty-hour, this latest volume brings back the story-telling and action that marks Kishimoto’s skills as one of the best shonen manga-kas in Weekly Shonen Jump today. With the return of many supporting characters to the main arc and the start of what looks to be a multi-volume ninja war, it’s clear that Naruto is finally back to form.

As Kabuto and Madara’s reanimated army of ninja clash against the forces of pretty much all the combat ninja and kunoichi across the various lands, it is nice to see a lot of familiar faces pop up again. I can’t be the only one who got irrationally excited during the big army scene, seeing who was in which faction and how they looked, right? I bet Naruto wished he wasn’t stuck on Turtle Island, if he knew what was going on.

Also, I love that they made Gaara the leader of the Shinobi forces. It’s a perfect choice – and I think that choice gets a whole hell of a lot of support when Gaara uses his own lineage and village of birth to make his leadership legitimate. It is through Gaara that everyone is able to unite and forgive their differences for the time being, as long as all of their villages are in danger of being wiped out by Madara’s madness. He really is the best leader for this wartime.

As for Naruto, it makes sense that he should concentrate on his training and not be told about what is happening outside Turtle Island. I’m sure he’ll get pissed about it later – but let us be real for a moment, what use is him against Madara and Kabuto if he can’t fully harness the power of his nine-tailed biju? Pretty much zip. Plus, it’s nice to see a shonen manga that doesn’t put every other plot line on the back burner while the main character’s training goes on.

Also, fellow SasuNaru shippers, just letting y’all know – Naruto’s main concern after the island flips is to “go home to Konoha and wait for Sasuke”. Let that sweet line sink in, shipping sister. And then try not to hit anyone as you flail around. Other than that, sadly, not much SasuNaru subtext to be found in this volume.

Really, the action scenes in this volume are pretty top-notch. There’s a lot of tactical warfare and amazing jutsus flying about, and in the middle of that two beloved characters straight out of Team Seven’s first official mission come back just to make every long-term fan die a little inside. God, every scene with Zabusa and Haku feels like Kishimoto gleefully twisting the knife (kunai?) still in my heart from a story arc that hasn’t been relevant for 40+ volumes. Ugh, stop that.

Based on the last page – with Gaara and his hundreds if not thousands of ninjas standing behind him – volume fifty-six will continue on with the flying and fighting and full-on chaos that is a ninja war at its core. And if Kishimoto keeps it up, it shall be glorious.

PS - Anyone else think that Gaara taking a position of power during a major war is foreshadowing Naruto's eventual Hokage position? Considering that their narratives are pretty parallel at this point in regards to acceptance and personal legitimacy within their own communities, it's not a far off guess. Unless Kishimoto blows us all away and has Naruto walk away from the Hokage position and Konoha at large.