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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Manga Review: Naruto GN 57 & 58

Naruto volume 57 & 58
Author: Masashi Kishimoto
Viz Media/Shonen Jump
192 pages (v.57) & 208 pages (v.58)
Madara of the Akatsuki joins the fray on the battlefield. His powerful attacks, and a secret plan, take their toll on the Allied Shinobi Forces. Naruto and Bee rush to help their friends, but the leader of the Cloud Village will do anything to stop Naruto from risking his life—even if he has to fight Naruto to do it! (Source: Goodreads)
Spoiler warning: This review contains spoilers for the 57th and 58th volumes as well as the current story arc of the Naruto manga. Read with caution!
It's the Fourth Great Ninja War and Naruto has started to look like Bleach in the sense that the bodies are hitting the floor at a rapid pace and every corner of the ninja world is part of this struggle. Even as the various villages have allied together to fight the Akatsuki, it's not looking good for our protagonists. That is, until Naruto finally joins the fray. Finally! In these two volumes, Naruto takes back the spotlight and once again rules his own series.

In these books, we see Naruto burst into the War in his own obnoxious, well-meaning way, alongside fellow biju-holder Killer Bee. They somehow manage to convince enough of their colleagues that they should join the fight, even though they know Madara is itching to absorb their biju's powers for his own purposes. Meanwhile, the Allied Shinobi Forces are tackling Madara's army of revived once great ninja, who are less than pleased about being used as puppets for Akatsuki.
There are a lot of great things going on in these books. For example, because all of the villages are involved, we're seeing a lot more of the secondary character cast than usual. We're also seeing more of Konoha's prime ninjas, such as Sakura and Neji and Kiba. Considering how large a cast Kishimoto has created, it's nice to see these characters in their natural surroundings, albeit one brought on by war. Sakura is working hard healing fighters, Neji is using his Byakugan to help out his fellow ninja, Kiba is - well, Kiba. He has his dogs!
It was also nice to see Sakura actually doing something for once. Thank you, Kishimoto! She managed to not only use her medical-nin skills but also her kunoichi skills against Kisame's parasitic doppelgangers. Sure, she's still mooning over Sasuke, but it's not dominating her narrative or keeping her from doing her job. Tsunade would be so proud of her.
We're also getting a lot of development for the back story of some of our favorite jinchuuriki, past and present, especially Killer Bee and Gaara. Although I have to admit, Killer Bee's rapping schtick is starting to grate on the nerves. I can only imagine how difficult it is for Viz's translators to put his raps into English and keep them coherent and still rhyme. Still, to see Killer Bee as a little kid was different - he didn't seem to abhor being a jinchuuriki, welcoming the burden of the biju in his body. Plus, he's such an adorable kid.
Compare Bee with Gaara, who has never wanted the biju inside him. Gaara has spent most of his life thinking he was unloved and unwanted, and that he was cursed to spend his lifetime alone. It made him a monster in the eyes of his fellow villagers and even his father saw him as a failure. Naturally, thanks to Madara, Gaara is forced to face his deceased father, the Fourth Kazekage, on the battlefield and confront his own painful past. Somehow, it turns out less traumatic for everyone involved than I thought it would be! I feel for Gaara. I can only wonder what would have happened if he had grown up with the same support system Naruto did.

I've been really enjoying Naruto so far, especially since the main character has taken back control of the story. We've been seeing ninja fight undead ninja while Kabuto and Madara scheme in the background and the various jinchuuriki fight to keep their biju out of the wrong hands. Naruto has really grown into his newfound abilities and Gaara has stepped up to the plate in a major way as the latest Kazekage; there's no way his father isn't proud of the way his son has grown up. I'm looking forward to reading more about this recent Ninja War and seeing what other tricks Kabuto will throw at Naruto and his allies.