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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Nine Jinchuriki, Five Kage, One Neon Ninja

Reading Masashi Kishimoto's Naruto Volumes 59-62
Post contains spoilers for the above volumes of Naruto and the current story arc as a whole.
Now aligned with the tailed beasts and his fellow jinchûriki hosts more than ever, Naruto impresses the Allied Shinobi Forces with his newfound strength. But his comrades are not going to leave this final battle with the forces of Tobi up to Naruto alone. As they rush to assist their friend, Sasuke returns. And this time, he’s intent on taking out Naruto once and for all. (Source: Viz Media)
In case you haven't been keeping up with the ongoing adventures of Naruto Uzumaki and his ninja friends, here's a quick and dirty recap: the entire ninja world is at war with Kabuto's zombie army, while Madara/Tobi makes his own moves to put the world into a permanent illusion via a devious genjutsu of his. Nothing is peaceful, everything is in disarray, but good news, the kunai industry is probably making a hell of a profit keeping everyone armed to the teeth on both sides.

Having unlocked his Sage powers while training with Killer Bee, Naruto has blasted his way onto the battlefield and become a powerful assistance for the allied forces. Meanwhile, Sasuke broods in the shadows, getting ready to throw his weight around in this battle and destroy Konoha once and for all. The allied forces already have their hands full, however, since Kabuto's army of undead ninja include some seriously strong powerhouses, such as Gaara's father and Madara Uchiha.
We are now in the sixty-plus numbered range of volumes for Naruto, and this series has shown no signs of slowing down or losing focus. Kishimoto knows exactly what he is doing with his precious shonen baby and it shows. We're seeing all the various ninjas from the all related villages doing what they do best, whether it is recon or defense or healing, giving depth to a cast of characters that has ballooned over the past twenty-thirty volumes like never before, especially post-time skip.
For a story arc that is a lot of fighting, there is an incredible amount of character development, whether it's Naruto or any of the five sage leaders, or even more antagonistic characters like Kabuto and Sasuke and Itachi. War has turned part of the narrative very introspective, forcing certain people to look deep inside themselves and reexamine why they do the things they do. It ends up humanizing characters like Kabuto, who so far has been a power-hungry ex-lackey with no real back story or depth until we as readers get a revealing glimpse into his childhood and the events that brought him into deep dark congress with the pale-skinned snake ninja, Orochimaru, who even when he was 'good' looked like bad news.
We also see an unlikely but opportune relationship grow between Naruto and Kurama, the nine-tailed fox that lives within the young man's body. Considering that most people would considering housing a biju who has a history of violence in their body for their entire lives a major imposition to say the least, the fact that Naruto and Kurama have truly bonded is a surprise. Naruto respects Kurama, and vice versa, and this relationship has only caused Naruto's abilities to grow and expand, using the energy of the nine-tailed biju pretty freely against Madara and Tobi.
There is also the relationship between Killer Bee and his own biju, Gyuki, which has been thoroughly explored in other volumes. It serves as a good foil to the relationship between Naruto and Kurama, who have only recently turned a symbiotic relationship into something more beneficial for both of them. Also, it seems interesting that Killer Bee has never asked Gyuki his name. It's a common trait among Jinchuriki - that is, until Naruto comes along and, as usual, breaks apart the standard quo.
Meanwhile, we see a brotherly reunion as the reanimated body of Itachi meets up with Sasuke and they end up forming an alliance against Kabuto, whose Edotensei jutsu is keeping all the undead ninja alive and fighting against their will. I don't know what hearing the truth about the Uchiha massacre will do to Sasuke's will but it's clear that their encounter has affected the young man. Plus, as Itachi knew all too well, there's only one person on the planet who has the ability to truly change Sasuke's heart - and that is Uzumaki Naruto.
I found the fight scenes amazingly technical but not boring. Everything made sense in the way various jutsus play off against each other, keeping in mind that every ninja has their own unique style and that each village manipulates their surroundings in different ways. Although, I'm sometimes amused at the times that the scene will quickly grind to a halt so Kakashi or some other mentor-type can explain to his colleagues why a jutsu works in such a way or how two random jutsus ended up matching so well. It's like there's a fight scene and a lesson all in one!
I also really liked the use of Naruto's doppelgangers to make himself available across all fronts of the war, and the fact that his energy levels are high enough to support such a draining jutsu for so long. Through his shadow clones, readers are able to be kept abreast of all battles going on between allied ninjas and Kabuto's army, following all of Naruto's split selves in each fight. We were also able to interact more with other allied ninja, like those in the healing tents and fighters like Rock Lee and Hinata and Neji.

Naruto is amazingly solid right now, knocking out volume after volume of pure action and burning through plot at a decent pace. At the end of volume sixty-two we see Naruto, alongside his Konoha colleagues, taking on Tobi and his skillful eyes while the sages take on Madara, who just refuses to die a second time. Meanwhile, Orochimaru is back and apparently has big plans for his ex-pupil, Sasuke, although at least the guy isn't doing all the creepy tongue flicks he used to do. 
Naruto is taking the 'go big or go home' school of writing and running, and doing a good job doing so. I don't know what this series is going to look like when the fighting stops and the dust settles, but I'm looking forward to seeing it.