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Friday, July 18, 2014

Book Sprites: Two Shonen, One Reaction

Some times, you have time to write a 1,000+ word review of a single book. Some times, you just don't. For those times, we have Book Sprites, compact book reviews for the discerning reader with no time to lose.
Spoilers for recent events in Naruto and One Piece lay beyond this point!
I've got the newest volumes of Naruto and One Piece, so this post is Shonen Jump heavy. They have two things in common: they're both from long-running shonen series in WSJ and their respective new books are decent but not mind-bendingly fantastic. Although, for two series that have handily passed past fifty volumes and still go on, it's not a bad thing to have less than awesome books.
Naruto volume 66 by Masashi Kishimoto. This volume has the much heralded return of Team Seven: Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura. And while the reunion involves a lot of epic moments in ninja technique and really shows the levels that Sakura and Sasuke have reached since the time skip, it lacks a bit of the emotional resonance I was hoping for.
Then again, there's no time on the battlefield to group hug and talk about the past, especially when Obito and Madara are on the defense. It's a real action packed book, split between the Allied Shinobi Forces versus Madara's army and the duel between Kakashi and Obito. A lot of the action shows why these particular ninja are fighting on behalf of the world's safety; their skills are second to none, whether it is Hinata's Sixty-Four Palms or the Kuchiyose summoning or Shikamaru's expert tactics skills.
It's very fast paced and I think characters like Kakashi and Sakura and the revived Hokages really shined in these chapters. But there was not a lot of moments outside of the fighting, and I was looking for more in the Team Seven reunion, and that plus the poorly laid out chapter art (poor Naruto gets swallowed up in the gutter space for Chapter 632's color splash art!) makes this a good but not great installment of Naruto.
One Piece volume 71 by Eiichiro Oda. On the other hand, we have the seventy-first volume of One Piece, which is starting up a new arc after the end of the Punk Hazard arc. We are still in the company of Trafalgar Law and Caesar and Doflamingo and the Foxfire family, but the stage has shifted to Dressrosa, which is a bizarre place in itself.
In Dressrosa, living toys walk among the humans and live with them, romancing a woman can get a guy killed, and people live to die in the Corrida Coliseum. Only now, the newest prize for the gladiators of the Coliseum is a rare item that has significant emotional weight with Luffy - the Flame-Flame Fruit, the very fruit that Ace ate years ago. Naturally, while part of the Strawhat Crew prepare to hand over Caesar, Luffy goes undercover to win in the coliseum and retrieve the fruit that gave his older brother his powers.
This volume of One Piece is filled with its typical mad cap tropes - fantastically powered atypical characters taking on beefy bullies with ease, Sanji going into cardiac arrest over gorgeous and scantily clad women, Luffy stumbling his way into trouble without any realization of what he's done, and poor Nami attempting to keep this wayward group of misfits from losing their heads in the process. Plus, all of the Strawhats are wearing ridiculous disguises while in Dressrosa, involving fake facial hair, and it is hilarious (and so obvious that I wonder where the heck the Navy is in all of this and how they haven't been spotted yet).
It's certainly not a boring volume of One Piece, but it is rather busy and very fast paced. It is hard to get a good feel for any of the dozen or so new characters Eiichiro Oda introduces in Dressrosa, although I really like the gladiator Rebecca and Cavendish amuses me (partly because he shares a surname with a cyclist who would probably find at least one thing in common with the White Knight pirate). But it is fun, and at this point in One Piece, after the Paramount War and the death of Ace and the heartbreak of the children on Punk Hazard, we could use a bit of fun with our pirate manga.