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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Shonen Duet: Naruto GN 67 and One Piece GN 72

Today, I'm tackling two Weekly Shonen Jump titles at the same time: the newest English releases of Naruto and One Piece. 
I would have had Bleach in the mix, but as far as I can tell, volume 62 hasn't been released yet. Which is a shame, as the cover for that book looks great.
Naruto volume 67 by Masashi Kishimoto: Obito has shocked the ninja world by absorbing Ten Tails into himself and transforming into the ultimate jinchuriki. But what is the extent of Obito’s power, and can he even control it? Naruto and Sasuke will have to team up with the revived Hokage to even stand a chance!
This volume is basically more fighting between the allied ninja forces and Obito, who has now become a bigger threat after becoming Ten Tails' schizophrenic jinchuriki and putting his plan of destroying the known world. In response, Naruto and Sasuke and the once dead Hokage make the most unlikely team as they pull out all the stops with improved techniques, pausing occasionally to bicker as they often do.

If anything, this volume should be appreciated for showing why Naruto is one of the most powerful and sought after ninja in his generation. He's the one who figures out how to use his chakra to his advantage while keeping his comrades safe, the one who realizes what kind of jutsu will work against Super Tails Obito, and he's the one whose overwhelming amount of chakra and sage power end up turning the tide in the war. Even when the book pokes at Naruto's own characteristic forgetfulness and clumsiness, it's never in a way that undercuts how damn good he's grown since his pre-skip years.
However, the lighthearted moments of Naruto interacting with the past Hokage and his own tailed spirit is overshadowed by all the fighting. Naturally, fighting is a major part of a war between ninja, but the scenes are messily spread across the page. It's a bit overwhelming to read, with all the action crammed into every panel. I know Kishimoto is capable of injecting useful introspection or character history into a busy scene, and this volume would have benefited from such a breather.
Plus, now that the action has shifted from the allied forces to Naruto, Sasuke, the Hokage and Obito, the other characters seem a bit useless. They end up standing around and hoping they can be saved when things get serious. The only one who arguably gets into the action is Shikamaru, who manages to organize things on a ground level and show that he could be a capable Hokage if he wanted it.
It's a messy but important volume to read, and if you don't like Sasuke or the Hokage you won't enjoy how much of the spotlight they keep hogging. But it looks like the long fight against Obito is nearing a close, bar some unforeseen eleventh hour play by Obito to keep it going. But I know it won't happen!
One Piece volume 72 by Eiichiro Oda: Dressrosa's Forgotten: Luffy and his crew arrive in the kingdom of Dressrosa where Doflamingo has prepared a clever trap for them. Can Trafalgar Law get them out of trouble? And will Luffy win the fighting tournament and claim the prize, his late brother’s Flame-Flame Fruit?
The latest volume of One Piece is as frantic and fast-paced as Naruto, but it benefits from having a story that is spread across several fronts: Luffy in the tournament, Trafalgar Law handing over Caesar, Usopp in the land of the little people, Sanji being Sanji, and an attack on the Thousand Sunny. It seems like a mess, but Oda is used to it, and makes it palatable.
Just like Naruto, there is a lot of action in this volume of One Piece, but it dips between comedic and exciting—and usually with the same amount of blood in both. The best fight scenes are when Luffy (err, Lucy) takes to the arena to fight for Ace's Flame-Flame Fruit and makes mincemeat out of his opponents while struggling to keep his identity a secret. At this point, it's no secret who he is if you're paying attention, but that's the beauty of this series: most people don't pay attention long enough to figure it out.
We also get a fair amount of humor when Usopp and Nico Robin stumble across the Tontatta Kingdom, populated by the most wee of folk who eat up Usopp's lies about being descended from royalty and rope the hapless sniper into being their hero as they fight to destroy the Don Quixote family. Oh, Usopp. When will you learn?
There is also a bunch of visual gags, especially with several Strawhats' faces turned into terrible works of art and Franky's non-disguise as he walks through town. It helps to bring levity to a situation that grows more serious with each chapter, from the revelation of the truth behind the toys of Dressrosa to the backstory of Rebecca the beautiful gladiator who has become attached to Luffy. Just like in Punk Hazard, everything cute and whimsical in this series has a dark side.
Compared to Naruto, the latest volume of One Piece is much more enjoyable and respectful of its ensemble cast. There is never a point at which one plot line threatens to overshadow all others. Put plainly, it's a very fun and valuable addition to the series that manages to be classic One Piece while possibly rewriting how we see several major plot elements, such as the World Government, at the same time.
Naruto volume 68 will be out in December. One Piece 73 won't be out until next year, in January.