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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Manga Review: Naruto GN 68

Naruto volume 68
Author: Masashi Kishimoto
Viz Media/Shonen Jump
192 pages
Spoilers for the current arc of Naruto, up to chapter 657.
Path: Even as the Shinobi Alliance’s resolve begins to falter in the face of Obito’s overwhelming power, Naruto refuses to give in. But how can he turn the tables with the odds so stacked against him? Can Naruto and Sasuke work together long enough to lead the ninja world to victory?!
The first 90 percent of this volume of Naruto is pretty good. We have shinobi working across village and country lines against Obito, Naruto and Sasuke teaming up yet again in the name of saving the ninja world, and a good amount of action in every chapter. It's a shame the last ten percent had me wanting to throw the thing across the room. Basically, Kishimoto decided that one final boss wasn't enough. No, he added yet another one. And at that point, I nearly screamed.
In this book, all of the action quickly boils down to the fight between Team Naruto and Sasuke versus Team Obito. It's obvious that both Naruto and Sasuke's powers have blossomed in unfathomable ways since they last fought, and their abilities joined together is hard to beat.

It helps that, even after years of forced animosity, Naruto and Sasuke still have their old teamwork dynamics. Kishimoto definitely remembers, and it shows in every Naruto/Sasuke scene that these are two people who trained and fought together in the past and haven't forgotten how the other works. They work in sync and it's a joy to read after volumes of their relationship being in turmoil.
Another enjoyable bit is how Kishimoto manages to fully humanize Obito, who is revealed to have more inner conflict than previously realized. And that is what is great about Kishimoto's antagonists; he makes them real people, with believable ambitions and internal problems so they become more than cartoonish villains. It's sad, because in another world, Obito and Naruto could have been seriously good friends, perhaps a mentor/student relationship like Naruto and Kakashi and Iruka.
I actually thought at first the scenes of Naruto and Obito inside Obito's mindscape while the other shinobi fought to pull out the jinchuriki was ridiculous, and in a way, it is. It's very shonen – a lot of passionate speeches about emotions and heart and doing the right thing and an obligatory shout out to the "ninja way" that Naruto has stayed steadfast to since the beginning. But even through all of that cheese, there's a real heart to it.
Unfortunately, this is another volume where, beyond pulling the tailed spirit out, the other shinobi don't really serve a greater narrative purpose. They are bodies in motion, working on Naruto and the dead Hokage's commands but we don't get a greater feel for any of them as characters. Shikamaru's revival leads to him getting the only moment outside of Obito and Naruto that highlights a character, but it doesn't last long.
Then Naruto the series pulls everyone's damn leg, switches antagonists, and decides two bad Uchihas are better than one. It makes sense if you believe that people who are bad stay bad, but it speaks poorly of the overall message that everyone can be redeemed if they want to work at it. Plus, it reeks of a senior editor leaning over Kishimoto's shoulder and asking okay, he's going to end the series soon, but does he have to end it now, can't he add just one more final boss?
It's infuriating, after reading Naruto finally beat Obito, which would have been a good enough ending to this arc. It brings the entire book down to a lower level than where it started. Madara is a dick, he uses his ninjutsu like a douchebag, and he is probably my least favorite Uchiha right now. Yes, I might just like Obito and Itachi Uchiha way more than Madara right now. Even after death, Madara is a scene stealing superpowered Gary Stu. I just hope Naruto and Sasuke make short work of him before he turns the tailed beasts into his personal petting zoo.

I'm probably being too harsh on volume 68, but at this point of the series, Masashi Kishimoto should know better. He needs to just let it go and bring it to a better conclusion than throwing villains at the wall and seeing which one sticks. Unless the other shinobi are going to get directly involved in fighting Madara beyond being back-up chakra sources, I am going to be disappointed by this next blip in what is supposed to be the final story arc of Naruto.