Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Review – Naruto Volume 28

Written by – Masashi Kishimoto
Art by – Masashi Kishimoto
Published by – Viz Media

It’s been two years since Naruto left to train with Jiraiya. Now he reunites with his old friends to find out he’s still not the most accomplished of his former team mates. But when ones of them are kidnapped, it’s up to Naruto to prove he’s still got the stuff to save them!

I know that the above will mean absolutely nothing to 99.9% of the people reading this review but please stick with it, Naruto is one of my geek loves and I thought it was about time that I spread the love around a bit.
As a comic fan you get used to people looking at you strangely more often and not conversations I have with the general populace go
Stranger - So what are you into?
Nick - I like reading comics.
Stranger - really (incomprehension painted all over their face) aren’t they just for kids? Anyway did you see the football/rugby/any other sport last weekend?
Nick - sigh (and I get stuck in a one way conversation for the next hour over the merits of the Welsh rugby team).
So you can imagine what throwing an obscure Japanese manga series into the mix does, that sh*t really blows peoples minds.
So what the hell is Naruto? I hear the one person still reading cry. Please allow me to explain.
Naruto Uzumaki is a very unhappy twelve year old boy, orphaned, shunned and mistreated by the rest of his village he day dreams of one day becoming a ninja and ultimately the Hokage (village leader). But the villagers have a very good reason for the way they treat Naruto, twelve years ago the village of The Hidden Leaf Village was attacked by the Nine Tailed Demon Fox. In a bid to save the village the Fourth Hokage sacrificed himself by sealing the demon in the new born Naruto. The Third Hokage then forbade any mention of the attack by the Nine Tailed Fox; naturally the villagers were angry at the death and devastation wrought by the demon and ultimately take out all their fear and loathing on the young Naruto.
The first part of the story follows Naruto as he trains to become a ninja, along the way he befriends the two other members of Team 7 Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno. Under the guidance of team leader Kakashi Hatake Team 7 must learn new abilities to aid them on their quest to become fully fledged ninjas and Naruto’s ultimate dream of being Hokage.

Boiled down to its essence it’s easy to write of Naruto off as a simple coming of age story but this is manga/anime your dealing with people so there’s a hell of a lot more going on than first meets the eye.
I first came across Naruto about four years ago whilst searching on the website TV.com were it was consistently number 1 in it’s top 10 list of cartoons. Now I’m a sucker for a good cartoon or anime so taking a chance I managed to get hold of the first twenty or so episodes of Naruto and that as they say was that. My obsession lasted all summer, I watched the first 200 episodes back to back, even when I hit the 170 mark and the English dubbed versions ran out I ploughed on with the English subbed versions till I reached the final 200th episode.
Highlights of the first 200 episodes for me were the team from the Village Hidden in the Sand made up of siblings Gaara, Kankuro and Temari. To say that these kids are messed up is an understatement and you really do have to see some of the stuff that Gaara pulls to believe it.

Another winner for me is the bushy browed one himself Rock Lee who is quite frankly a ridiculous character, but he does manage to kick all kinds of ass - spectacularly.

Unfortunately at that point real life took hold and Naruto disappeared from my life until about two weeks ago. Whilst on Twitter a tweet popped up that someone had read and enjoyed the first volume of Naruto so after a quick search on the web I managed to work out that after watching 200 episodes of the anime I was up to volume 28 of the manga (there are a lot of filler episodes in the anime). Well who could resist, certainly not me, a quick click and I was on Amazon ordering volume 28 for an earth shattering price of £4. So I waited with baited breath for the postman to deliver the book, would Naruto be as good as I remembered or had I gone slightly mad back in the summer of 2007.  
The answer to this question is both yes and no.
Volume 28 picks up 2 years after the end of episode 200; Naruto has been away travelling with Jiraiya and returns to the Village of the Hidden Leaf seemingly a changed person. The young hot headed boy has been replaced by a more thoughtful teenager but a quick reveal of his sexy jutsu (don’t ask) shows that the changes may just be superficial. There are two main stories running through volume 28, the first deals with Kakashi testing both Naruto and Sakura to see how far their skills have progressed in two years. This nicely mirrors the first test from the beginning of Naurto and acts a reminder as to what has come before and shows how much Naruto and Sakura have developed. The second story is perhaps the more interesting of the two and shows the kidnapping of Gaara by the mysterious Akatsuki organisation. Overall I enjoyed the book but I had a nagging doubt at the back of my mind that it wasn’t quite as good as I remembered it after all this was the first volume of Naruto I had actually read. To me Naruto is a very visual show the jutsu’s (special moves) are great to watch and the fights and there are a lot of them, sometimes go on for five or more episodes. Unfortunately the book felt a bit static to me and it just didn’t catch the visual flair of the anime. Also there androgynous nature of some of the characters is confusing, I was convinced that one of the members of the Akatsuki sent to kidnap Gaara was a woman but in fact it turns out that he/she is in fact a he.  Another problem I had was with Kankuro who looks exactly like his brother Gaara when stripped of his makeup and head gear, I got really mixed up at a point in the book,  just who had been kidnapped -Gaara - and who was in hospital poisoned – Kankuro - who I thought was Gaara – arhhhhhhhh.
Undaunted by this disappointment and with a stroke of good fortune I have managed to get hold of Naruto Shippuden (the new name for the anime after episode 200 and denotes the two year break) and I have watched the first three episodes and once again I am totally and utterly hooked. The anime does a brilliant job of capturing the books but it magnifies everything that’s great about them by about 100%.

Final thoughts
After reading volume 28 I am at last able to contrast and compare the two sources and I am falling down squarely on the side of the anime, this I realise may be sacrilegious to some people but frankly I don’t care, each to there own  I say. So when someone asks me what I like I’ll say oh I watch a little known Japanese anime series called Naruto, it’s all about a boy who has got a Nine Tailed Demon Fox sealed in him and if they start waffling on about football/rugby I will unleash my Shadow Clone Jutsu on them. Believe it!!!!!!!

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