NARUTO by Masashi Kishimoto:
(reviewer’s note: This is based on the first 5 books) of the manga which means that a few months from now, this will probably be edited, if not completely re-written.)
– Serialised in Shounen Jump
– Series ongoing
– Licensed by Viz under Shounen Jump
STORY: (Reviewer’s note: In doing research for this review, I discovered that Naruto is indeed far more popular than I had feared which means that about 1 out of every 3 people who will read this will probably be offended at some point or other. Please forgive me and remember that this is a review which means that it’s based on what the reviewer thinks. Please also take into consideration the fact that this is the first ever very-undeniably-shounen manga review done by a very shoujo person so I’m just trying my best. Thanks.)
Many years ago, the mountain village of Konoha was devastated by a nine-tailed demon. To destroy it, the village gathered ninjas together to battle the demon and in the end, one ninja, known as the Fourth Hokage, gave up his life to seal away the powers of the fox demon within a young boy: Uzumaki Naruto. Naruto, a boisterous pest with a good heart who dreams to someday be Hokage, the strongest ninja in the village. After nearly failing his pre-ninja exams, he is set in a team with Uchiha Sasuke, his number one rival, and Haruno Sakura, his number one crush (being that HE has a crush on HER) to fufill tasks set by their mysterious, but amusing, training master Hatake Kakashi. But unbeknownst to his team, minus Kakashi (who really isn’t on the team anyway, but who wants to get technical?), Naruto’s a lot stronger and fated for much more than his big mouth lets on.
How many times have we seen this? Boy of not-so-appealing personality has amazing strength that only those priviledged few know of, but meanwhile, he gets tossed into a lot of situations where he can fight and practice some really interesting logic while he struggles to reach the goal of being the best. Naruto is one of those slow-fast series. The main storyline moves slow, hindered by an abundance of characters, who make up for the fast and furious action scenes. Kishimoto, however, balances the fast and the slow rather well, so there’s not much time for boredom, minus the few times that the dialogue just gets garbly and leaves the reader with their mouth hanging open hoping that maybe the addresse will punch the addresser just to spice things up. The one thing so far that sets Naruto apart from other standard shounen series about being “the best(!!!)” is the amount of drama that Kishimoto tosses in. The amounts of angst are almost enough to satisfy a shoujo manga. Don’t get me wrong though – this is not Neon Genesis Evangelion. Yet, while this setup has been seen a million times and then some in the anime.manga world, Naruto is strangely addictive. This is to be blamed upon the humour, which ranges from the usual perverted humour (Kakashi reading his “Make-Out Paradise” – or “Come Come Paradise” depending on your translator – novels is probably my favorite.) to you usual simply insulting the other party humour, as well as the strange diversity of the cast. It’s these two factors that really keep this series alive and kicking….no pun intended.
CHARACTERS: (there are approximately 123 more characters than mentioned but here are the main heroes of the story)
– Uzumaki Naruto: A hyper, happy go lucky, loud, annoying but goodhearted ninjutsu student and failure as a person in the eyes of villagers who ignore him because of the demon that is within him. But against all odds, he pursues his dream of becoming Hokage, unaware that he’s destined for much more than he can imagine. He’s like a young Soichirou Nagi (from Tenjyou Tenge), really, and yes, righteously annoying, but eventually lovable. He’s very devoted when it comes to his friends. He’s got a major thing for Haruno Sakura, while he’s at it all….
– Uchiha Sasuke: The top student of Konoha’s Ninjutsu Academy. Being a loner who has all the right bishounen looks makes him the undisputed target of all the girls in the Academy’s affections, Haruno Sakura included. But Sasuke’s mind is far from girls as he strives to reach his own goal of avenging the horrible murders of his clan. Sasuke, like Naruto, his “main rival, has a great amount of untapped power, but he is more aware of his capabilities than Naruto.
– Haruno Sakura: A conflicted, emotional, generally quite messed up, but friendly kunoichi in training. Sakura’s usually putting on a front, allowing her “inner Sakura” to display her true feelings and judgements. She is weak in ninjutsu, but, of the three, has the best control over her chakra. Though the owner of a brilliant mind which comes in handy for written things, she is often blinded from peforming her best by Sasuke, with whom she is completely enamoured.
– Hatake Kakashi: The teacher (jounin) in charge of the Naruto/Sasuke/Sakura team. He is the sole Konoha possessor of a powerful eye which allows his to “see” things in battle. Known quite well in the world of ninjas, he is rumoured to have copied 1000 jutsus as well as never allowed anyone to become a genin. When not on the battefield or training the team, Kakashi is laid-back and somewhat cheerful, but he is a huge believer in teamwork and determination.
ART: Shounen art for a shoujo.image junkie is the complete end of the spectrum and in many cases, very hard to stand. In the case of Naruto, the artwork is no more brilliant than Dragonball Z. Sweaty bodies, lots of blood, snotty noses, mangled faces….Kishimoto does not hold back in showing the goriest of gore and ugliest of ugly. Being that it’s an action manga, there are plenty of fight scenes, but the actions seem stiff on paper instead of fliud, like a ninja’s should be. There’s nothing very particular about the artwork in general and the focus is more on story than art. However, when taking into concern how Kishimoto uses his artwork to tell the story, it is a very different matter. His panels are well placed to reflect the emotion of the scene at hand (example: Naruto yelling at a “bad guy” in book 4 after their big battle.) and though his drawings don’t emote as well as his storytelling, it certainly tries well, but serves its purpose as best it can.
PERSONAL THOUGHTS (highlight whited out areas for spoilers): The overwhelming popularity of Naruto kept me from getting into it for a while. All those pairings you see everywhere….sigs all over forums. Just….overwhelming. What first got me thinking that I should give it a chance, surprisingly, was the gorgeous first ending song “Wind”, which a friend graciously played for me. I drove down home for Thanksgiving from my university with said friend and the only reading material he had was Naruto, so I decided…why not? How bad could it be?
I’m glad I gave it a chance. While Naruto is not my favorite manga ever and probably never will be, the story is much more intriguing than I had expected. The battles are intense and I’m not totally fond of Kishimoto’s characters’ logic. But at least they’re thinking. While I had expected myself, the shoujo lover, to be drawn to Sasuke, the obvious bishounen, as my favorite character, I found myself enjoying the character of Kakashi far more (and even more so that little dog he summons in the 4th (or 3rd…can’t remember anymore) that hangs off of Zabuza’s badge) while Sasuke, to me, is this…weird little boy. Another surprise for me in Naruto was the amount of angst and emotion that Kishimoto puts into his work. Haku’s death and when Naruto yells at Zabuza about it until Zabuza is crying was actually quite touching. It’s not something I had expected to find in Naruto.
As I wait for the next few books to come out, I’m expecting a lot of page skipping with myself only in the part where they’re about to enter some forest o’ doom or other. I was never one who could stand artless action scenes, or perhaps I’m just too used to the balletic grace of Tenjyou Tenge’s battles. But this is a story that keeps you wanting to know what’s going to happen next. It’s addictive. No wonder it’s so popular. Who knows, perhaps this self-spoken shoujo girl will even learn to love her first strictly shounen series since Dragonball Z (And yes, I loved that manga until it was totally ripped apart by American publication.). We’ll see and I’m certainly looking forward to it.
SHOUNEN JUMP (VIZ) EDITION ADDITIONS: With the exception of some censored bits (i.e. the changing of Kakashi’s book titles to something less…suggestive, perhaps), change of dialogue from something that used to make sense to extreme loud pointless ( It’s a fact that” I’m going to defeat you!!” sound so dumb all the time? So why do they insisting on changing pretty much every 5th line to that, if not an elliptical version?), and some power yelling differences ( Apparently, “Valentine’s Technique” was changed from “Mind Transfer Technique”, with the latter making much more sense.) the editing it pretty well done. It’s just a pity that dialogue had to be skewed to make it more “action appealing”, I guess it would be called.
Undeniably, the most annoying part of the Viz publication is the little arrow that reminds the reader every 3 pages or so to read from right to left with its “Read this way” message. With that tiny arrow requiring a giant blank space at the top of the page to accompany it, the panels have probably all been shrunk to accomdate it and it’s very distracting from both story and artwork.