Thursday, 21 May 2015

Naruto 3-in-1 10 (volumes 28-29-30) review (Unread 009)

I was very, very excited to start reading volume 10 of the Naruto 3-in-1 editions. Back when I first started to read Naruto in Shonen Jump, I stopped reading somewhere along volume 29 or so. This means that I my Naruto reread would soon become, well, a read. “New” chapters! How can you not be excited for that?

This omnibus edition contains volumes 28 to 30 which are the first three volumes of Part Two of the entire series. With these volumes Masashi Kishimoto gives himself the task of reintroducing familiar characters after a two and a half years jump forward in time. I really enjoyed these first few chapters. Seeing all these familiar faces and finding new elements added to their character such as slightly different personalities and clothing. It seemed a little odd to feel as though I’m supposed to be pleased and surprised by meeting several characters again. In reality that’s the effect good storytelling has on readers. I care for these characters and it’s great to see them grow and change. I really like that Kishimoto wrote an interlude focusing on a young Kakashi in volume 27 because it contributes to the feeling that time has passed since we last saw Naruto and the rest of the cast.

The first few chapters consist of reuniting some of the characters that split up a couple years ago and showing the reader what has changed since. For starters, everybody from Naruto’s graduating class is now Chuunins, everyone except him, of course. Classic Naruto. It’s also nice to see just how much Sakura has grown in power and skill. Her control of chakra is very impressive and I’m excited for her to become a bigger part of the story. I find that she got sidelined after the Chuunin exam and it’s a shame because I quite like her. I like her more than Sasuke, that’s for sure.

Following the reintroductions, Kishimoto decides to put the story in gear. He begins by announcing that Naruto and Sakura are to reform Team 7 (Team Kakashi) but they will not be equals with Kakashi, not students. You really get the sense that other shinobis are treating them as equals and that we should expect to see how Naruto and Sakura have changed and grown in the next few volumes. It’s really exciting. Kishimoto uses the time jump for all its worth, in my opinion.

For the most part the plot of the book hasn’t really changed. It’s mostly a continuation of what was coming to the forefront in the last few storylines since the Akatsuki were introduced way back in chapter 141 titled “Itachi Uchiha!!”. That was over one hundred chapters ago as Part Two begins with chapter 245. For the most part the time jump allowed Kishimoto to fast forward on power and skills development so that his main characters could actually stand a change in a fight against the powerful members of Akatsuki. I think it’s a pretty great decision because to have shown Naruto, Sakura, and others training and developing their abilities in detailed stories would have taken longer than the two and a half years’ time jump to completed and serialize. Doing so would have distracted from the story that Kishimoto is telling. By doing it this way he makes things feel fresh and exciting for the readers and he gets to focus on stories he wants to tell as opposed to spending a lot of time on training exercises. Those had their place and I enjoyed quite a bit of them in the past but it’s not entirely riveting material when it comes to telling a serialized ninja epic. In all honestly, it’s the kind of move I’d like to see done more often in serialized fiction, not just manga and comics.

Granny Chiyo, a total badass.
One of the last things I want to say about volume 28 is how much I love the changes done with Gaara. He was a very good character before, but he’s been elevated by the changes in his position in the Sand Village. It’s striking to see the transformation he’s had in great part due to Naruto’s influence. Naruto’s personality, attitude, and personal belief in other affect those around him and it’s one of the key elements of the series. It’s great to see how he’s radically changed someone else for better just by spending time with them and helping them cope with an extremely difficult childhood. I won’t say more but it’s an impressive character arc and that’s the reason people love Naruto, it’s not just because of cool ass ninja battles.

Volumes 28 and 29 are also packed with goodies. Two additional members of the Akatsuki are introduced. We get to see Gaara battle with one of them and his brother, Kankuro, battle another. It’s great to see how their powers have increased. Kankuro now uses three puppets at the same time instead of just one. He uses Crow, Salamander, and Ant. He uses his puppets to fight Sasori of the Red Sand, a puppet master who built the Puppet Corps. We also get a much clearer idea of what Akatsuki members are trying to do. Before the time jump Jiraiya thought they were after the nine-tailed fox demon instead Naruto. It was a pretty good guess, but there is more to it. Akatsuki is after all jinchuriki, people who possess any of the tailed demons inside their bodies. We soon learn that they intend to remove the tailed demon and use them for, presumable, nefarious purposes.

You also get nice moments between Gaara and his siblings. They no longer fear him, instead they care and even worry about him. It’s very nice to read and it’s yet another example of interesting character development. These characters aren’t static. Kishimoto is using his time jump to its full extent. For him, it wasn’t simply a storytelling gimmick. It’s a storytelling tool and his making the most of it. This volume also introduces us to the Sand village elders. I particularly like Granny Chiyo and we get quite a few good moments with her in the next volume.

I love that Kishimoto continues to develop and add to his world even after moving forward in his story’s timeline. Rediscovering old characters isn’t enough for him, he continues to add more to the mix and few of them are ever one dimensional. Kishimoto's knack for introducing new characters and reusing them is a source of endless delight and one of the strengths of the series. Throughout all these volumes he still finds time to add little tidbits that further develop the world he's created. The best moments are the Granny Chiyo’s references to the last Great War. I particularly like her fitful attack against Kakashi's mistaking him for the Fourth Hokage nicknamed the White Fang, who killed her son during the war. It’s by having his characters interact in various different combinations that Kishimoto is able to add depth to his world. Chiyo’s connection to Kakashi’s mentor and her connection to the Akatsuki are the highlights of this omnibus.

The final volume collection here is essentially all action. The action is between Granny Chiyo and Sakura who are fighting Sasori of the Red Sand. All three characters are pretty interesting but Granny Chiyo and Sakura are the highlights. Sakura is interesting because she’s still recognizable as her old self but she’s grown up considerably. She’s nervous at the beginning of the fight because she’s unsure she can take on a member of Akatsuki on her own. This nervousness and self-doubt are classic Sakura. Thanks to Granny Chiyo’s help though, she’s able to demonstrate some of her strength and it’s great to see her kick some ass. In volumes 28 and 29 she showed off her medical jutsu knowledge and skill, but in her fight against Sasori she gets to thrown some impressively powerful punches and reveal her new strength. That this strength is the result of impressive character growth inspired by Naruto and Sasuke’s own achievements make it all much more rewarding.

Granny Chiyo is also great in this fight. I do not want to reveal too much so I will only say that she’s a good leader. She applies her skill as a shinobi to great use and she’s able to flawlessly work with Sakura despite having never fought together before. During her fight with Sakura against Sasori we learn a lot about her and her connection with the Hidden Sand village’s history. Like Sakura, she’s also very bad ass and she’s definitively fighting to win. What remains to be seen is if she and Sakura have enough combined strength to take down one of the Akatsuki members. Speaking of Sasori, Kishimoto creates an interesting villain. I won’t say anymore since Akatsuki members are very mysterious and their identity, powers, and motivations are mysteries pretty closely tied to the narrative. I’m sure I’ve already revealed plenty of information about these volumes as it is.

There is also additional action with Kakashi and Naruto beginning their fight with another member of Akatsuki, Deidara, who is responsible for Gaara’s kidnapping with Sasori. There fight mostly teased at because the focus is really on Sakura and Granny Chiyo. I can’t forget to mention Team Guy, led by Might Guy and made up of Neji Hyuga, Rock Lee, and Tenten. They’ve been active in all three of these volumes by supporting Team 7 (Kakashi’s team) in finding Akatsuki’s hidden base and rescuing Gaara. They continue to play that role and I expect they will get pulled deeper in the mission in the following volumes. Their principal fight is against Kisame who wields the Samehada (Shark Skin sword).
Sasori of the Red Sand, a member
of  Akatsuki.

For fans of Naruto, these volumes provide a great example of what makes this series so good. A fantastic combination of world building, original action, character development, and plot progression, all told in stylish visuals. At this point in the series it’s very safe to say that you either like it or you don’t. It’s a step up from the last 3-in-1 volume and it promises to continue building as Part Two progresses.

The only thing I would have liked would have been to spend a little time with Jiraiya and Naruto before they returned to Konoha village. You get the sense that they’ve bonded and become friends. They’ve gone beyond the protégé and mentor relationship. Their budding relationship provided me with some of my favourite movies in the second half of Part One and I wish I could have seen some of that here. They’re a good combination and I’m certain Kishimoto will give us more of it later on. Naruto and Sakura are also a good combo. They’re humorous and strong. I like that it accentuates the parallelism between the Legendary Sannin. Much like Naruto and Jiraiya, Sakura and Tsunade seem to have developed a close relationship. I’d like to see more of that in future volumes.

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