Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Naruto 3-in-1 11 (volume 31-32-33) Review

I owe a lot of thanks to the person at Viz Media who thought of collecting some of their popular, multi-volume manga into these delightful omnibus editions. It works so well for shonen manga and I’m sure that even non-shonen manga read well in this format. More manga for less money! What’s not to love? Well, if you’re talking about this particular 3-in-1 volume of Naruto, there is one thing. One character, to be exact, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The opening volume to this omnibus, volume 30, includes the final few chapters of the Kazekage Rescue Mission arc. Sakura and Granny Chiyo are fighting Sasori, one of the Akatsuki’s members. With this fight, Masashi Kishimoto has given readers multiples examples of the kind of jutsu and attacks that puppet masters wield in battle. Seeing the experience of Granny Chiyo’s mastery of puppet jutsu used against the powerful and inventive puppet jutsu of her grandson, Sasori, is very enjoyable. Throwing Sakura in the mix and having her show off her surprisingly strong physical attacks simply adds to the enjoyment of this fight and this story arc. It’s also a good showcase of Sakura’s new abilities. This is the first time we see Sakura fight following her training with Tsunade and it’s impressive. I find that Sakura has been grossly underused in Part One and it’s nice to see her get some much deserved attention here. It’s very successful and make for a few great. She’s fearless compared to the younger Sakura we used to know. In this fight she proves to be strong, resourceful, and a commendable team player.

Truly, one of the highlights of this arc is seeing the relationship that occurs between Sakura and Granny Chiyo. Chiyo is the standout character of this story arc. She’s very well developed in a short period of time. She even has a nice character arc and it lends itself very well to one of the primary themes of Part Two which is the passing of the torch between the older generation of shinobi and the younger generation who are becoming more and more involved in the day-to-day activities of their countries. There are some really good character moments with older characters, such as Chiyo’s realisation of the harm she and her generation have done to their countries. Her realization and acceptance of her past mistakes allows her to fight so successfully with Sakura and, by extension, the other shinobi of Konohagakure who are on the mission. Because this is a shonen manga, it might be a little obvious that creating strong friendships proves to be one of the most effective ways of developing diplomatic relations between countries, but it works really well here.

There was a lot going on in this arc, the introduction of many characters following the two-and-a-half year gap between Part One and Part Two, the introduction of new Akatsuki members, showing off new abilities, introducing the political changes that occurred during the time jump, etc. Throughout all of it, Kishimoto proves once again that he knows how to juggle many different story elements and make them work in unison. The characters in this arc are great. The action is very good, too. The story progresses in a way that is very satisfying. The Akatsuki show up fairly early in Naruto but this is the story arc that really introduces them as a major player in the larger story, rather than foreshadowing a threat to be expanded upon in a future story arc. We know what their primary goal is (though not quite why, yet) and it’s exhilarating to see the young shinobi confront them head on. Sure, they’re helped out by more experienced shinobi, but Naruto and Sakura have grown in surprising ways.

Unfortunately, the next arc, the Tenchi Bridge Reconnaissance Mission, shows us just how little the characters have actually grown. They’re different, but in many ways they’re also the same. This arc feels like a regression of the overall story. It’s actually one of the very few arcs that are a bit of a disappointment. I’m trying to hold back judging this arc too harshly because Kishimoto has proved to be a great storyteller so far and because the arc is just beginning. With just two volumes of it in this omnibus collection, there might be surprises still ahead. For now though, it’s mostly using a plot that feels familiar to a previous arc and the characters, particularly Naruto and Sakura, are back to their goofy antics as seen in some of the earlier volumes. It’s kind of jarring coming on the heels of the Kazekage Rescue Mission arc which was quite strong.

This story arc is another attempt at rescuing Sasuke. We saw a similar story at the end of Part One and this feels unnecessary. Maybe I’m reducing Sasuke’s importance to the story and to Konohagakure village because I find he’s generally not one of the most interesting characters (yes, I know I’m in the minority here). Still, in true Kishimoto fashion, he continues to introduce new elements in his series. It’s a shame that one of the big additions, the character of Sai, is extremely annoying and underwhelming as the new member of Team 7. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I hate him. He’s one of the worst characters in the series! That includes some of the supporting characters who don’t actually do much.

For my tastes, there is just too much familiarity to this particular story arc. Once again the characters are looking for Sasuke. Orochimaru is present, as is Kabuto, and both of them are demonstrating the same kind of dialogue and action we’ve seen from them before. It’s regrettable that that most of what is included here has been done better before. By always popping in and out of the story, Orochimaru has actually lessened as a threat in my opinion. It’s as if his part of the story is never taken seriously enough, never being the primary focus. It doesn’t help that he’s constantly retreating since his initial attack on Konohagakure at the end of the Chunin Exams which remains the character’s high point. In other words, this arc feels like a distraction from the larger story. It’s not yet ready to take centre stage, but Kishimoto thinks it’s important to check in on Orochimaru and Sasuke before proceeding with the rest of the narrative. Soon he’ll be bringing back the focus on the Akatsuki and their search for the jinchuriki. Even though this latest arc is a bit of a letdown, there are some enjoyable moments. I particularly like the interim leader of Team 7, Yamato. It’s also nice to see how Naruto’s seal of the Nine-Tail’s chakra is weakening and how that affects Naruto and his team. There are good bits here, for sure, and it’s only in comparison to other (better) story arcs that this one doesn’t look so good. That’s kind of a half-hearted complaint and it proves just how consistently good Naruto usually is.

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