Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Manga Reviews: Naruto - Volume 2

This is coming out relatively fast after the first one. Mostly because, like I said, the library wants these two back. So after this one I'll review a few other things before moving on to the third volume. As soon as I finish reading and reviewing all the books I got from my campus library, expect reviews of One Piece, Fairy Tail, and Bleach. In fact, I've got quite a few manga in my personal library I can start reviewing. Granted, a lot of these will have to be put on hold until I can afford to buy the rest of the volumes. That, and a few of them I want to put rereading on hold for now. Sure, I love the series, but I can only reread something so many times. So I really can't promise anything for now, we'll just have to figure that out once we get to that point. Right now Fairy Tail seems like the most likely candidate, as finishing rereads and reviews would give me a reason to finish collecting that series before the other series such as One Piece, which by now has far more volumes than I can safely buy right now. Another like that would be Buso Renkin, which may not be the greatest manga out there, but is only ten volumes long, meaning it's one of those rare series I could actually complete without having to wait who knows how long.

In case you didn't notice, I'm pretty excited about manga, and can ramble on about it for quite some time. As such these reviews may get a little wordy.

Most of my friends don't really like manga or anime, and because of this I always feel like I should defend my love of this medium. It really won't make any difference in the end, but still I feel that I at least have to explain it for myself. I like anything with a good story, like I've said, but at the same time I've realized that I also love zany, bizarre humor. Not all manga has that of course, but overall the main complaint I hear about manga is that it's just bizarre. Which, frankly, I really like.

Speaking of bizarre, Naruto is certainly ripe with examples. Whether it be mostly nude illusions, or fighting styles that remind me more of something Gandalf would do, rather than an assassin.

Volume two begins with chapter eight, which is the last of the mini-storyline that encompasses Kakashi's training. We immediately get to see the purpose of the test, and why they failed it. What was being tested wasn't their individual abilities, but their teamwork. I kind of enjoy this, since most shonen manga focus entirely on the main character being the strongest simply on his own. Well meaning intentions aside however, Naruto will sadly fall into this trope soon enough. Pretty much every manga does at one point or another.

Kakashi is well established by this chapter, as we get a better look inside his head, and hear his philosophy.

"In a Ninja's wordl, those who violate the rules and fail to follow orders are lower than garbage. However, those who do not care for and support their fellows are even lower than that."

Another strong point of this chapter is the moment where Naruto realizes that this really isn't a game. People have died serving as ninjas, and in the future more will die. I really like his expression when he realizes this, I think Kishimoto did a great job of portraying Naruto's emotions in these panels.

Seeing the grin wiped off his face brings me satisfaction.

The chapter ends with the three characters learning the value of teamwork, and oddly enough, there was quite a bit of character development fitted into just eight chapters for Naruto and six chapters for Sasuke and Sakura. The character development isn't over yet, but it's off to a good start.

As an introduction this mini-storyline was pretty good. It introduces its characters, has a clear goal, and even manages to develop a little bit of tension, and included a good moral in there. Overall, well written, and an enjoyable read.

And now we move on to the first real storyline that spans multiple volumes. I really rather it didn't, as I did not enjoy it my first read through. That doesn't mean that I'll necessarily hate it now, after all, I enjoyed the Barratie and Drum Arcs in One Piece after reading through them a second time. Maybe the Zabuza Arc will have the same luck.

The Zabuza Arc is an interesting one for me, as when I look at the manga as a whole, it always seems disconnected from the rest of the manga. It's almost as if Kishimoto just wrote it while he was trying to figure out what he was supposed to do with his manga. Granted the arc is referenced a few times later on, but that's not until after the time skip. Overall, as I am approaching this arc, I still am not looking forward to it, knowing that it really doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the plot.

Chapter nine starts with the group on their first mission. Retrieving a missing cat. Not very ninja like but, I'll take what I can get. Apparently Naruto feels the same way, and complains about the lame missions they've been getting. The Hokage explains the Shinobi ranking system and how they divide the missions between the three ranks of Ninja. It's a little bit of an info dump, but still interesting nonetheless, and it doesn't take too long.

Besides the Ninja ranking system that the Hokage explains, Kakashi later explains the world wide Ninja system, and gives a little world building. Basically this chapter is the info dump chapter.

I'd just like to point out, that after their first real fight, I'm finding myself liking Sasuke more and more. He may be arrogant, but he's competent, and it amuses me when he makes fun of Naruto. Too bad this state of events won't last.

Another thing I should note, is that Naruto while aimed at younger boys, does have some material that parents might find questionable. Besides the partial nudity, there is also a fair share of blood. However, while this might be a problem for some, I personally think that it's nothing worse than what I read when I was younger. The only difference between this and what I read was that most of the books I read didn't have pictures of the injuries the characters were afflicting.

What strikes me as a little odd, is that the world in which Naruto is set isn't very consistent. While at certain times it seems like feudal japan, at others it seems like it's meant to be a more modern setting. In this case it's the presence of both traditional Japanese clothing, and modern business suits. Not that big a problem, but later on there will be more examples. This is just the first time it's really noticeable.

Since action is such a large part of shonen manga, I'll be bringing it up several times over the course of these reviews. Contrary to what you might think, action scenes are harder to write and draw than they seem. An interesting action scene works the same way an interesting story does. The important thing is conflict and tension, and characters that are competent and pull off tactics that keep the flow of the action interesting to watch. Because this is hard to pull off, a lot of shonen action scenes end up getting less interesting as the manga progresses. In the case of Naruto the early action scenes really were great. Especially when compared to fight scenes that are all about the main character getting stronger and beating up his enemies. In Naruto the characters fight smart. Even Naruto does that from time to time. Strategy and trickery are emphasized in the Ninja fighting styles of this manga, and make for an interesting read, with fights that are much more intelligent than your average fight. Whether this remains so, we'll just have to see as I progress through these reviews.

I know I was beating on the Zabuza Arc earlier, but right now I have to correct my statement slightly. As far as villains go, Zabuza is one of the more chilling ones. In fact, I'd almost say that someone like him would fit better in a more mature series. If he were in a series where there was no guarantee that the main characters could survive, while in a series like this where there are over forty volumes left for me to go through, the effect is slightly ruined by my knowing these characters survive. Overall though, he still remains a threatening villain.

Earlier I said that chapter eight was the info dump chapter. Actually, this whole volume is something of an info dump. Not that I can really blame Kishimoto for it, this series does have something of a more than moderate learning curve. He's basically having to establish how his world works, and that's going to take some explaining. In Kishimoto's defense however, he does manage to keep the explanations fairly short and to the point.

Volume two ends with a cliffhanger that I can't help but feel isn't quite as strong as the one at the end of Volume one.


The goofy cliffhanger aside, Volume two sets up a surprisingly interesting storyline, with the promise of good action to follow. In fact, I have to admit, that this second volume is very much an improvement over the first volume. So far the manga has been interesting, if not quite as interesting as its popularity would suggest. Still, it's a strong start that definitely has me interested in reading more.

If you liked my review, buy the manga here: Naruto - Vol. 2


Jakub said...

Can't wait for more, very interesting read!

Derek Bown said...

Glad to hear it. :)

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