Sunday, June 20, 2010

Manga Reviews: Naruto Volume 5

I've decided to enjoy these moments as much as possible.

Seeing Sasuke get his ass kicked really never will get old. I first really appreciated in his fight against Killer Bee, when he'd been busy being a perfect, annoying prick. If only I had hated him as much as I do now when I first read this series, these early moments would have made these few rare moments of Sasuke humiliation all the sweeter.

Of course we all know it won't last, fairly soon Sasuke will be unbeatably frustrating. So until then, gentle readers, let us enjoy this moment while it lasts.

In the last volume we were left with Rock Lee challenging Sasuke to a fight. And as their fight continues I am reminded that he is in fact one of my favorite characters. Not only did he beat up Sasuke...


But he's the exact opposite of Sasuke in every way. Not only does he have an interesting personality, but his strength is entirely the result of backbreaking effort. He wasn't born with any of his skills, like Sasuke, instead of relying on his family's reputation and inherited skills, he worked hard to get to where he is. Essentially he's like Naruto, but more so, because even Naruto's massive amounts of Chakra essentially come from the Kyubi. Frankly if it weren't for the obvious "hard work vs inherited skill" that seems to be one of the main themes of Naruto, I'd very much prefer to see Rock Lee take Sasuke's place as Naruto's main rival. Because he doesn't cause me severe mental pain, like Sasuke does, and seeing Sakura fawn over Rock Lee would be hilarious.

The nice thing about this volume is that we get introduced to a lot of new characters, pretty much the entire rest of the main b-list cast. Including...

I believe the proper response is:

So yeah, that's Guy Sensei, and the questionable introduction aside, he makes this manga better just by showing up every couple of hundred pages.

And this is why Lee and Guy are among my favorite characters. Already they've lightened my mood and I'm even less annoyed at Sasuke than I've ever been. I'm sure this will change soon.

The Trio move on to the first exam, where we are finally introduced to the other six graduates from their year. It's really kind of surreal, these are all characters that I've gotten used to, and seeing their first appearances is kind of bizarre. It's quite obvious in some cases that Kishimoto was still settling on their character designs.

In early character designs Shikamaru was secretly the Third Hokage's Summon, instead of Monkey King Enma.

Also, seeing how close friends Naruto becomes with the others in their year, it's so weird seeing them act like complete douchebags. Granted, they were all competing with each other at the time, but all their personality traits seem exaggerated compared to their later selves. Chalk it up to character development I guess.

This entire first section, with new characters and all, seems very much like it was an experimental stage for Kishimoto, as not only do characters change later into what we are more familiar with, but he also introduces concepts that will never show up again. Ever.

Thank Goodness.

Then again...

After a lot of...nothing really happening, the Proctors finally arrive and the exam begins. Since they're Ninja's, it's obvious this is going to be some kind of intense physical examination of skill, something really awesome to read and...

You said it Naruto. -_-

So yeah, apparently this was Kishimoto's School Life Manga experimentation phase. When I think ninja I really don't think of written exams. When I think of thrilling fiction I don't think an entire room full of brightly dressed ninja's taking midterms. Granted when I think "Ninja" I really don't think of this:

So I guess it all evens out in the end.

Still: BORING!

Also, am I the only one who thinks that's it's needlessly complicated to start off with ten points and then subtract one for every wrong answer, and keep one for every right answer? Why not just start with zero points and earn a point for every right answer, and no points for every wrong answer? You know, the way we do it in the real world? Sure it's nitpicking, but when it takes an entire page to explain the rules for scoring a written exam, then you're doing something wrong. At least Sakura points out that starting with points and then subtracting from them makes no sense.


Well...I guess that makes sense.

It's still a boring chapter!

However, as a testament that this is needlessly complicated, they include a recap of the rules as the cover page of the next chapter. They don't even think the readers can follow this!

Sorry, nothing you do will make taking a written exam look badass.

I'll be fair, Kishimoto does a pretty good job of making this scene tense, by setting up Naruto against his biggest weakness, and having the fate of the whole team rely on him. However, the entire test about three chapters, that's a third of the entire volume.

In an enjoyable little twist, Sasuke, just like Naruto, can't answer any of the questions either. It soon becomes clear that the only way to pass the test is to cheat, which is actually fairly interesting, as it later turns out that the purpose is to test their espionage skills. As the test continues we get to see several of the other characters' abilities and their information gathering methods so the entire thing is treated fairly intelligently.

Naruto on the other hand, while everyone has realized they have to cheat, sticks to his guns and doesn't cheat. While admirable as a protagonist, it still marks him as a hilariously unorthodox ninja.

Forty-five minutes into the exam they participants are given the option to either accept the tenth question and loose their chance to ever advance if they get it wrong, or to reject it and try again next year. It's here that Sakura finally starts becoming more likable as a character, when she decides to give up for his sake, as she is certain that he can't possibly answer the last question. Granted she isn't showing any faith in him, but compared to her previous behavior this is the first time we really get to see her caring about her not-Sasuke team mate. Of course Naruto declares that even if he remains a rookie the rest of his life (which after several years of publication with a three year time skip, he ironically still is) he'll never surrender or retreat.

Of course it all ends up to have been a psychological test, and the real test was whether they had the guts to take the chance of failing permanently. I know that I complained about so much time being spent on a written test, but surprisingly enough Kishimoto manages to make even a written test interesting, by including good plot twists and using it as a chance to showcase individual ninjas' skills.

I'd completely forgotten about Anko's introduction, and I have to admit, the lady's got style. I especially like that she prepared a whole backdrop for herself. Then again, she is also kinda creepy.


And volume five ends with the second exam turning out to be a survival course in the Forest of Death. Well, I'm sure this won't be so bad.

Despite a third of this volume being taken up with a written exam, it was surprisingly entertaining to read. Compared to volume four this one really ups the ante in quality. Sure there are some elements and character traits that won't survive past this volume (I'm pretty sure Anko isn't psycho later on), but despite the obvious experimentation that occurred with the minor recurring cast it all ties together quite nicely, along with some good character development, leaving off with a cliffhanger that definitely catches my attention and makes me want to read more.

Of course, there is one other thing that makes this volume the greatest Naruto volume I've ever read.

I'll never get tired of it.

If you liked my review, then please buy the volume here: Naruto - Vol. 5


Raven the Foolish said...

Other than seeing Sasuke get his face handed to by Rock Lee along with the introduction of more new and old-yet-new faces...I only have one thing to say: WHAT THE HECK? Ninja-Info Cards?! But the best was Anko~ I ain't gonna hide it. Now as for the written threw me off at first. Still boring. Tests are always boring. Make 'em as interesting as you want, it's practically impossible to get even the majority to like it.

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