Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Reads You Review: NARUTO, VOL. 4

Naruto: Volume 4: The Next Level

Creators: Masashi Kishimoto; Jo Duffy (English adaptation)
Publishing Information: VIZ Media, paperback, 184 pages, $7.95 (US), $11.95 CAN
Ordering Numbers: ISBN: 978-1-59116-358-9 (ISBN-13); 1-59116-358-7 (ISBN-10)

Those in-the-know know that the star of Naruto, the hugely popular shonen manga by Masashi Kishimoto, is Uzumaki Naruto. When he was a baby, his body became the prison for a destructive nine-tailed fox spirit. Because of this, older villagers spurned him, but now, Naruto is an attention-seeking, ninja-in-training with dreams of being his village’s Hokage (champion).

Naruto, Vol. 4 concludes the storyline that found Cell Number 7: coach/teacher Hatake Kakashi, Naruto, and his classmates, Uchina Sasuke and Haruno Sakura, on a mission to protect a bridge builder in the Land of Waves. Gatô, a millionaire crime lord, is determined to stop the builder, Tazuna, from constructing a bridge that will bring prosperity to the Land of Waves, as well a usurp Gatô’s power. Gatô hired the ninja assassin, Zabuza, to kill Tazuna. However, the end comes via two bloody battles: Kakashi vs. Zabuza and also Naruto vs. Zabuza’s exceptionally talented apprentice, Haku.

When Team Kakashi returns to the ninja village of Konohagakure, it is near the time of the Journeyman Ninja Selection Exams, which brings in ninja from other villages to Konohagakure. That’s when Naruto and friends meet a group of fellow young ninja-in-training from the mysterious Land of Sand.

The fourth volume of Naruto exemplifies creator Masashi Kishimoto’s ability to balance the need for violence (because Naruto is, after all, about ninja) and his penchant for humor and silliness (best personified by the title character). I often compare Naruto to the Harry Potter franchise, which blends multiple genres and moods into what is basically hard fantasy. Naruto does this. It is not just about fights, battles, magic, and ninja. It is also a drama about the bonds of friends, rites of passage, amazing people, fantastic creatures, and life. Naruto’s juvenile nature and attitude does not hide the truth that this is an exceptional comic book series.


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