Monday, August 9, 2010

Manga review: Naruto

Wow, this took me longer that I thought it will, almost three weeks! On the other hand, it has more than 500 chapters for now (505th was the last I've read so far), most of them 16 pages or more, it's no wonder. Include with that the fact that I've read it on-line (, so it takes time to load it...

I have a special attachment to "Naruto". It is the first anime I watched when I started regularly followin anime several years ago. Before that, I watched only "Dragon Ball" (original and Z), "Sailor Moon" and "Hellsing" randomly and on TV (except "Hellsing", I got that on DVD). I really got into anime after getting "flat" (unlimited monthly bandwidth) and discovering wonderful world of torrents.

I don't really remember why I picked "Naruto", but it showed as a good decision. Unlike "Bleach", which I liked for first 50 episodes and later it became repetitive and boring, I find "Naruto" still interesting and watch it regularly. After original 135 episodes of "Naruto", I actually watched some 30 episodes, before really understanding what "filler" means. And then came "Naruto Shippuuden" with its super-slow episodes; I'll  always remember the fight with Sasori, which took some 6 or 7 episodes. But now I really like this anime, and judging by manga, there will be some really interesting stuff in future.

Let's get back to the review. First, "Naruto" is shounen action manga (and anime) about ninjas. Author of the manga, Kishimoto Masashi, is a fan of Toriyama Akira, author of "Dragon Ball", so I think that those who liked "DB" will like "Naruto", also (at least, that was the case with me). Manga features an imagined world, consisting of several countries, where each (or at least the bigger ones) has a ninja village. Ninjas perform various tasks (missions), for their sovereign lords, citizens of their own country, or even for foreigners. In case of war, they serve as army. Series is not based on real ninjas; you can expect "magical" skills, talking animals, super-strength and super-speed, etc. As this is shounen manga, it doesn't encumber with "smaller" details: existence of electricity, uncommon political situation or other things like that. Instead, this series focus on interesting fights (and unique skills of characters) and passionate and emotive relationships; primary, the friendship between two main characters, Naruto and Sasuke.

Main character of this anime is Uzumaki Naruto. At the beginning of the show, he is some 12 years old student in ninja academy. His main interests are making pranks on teachers and creating troubles; also, he's poor at ninja skills and has no friends. Reason for him being alone is that at the day of his birth, his village (Konohagakure) was attacked by super-strong demon fox. To prevent destruction of the village, Naruto's parents sacrificed themselves and sealed the fox inside him. For some "reasons", this is kept as secret from Naruto and kids his age and younger. Of course, all the adults know the truth (at least partially) and they ostracize Naruto because of fear, anger or grief. Naturally, kids take after their parents, so Naruto is left friendless (except his teacher Iruka).

But Naruto is not too depressed with his fate; instead, he dreams of becoming a Hokage (leader of his village and strongest ninja there). That was, all villagers will be forced "to acknowledge" him (I stress this because this is the main theme of first part of series). In the meantime, he uses his pranks as a way of getting attention. Soon after the graduation at academy, he will be joined in team with two of his classmates: Sasuke and Sakura. Sasuke is a boy from renowned ninja-family of Uchiha, best student of the year (two of them are joined because the school tries to make balanced teams - Naruto is the worst one). Sakura is a normal girl, excelling in theory of ninja skills, but unremarkable in practicing them. She is also infatuated with Sasuke (as every other girl in class); in same time, she is Naruto's love interest. Even though three of them don't have much in common, after first mission they will develop bonds that will form their later lives.

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I always find hard to review a long-running manga. And "Naruto" is really long-running. With five hundred chapters it's the longest manga I ever read. In anime adaptation, it has around 250 original episodes and some 100 filler episodes, and anime has quite a lot to catch up with manga. My meaning is that it's hard to write about story because I can't write only about beginning of the story which is only an introduction (that would be meaningless because story changes after a while), but also I can't write about later stages that are important (at least, not without revealing spoilers). So, I will just say that "Naruto" actually HAS a story, as opposed to "Bleach" and "Dragon Ball". I am mentioning these two again for two reasons: I watched them; and they would be "Naruto's" direct competitors. As I understand it, there is also "One Piece", but I haven't watched or read it. "Dragon Ball" doesn't have an overall story - it just a "new opponent-new training-new fight" pattern. "Bleach" has some kind of story, but I think it's just a cover for same patter as in DB. Again: "Naruto" has a story. It is not a masterpiece of storytelling, but it is there. It is a story about friendship between Naruto and Sasuke; about picking the hard choices and not relenting. I also has many other motives and themes, but you will have to read it (or watch it) for yourself.

On the other hand, "Naruto" IS a shounen action series about ninjas. As I mentioned before, the world is nicely imagined, with no irritating flaws. There are lots of characters, but they are divided in groups (check "Cast Herd"), so it's not hard to follow who is who. Each character will have its own unique powers and skills and they are quite original. Meaning, they are not just a fifth variation of the same power - each have its place and rules. Characters are mostly well done (no one irritated me or made me lose faith in author's taste) and unique. Series has a lot of funny moments and inside-jokes; it made me laugh often. Fights are very good, dynamic and intense. They are not like second World Martial Arts Tournament in DB (which almost made me cry) or Goku vs. Freeza fight, but "Naruto" has its moments.

As I read manga after I watched anime, I noticed that I actually like anime version better. Despite the fillers, anime takes time to broaden and elaborate situations, without inserting unnecessary elements (if you ignore fillers). That was mostly evident after I passed events that are serialized in anime. Manga brings distilled events and skeleton of the story, but I think I will enjoy it in full really after watching the anime. But I will have to wait awhile for that.

And now, the final conclusion. In my opinion, if you are in search for long-running fighting shounen series and have even remote interest in ninja, I think you will like "Naruto". If you watched and liked "Dragon Ball", you will like "Naruto" (maybe even more; I did). If you are reading manga, then it's OK. But if you start watching anime and you don't become a fan (as me), I would advise you to find out which episodes are fillers, if you don't want to completely lose interest in series. For original episodes, fillers start after 135th episode. And for "Shippuuden", check this.

Also, allow me to recommend an anime that I found better that both "Naruto" and "Bleach". It's "Kekkaishi", a shounen action anime about young boy exorcising evil spirits. Unfortunately, it has only 52 episodes, but series is still ongoing, so I hope for more.

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