Reviewby Carlo Santos, Feb 9th 2011
The meeting of the Gokage (the five great ninja nations) has been cut short by a direct attack from Sasuke and the Akatsuki! The Raikage, a ferocious fighter, tries to hold off the threat, with the other ninja leaders doing their best to help. However, Sasuke still escapes safely, and Madara Uchiha—the mastermind behind it all—stops by to explain exactly why he is causing such great chaos. His shocking plan for world conquest leads to a declaration of war between the Akatsuki and the entire ninja world ... and Naruto, as the host of the great nine-tailed spirit, is a pivotal figure in this battle. However, Naruto doesn't know that yet—he's still busy coming to terms with another surprise revelation from his good friend Sakura. And Danzo, the current leader of the Leaf Village, has pretty much broken everyone's trust in him by taking off with his own plans...
Ladies and gentlemen, something very big and important is about to happen in the world of Naruto, and right here in Volume 50, they tell you exactly what that big and important thing is. Unfortunately, it's also surrounded by so much fighting, politicking and plot-churning that the message is obscured by all the noise. It's as if Masashi Kishimoto was so absorbed in creating a towering, multi-plotline, multi-character "Wow" event that he didn't notice everything toppling over from the sheer weight. While this stretch of chapters does have its moments—scenes where Kishimoto's natural aptitude for action and raw emotion shine—the overall structure is too much of a mess.
That mess begins right from the first page, which kicks off the action in one of the worst places possible: the middle of a busy fight. Even attentive readers may need some memory-jogging to recall the events of the previous installment, and with so many secondary and tertiary characters in play—the Gokage leaders, their aides, Sasuke's goons—one may be left wondering if this is, in fact, a volume of Naruto. The title character himself doesn't even show up until the halfway through the book, clearly a sign that Kishimoto has bogged himself down too much in the details of ninja politics and has forgotten the hero's mission.
What was that mission again? Right, to save Sasuke from the clutches of evil. Well, most of the characters agree that he's already too far gone—a fact that spurs Sakura to drop a bombshell in front of Naruto. Her heart-stopping revelation turns out to be the emotional core of this volume, one of the few spots where the story takes a few deep breaths and looks at how far the characters have come. It is an oasis of poignancy amidst all the battle and duplicity, with the series' central characters reflecting on everything they've been through and where they're headed next. But this therapy session is quickly cut short by even more chaotic scenes of ninjas rushing through the woods, searching for other characters and getting into fights. A fantastical showdown involving the eccentric Killer Bee does provide some genuine entertainment in the last couple of chapters, but its high points are more about showing off impossibly difficult tactical maneuvers than any crucial plot or character developments.
And it's not just impossibly difficult tactical maneuvers, either. Sometimes it's impossibly huge explosions, or impossibly powerful jutsu, and all other forms of visual indulgence. Fine, Masashi Kishimoto, we get it, you're really good at drawing—but enough is enough! The wild battles in this volume are all about pushing the artist's pen to the limits, but in the process they also push the eyes of readers to their limits: an attack that is impressive at first glance ends up being a source of confusion when it's hard to tell which character launched the attack, who was affected by it, and where they were in relation to each other. If that's not bad enough, many of the scene transitions are equally dizzying, with the story cutting from one situation to another without warning. The forgettable faces of the various supporting characters also make things hard to follow: are these guys in the same room or was that another scene change? Are they one of Sasuke's goons or a couple of third-string ninjas making a cameo? Not surprisingly, the only time the artwork makes a clear statement is during Naruto and Sakura's confrontation—the one part where the story stop to take a breather. The clean, widely-spaced panels add to the poignant mood, and it's a shame that it only happens for a handful of pages.
Fortunately, the dialogue is not nearly as mind-boggling (aside from one scenario where Danzo sets a jutsu trap and one of the characters enters another character's mind). With fight scenes taking up so much space, there's not much room except for combatants to yell brief sentences at each other, although there are also occasional in-depth coversations about battle strategy. Where it gets trickier is in the high-level discussions about ninja politics, but the translation does its best to explain the situation clearly—in fact, the big picture about Madara's sinister plan and the Gokage's counter-strategy is easier to follow than the individual story threads tangled throughout this volume. The sound effects, translated into English and edited straight into the art, also work out fairly smoothly, only looking out of place in a couple of spots.
Despite the importance of a big round number like 50—and the importance of Sakura's decision in the middle of the book—this volume of Naruto will probably go down as one of the more forgettable ones in the series. With so many storylines to address, and so many secondary characters being thrown into the fray, the major turning points that will affect the rest of the series end up being overshadowed. There's just too much fixation on fancy battle tactics, both in the storytelling and in the artwork, and the occasional moments of clarity just get drowned out by all the scene changes and frantic ninjas running through the woods. Hopefully, when this transitory period is over and the Great Ninja War really gets down to business, the series will be top-notch again—but with such a messy storyline, who knows how long that will take?
Overall : C
Story : D+
Art : B
+ Elaborate attacks make every battle eye-catching; Naruto and Sakura's encounter provides a moment of poignancy amidst all the combat.
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