Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Driven mad by hatred, Sasuke Uchiha has sworn revenge against his former home of Konoha Village. However, Sasuke's two closest friends, Naruto and Sakura, have each made their own plans to stop him. When they cross paths with Sasuke, they find that their one-time mentor Kakashi Hatake is on the scene as well, making for a very uneasy confrontation. Meanwhile, the leaders of the other ninja villages are preparing for all-out war against Madara Uchiha and the Akatsuki organization, who seek to control the world by capturing all of the biju (many-tailed beasts)—one of which resides inside Naruto. To keep Naruto's nine-tailed fox spirit away from the Akatsuki, he is sent away to a distant island, where he meets Killer Bee, the host of the eight-tailed beast. Spurred on by this encounter, Naruto begins a new training regimen to master the powerful spirit inside him.
Naruto fans, raise your hands if you've heard this one before: Sasuke declares his resolve to destroy the world around him. Naruto declares his intent to redeem Sasuke and become friends again. The entire ninja world realizes there is serious business going on and takes urgent steps to stop the chaos. And Naruto, knowing that much of the chaos revolves around him, goes off to hone his skills and become stronger.
It's starting to sound like a broken record at this point.
Funnily enough, Volume 52 of Naruto is not actually filler. The plot is moving forward … yet it's a bloated piece of hack-work where Masashi Kishimoto shamelessly recycles the same story templates he's used in previous arcs. A recent death means that Naruto's home village must appoint a new leader (standard political routine), while the multi-national resolution against the Akatsuki means it's time to mobilize the troops (which happens every time a new villain threatens). The bad guys, too, are going through the motions, making shadowy plans that leave the reader in the dark
As for Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura and Kakashi, their chance reunion provides a forum for airing out their feelings, as well as deciding where this battle of wills is headed next. Once again we marvel at the larger-than-life characters Kishimoto has created: the uncompromising depth of Sasuke's hate, the unwavering faith Naruto still has in his old friend, and Sakura's flickering hope for reconciliation between the two. But when Naruto and Sasuke declare that they must fight each other in the end, well, that's nothing new to readers. And neither is seeing them trade blows with their signature moves, right before Madara whisks Sasuke away. Dramatic as the confrontation may be, the outcome is anticlimactic.
The one legitimately fresh plot point in this volume is when Naruto meets Killer Bee and learns of how he gained full control of the eight-tailed beast. Yet even that engrossing bit of background is wrapped up in a stale old story arc where (surprise, surprise) Naruto goes off to some distant location to train. Even the training methods are cliché: in order to master his inner spirit, Naruto must battle a negative mirror-image of himself, which would be a cool idea if it hadn't been done so many times in the action genre recently. And before that, the boy hero also has to sit through a how-to narration on how he can fully unlock the nine-tailed fox's powers.
Not even the artwork, usually so distinctive and dynamic, can punch up this retread of familiar plot points. With no big fight scenes in the entire volume—the closest thing is Naruto and Sasuke going rasengan and chidori on each other—there's no opportunity for Kishimoto to bust out and do what he does best. Instead, it's one mid-sized rectangular panel after another, with the characters typically speaking to each other or (on a good day) running through the woods on a newly-assigned task. On that note, Kishimoto does put a lot of effort into the backgrounds, with carefully hatched lines and delicate details poured into the trees, rocks, cliffs, and waters of the shinobi world. But a great manga-ka cannot live on linework alone, and this is where the series falls short: a lot of well-drawn scenes look glaringly white due to the lack of screentone, with no grays or blacks to create visual contrast. Instead, screentone is used in big swatches to denote flashback scenes, which ends up being more of a distraction than anything. It's a clumsy device that cries out, "This is something the character is recalling from the past!" instead of using a smoother transition.
But if that visual shorthand seems awkward, just look at the contortions the translation has to go through. When a trio of frog spirits explain how to "unlock" the beast inside Naruto, they launch into a barrage of words that crowds out most of the page. Blame this on the original text, which apparently cannot explain chakra theory without providing a full-on metaphysics lecture. The other issue with the script, though, is much more a language barrier problem, as Killer Bee's habit of talking in rhyme (with lots of Japanese puns, presumably) obviously doesn't convert well into English—his patois comes off more like a suburban middle-school wannabe rapper. Fortunately, other areas of dialogue are handled more smoothly, if only because it's all stuff that's been done before: Naruto and Sasuke declaring their intentions from the depths of their hearts, village leaders making administrative moves, back-story narration, and other typical conversations in the ninja world.
Let this volume of Naruto be a lesson in trying too hard to please your audience. Each chapter plays out like a laundry list of things that are known to appeal to fans: Naruto and Sasuke confronting each other, political intrigue among the ninja villages, bad guys being all sneaky and threatening, and Naruto training like crazy to become even stronger. These sound like good ideas in themselves, but when Sasuke backs off from battle yet again, and ninja politics goes through the usual administrative motions, and training sessions involve the same old concentrate-as-hard-as-possible tactics, the appeal quickly wears off. And with no major fight scene to punctuate the visuals, even the art is unable to shine as much as it usually does. Welcome to the newest plot developments in Naruto … still the same as the old Naruto.
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : C+
+ Story continues to march forward with a dramatic Naruto/Sasuke confrontation and new training goals for our hero.
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