Reviewby Carlo Santos, Feb 19th 2012
The great ninja war has begun between the Allied Shinobi Force and Madara Uchiha's army. One of Madara's most powerful officers, Kabuto, has mastered the art of Edotensei—a technique that re-awakens the soul inside a dead body. This means that many of the Allied forces' enemies will be ninjas who already died in battle! When puppet masters Kankuro and Sasori meet on the battlefield, the outcome of the battle could hinge on their history together. The past is also revisited when the multi-talented Kakashi faces off against Zabuza and Haku, enemies that he had already defeated when he was still training Naruto. Speaking of which, Naruto himself is still cloistered away on Turtle Island, trying to master his Nine-Tailed Beast powers. With conflict breaking out everywhere around him, can Naruto hide for much longer?
Somewhere along the way, Masashi Kishimoto's great ninja adventure has become hopelessly contorted. At Volume 55, Naruto creaks under the weight of a storyline that keeps getting bigger and bigger, to the point where the title character is barely present. Sure, there was that flashback about Naruto's birth not too long ago, and the powers currently roiling inside him will undoubtedly determine the future of the entire ninja world. But as for what's going on in the present—it's a mess. One faction battling here, another one over there, and goodness knows when it's all going to end. If this is the current state of ninja warfare, it's going to be a long, tedious fight.
Not too long ago, the complaint about Naruto was that everyone was standing around making preparations for the great war. Well, be careful what you wish for—the great war has finally arrived, and somehow it's only made things duller. The major fights in this volume are all chaotic team efforts starring barely memorable third-string characters, some of whom are ninja zombies that had been killed off ages ago. (The fact that ninja zombies even exist as a major story element should also be cause for concern—what happened to making up new characters?) One good thing to come out of these re-animated foes is that they trigger various flashbacks about past events in the series, creating a narrative symmetry between then and now. But as soon as Kishimoto tries to wring emotion out of those moments, it feels hopelessly forced: are they supposed to stand there and squeeze tears from their eyes because of their past? These characters were always written as supporting cast members, and trying to elevate them to falsely high levels of importance doesn't work.
Meanwhile, Naruto himself—who actually is important—has been wrongfully demoted to side-character status, appearing for a couple of chapters just to remind us what he's up to. His chakra-theory discussions with rapping mentor Killer Bee are surprisingly interesting, showing how existing skills (in this case, the rasengan) relate to Naruto's newly acquired powers. But these enlightening moments of ninja pseudoscience are far too brief, and just as Naruto offers a tantalizing glimpse of his evolving abilities, it's back to watching second- and third-stringers tearing up the landscape yet again.
To their credit, at least the fights are visually impressive, even if it's hard to feel emotionally invested in the characters. Regardless of one's familiarity with Kankuro, Sasori, Zabuza, and the others, the sheer outlandishness of their attacks are an artistic feat in themselves. Between the dense speedlines, the dynamic poses, and heavy areas of hatching and shading, these battles are an eye-catching display of speed and strength. The page-spanning landscapes, with every little detail sketched in, also provide the perfect backdrop for epic warfare. But with so many striking effects coming together, they're just as likely to backfire and become too cluttered to look at. That's right—the overreaching ambitions of the storyline have spilled over into the artwork, where so many ninjas are battling at once that it looks as if Kishimoto is just haphazardly placing one panel after another. Explosions here! Jutsu techniques there! A close-up of a character who's just observing everything! Hey, at least they're all still fancifully dressed and flamboyantly armed—but such qualities seem pointless if one can barely remember what each character actually does in the story.
Surely it should be the job of the script, then, to remind us of each character's profile and their motives. However, when everyone's so busy discussing battle strategy, there's no time left for recaps or personal thoughts. Indeed, this volume's most tedious moments come when various ninjas are spouting paragraph after paragraph of "We need to move to this waypoint and confront so-and-so," or perhaps, in the heat of battle, "Here is a page-long description of my attack and how it will counter the enemy's attack." Believe it or not, this means that Killer Bee's contrived hip-hop rhymes are no longer the most annoying thing in the Naruto script. Those rhymes continue to be a head-slapping example of translation gone wild—but the rest of the dialogue, thankfully, is handled in a more straightforward manner. However, the number of series-specific terms left untranslated (elemental powers like mokuton and raiton, for example) may leave casual fans scratching their heads as they try to recall what they meant from earlier volumes. Sound effects are handled by replacing all Japanese text with English equivalents, which actually blend into the artwork quite well because there's so much going on that a few English letters don't hurt.
The great ninja war shouldn't have turned out this way. It should have been about incredible heroes and incredible villains facing their toughest challenges ... and instead it's about everyone just throwing themselves at each other, hoping that somebody will come out on top of the heap. While the "zombie ninjas" concept results in some interesting connections to previous events, it ultimately falls short—too many minor characters out there, and readers being forced into feeling sympathetic for them. When Naruto finally does show up to remind us what he's up to, it's not enough; eventually it's right back to sensory overload as everyone fights everyone else. With so much artistic virtuosity on display, and dramatic attacks on every other page, who'd have thought that all-out ninja warfare could be so unappealing?
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : B-
+ Cleverly draws connections to past events through re-animated characters; detailed fight scenes show high levels of artistic technique.
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