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House of 1000 Manga
Naruto Part II

by Jason Thompson,

The 48 56 Hour Naruto Marathon: Part 2

"The sensation is just like that of vomiting."
—Killer Bee

SPOILER: I couldn't do it. I couldn't read all 71 (I mean 72) volumes of Naruto in 48 hours. I dropped volumes, I blew past the deadline, I ended up a ravaged shell of my former self. The following is the tale of a man who read too much Naruto…

9:30 AM: VOLUME 28

* The way Naruto suddenly jumps into the future reminds me of Dragon Ball (one of Kishimoto's biggest influences), which also features several timeskips where the characters return, older and stronger than before. The new character designs are nice, although the change isn't as dramatic with Naruto as it was with Goku(imagine if Naruto had been a three-foot-tall chibi for the first 27 volumes).

* Sakura, for one, is impressed. (“So much more mature! Who is this guy and what has he done with Naruto?”) Is a Sakura-Naruto romance in the cards? (I hope not)

* Yay! Tsunade finally gets her own face on the mountain!

* Gaara, the former sociopathic ultimate weapon psycho killer, is now ruler of the land of sand. I mean, I realize that he had a change of heart and now he's a good guy and all, but apparently none of his many previous victims had family or friends to sign a petition to keep him out of office.

* The characters have all powered up. Now Gaara can lift up an entire mountain of sand, and his opponent can basically blow up an entire city. Temari (sand ninja girl with fan) chops down an entire forest. Damage is getting ECOLOGICAL SCALE! It's like ninja landscaping.

* And now we get to see the new villains, the Akatsuki! Sasori of the red sand is a master puppeteer. Deidara is a "mad artist" (“Pop is dead! My art is super-flat!”) and androgynous bishonen with mouthes in his hands (complete with tongues and teeth!). He uses the mouthes to……spit out little living clay dolls made of C4 heavy explosive?? I don't understand whether he's vomiting the clay from his belly or just molding it with his hand-mouthes, but I wish he didn't did more with the palms, since they're obviously the coolest part of his character. Like, he could shake hands with Naruto while simultaneously giving him a long, sensuous lick. Unless I missed it, we don't ever get an explanation of the mouthes. Strange…

9:57 AM: VOLUME 29

* So the Akatsuki are trying to steal people's spirit/demon partners (the biju, the tailed-beast spirits)? And Gaara is the expendable hero who gets to be a victim to show what the villains' evil plan is?

* Why do female ninja, like Tsunade and Sakura, have to be the ones with the snail powers? Isn't that the grossest of the animals? OTOH, choosing between the classical Japanese animal triad of snail, snake and frog, the snake isn't exactly associated with good vibes either. And Disney couldn't even call a movie “The Frog Princess” without people freaking out that frogs were offensive and Disney having to change it. So I guess this means they're all equally good animals after all. This is my jutsu called “the art of overanalyzing things to the point that everything seems meaningless.”

* It takes a good artist to draw facial expressions on a snail.

* The heroes must fight Itachi, Sasuke's brother, whose genjutsu powers can send you into an illusionary nightmare world if he makes eye contact with you. Fighting an opponent without looking in their eyes…very cool…and it's simple enough that people can imagine trying it themselves. In fact, Itachi doesn't even have to look you in the eyes to hypnotize you…he can do it just by pointing his finger and getting your attention that way. He reminds me a tiny bit of the villain in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure, the scariest hypnotist imaginable.

These illusionary tortures are amazing. So are these “wordless expressions of the character's mental state.” Kishimoto, you rule.

* Of course the guy who looks like a shark is a water jutsu user. OTOH, isn't it too obvious that the guy who looks like a shark has same (shark) in his name and in his move names and so on? Wouldn't that get tiresome for you if you chose that name for yourself and had to repeat it all the time? Maybe his sharky looks are just a coincidence and he thinks of himself as more of a butterfly or praying mantis kind of person? Or maybe Kisame is just what other people call him.

* Naruto would make a good live-action series. It's so realistic already, it's not like the character designs would be impossible to express in live-action (like, say, Dragon Ball or One Piece). I bet this will happen decades from now after no one cares anymore.

* These are two really cool fights going on (Kisame x Guy, Itachi x everybody). Fighting on the surface of the water is always cool. Ooooh! Itachi gets hit and he flies apart into a mass of blackbirds!!

10:16: VOLUME 30

* Sakura punches a rock wall and splits it in half! At last she gets to do something cool!

* It's one thing for a villain to collect people's dead bodies & skin them, but it's much grosser when they explain the skinning and curing process in great detail, like Sasori does here. Lets us use our imaginations…

* Sasori gets his outer ‘puppet shell’ blown off and is revealed as…a cute bishonen! This makes me think of Rurouni Kenshin when a similar evil puppeteer character was finally revealed and turned out to be a fairly ordinary-looking, withered old man. In his author's notes, Nobuhiro Watsuki commented that he'd thought it was realistic that such a skilled villain would be old (it takes years of experience to become a master puppeteer, etc.), but that readers though it was a letdown and thus from a character design perspective he regretted not making them a hot younger character instead. -_- So basically Kishimoto has learned from Watsuki's mistake.

* “When a woman is talking, a man does well to listen quietly.”—Granny Chiyo

* An incredible puppeteer battle between Chiyo, Sakura and Sasori! This fight is so over-the-top and unbalanced I'm actually worried for Sakura. Also, for once Sakura gets to be awesome and really fight. I love it. Sasori summons forth his iron sand, which is even deadlier than regular sand, and so visually cool (these masses of faintly fuzzy blackness…).

* So Sasori never had parents…even as a child, he made/manipulated puppets in the shape of his parents? (Or hold on…are they implying that Chiyo made parent puppets for him after his real parents died?) Either way, villainous sociopathic madness level +1!!

10:38: VOLUME 31

* “I can manipulate 10 human-sized puppets…one with each finger!” “Oh yeah? Well, I can manipulate 100 human-sized puppets!”

* Kakashi reveals a NEW OCULAR JUTSU!! Beautiful “distorted lineart” effect to show the warping effect of Kakashi's new Sharingan eye. But I know the villain, Deidara, can't be defeated so quickly because he still hasn't shown off all his powers.

* WHAAA?!!? Naruto is mutating even more…now he's got weird bestial eyes and super-long fangs…could he be Vampire Naruto??! (Spoiler: no)

10:53: VOLUME 32

* The story has gotten all serious, but the Viz back-cover text at this point still says “Naruto is a ninja-in-training with an incorrigible knack for mischief. He's got a wild sense of humor!”

* Akamaru, Kiba and Hinata are back, and their grown-up versions all look awesome! As a side note, I'm definitely all Naruto x Hinata. (I mean, since Tsunade is too old for him.)

* The heroes meet Sai, a ninja who knows "the art of cartoon beast mimicry!” Monsters jumping off the page and attacking people equals a nice excuse for some brushwork. But what's with the bare midriff? And what's with the fact that Sai has no emotions and continually talks about that fact, like a bishonen ninja version of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation? (“I don't have you, Naruto. In fact, I don't feel anything toward you at all, good or bad.”)

* Who are these old jerks who are bossing Tsunade around? (Spoiler: they're the Konohagakure "counselors.") I thought the Hokage was in charge of everything?? Does Tsunade still have to like “lean in” to get anything done in the workplace?
Furthermore, who is this old scarred guy, Danzo? “The leader of a hard-line martial faction founded on rigid principles”? Sounds vaguely fascist…Aha! Apparently Danzo is the secret boss of some kind of even secreter high-security-clearance ninja squad within the ninja squad. Sounds totally villainous.

* Kakashi gets reassigned and the heroes get a new boss: Yamato, a guy who wears a cat mask. It's hard to fill Kakashi's shoes, but that's exactly the point, I guess.
Yamato's wood ninjutsu lets him build a full two-story wooden house out of nothing. Whenever there's a fictional universe like this one where ninjutsu, or say magic, is so powerful, I always wonder why anyone ever bothers learning any other skills. It must suck to spend years learning carpentry and days in the forest chopping wood and then you gather a crew of apprentice carpenters and day laborers to help build the house and then some ninja jerk comes along and build it in seconds.

* Naruto contemplates peeping on women at the hot springs, but he's immediately threatened with “fractured six ribs and both arms and several ruptured internal organs.”

11:21: VOLUME 33

* A fight on a bridge over an incredibly high chasm…these are always awesome!

* The heroes try to stealthily ambush Orochimaru on the bridge but of course everything goes all wrong in the most fight-tastic way ever. Orochimaru, always one of the weirdest shapeshifty characters, sheds his skin by climbing out of his own mouth. Naruto rages out and transforms into a giant shadowy fox monster! Orochimaru regurgitates an ocean of poisonous snakes! Then he falls apart into a mass of writhing snakes that knit themselves back together! WOW. The most amazing battle scenes are around page 88.

* Maybe it's just because I'm speed-reading, but I'm having the hardest time figuring out what the bad guys' factions are or exactly what is going on here. I get that Orochimaru used to be a member of the Akatsuki but doesn't side with them anymore, but why is Kabuto, Orochimaru's flunky, working with the Akatsuki??…OK, so Kabuto's a double agent, got it. It's still hard for me to figure out everyone's motivations so I'm just going to keep track of things as "the heroes must eventually fight all the bad guys."

* Yamato gets tough with Naruto and Sakura: “You two are no longer apprentice ninja that need to be protected! There is a difference between compassion and coddling!" Reading between the lines he also says "After the timeskip THIS MANGA IS SERIOUS YO!!”

11:39: VOLUME 34

* Poor villains. They have to hang out in these gloomy underground chambers lit only by candles with all this oppressive giant statuary. Don't they ever want to just spend their ill-gotten gains in a nice estate with palm trees and gardens and king-sized waterbeds, or partying in Ninja Las Vegas?

* Sai turns out to be a traitor and joins the villains. This makes him slightly more interesting. (“I somehow fear Sasuke from the bottom of a heart I didn't think I have…”) Another thing that's cool: Sai can write messages in ink and the ink can turn into creatures and deliver itself.

* Naruto vows to defeat his enemies: “If he tears my arms off, I'll kick him dead. If he tears my legs off, I'll bite him dead. If he tears my neck off, I'll glare him dead. And if he pokes my eyes out, I'll curse him dead.”

* WHAT?? IS SAI TURNING GOOD BECAUSE HE WANTS FRIENDS & HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS?? PLEASE LET THIS JUST BE ANOTHER RUSE. (“Bonds…I'd like to learn more about them.” This definitely sounds better in Japanese.)


Oh no…that was a fake-out…he's actually good…“I'm curious about this bond you and Sasuke share!" Sigh…

* The redesigned Sasuke looks pretty cool, and his vest is wide open. Between him and Sai, lots of male flesh getting exposed now.

* “Personal ties only cause confusion. Precious memories only make you weak.” Yes Sasuke, but what about Precious Moments?

* OTOH, this is cool. Naruto: “Then why didn't you just kill me that day?” Sasuke: “The only thing you need to know is that your life was only spared on a whim!"

* The detail level has gone way down on the last few chapters. Kishimoto must be taking a break.

12:00 PM: VOLUME 35

* Sai is a lonely character whose only self-expression is through drawing. Is there a bit of commentary here on the isolated life of a mangaka? However, this doesn't stop him from being one of the most boring characters introduced so far in the second half of the series; with his combination of super-hotness and "I do not understand this thing you call 'love'" emotional obliviousness, he's calculated fan-bait.

To improve his emotion powers, Sai goes to the library and reads a book titled “How to Build Better Interpersonal Relationships.”

* More Akatsuki show up! Hidan wins the "best introductory line" contest by saying "I'd like nothing better than to be killed." He's a religious fanatic of the "church of Jashin" (Jashin="evil god") and says things like "Ignorant heathens, the lot of you!"

* Naruto learns a new method of training: using shadow doppelgangers to train faster, since each one of his multiple selves has muscle-memory of the training drill. I'm so glad Naruto (and Kishimoto) know how to use doppelgangers to their full tactical potential. (Unfortunately, this must mean that somewhere in Japan, there's onanistic mass orgy Naruto doppelganger dojinshi.)

* Page 115: Kakashi introduces the concept of elemental natures. You can find out what elemental nature you have by playing with a piece of paper. It's like the scene in Hunter x Hunter where the heroes test their nen type using a leaf.

* Meet Tobi: the Akatsuki freak whose face is like a giant fingerprint. He's pretty cool. I like how his dopey, easily-confused behavior contrasts with his completely inhuman appearance.

* The bijû don't always live inside humans like Naruto's Nine-Tailed Demon Fox: some of them just roam around in nature, like three-tails who is encountered swimming in the ocean like a sea monster. Also pretty cool.

* There's a flow to manga, based on information and visual density. It can be heavy or light, fast or slow (in shonen manga, this usually means training sequences vs. fighting sequences), quiet or loud.

12:19: VOLUME 36

* As a subplot, the Akatsuki sell Lord Chiriku's head for money on the black market. I don't get it. Who are these rich evil people who are out there buying heads? Who has more money than the Akatsuki? What's the point?

* Really? As if merely stabbing Hidan in “two vital spots” would be enough to kill him? This wouldn't be enough to kill ANY Naruto character. I want to see his heart ripped out and his head smashed to a pulp before I even remotely believe that he's dead. Or that another character would think he's dead. If I was editor of Jump I would totally reject this storyboard.

Hidan transforms into his new form, which unfortunately doesn't look cool at all. He looks like Skullomania from Street Fighter EX, or like a cheap Halloween costume with black and white skeleton paint all over his body.

Hidan's superpower is finally revealed: he's immortal, but he can use a voodoo-like power to hurt others by hurting himself. However, it's super weak: he has to stay within a magic circle of blood to use it. Lame. In fact, his whole character is lame, from his character design, to the clichéd Japanese association of pseudo-Christianity (the jashin thing) with black magic and blood magic. Dullsville.

And yet somehow he's able to kill Asuma!! How could Asuma lose to such an awful character??

* Poor Choji. He really isn't even overweight, just sort of wide-faced, but the characters (and the author) never stop pestering him about being fat, do they? His master's dying words to him are “You really ought to drop a few pounds…” -_-;;

* Wait—so Naruto's doppelgangers can all turn Nine Tails, too? Is he going to turn into A  THOUSAND NINE TAILS later on?

* Maybe it's just because I play a lot of D&D and love all that Lord of the Rings-style world-building fantasy, but I wish Kishimoto would draw a better map of the Naruto world. I'd care more about the Fate of the Naruto Universe if I had a clearer picture of what was where. He probably intentionally doesn't draw a map so he (and the anime-only story arcs with all their made-up locations) is free to make up whatever places he needs to, without having to be bound by continuity or geography.

12:44: VOLUME 37

* The Akatsuki are essentially mercenaries (I mean “military contractors”) whose goal is to achieve WORLD DOMINATION. OK, that makes sense. And they're trying awaken this massive nine-eyed monster buried underground? Sorta interesting…

* Dude, the Konohagakure ninja are really using torture and interrogation (offscreen) to get information out of an enemy? Brutal!!

* I will say this about Hidan. He knows how to face his death (or, in this case, permanent imprisonment as a severed head at the bottom of a caved-in pit) like a champ, laughing and cursing his opponent to the very last. “Teeth! That's all I need! I'll chew you to bits!”

* Forget about Hidan because here's a villain who's a hundred times cooler: Kakuzu. Four grotesque faces are stitched to his back, and suddenly they burst out of his body, trailing meters of arteries!! His theme is blood and veins, because he has FIVE HEARTS!!! “Each of these hearts belongs to a shinobi that I battled and got the best of.” GYYYYYAAAAGGGHH!!

12:58: VOLUME 38

* I'd like to see a manga like Naruto but with guns. All kinds of crazy intricate impossible-but-superficially-plausible-sounding powers based on guns and bullets. Alas,  Shonen Jump has become rather shy of gun violence since the '80s days of City Hunter. (Of course, I know the ninja in Naruto can move faster than bullets so it doesn't matter, but don't guns just automatically seem more dangerous than mere throwing knives? Going evenfurther OT from Naruto, why do knives have this pop culture mystique that guns don't have, even though they're way less deadly?)

* “One by one, the new generation will catch up to you and they will all surpass you in the end.” Kakashi's final taunt to Kakuzu…OR TO HIMSELF???

* People in Naruto (even people without Sharingan) have some weird eyes. There's some amazing variety in pupil colors & shapes in the Naruto world.

* Pages 68-69: Sasuke walks coolly away from a BATTLEFIELD OF NINJA CORPSES. Oh wait, they're not corpses: Sasuke may have 'gone evil,' but he's still too nice to kill anyone.

* Orochimaru is sickly and coughing up blood. Don't tell me, he's going to die of his own sickness after the final battle so the heroes don't have his blood on their hands? I predict Orochimaru will die of his sickness!

* NO WAIT! I WAS WRONG! SASUKE ABSORBED OROCHIMARU AND STOLE HIS POWERS! Then he goes on a journey to take control of the remains of Orochimaru's empire. (Apparently Orochimaru was like a James Bond mastermind with zillions of henchmen and hideouts.) I like the shot of Sasuke and Suigetsu (one of Orochimaru's henchfolk) casually walking across the surface o the ocean.

* Viz totally censored the two homoerotic sexy jutsu, the onna no ko tachi jutsu and the otoko no ko tachi jutsu. They're both reduced to nothing but black silhouettes, without even translation for the move titles, so only by context can you tell what's going on. Sigh. Oh well, it was a cheesy gag anyway.

* Sasuke and Suigetsu visit one of Orochimaru's island prisons, where they meet Karin, the warden, a nerdy lady with glasses (did I mention she has glasses?) who's constantly drooling over how hot Sasuke is. OMG, she's a fujoshi!! A two-dimensional caricature of a Naruto fangirl has stepped out of reality and into the pages of the manga!

* Page 171: Jugo, the original curse mark bearer, is introduced sitting in a prison cell, mumbling “A woman…I prefer a woman. But wait…why not a man? Yeah, yeah, a man will do. No…a woman. Gotta be a woman. No, a man's better…”
Eventually you find out he's talking about killing people, but really, this page was born to be a meme.

* The Uchiha clan maintains a factory guarded by ninja cats. Ninja cats. I don't know why they don't have their own spin-off manga.

* 1:19: I have to take a break and run some errands…

2:27: VOLUME 39

* Okay, I had to walk the dog and call the insurance company, now I'm finally back and ready to start reading manga again. Man, it sucks: now that I'm a middle-aged adult, I can't just completely drop everything and lock myself in a room and do LITERALLY nothing but read manga for 48 hours straight. On the other hand, I'm getting paid to write about this, so…

* Aha! Kabuto absorbs Orochimaru and becomes his successor! I hope he doesn't just become a straight-up resurrection of Orochimaru. He's still got a boring character design, though.

* Am I really supposed to be reading Naruto this way? Am I not getting the most out of the series by speed-reading it so fast? Am I missing important details by reading too fast, and missing important emotional moments by not giving them the time and consideration to have their true impact? This is like the scene when Guy tells Rock “If you eat these 100 pills, you'll become healthy!” and Rock immediately crams all 100 pills down his throat. But no…sure, manga is made to be read in installments in magazines, but it's also equally intended to be read in massive manga orgies afterwards. I WILL SOLDIER ON.

2:46: VOLUME 40

* Deidara's back and he's still blowing things up with his living clay bombs! What's cooler than one big explosive? Thousands of tiny nano-explosives that seek out and disintegrate living things.

* My dream project is to have elective surgery to move my organs around and create a hole in my chest big enough for a person's fist to pass through. (Maybe remove part of a lung and a few ribs.) Of course I have to still be able to live, breathe and walk after the surgery. Then, in public in front of hundreds of people, I get in an argument with someone (ideally someone with small fists), and on cue they get mad and slam their fist through my shirt and their fist goes my chest and out the other side, just like in every single fighting manga, and everyone will freak out and think they were so angry they punched through my chest. Of course I'll also need to have fake blood bladders concealed in my shirt so it splatters out when they drive their fist through the hole. I imagine the fake blood will be the easy part.


* BLAM!!! CROSS-SHAPED EXPLOSION!!! (Is this US military working on this weapon?)

* Sasuke kills Manda, Orochimaru's giant snake?!?!? That's one of the saddest deaths in the series. Ninja are expendable, but giant snakes must be an endangered species.

* I know it's just the sound of her cape flapping, but a “FAP” sound effect seems especially appropriate next to Karin, especially when she's fantasizing about Sasuke.

* The action suddenly moves to a new location, the land of rain, Amegakure. The city is ruled by a guy named "Pain" with piercings all over his body. He's obviously being set up as the next big bad guy.
Pain is involved in some cool fights, but he's not one of my favorite characters. First off, all that tacky body jewelry. Second, a pseudo-English name that sounds cheesy to me as a native English speaker. Thirdly (although this isn't necessarily a bad thing), his powers are so all-over-the-place it's impossible to figure out what he's gonna do at any moment…


* Oooh…Sharingan eye x doppelgangers = THOUSANDS of eyes to avoid looking into. Clever.

* Jiraiya and Tsunade hang out and talk about the old days and have a few drinks together. Jiraiya gets philosophical. “Rejection makes men stronger! If you can't laugh about it…or at least use it as writing material…you're not a real man.”

* We finally find out the names of Naruto's parents: Namikaze Minato (his dad) and Uzumaki Kishina (his mom). Does this mean children take their mothers’ family names in the Naruto universe? Ninja are matrilineal? Cool.

* There's one thing I don't get about Naruto being the son of the Fourth Hokage…if everyone knew he was the Hokage's son, wouldn't they like him, even though he had the evil spirit of the demon fox inside him? Or do only a few people know who his parents are? Is this a continuity error?

3:11: VOLUME 41

* WAAAAAAGGGHHHH! Jiraiya vs. Pain!! Pain summons a giant lobster! Jiraiya transforms his hair into giant prehensile hair!! GIANT WINGED CHAMELEON VS. GIANT FROG WITH WEAPONS! VS. INFINITELY MULTIPLYING CEREBUS-LIKE MULTI-HEADED DOGS!! Then Pain reveals his plan: to give the entire ninja world nuclear weapons (I mean biju) and let them blow each other up so they'll really understand pain and will become pacifists afterwards. (Because obviously this works in real life since we've never had another war since World War I…err…)

* Jiraiya morphs into his most powerful form: "sage Jiraiya" with a big red nose and…TWO BICKERING HUSBAND-AND-WIFE FROGS ON HIS SHOULDERS?? This is so Jim Henson. This would also make the most incredible cosplay! THIS IS SO AWESOMMME

* This Pain storyline feels like a huge digression from the main storyline about Sasuke and the Akatsuki. Oh well. At least it has lots of frogs.

* “Rather than rule the world through pain, I wish you had moved past the pain and harnessed your power to bring about peace in a positive way.” This seems like more like a blog post or press release than something you say to your enemy in battle.

3:33: VOLUME 42

* OMG!!! JIRAIYA GAVE NARUTO HIS NAME!! And Naruto is NAMED AFTER THE MAIN CHARACTER OF “MAKE-OUT PARADISE!” (As a side note, hasn't someone written “Make-Out Paradise”? Surely it must exist!)

* Jiraiya actually dies?!? Wow! So far the sympathetic character death count (not counting villains who are redeemed in death, like Zabuza, or flashbacks to sympathetic people dying in the past) includes the Third Hokage, Granny Chiyo, Gekko Hayate, Asuma and Jiraiya. Not a ton of people, but each one of them is significant.

* I was so distracted by Jiraiya fighting Pain that I didn't realize SASUKE WAS ABOUT TO FIGHT HIS BROTHER ITACHI!! Is Itachi just plain evil?

* “You miserable lout!!” The strict language requirements of “T”-rated Viz titles make Sasuke's anger towards Itachi perhaps not so intense-seeming.

* Page 150: EYE TRAUMA!!!! Itachi is poised to GOUGE SASUKE'S EYE OUT!! I'm tingling just looking at this page! BLACK FLAMES OF AMATERASU!!

3:56: VOLUME 43

* Itachi summons forth a giant skeleton that turns into…?!?!? Okay…not sure what's happening here…some mythological goblin spirit creature? In Kishimoto's ongoing effort to come up with new drawing styles for new jutsu/techniques, he draws the spirit Susano'o in a sort of sketchy, archaic, heta-uma style. Interesting idea, but it doesn't look very good…


* Tobi/Madara has a pretty sweet style of teleportation: he raises his hand over his head, and as he lowers it, his body vanishes from the hand down.

* Madara explains everything…WHAAAA?? SUPER SPOILERS!! SHOCK SHOCK, HORROR HORROR: THE UCHIHA CLAN WERE KILLED BY KONOHA BECAUSE THEY WERE RESENTFUL AND TOO POWERFUL! ITACHI MURDERED HIS ENTIRE FAMILY AT KONOHA'S ORDERS?? So the system is evil? OMG now there's a flashback 80 years back in time, before Konohagakure village even EXISTED, when the ninja just spent their time running around in the FOREST.

Sasuke's whole worldview is shattered and now he has a new goal: to avenge his brother's death by destroying Konoha!

I'm impressed Kishimoto plotted out the Naruto backstory so thoroughly. (And spoiler: it gets even more thorough as it goes on.) Of course, since he's spent 4/5 of his waking life in front of the drawing table working on Naruto, it's probably inevitable that he's poured so much time and energy and thought into it. But it's still impressive.

* Yeah, Itachi also has the “he was sick and was going to die anyway even if Sasuke didn't kill him” thing. Sigh. What a cliché, and all to make Sasuke less guilty of fratricide.

4:20 PM: VOLUME 44

* Jiraiya is still dead. And since Jiraiya died, Naruto is so depressed he doesn't even want to eat cup ramen. A closeup on uneaten cup ramen has never been sadder.

And cup ramen is always pretty sad, so that's saying something.

* Introducing Shiho, a nerdy-girl scientist who's in love with Shikamaru. Now there's two glasses-girls characters in the story. Too bad she never really does anything.

* Kurenai gets pregnant with Asuma's baby??? Does this mean she's retiring from ninja-ing? Do they not have maternity leave? What about ninja daycare? For that matter, since ninja in this universe can do all kinds of insane taijutsu which surpass the limits of the human body, can't she just flex really hard and compress an entire nine months of pregnancy into nine minutes or something like that? You never hear about all the reproduction-related ninja powers…except in my dojinshi. (Note: this dojinshi does not actually exist)

* Page 103: Nice landscape.

* OMG! Naruto is the "child of prophecy" (just like in Harry Potter and The Matrix, two of Kishimoto's favorite things) and is going to train in Mount Myoboku, the home of the frogs!

I already mentioned I love how summoning works in this manga. Turns out summoning is a two-way street, so the frogs can use “reverse summoning” to teleport Naruto to Mount Myoboku, a paradise where intelligent frogs hang around on lilypads all day! (Unfortunately, the only food available in Mount Myoboku is grubs and insects…disgusting…)

Lord Fukasaku, the frog martial artist, is like the Yoda of this series. Lifting a gigantic stone statue with one hand is impressive enough for a human…but for a FROG?? IT'S DOUBLE AWESOME.

* Meanwhile, the Akatsuki are still seeking out the Tailed Beasts, trying to gather them all for their evil masterplan. Their next target is “Eight Tails,” Lord Killer Bee, who is……the series' first pseudo-African-American character and he's a rapper? Sigh… at least he's really powerful.

QUESTION FOR READERS: Who's a better pseudo-black character in manga: Killer Bee in Naruto, or Ball in O-Parts Hunter, the guy who fights with a yoyo and says "yo" constantly? -_-

* 5:38: Dammit…I had to take a break and walk the dog again…I WILL RETURN!!! I SWEAR I'LL FINISH THIS MANGA!!!

* “Whenever ya rub this oil on your body…nature energy can enter through there.” Yeah, watch out, Naruto. When someone takes you to the mountains offering to teach you martial arts and then they want to rub oil all over your body, be skeptical.

* If Naruto doesn't train properly on Mount Myoboku, he will absorb too much nature energy and TURN INTO A FROG. I'm sold.

5:48: VOLUME 45

* “There's too much hate in our shinobi world! But I truly believe that eventually the day will come when all people will understand one another and live in harmony!”

* We meet Lord Raikage, Killer Bee's brother, who is also black-appearing and, thankfully, isn't a rapper. In fact, almost all the Cloud Ninja appear to be black (I say "appear to be" since this is a fantasy world and who knows whether the characters can technically be considered "Asian" or "European" or "African" or anything) and none of them are rappers and they're all pretty cool characters. Okay, Kishimoto. Okay. Getting better.

* WHOA! NARUTO POWERS UP AND NOW HE HAS TOAD EYES! But how does this work with the fox theme he already has going on? Will he eventually transform into a giant fox-toad? (Fingers crossed)

* “The Akatsuki don't follow the laws of nature, physics or logic.”

* There's an invisible force field barrier around Konoha? How long has it been here? Did I skip over the explanation? If it's been there for awhile it must really suck, since dozens of villains infiltrated Konoha during the Chunin Exams story arc.

* It doesn't matter whether there's a force field or not, since Pain and his fellow bad guys bypass the force field and attack Konoha! This is pretty cool. I wish there were more shots of screaming civilians running in terror, though. These mass destruction scenes never work unless you show the screaming civilians.…Okay, there's at least a little bit of screaming. But not enough.

6:07: VOLUME 46

* Healing slugs roam through the half-destroyed ruins of Konoha, healing people as fast as the bad guys can kill them!!

* What is this insane-looking giant brain with tubes sticking out of it, hidden away somewhere underground being tended by ninja??? Wait…is this actually miniaturized, and they're tiny ninja pulling information out of a normal-sized brain?? Oh, it's the Konoha ninja trying to extract memories from the dead brain of the Rain Ninja guy.

* KAKASHI DIES!!! Entering the afterlife, he goes into the dark where he finds his dad sitting beside a campfire, waiting for him. He starts telling his dad the story of his life. (“I want to take my time.” “Yeah…that's fine…”) Did anyone notice this afterlife is exactly like the dream the main character has at the end of No Country for Old Men? This is the coolest. (I didn't mention it before, but Kakashi's backstory is great.)

* Pages 100-101: Dude, now Naruto and Konohamaru are REALLY sleazin’ it up with their Ninja Centerfolds. This is actually dirtier than the scenes they censored a few volumes ago. I love their homosocial bonding.

* Essentially, beneath the messiah complex, Pain is a refugee from a war-torn, Third World Ninja country, and his attack on Konohagakure is basically a way of settling the score by making them face the consequences of their actions. The heroes' reply can be summed up as, "Yes, I know our country (Konohagakure) did terrible things in the past, but that was a long time ago! Now stop bothering and let us celebrate First Hokage Day in peace!" Or to use actual lines from the series: “I cannot say that everything Konohagakure did in the past was correct! But I refuse to be a party to your insanity!”

* Pages 120-121: Beautiful aerial view shot of Konohagakure… :0


The whole village has now been annihilated, but it all seems like it's only affecting the main characters (or they're the only ones who survived). Where are the mobs of injured and crippled refugees? Is that not appropriate shonen manga material? Wouldn't it seem much more tragic if we had more shots of children weeping next to their dead parents and stuff like that? Or am I just incredibly morbid?

* Kishimoto can't bring himself to draw the real 50-year-old Tsunade without her genjutsu (and thus potentially make her less sexy) so when she drops her illusions he only ever shows us portions of her: her wrinkly hands, etc. On the one hand, this does keep the mystery going, but OTOH, it's kind of a cop-out and it would be interesting to see Kishimoto draw a realistically elderly Tsunade.

6:34: VOLUME 47


* CATASTROPHIC PLANETARY CONSTRUCTION: A jutsu where you tear away a chunk of the earth and shoot it into space with its own gravity, trapping the main character on the new planet. Hardcore.

* I haven't written about it, but I've been doing a lot of talking to my dog (my only reading companion) while I've been reading all this Naruto. She's gotten to hear lots of my opinions about various characters and plot developments, as well as vocalized sound effects.

6:54: VOLUME 48

* After the most epic battle so far, a twist: Naruto has been so moved by all Pain's talk of the cycle of revenge/vengeance/justice, he's going to try to negotiate with Pain instead of fighting him. Neat.

* Pain to Naruto: “The peace you large nations enjoy only exists precariously atop the sacrifices of us small nations.” Yep, it's true. This would be a more pointed revelation if Naruto was set in the real world, but I suppose Noam Chomsky is still yet to write a shonen manga.

* Who is the mysterious monk dude, the Sage of Six Paths, who invented ninjutsu to “bring peace” to the world? I'm sure we'll be seeing him before the end of the series…

* Pain is so touched by his encounter with Naruto, he uses the rinne rebirth power and brings all the people he killed back to life. Wow. You just have to punch right through my cynicism, don't you, Naruto baka? (sob)

(Normally I'd think everyone coming back to life like nothing happened would be too much of a cop-out, but at least they still have to work together to rebuild the entire village…no, wait. Of course they can do it instantly with wood jutsu. So it is just like nothing happened. Sigh.)

* And Naruto finally achieves his dream: everyone in the village respects him because he saved their lives!! Unfortunately, another terrible side effect of the village being healed is that Sai returns.

7:15: VOLUME 49

* In Kishimoto's author's note for this issue, he talks about the perils of watching movies while he's working and getting so engrossed he forgets to actually draw. It's true! It's super dangerous! Every comic artist with a Netflix account knows what I'm talking about.

* Who are all these new ninja? Tsuchikage? Mizukage?! And of course Raikage again!! All the kage from all the ninja nations are gathering! COULD THIS BE THE LAST BIG PUSH OF NEW CAST MEMBERS? BE STILL MY BEATING HEART!!!

* It seems like Naruto's thoughtful, pacifistic turn is not just a phase, and he's really willing to turn the other cheek instead of indulging in revenge. (“Beat me up instead! Get it all off your chest!”) Like Dragon Ball Z, it's Naruto M!!

* Page 58: We enter the Land of Iron, a land without ninja, defended by SAMURAI! Samurai can use chakra, it seems, so they're basically just taijutsu ninja in heavy armor.

* Page 97: Aww man. As if Sakura didn't feel bad enough already because the man she loves, Sasuke, turned evil, now Sai is guilt-tripping her about Naruto. “Sasuke is certainly making Naruto suffer, but I think you may be, too…?” What a jerk!!

* Sasuke should really murder some innocent people to make this whole “Sasuke must die! He's a criminal!” thing less obviously bogus. He hasn't really done anything bad yet. He needs to get started on his Konoha destruction plan faster.

* WHOA. Sakura is aware that Naruto has a crush on her. (Unsurprisingly, I guess.) She actually acknowledged it. “He's the fool that fell for me”---!

7:44: VOLUME 50

* So here's a math problem: if it took me all day yesterday to read 27 volumes of Naruto, and today it's taken me 11 hours so far to read 23 volumes of Naruto………if a ninja at ground level throws a shuriken at an angle of 23.5 degrees upward at another ninja on a tree branch 58 feet up and 400 feet away from the first ninja, will the shuriken hit the other ninja or AGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH

What I really need now is a tsukuyomi illusion. “Only a moment passed in the outside world, but in your mind, you spent 72 hours reading manga…”

* Tip: If you want to be a shonen mangaka, you have to learn to draw blast craters. It's super important to get the shadow and perspective right on round (and oblique) blast craters. You can progress extra far if you can draw overlapping blast craters!

* Also rubble. Rubble is important.

* Gross…Jugo can suck a guy's bodily fluids out with his tentacle arms. But he still doesn't really do that much in the story, does he?

* Madara reveals his secret plan, Operation Tsuki no Me (eye of the moon): “ALL SHALL BECOME ONE WITH ME!” That's good villain material. Turns out he too, like Pain, is an insane idealist, who wants to end war by trapping all of humanity inside an eternal dream (ruled by himself of course), a giant tsukuyomi illusion projected off the surface of the moon. Which, by the way, is actually the sleeping body of Ten Tails, the ultimate biju monster. Cool.

* I like that both the Eight-Tails guy (Killer Bee) and the Nine-Tails guy (Naruto), the two most powerful good guys on Earth, are both big flakes. Maybe Killer Bee should become the hero of the series from now on. ("Killer Bee is a ninja in his late 20s with an incorrigible knack for mischief. He's got a wild sense of humor!")

* Now there's a ninja based on enka, who meets Killer Bee for a rap-and-enka musical jam. This is so silly. I wonder about all the rejected characters Kishimoto must have written. How many ninja did he have to come up with…?

* 8:16: Dinner break.

* Sakura confesses "NARUTO, I LOVE YOU!" (!!!) But really, she's just lying to Naruto (and lying to herself too), because she's grateful to Naruto for all his help and she's sure that it's pointless to try to love Sasuke.

This comes out of nowhere, and I wish there had been a little more time for this love subplot throughout the manga, but it is handled well in the short space Kishimoto gives it. It psychologically stings: the mingled flattery and satisfaction and hurt and guilt that Naruto feels hearing the girl he likes say "I love you" together with the realization that she doesn't really mean it, and the gratitude and hopelessness and friendship that Sakura feels for him and confuses for love. Such a tangled, sad, beautiful moment.

* Kisame's blade is actually a giant fish…and he can transform into an even-more-sharklike form, too! Kisame is about to kill Killer Bee when…KISAME'S SWORD BETRAYS HIM AND TAKES PITY ON BEE. That's original.
What's even more original is that it's actually all a ruse and the sword is (SPOILER) a triple agent who's keeping an eye on Killer Bee for Madara.

10:01 PM: VOLUME 51

* Finally Danzo gets to show his true power, which in this case, is Sharingan eyes implanted all over his arm that essentially give him “extra lives” in combat. At least he wasn't just some schmoe.

And even Danzo gets a flashback to his youth. I didn't think this character could actually be made interesting. Kishimoto is so thorough in his backstories.

* Sakura goes to join Sasuke…? NO!! Sakura goes to KILL Sasuke! But Sasuke totally sees through it and is about to kill Sakura WHEN SUDDENLY—!!!

10:21 PM: VOLUME 52

* So is Sasuke “brainwashed” or is he personally responsible for his evil deeds now?Well, at least Sasuke just wants to destroy all of Konoha. He doesn't want to kill everyone on Earth or anything. So really he's still much more sympathetic than the other bad guy.

* “I can only understand you by using my fists!”

* When is Tsunade gonna get out of her coma and regain her awesome powers? I want her back in the story!—AND JUST AS I THINK THAT, SHE RETURNS!

* Oh no…Kabuto starts using his resurrection powers to revive dead characters as allies for Madara. Just like in a fighting game where they make 'new' characters by doing palette swaps of the old one, they're gonna bring back a bunch of old characters from the past to fight the heroes instead of coming up with new guys. NO!!! SO BORING!!!

* It's time for Naruto to undergo MORE TRAINING! On a sinister island this time, with Killer Bee as his training partner!!

* Killer Bee calls Naruto “the ya know brat,” but he doesn't really say “ya know” in the manga, does he? Isn't that more of an anime thing?

Naruto tries to impress Killer Bee with his own rhymes, to get training, but Bee gets annoyed. Dude, he's probably pissed at you because of your stupid “Face dark like an ink pool /But you're so cool” rhyme, idiot.
t's so hard to do rhymes in translation. These ones are just sooooo awful. I hope they did a better job in the anime.

10:50: VOLUME 53

* Naruto gazes into the Waterfall of Truth and meets DARK NARUTO!! Can he tame his own dark side??

* NARUTO VS. THE DEMON FOX! I have to confess now that throughout the series, I've held a Western bias that foxes aren't what I automatically think of as a "scary" or "powerful" creature. Lions, wolves, snakes…sure, but foxes? Like I said, it's cultural bias, because in East Asian culture, nine-tailed foxes are super magical and awesome. Slightly off topic, has anyone done a fursuit of this character?

* Just as he's about to be trapped in negativity, Naruto meets HIS MOTHER! This whole volume is a flashback to the time before Naruto's birth, so we get to meet his mom and dad. I like how Naruto's parents give him a lifetime's worth of advice while they're both impaled on the demon fox's claws and bleeding above him. (I find it a bit unrealistic that Naruto's mother would let Naruto's father sacrifice his life and follow her into death, thus leaving Naruto fatherless, though.)

* 11:41: Damn it! I'm missing volume 54…sob

* My brain is starting to spill over…I'm slowing down. Taking more minutes per volume…not sure how much longer I can do this. I can still follow what's happening but it's starting to have less emotional effect through sheer exhaustion…
I can't read any more tonight. I have to sleep. I'll…I'll try to wake up early and read the rest before 9 AM, so it's still technically in a 48-hour period. I can do this!!


5:58 AM: VOLUME 55

* Yawn…So what did I miss by skipping a volume?? OK…The entire training island is a giant floating turtle. Got it! Other than that, it doesn't seem like I missed a whole lot.

* The battle lines are being drawn for the final conflict: A LITERAL ARMY of ALL THE NINJA IN THE WORLD, 80,000 ninja strong vs. Madara, Kabuto, a bunch of resurrected zombie ninja, and 100,000 copies of Zetsu. I'd heard the final storyline was called "The Fourth Ninja World War," but this isn't quite what I expected.

So basically, tons of dead ninja are coming back to life (not as rotting zombies, just as pale revenants with dark eyes, sadly) and attacking the living. However, although Madara controls their bodies, they still have their own spirits, and they can even talk and tell the living characters how to defeat them (if they want to).

Essentially, this is a curtain call: a way for all your favorite bad guys and dead heroes to come back for ONE MORE FIGHT!!

* Oh no! The Seven Legendary Swordsmen of the Mist! At least they're new characters.

* A sword that regenerates by sucking up the iron in people's blood…cool.

6:23 AM: VOLUME 56

* More new (undead) characters! Meet the Gold and Silver Brothers, whose ninjutsu allows them to identify people's most common catchphrases or words and kill them when they use that catchphrase. I'd like to use this power on lots of manga characters.

6:46 VOLUME 57

* So this is the plot point: the heroes are keeping Naruto and Killer Bee locked up and hidden away against their will so that the bad guys can't get to them. This seems like a highly questionable strategy; surely it'd be more useful to have the two most powerful people on the front lines fighting instead of hidden away somewhere? Nice way to keep the heroes off the battlefield until the last possible minute so they can show up and save the day, though.

* Killer Bee fistbumps Naruto instead of bowing!! Yeah!!!

* Naruto and the other good guys speculate on the futility of war. “If you take down the enemy, they'll bear you hatred. Do you really think you can take all of that on by yourself?” Yeah, normally I'd agree, but…the enemies in this "war" are just two demented maniacs (Madara and Kabuto), one artificial life form that's not really human anyway (Zetsu), one angry person with a semi-legitimate complaint (Sasuke), and a bunch of dead people who aren't even responsible for their own actions and would be happy to be returned to the peace of the grave. It's not like if they kill Zetsu #65,458 out of 100,000, Zetsu #65,458's fiancée is going to be off somewhere crying “Now I'll never get to enjoy marriage to my fungus-monster husband” or something like that. So as wars go, this war is actually ALMOST GUILTLESS AND INCREDIBLY MORALLY STRAIGHTFORWARD.

* “You're a turd!” Have Viz's censorship standards relaxed? I'm glad Sasuke didn't call Itachi this, though.

* Uh-oh…Nine-Tails is starting to look sort of cute instead of evil. Naruto's taming him.

* Random incidents: (1) a murder mystery in the army camp: Zetsu using his/its disguise powers to cause mayhem. (2) Some random ninja gives Sakura a love letter, that's sweet. (3) Two soldiers on guard duty peeing in the river. Nice.

7:16: VOLUME 58

* One of the more interesting resurrected characters is Gaara's dad. Gaara Senior fights Gaara and stops his sand tsunami by mixing it with gold dust, which weighs down the sand.

Now that I think back, Gaara's dad was actually super evil and was responsible for all Gaara's problems and kept trying to kill him. But he's handsome, so he must actually be a good guy.

AWWWWW!! Gaara's sand finally transforms into the shape of his mother. And Gaara's dad apologizes to his son and explains it was all his fault and everything is resolved happily. OK.

* The "dead characters coming back to life" isn't just a way to re-fight old enemies; it's also an excuse to tie up all the loose ends in Naruto. And I mean ALL the loose ends. Everyone who died with the slightest bit of unresolved baggage shows again to apologize or explain their side of the story or hash out their issues with the living. Even Itachi and Sasuke get a nice brotherly chat together to work out their issues.

* “The success or failure of a series depends on the third and final volume! Naruto! You must be the masterpiece that finishes this trilogy and is so amazing that no one remembers the waste that was in the middle!”

* “First, you need to defeat my giant clam!”

8:14 AM: VOLUME 59

* I love how manga mix the fact that magic and ninjutsu exist with random bits of science facts. (“Gold is about twenty time heavier than an equivalent amount of water. Gold also has good thermal conductivity, which came in handy for chilling its heated water vapor and steam.”)

* Akira Toriyama basically broke down and collapsed after just 42 volumes of manga. Naruto is now at volume 59 and still going. How do you keep going for 72 volumes of manga??? How do you follow it up? Like Kishimoto is ever going to draw a seventy-three-volume series after Naruto. -_- Sigh…

Does Kishimoto get to retire now, at the age of 40? Well, Akira Toriyama was about 40 when Dragon Ball ended.

* Naruto can't make any more doppelgangers when he's in super power up flaming mode: “This time I'm quality instead of quantity!”

* WHAAAA---??!!? Big revelation: Tobi, aka the mysterious masked man, ISN'T Madara Uchiha??? Tobi is someone else?? And Madara Uchiha is big-haired 1980s David Bowie in a samurai outfit??!


* 8:40: AGGGGHHH!! I'm also missing volume 60!!! My search of the San Francisco Public Library was incomplete! My mission has failed! Even if I read all the Naruto that I have, it still isn't all the Naruto! (EDIT: In retrospect, I realize I could have bought it instantly online from the Viz app in the app store! Advertisement! -_- )

If this was a manga, right now I would realize I had an extra hour to read manga so I could still make my 48-hour goal: “I forgot! DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME!!!” But that was a week ago, dammit.

*8:44: VOLUME 61

* Page 16: From behind, Uchiha's hair looks like Son Goku's.

* Page 22: Ahh! Madara really is a jerk! Plus, he's sexist! (“You're a weak woman!”)

* Eww, the new, mutated Kabuto doesn't have a snake tail, it's a snake umbilicus. Plus he's stronger because he trained under THE WHITE SNAKE SAGE!! The White Snake Sage is the only cool thing Kabuto has ever brought to the story.
WAT A MINUTE. WOW. KABUTO ACTUALLY HAS AN AWESOME BACKSTORY. (And one which implicitly acknowledges that he's such a nothing of a character—he's a “nobody” who's never felt a strong sense of self.) There's a great shot of Kabuto distilling Orochimaru's corpse down into a few droplets of fluid.

9:11: VOLUME 62

* I've failed to read all of Naruto in 48 hours. But still I go onward…

* Madara reveals his Stand—I mean his Susano'o—"Perfect Susano'o". Perfect Susano'o. It definitely looks a lot cooler than the other Susano'o. Also, he can SLICE TWO MOUNTAINS IN HALF WITH A SINGLE SWORD STRIKE. “A single stroke of the blade contains enough power to smash all things in this universe.”

* Page 75: Tsunade's lost love, Dan, comes back from the grave to see her!! And all he does is kiss her on the forehead??? -_-;;

* Suigetsu: “Nobody wants to see Orochimaru ever again!” Uh, agreed. I can't believe even Orochimaru isn't really dead and is coming back for the finale. So both he AND Kabuto, both of them mass murderers, are being redeemed and turned into good guys?!?!?!? GIVE ME A BREAK

10:03: VOLUME 63

* THE MYSTERIOUS MASKED VILLAIN WHO WANTS TO PERFORM THE "TSUKI NO ME" IS OBITO, KAKASHI'S FRIEND FROM THE PAST! Wow. How did Obito, the most compassionate person in the manga, turn evil?

* Page 138: Well, he turned evil because he witnessed Kakashi killing his beloved Rin. But if I know one thing from reading 63 volumes of Naruto, obviously if it seemed like the good guys were doing something evil there had to be some explanation. Obito, why didn't you just ask Kakashi to explain, instead of developing a grudge against all ninja on Earth? Or if you loved Rin so much, then why didn't you just use the rinne rebirth power to resurrect her, genius?

10:21: VOLUME 64

* Man, the Nine Tailed Demon Fox is so tame now, it's just adorable. It's less scary than The Grinch.

* At least Ten Tails looks scary. And it keeps mutating and getting weirder, while also blasting huge chunks out of the planet. There's a real Jack Kirby crazy galactic shot here when Naruto tries to look into Ten Tails' chakra. "All you'll see is how limitless it is!"

* There's a theme here…youthful idealism vs. the cynicism and weariness of age. Obito tries to tell Naruto that someday he, too, will be bitter and depressed. “You're merely younger than me. Eventually…” Bear this in mind when you read to the end of this review. -_-

* “It's meaningless to argue during a war.” “When there's a difference of opinion, isn't the usual way…majority rule?” “Nice thought. So we'll call it after we've erased all of you.”

* Pages 152-153: Drawing these chapter title headings must be so fun. (Unless it's the last thing that has to be done before the deadline and Kishimoto is so burned out and can't draw another line.) They have such a variety of styles.

10:40: VOLUME 65

* So turns out Sharingan are EYES THAT REFLECT THE HEART! Uchiha are cursed to FEEL TOO STRONGLY!! LOVE AND HATE!!!

* Flashback to the distant past, back when ninja didn't have villages! We get to see the feud between Senju Hashirama and Uchiha Madara and the origin of Madara's evil!!

11:00: VOLUME 66

* Sasuke turns back into a good guy! And now he wants to be Hokage too! The three core heroes (Sakura, Sasuke and Naruto) are BACK!!!

* Sakura: “Do you see me as some weak female who can't keep up with you two? As if Lady Tsunade would be the only one of the prodigal three to inadequately train her disciple!”

11:22: VOLUME 67

* TEN TAILS JINCHURIKI?? Ten Tails goes bishonen! But wait! Kishimoto is going all Akira again! Ten Tails starts monstering out and swelling up! Make up your mind about what Ten Tails is supposed to look like, it's not fair if you just use every single proposed design from your sketchbook by having it change form constantly!!

* Naruto bumps fists with his dad!!

* Ten Tails! The Divine Tree! Source of Power!! AAGGGGGGGHHHH!

1:30: VOLUME 68~72ish

* Volumes 69-72 aren't out in English yet. They're only available in Shonen Jump back issues. My "read all of Naruto plan" keeps crumbling…or rather mutating, like Ten Tails. I know I'm rushing and skimming through it now, but I have to keep going…my laptop typing posture is getting worse and worse…going to have…neck problems…

* Naruto: “What I want isn't the easy path, but how to navigate the rugged one.”

* Surprise! Obito isn't the main bad guy at all! MADARA is the true bad guy!

* Double surprise! Madara isn't the main bad guy at all! KAGUYA is the true bad guy!
Really? After all this? The true enemy is some character we've never even met before? Disappointing…She has cool powers and all, but…

* I'm just going to sum up: MASSIVE EXPLOSIONS!!!

* And again, after it's all over, people magically come back to life and the world isn't decimated by giant smoking blast craters and nuclear winter.

* Much later, Naruto fights Sasuke again! “This fight isn't about winning or losing! It's about punching a sulking friend and making him snap out of it!” Again: MASSIVE EXPLOSION!! At least they don't come out of it unscathed…

* The final chapter jumps forward about years later! Everyone's older! Everyone's married and has babies! It's the happiest conclusion ever and leaves open the possibility for a sequel! And now there's laptops and skyscrapers in Konohagakure!! It's just like the end of Dragon Ball!


* So now I've read Naruto (well, most of it). It has great artwork, and it takes the ninja concept (and other Japanese mythological themes) and shakes it up and reinvents it. Kishimoto is an inventive artist and a great storyteller, especially when he doesn't have his characters talk too much and overexplain everything.

Some people have commented on how Naruto is a "gory" or "gritty" manga, though, and I don't think it is. Although it has more death and violence than a typical American superhero story, and though the art might look almost seinen, it ultimately fits all the shonen tropes. As authors often do in heroic stories, Kishimoto tries to tackle moral issues—the morality of justice, revenge and power—and he comes to an optimistic, almost Utopian conclusion. Everyone who writes about morality (or, really, everyone) constructs their own moral universe; everyone stacks the deck in different ways. Naruto, like many shonen manga, follows what I call the Shonen Manga Law of Guilt Displacement: (1) cool villains are introduced (2) but the readers come to like them too much (3) so the cool villains turn out to be good guys after all, and (3a) they acknowledge their error and are redeemed; or (3b) their guilt is deflected onto less appealing, uglier, or just less familiar villains. Ultimately, a minimal number of characters must be truly 'evil', so it boils down to either “the people who were responsible for all the bad stuff were old and ugly and no one cares about them" or “it was all just a misunderstanding.”

Not all shonen manga are like this, of course: whether flippantly or seriously, a few have a more amoral, "you gotta be tough to survive" or "the end justifies the means as long as the hero wins" attitude, like Jojo's Bizarre Adventure or Yoshihiro Togashi's manga. But while the Naruto world is violent, it isn't cruel; there are no major villains who are just jerks for the sake of being jerks or whose sins are unforgivable. It's a happy series. Duh: it's a shonen manga. But to my taste, Naruto tries too hard to smooth over every rough, hard-to-digest bit; the "bringing people back from the dead to talk to the living and tell their side of the story" device in particular lets Kishimoto squeeze out every last drop of closure. Like Naruto himself, Kishimoto is so serious and earnest about the morality of his world, if he was rewriting Dragon Ball he'd probably give Vegeta a long speech in the Cell Saga about how he feels bad about killing so many people and it was all because the Ginyu Force picked on him when he was younger. After 72 volumes, I'm left with literally zero unanswered questions about the Naruto world. (Except for what's behind Kakashi's mask. I'm betting it's a lipless skull mouth.)

* But am I saying I don't like Naruto? Naww. I'm saying I've read too many shonen manga. Looking back over this writeup, I've made a jillion references to other manga, but to someone discovering Naruto for the first time, none of those comparisons matter. Every manga is someone's first manga, and Naruto is a great first manga. The theme of forgiveness and negotiation is bold (even though the climax involves fighting, of course, it doesn't literally end with Naruto and Obito at the negotiating table like some Doctor Who episodes), and even bolder in contrast to American superhero stories, where the bad guys are just as stereotypically irredeemable and pure-evil as the Naruto bad guys are emo and sympathetic. Naruto drags badly for the last 20 volumes, and there's 2 or 3 final bosses too many, but it's a good manga.

* But I couldn't finish reading it in time. It was too dense. I got too tired. Like the ninja ancestors in Naruto, I leave the field of Naruto reading to future manga reviewers. I know that somewhere out there is the reader who will surpass me and read all of Naruto  in 48 hours. Or if you REALLY want to go beyond human ability, you know what you have to do. You know your target. I dare you to you marathon-read all of One Piece.

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