Reviewby Amy McNulty,
More than a decade after the end of the events in Naruto Shippūden, the world is at peace and more harmonious than ever before. The generation of genin who grew up during this post-Fourth Ninja World War era have little idea of the struggles their parents faced. Instead, all young Boruto Uzumaki, son of the seventh Hokage (Naruto Uzumaki) and grandson of the fourth (Minato), can see is how thoughtless his workaholic father is. In response to his father's neglect of him and his sister, Boruto is eager to get through to Naruto the only way he can think how—by passing the Chūnin exams with his teammates Sarada and Mitsuki. Eschewing his father's hard work method, Boruto means to gain power his own way and uncover his father's weakness. Also, Mitsuki's origins are partially revealed.
By and large, the first volume of the Boruto: Naruto Next Generations manga matches about the first half of the the Boruto: Naruto the Movie film released in 2015. This isn't entirely surprising, given the manga's writer, Ukyo Kodachi, contributed to the film's script under the supervision of Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto. Nor is the fact that the series begins with the movie plot a letdown, as the story serves as an excellent extension of the Naruto Shippūden manga's epilogue by examining the somewhat strained relationship between Boruto and his father. While Sarada (Sakura and Sasuke's daughter) and Mitsuki (Orochimaru's child), Boruto's teammates, are given less to do in the first two-thirds of the volume, and Boruto's other contemporaries (by and large also the children of the remaining Hidden Leaf 11) appear even less, the earliest rounds of their Chūnin exam is as good a stage as any to get a feel for their personalities and abilities. They may all be somewhat one-note at this point, but most of their predecessors weren't that much more well-rounded in the manga proper and they have time to grow regardless.
Interestingly, the manga opens with a flash-forward to Boruto's teen or adult years to show that the apple doesn't fall so far from the tree after all. As he engages in an epic showdown with a man named Kawaki, who for all intents and purposes might be his own Sasuke-esque rival, a grown (and scarred) Boruto reminisces about his early days, which leads into the movie story. When Naruto—who finds himself needed around the village in too many places at once—is caught sending a shadow clone to his own daughter's birthday celebration, it's the last straw for Boruto, who has no interest in pursuing the “family profession” of Hokage. In a compelling twist, it's intelligent and tactical Sarada with dreams of leading the village instead—a plot point that hopefully sticks throughout the series.
Sarada admires Naruto for being the Hidden Leaf's leader and Boruto finds himself fascinated with his father's rival, Sasuke, when he meets him for the first time during one of Sasuke's rare visits home. (He's there to report a confrontation with a new enemy likely to attack the Hidden Leaf, a plot quickly dropped but sure to resurface again.) Determined to outshine his father someday soon, Boruto asks Sasuke to train him. Although he demonstrates more natural talent than his hardworking if somewhat clumsy father before him, Boruto has none of Naruto's patience and little of his persistence. Still, his team leader, Konohamaru, and Sasuke are willing to work with the youth to help prepare him for the exam ahead. Making matters decidedly less likely to turn out well is Boruto's decision to rely on experimental new ninja tech in secret, a bracelet that allows him to use elemental techniques he hasn't properly trained to earn. The parallels between Boruto's eagerness to outdo his father and his own father's eagerness to outdo the naturally-talented Sasuke are undermined by Boruto's choice to cut corners whenever possible in the belief that his dad is too old-fashioned to see the benefit of innovation and technology. While the story cuts out immediately following the second round, enough of the exam unfolds to demonstrate both Sarada's and Mitsuki's skills as well as to adeptly set up this Boruto/Naruto conflict.
The final story in this volume takes the reader out of the current moment to examine Mitsuki's origins. Although not everything is revealed, it's clear that Mitsuki, like most anything associated with the devious and genius Orochimaru, was manufactured in one way or another as Orochimaru's “sixth attempt” at creating a child. (Whether that means he was a brainwashed kidnapped child whose face was changed, a clone, an entirely lab-bred child, or some combination of above remains to be seen.) After waking up in Orochimaru's lab as a youth with no memories, Orochimaru instructs the lad that he should consider the former villain his “parent” and that he must help him fight a man who stole the boy's memories. Confused, Mitsuki follows along, unleashing incredible powers along the way. When he confronts their target, he discovers he's also “Mitsuki,” a young man slightly older with the same face who tells him not to trust Orochimaru. When he successfully retrieves a scroll that returns his “memories” and gives him additional power, Orochimaru has a chat with the older-Mitsuki that makes it clear the older version of the boy is hardly Orochimaru's enemy. It's an engaging short story that answers a few questions and brings up so many more. This early on, that only makes sense; plus, it's quite true to the enigmatic character of Orochimaru, who, reformed villain or no, will never be entirely trustworthy.
The art in this volume truly shines—and resembles almost exactly Kishimoto's style. In the foreword, artist Mikio Ikemoto reveals he was one of Kishimoto's assistants on the Naruto manga for a number of years, and it's clear he can inhabit the Narutoverse with aplomb. The art is so seamless, it truly feels like the continuation of the story, and Ikemoto does a great job of making the action sequences leap off the page, as few as there may be this early on in the story.
The first volume of the Boruto manga offers something for every Naruto fan, from the casual fan who stopped watching the Naruto series ages ago who'd like to return to the earlier, less complicated days of that story, to the obsessive fan who's already seen much of this story in the Boruto film but who's yet to read the Mitsuki backstory piece. While the plot of the film doesn't necessarily warrant multiple volumes devoted to it, the first volume never feels slow or stretched out. With the Boruto manga being a monthly publication in Japan as opposed to the weekly installments of the original tale, there's likely to be a longer wait between volumes. It's possible most or all of the manga stories will be adapted into the TV anime long before the manga volumes hit North American shores. Fortunately, the art alone is worth the price of admission, even if you're already familiar with the content.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : A
+ Detailed artwork that seamlessly continues in the Naruto style, theme that captures the conflict between one generation and the next, immediately engaging central characters
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