Reviewby Casey Brienza,
It's been over two years since Naruto has been off training with the “pervy sage” Jiraiya. But now he has returned to Konoha, and he soon discovers that things have changed. For starters, Tsunade has become established as the Fifth Hokage, and everyone who graduated with Naruto is ranked chûnin at least. On a more sinister note, the Akatsuki appear to be on the move at last, and their first gambit is to kidnap Sand's Kazekage—Gaara! Kankuro is felled by an opponent's deadly toxin while trying to rescue him. A cell once more, Kakashi, Naruto, and Sakura are sent to Sand as reinforcements…but saving Kankuro's life is only the beginning!
Naruto's heretofore white spine has become black, and Naruto is back! Volume twenty eight corresponds to the beginning of the Naruto: Shippûden anime series, and although you cannot really begin the series from this point and expect to understand or appreciate everything that occurs subsequently, there is a genuine sense of reinvigoration here. Talk about an expedient way to shake off the immediate, depressing weight of a whole ton of Uchiha angst-ridden baggage. Indeed, mangaka Masashi Kishimoto uses the two odd years of elapsed Naruto world time to reposition the characters and advance the plot just enough so that it is full speed ahead again with the Akatsuki's dastardly scheme.
But not before we get an update on selected members of the series' vast cast of characters. All of them have improved dramatically in the interim, and everyone looks older. Naruto's new skills are, for now, left to the imagination, but at least he is not the shortest anymore. Meanwhile, all of his compatriots have become either chûnin or jônin, and Gaara has done a one-eighty to become his village's Kazekage. Even little Konohamaru has managed to perfect the “Ninja Centerfold” jutsu. Arguably, though, the character who has leveled up the most is Sakura, who has been busy training as a medical ninja under the new Fifth Hokage Tsunade and can now level cause earthquakes and heal wounds with her bare hands. Kishimoto took a lot of flak several years ago from his devoted female fans in Japan when it was suggested early in the series that Sakura had less “potential” than either Naruto and Sasuke. Clearly, he has taken the temporal gap in the plot as a convenient opportunity for some long-awaited atonement; the new and improved Sakura can kick some serious butt.
There are two major combat scenes in the volume. The first and most high-powered of the lot are between Gaara and Deidara, a specialist in detonating clay. The scene gives the reader a fast recap of all of Gaara's awe-inspiring moves, but it all proves to be for naught because Deidara outwits him and captures him—alive. The second battle is between puppet master Kankuro and a scorpion-like humanoid who proves to be Sasori of the Red Sand, the founder of the puppet corps. This battle proves to be more interesting because it opens up a domestic drama subplot involving Sunagakure's elders and their prodigal son. This story will be continued to good effect in later volumes.
The final two chapters of the volume develop the main characters and explore their motivations and personalities, and they advance the plot. On their way to Sand, Naruto remembers why Gaara is important to him—they are both hosts to demons and have known what it is to be reviled by their villages for it. Sakura, meanwhile, renews her vow to fight and protect her friends. Once they reach Sand, Sakura again takes center stage so that they are able to win the elders' respect and save Kankuro's life. Next on the agenda is saving Gaara from the Akatsuki. It's definitely a tall order, but fortunately Guy and his cell are close behind!
All in all, this is easily one of the best volumes of Naruto so far. As always, Kishimoto's artwork is excellent, bursting from each page with the detailed style of line work made famous by Akira Toriyama. The Viz Media edition also includes a handsome fold-out poster of Naruto. Story-wise, there is a great balance of plot, character development, comic relief, action scenes, and training scenes that enriches the reading experience. The training scene in particular is poignant, as it refers back to Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke's first day of training with Kakashi, where he instructs them to take some bells away from his person. Same rules as last time, but now Kakashi will not hold back. Obviously, it would be too great of a spoiler to reveal here how Naruto and Sakura manage to outwit their sensei, but let's just say that Naruto's years with Jiraiya have served him well. Get ready to laugh aloud…and maybe cry.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A
+ An excellent balance of plot, character development, comic relief, and action scenes.
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