by Amy McNulty,


GN 72

Naruto, Vol. 72
Following Kaguya's defeat, the Sage of Six Paths has to return to the afterlife, taking the reanimated heroes of the past with him. To free the world from the Infinite Tsukuyomi's hold, Naruto must combine his tailed beast chakra with Sasuke's Rinnegan and weave the Sign of the Rat. Unfortunately, the near-end-of-the-world only hardened Sasuke's heart and substantiates his belief that he needs to rebuild ninja society from the ground up. Threatening to kill the Five Kage and Naruto before he'll let the people reawaken, Sasuke is dead-set on settling the score with his eternal frenemy once and for all. Nevertheless, Naruto continues to believe that there's some good in Sasuke, and he's determined to draw it out.

Just as it seems like Naruto and company have restored peace to the world, Sasuke throws a wrench in the celebration by proclaiming his intentions to become the ninja world's all-powerful dictator. To bring his plan to fruition, he needs to wash away the sins of the old world by killing the Five Kage along with Naruto, who possesses the tailed beast power Sasuke needs to secure his rule. Naruto, eager to bring his wayward friend back to the fold and face off against his old rival once more, accepts Sasuke's challenge.

Although this volume is light on humor, there's enough emotional connection to the conflict at hand to make up for it. Instead of fighting a near-omnipotent goddess with whom they had no personal history, Naruto and Sasuke go head-to-head, giving fans the battle they've been anticipating for years. This makes for a much more engaging fight, even if Sasuke's reasons for setting it into motion are infuriating. For a while, readers are left to wonder if he's learned anything from the past few battles. As it turns out, he just needs Naruto's help to (violently) work through some deep-seated issues.

From a logical perspective, Naruto and Sakura shouldn't forgive Sasuke's actions. However, in Naruto's case, it's absolutely in line with his character. He's actually forgiven villains for much worse, and in some cases, even inspired them to become better people. To learn that Sasuke was actually jealous of Naruto all along—because of his optimism and enthusiasm in the face of a similarly tragic past—is a nice touch that brings their relationship full circle.

In Sakura's case, it's a sad regression of her character's potential, even if it's not particularly out of place. Ever since she was 12, she's been madly in love with the sullen jerk. When Sasuke graduated from “perpetual sourpuss” to “enemy of the village,” one would think she'd have second thoughts. Deciding she wanted to be as strong as her teammates in her own way by studying under Tsunade was the first time she was passionate about something outside of her crush. As an older teen, she should have been able to let go of her feelings for a guy who had never been anything but rude to her and went so far as to try to kill her at one point because she was in his way. Of course, this isn't to say that she should wind up with Naruto, whom she loves like a brother. However, after becoming such a strong and intelligent kunoichi, she should have enough self-esteem to move past this unhealthy attraction.

Sakura's weaknesses aside, the battle is well-paced, with Sasuke and Naruto periodically pausing the action to engage in philosophical debates and set up flashbacks. At one point, they even exhaust their chakra and begin exchanging hand-to-hand blows. The perspiration dotting the combatants' bodies during this segment makes their struggle all the more real. By the end, each sacrifices something and neither physically bests the other. However, it should come as no surprise that Naruto ultimately wins the heady debate the boys have throughout the battle. If he hadn't, the series couldn't have a happy ending.

The flash-forward epilogue in which readers see what characters are up to years down the line is the perfect end cap to the series. It's primarily a heartwarming bonus chapter meant to showcase multiple “who married who?” surprises. The biggest conflict is how Naruto's headstrong son Boruto acts out to get his busy father's attention. His actions closely mirror young Naruto's mischievous attention-seeking behavior, right down to the defacing of Hokage Rock. A panel on the second-to-last page reveals how much Konohagakure has evolved under the Sixth and Seventh Kage's leadership, and it hints at the possibilities of greater adventures ahead. At the same time, the sleeping Kurama indicates peace and cooperation between tailed beasts and humankind. The child characters introduced in this chapter are all intriguing, even if many are mere reflections of their parents. It makes sense that Kishimoto went on to do a miniseries set in this time period. However, after the epic conflict that was the Fourth Shinobi World War, creating a long-running series with even higher stakes would be a tall order.

As usual, the art is pleasant to look at, and the action sequences are easier to follow than last volume's supernatural confrontation. It's a shame the volume couldn't have included the epilogue chapter in color as it appeared in the original publication, although that would have added to the cost of the book. The conversion to black and white makes the final chapter more muddied than the previous ones and lends a somber tone to what's an otherwise uplifting conclusion. Fortunately, there's a good chance this chapter will be printed in its original glory when the final volume is released digitally.

As is the case with a number of farewell volumes, illustrations from guest artists are prominently featured. Even if you're unfamiliar with the artists who contributed, it's fun to see Kishimoto's characters drawn in different styles, and it helps make the whole thing feel more celebratory.

Substantially more satisfying than the previous volume, Naruto's sendoff is a must-read for both ardent and casual Naruto fans alike. Because the central conflict—the fight between Naruto and Sasuke—is so central to the series, even readers who've been out of touch for a while won't feel completely out of the loop.

Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : A-

+ Strong thematic resolution, skillfully executed final battle, expressive art.
Weak Sakura characterization, muddy colors on black and white scan of the final chapter.

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Story & Art: Masashi Kishimoto

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