Reviewby Amy McNulty,
Naruto: The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring
Eleven-year-old Uchiha Sarada has gone nearly her entire life without having contact with her father, Sasuke, who wanders the world on a special mission to keep everyone safe from a possible future threat. Although she gets along well with her mother, Sakura, young Sarada doesn't understand why her father is never around—or how her mom could still be in love with a man who abandoned his family. After Sakura accidentally levels their home with one of her super-powered punches, Sarada discovers a picture of Sasuke with his Taka compatriots and thinks she's a dead ringer for the bespectacled woman in the photo. Under the pretense of helping flighty Akamichi Cho-Cho find her “real” parents and delivering a bento to Uzumaki Naruto (who's now the Seventh Hokage), Sarada sets out to find Sasuke and figure out if Karin is indeed her real mother.
To be honest, I never imagined a story about the next generation of Hidden Leaf youngsters would be built around anyone but Boruto, Naruto and Hinata's precocious son, but despite its misleading subtitle, Naruto: The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring stars Sarada. Boruto makes several brief appearances, but he's not present for the bulk of the story, nor is he part of the mission that Sarada undertakes. Frankly, I think Sarada's quest to meet and understand her parents makes for a better story than Boruto trying to impress his perpetually-too-busy father, which was the driving conflict of Boruto's first big-screen outing.
Boruto: Naruto the Movie gave us brief glimpses of Sarada's personality. She's more down to earth than her upstart teammate, which makes sense given how serious her father is. However, she also inherited some of Sakura's legendary temper, and as she learns throughout her journey, she shares far more in common with her mother than she initially thought. Sarada's also in awe of Naruto and like him, she aspires to one day become Hokage—an interesting twist, considering (as we find out in the aforementioned film) Boruto idolizes Sasuke and has no interest in becoming Hokage despite his many similarities to the younger version of his father.
Even more surprising is this story's choice of secondary character. In lieu of the other two members of what will eventually be Sarada's team (Boruto and Mitsuki, both of whom have brief appearances), the only other Hidden Leaf genin-to-be to be prominently featured is Akamichi Cho-Cho. Fewer series depict the platonic friendship between two girls than you might think, let alone a shonen action series. Cho-Cho is far less poised than Sarada and appears to be suffering from chuunibyou, or “middle school second year's syndrome.” She finds it difficult to believe she's the child of Choji and Karui, even though she's a near-perfect genetic mix of the two. Because she wants to have a suave, handsome father, she's particularly repulsed by the idea of Choji being her dad. When Cho-Cho decides to set off in search of her “real” parents, Sarada steers her instead to trail Naruto to Sasuke's last known location.
Like most Naruto material set after the manga's conclusion, bland antagonists are this story's biggest drawback. Not Naruto's former adversaries—in fact, appearances by Orochimaru, Karin, Jugo, Suigetsu, and Kabuto suggest that the Hidden Leaf is on strangely friendly terms with these former terrorists. However, it's hard for any new villains to hold a candle to Orochimaru, the Akatsuki, and Kaguya. This time, the main characters find themselves up against a bunch of old-Orochimaru-experiment-clones gone rogue. Although these clones have some degree of Sharingan power—and Sasuke is conveniently powered down during much of the action—they never seem to pose much of a threat. The philosophical rant about genes and progeny that their leader rattles off to Sakura reveals how uninspired his motivations truly are.
As is typical of Masashi Kishimoto's work, the art is lovely to look at, and the characters are set against detailed backgrounds. Although there are plenty of fight scenes packed into these ten chapters, none of the techniques are particularly memorable or awe-inspiring. Some of the action gets muddled in the black and white art, but not to the point of diminishing the spectacle.
While not omnipresent, there's a lot of humor sprinkled through the story. After the dark end-game vibe that permeated the latter volumes of the parent series, a return to old-school Naruto levity is certainly welcome. Cho-Cho's fantasies and delusions are among this volume's comedic highlights, and they're even funnier when paired with the hopelessly dense Naruto's misunderstanding of the whole affair. Despite being a force to be reckoned with, grown-up Naruto is still his lovable goofball self.
While predictable to the audience, the story's conclusion and the identity of Sarada's real mother come as an understandable shock to some of the featured players. I'm still not a fan of Sakura and Sasuke's relationship because of the history between these two characters. (More accurately, Sasuke's history and the hurt he inflicts on those around him.) However, I appreciate how this story offers new insight into this Uchiha family unit. To a point, I can finally understand Sakura having a child with Sasuke. I still believe she should have moved past her brooding childhood crush, but this volume makes it clear that Sasuke and Sakura share a unique bond. At the end of the day, their marriage works for them, and Sarada has demonstrated enough strength of character to prove that she'll be able to flourish in spite of her paternal abandonment issues.
Kishimoto makes a joke about being a “40-year-old dude” writing about an “11-year-old girl” protagonist in his foreword, but he manages to touch on some universal themes in his depiction of this young girl that truly make her come to life. In a genre and story in which female characters are the minority, it's refreshing to see one star, albeit for a few chapters, in an action manga and never once become objectified or personify tired stereotypes. Sarada's a fully fleshed-out character, and if this consistently entertaining story is any indication, she might be a better candidate for the starring role in a sequel series than the decidedly more popular Boruto.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ The decision to make Sarada the star, revealing enemies who've become allies, detailed and action-packed art.
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