Naruto Manga Review
"Naruto" by Masashi Kishimoto is a popular ninja-based manga series set in a unique world of ninja clans and secret alliances. It has gained popularity over the years for its characters, setting, and writing.
The story begins in the Hidden Leaf Village, Konohagakure, where a nine-tailed demon fox has been wreaking havoc and slaughtering all in his way. The leaf village's ninja defenders fight bravely against it, and many die. Finally, the leader of the leaf village sacrifices his life to seal the demon into a newborn infant, Uzumaki Naruto.
Flash forward 12 years, Naruto has spent a life alone, apparently orphaned and shunned by the other villagers due to what lives inside him. The other children are never directly told that he has the Demon Fox in him, but due to their parents' behavior regarding him, they too treat him as an outcast (albeit for different reasons).Nonetheless, Naruto is a hyperactive, cheerful boy whose ambition is to become the next Hokage, or village leader. The earliest parts of the series detail his quest to become a full-fledged Ninja. During this part several other characters are introduced: his teacher, Iruka, who Naruto treats as a father figure, his teammates Sakura and Sasuke, and his team leader, Kakashi. Sakura is a girl who Naruto has a crush on, but she in turn has a crush on Sasuke, who is popular and cool (though smug and superior) and a genius Ninja. Kakashi, their leader, is highly skilled but generally laid back (though easily capable of getting serious if the situation calls for it).
Early in the series, story arcs are short and sweet. Naruto helps a kid to gain self-confidence. Naruto and his team try to defeat their instructor as a test to become full-fledged Ninja. Naruto and his team take on their first real mission and defeat some rival Ninja. All of these require about a volume each, maybe a little more. However, this "several short, connected stories" mode quickly fades and falls into long, drawn-out story arcs. As an example, the first two story arcs (from the introduction of Naruto, including his becoming a full Ninja, to the end of their first major mission) takes 33 chapters. The next story arc takes 80 chapters. Also, the chapters become exceedingly connected (all taking place fairly soon after the previous one), making the already long story arcs seem even longer.
Another complaint I have about the story (though it is fairly personal) is that, despite the scope of the world and of the wide variety of minor characters, there isn't as much "fleshing out" done as it seems there should be. While there is only so much room for plot in the story, it would be nice if they spent more time on exploring the world and less on long, complicated fight scenes.
The art is fairly good, being crisp, clear, and full of action and movement. There's a mix of serious and comedic moments and both are rendered equally well. I have seen some mangas where the lines were too thick or the shading too heavy to discern what's actually happening, but Naruto is remarkably clear. One thing Kishimoto does especially well is background characters, in crowds or by themselves. There are very few crowd scenes where a single member is really "boring", and sometimes minor characters seem cooler than the main characters do.
Overall, I would recommend reading at least the first four volumes of Naruto (until the end of the Zabuza arc). If you wish to go forward, realize that you're making a major commitment unless you want to be stuck at mid-story for the rest of your life.
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