It wasn't long before this volume that the Naruto timeline jumped ahead two years, and so far I'm enjoying the change. It's difficult to tell, but it seems as though Naruto might've mellowed out during the two years that were skipped. I'm enjoying seeing how everyone has changed and grown. Any growth in fighting ability would likely best be shown in one-on-one battles, which don't happen in this volume, but readers do get to see Naruto and Kakashi working together in battle, which is a treat by itself. I was kind of hoping that Neji, one of my favorite characters, would get more of a chance to do some fighting, but no such luck (whenever I see him in the manga now, all I can think of is the anime AMV I saw in Youtube titled "A Tribute to Neji's Hair").
Some readers may be disappointed that the battles with Itachi and Kisame weren't what they appeared, but I was relieved - if beating those two, especially Itachi, had really been that easy, it would've felt like a letdown. I have to admit that the battle with Kisame didn't interest me nearly as much as the battle with Itachi - I just don't find Kisame to be as interesting as Itachi, and Guy, the one who fights Kisame the most in this volume, is not my favorite ninja to see in battle. However, Guy fans out there may enjoy the battle in this volume, since Guy uses a technique readers have so far only seen Lee use - and, unlike Lee, he uses it without crippling himself.
Itachi's battle was lots of fun for me - how can a battle with a guy who can mess with people's minds not be fun? For reasons that get explained at the end of the volume, Itachi can't use his full abilities against Kakashi's team, but that doesn't stop him from getting into Naruto's head and making him hallucinate. Many of the worries and fears Naruto has about Sasuke and how the people he cares about view him after his failure with Sasuke come out in the form of hallucinations. Sakura and Granny Chiyo help him snap out of it, and then Kakashi pits his Sharingan against Itachi. Once Itachi is distracted, Naruto joins in the fight - it's a great display of teamwork, and it occurs to me that Naruto is often at his coolest when he's teaming up with strong fighters like Kakashi or Sasuke.
Unfortunately, by the end of this volume it appears very likely that Gaara is dead. I can't help it, though - I went and looked up spoilers, and, if the spoilers I read are correct, Gaara is dead, but he'll be resurrected. I can't wait to read about it.
Overall, I enjoyed this volume. This is a series that would probably be on my "to buy" list if I couldn't get it at the public library (and if I could actually afford it). At the beginning of the series, I thought that the artwork was often crowded and confusing. At that point in the series, I preferred the anime, which presented all the action in a much clearer and easier to understand fashion. Now, however, I think that the manga is at least as good as the anime, if not better (anyone wading through the seemingly unending filler episodes in the anime - Naruto, not Naruto Shippuden - would probably say that the manga is better, and I would agree).
As far as extras go, there are the usual "The World of Kishimoto Masashi" pages inserted throughout the volume. In this volume, Kishimoto mostly writes about himself and his assistants, and the weirdness that ensues when they're all particularly sleep-deprived. Even though this makes for fairly pathetic extras, I really enjoyed the writings in this particular volume.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Fullmetal Alchemist (anime TV series); Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa; Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie (anime movie) - In a world where alchemy is considered science, Ed and Al, two young brothers, have broken the primary rule of alchemy, the law of equivalent exchange, in an attempt to resurrect their mother. As a result, Ed lost an arm and a leg, and Al lost his whole body. Now they're on a journey to discover the Philosopher's Stone and use it to restore their bodies. Like Naruto, this series features humor, drama, and action. As with this volume of Naruto, the series includes the occasional character who can mess with other characters' heads - one such character, Envy, can look like anyone he/she wants. Both the anime and the manga are good, although the anime is very different from the manga after a certain point. Once you finish the anime, there's also a movie that wraps things up in a grand battles and multi-world spanning way - it's not advisable to watch the movie before finishing the anime TV series.
- Bleach (anime TV series); Bleach (manga) by Tite Kubo - Ichigo Kurosaki has been able to see ghosts for as long as he can remember, but it's not until he meets Rukia, a Soul Reaper, that his life really gets strange (not to mention dangerous). When a battle with a Hollow goes badly, Rukia tries to lend Ichigo some of her Soul Reaper powers but ends up accidentally giving him everything. Now a full-fledged Soul Reaper, Ichigo battles Hollows with Rukia's help and guidance and gradually becomes even more powerful. Like Naruto, this series features battles between characters on different sides. In the later volumes of Bleach, there are, as with Naruto, instances where characters minds get messed with a bit - for example, Ichigo finds himself having to fight against the Hollow part of himself. The anime and manga versions of this series are very similar, although the anime features more filler.
- GetBackers (anime TV series) - Ban Mido and Ginji Amano are the GetBackers, people who will get back for their clients anything that has been lost or stolen from them. Both men have useful powers - Ginji, the cheerful and goofy one of the duo, can generate thousands of volts of electricity from his body, while cool and mysterious Ban has the "Snake Bite" (hands with a gripping power of 200 kg) and the "Evil Eye" (with certain limitations, he can make anyone who looks into his eyes experience powerful hallucinations). Those who found Itachi's abilities particularly interesting may enjoy this series, particularly Ban's abilities. This series, which features action, comedy, and drama, was originally a manga, but I haven't read that yet and can't comment on how similar or different it is from the anime.
- Black Cat (manga) by Kentaro Yabuki - Ex-assassin Train and Sven are a bounty hunting team constantly trying to earn enough money for a decent meal. Their lives are mostly normal until someone who knew Train back when he was an assassin tries to recruit him into a new and dangerous crime ring full of people with amazing abilities. As with Naruto, there are quite a few one-on-one battles and fights between small groups of people. Those who'd like another action-packed story featuring characters with fantastic special abilities might like to try this series. There is also an anime based on this manga series, but I haven't seen it yet and can't comment on how similar or different it is from the manga.