Pakkun gets everybody as close to Gaara's location as he can, but the entrance is blocked and sealed. Neji uses his Byakugan to find all the talismans that need to be removed in order to unseal the entrance, but it turns out it was all a trap designed to separate Sakura, Chiyo, Kakashi, and Naruto from the rest of the group. Both groups now have their own dangers to deal with - this volume doesn't focus too much on what Guy, Neji, Tenten, and Lee have to do, although readers do get to see a few panels of Guy fighting an opponent who has exactly copied his appearance, jutsu, and power.
Now that they're through the entrance, Kakashi, Naruto, Chiyo, and Sakura discover that Gaara is now dead. While Naruto and Kakashi go after Deidara, who has Gaara's body, Sakura and Chiyo are left to fight a powerful and dangerous puppet. Although Sakura's training has given her great strength and medical skill, she doesn't have the experience to survive this fight, so Chiyo uses her puppetry skills on Sakura just enough to allow her to fight the puppet and avoid being hurt too badly. After Sakura breaks the puppet open, Chiyo discovers Sasori, her grandson, inside, looking just as he did when she last saw him. Sasori begins fighting Chiyo and Sakura again, this time using a human puppet made from the body of the Third Kazekage, which is capable of performing all the Third Kazekage's jutsu.
Chiyo continues to use her puppetry skills to help Sakura fight, but Chiyo switches to actual puppets after Sasori attacks Sakura using poison gas. Chiyo's puppets are the first Sasori ever created, puppets based on his mother and father. They're helpful for a bit, but then Sasori's Kazekage puppet uses Satetsu, the Iron Sand, and manages to not only cripple the mother and father puppets, but also one of Chiyo's arms (her arm is that of a puppet). Sakura has Chiyo use her as a puppet again - Sakura does well and manages to destroy the Kazekage puppet, but, even so, she gets wounded and poisoned. However, Sakura's medical skills keep her in the fight. At the end of the volume, Sasori has revealed what Chiyo and Sakura must now battle: Sasori himself, whose entire body appears to be a puppet. Unfortunately, Sakura's poison antidote won't last much longer.
The Naruto filler episodes currently airing on TV might be boring me to tears, but the Naruto manga is still going strong (I can't wait to see how this is all translated into anime in Naruto Shippuden). Sakura's becoming a force to be reckoned with, although I don't think that this volume showed how much she's grown as well as it could have - basically, all readers see is that Sakura has become a pretty good medical ninja, she's enormously strong, and she learns quickly during battle.
Sasori's pretty interesting as well. I only know what's been revealed about him so far, so I don't know much about him. His puppetry skills made him an interesting fighter, but his mother and father puppets made him an interesting character. The flashbacks show him playing happily with these puppets and having them give him a hug, but they don't show why he made these puppets or where his actual parents are. In the past, the only puppetry jutsu I saw was whatever Kankuro did - I have to admit, it didn't really interest me. However, I really liked what I saw in this volume, although I can't help but wonder if all puppet masters get as deeply into body modifications as Chiyo and Sasori do. I don't think Kankuro has turned part of himself into a puppet yet, but maybe that's what his future holds.
I wonder if the Third Kazekage actually has any kind of consciousness. The little bit about him that is revealed in this volume indicates that he wouldn't have wanted to be controlled by Sasori this way, so he'd resist if he could, but there's no sign of resistance. I'm guessing that Sasori's human puppet technique just turns people into perfectly controlled puppet shells that are capable of using the original person's jutsu, rather than something more like the resurrected dead readers saw earlier with Orochimaru during his fight with the Third Hokage. The resurrected First and Second Hokage had their own minds when they were first brought back and lost their wills after the battle began.
Near the end of the volume, Kankuro and Temari are shown setting off to help the group that's gone after Gaara, so I imagine they'll be showing up to save the day for somebody (considering there's any number of people who could use some saving, I don't have a clue who they'll be helping - but I'm guessing Kankuro won't be joining the puppetry battle, since I'm not sure his skills are up to the challenge). At any rate, Kakashi and Naruto, at least, should be fighting soon. Since Kakashi's come up with a plan (one not yet revealed to readers), it should be good.
As far as extras go, there's even less than usual, just one page of comments by the author (more about his personal history), but this volume is good enough that I don't think that really matters so much.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- 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. Those who'd like another long-running action-packed story with lots of battles and well-developed characters with amazing abilities might like this anime/manga.
- Ghost in the Shell (anime movie) - This movie takes place in a future where just about everyone has some sort of cybernetic implant, if not entirely cyberized bodies. Unfortunately, this leaves people vulnerable to brain-hacking. Section 9, a group of cybernetically enhanced cops, is called in to investigate a brain-hacker called The Puppetmaster. Those who were most interested in the idea of "people puppets" and would like another action-packed story might like this. The sound effects and look of this movie are a little dated, in my opinion, but it's still an excellent movie (although it may require more than one viewing in order to figure out what's going on), and it's a great place to begin before trying any of the newer incarnations of this franchise. It should also be noted that this movie is based on the Ghost in the Shell manga.
- Puppetry: A World History (non-fiction book) by Eileen Blumenthal - This book gives an overview of the history of puppetry from prehistoric times to the present, organizing information thematically rather than by time period or region. It's a coffee table book, which makes for some unwieldy reading, but those who found themselves interested in puppetry after reading this volume of Naruto may want to try this book out. At the very least, there are 350 illustrations to look at.