Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Naruto (manga, vol. 31) by Masashi Kishimoto

Sakura and Chiyo continue their battle with Sasori. Sakura almost manages to defeat him, but Sasori can easily rebuild his puppet body when it's been damaged. Chiyo and Sasori start launching armies of puppets against each other. For a moment, it looks like Chiyo has won, but Sasori tricks her and attacks her with a sword. Sakura shields Chiyo with her body and is impaled by Sasori's sword. Sasori frees himself and tries to attack Chiyo again, but he's finally pierced through the heart by Chiyo's puppets, the parent puppets that were Sasori's first creations. In this position, Sasori is still alive, but he can no longer move. Chiyo then uses a transference technique to give up some of her own life force in order to heal Sakura. Usually, this technique would kill the user, but Sakura isn't dead yet, so Chiyo survives. Before Sasori dies, he tells Sakura how she can meet one of his spies, who is also one of Orochimaru's henchmen.

The focus of the story now changes to Naruto and Kakashi, who are chasing after Deidara. Kakashi unleashes Mangekyo Sharingan on Deidara, but his control isn't as good as it could be. Rather than killing Deidara, all Kakashi manages to do is teleport his arm away from his body. Kakashi and Naruto team up to try to defeat Deidara, and Naruto does manage to get Gaara's body back from him, but then Naruto's chakra begins to form the nine-tailed fox demon. Kakashi is forced to seal Naruto's chakra so that he can stay in control. Meanwhile, Guy has managed to defeat his lookalike foe, and Sakura and Chiyo have caught up to Naruto and Kakashi. Guy's team tries to fight Deidara, but Deidara uses a special jutsu that apparently causes him to explode. No one has time to get away, but Kakashi is able to avert disaster by using his Mangekyo Sharingan to teleport Deidara someplace else.

Now that the battles have ended, Naruto and the others have to face the fact that Gaara is dead. However, since Naruto has retrieved Gaara's body, Chiyo decides to use her transference technique to bring him back to life. She doesn't have quite enough chakra, so Naruto agrees to give her however much of his own she needs. When Gaara opens his eyes, he sees around him Naruto and all the other people who rushed to save him, as well as all kinds of people from Sunagakure. Rather than fearing him as they used to, people act relieved he's alive and proud of his strength. At this point, Naruto (and anyone who didn't already know) discovers that Chiyo gave her life for Gaara. The volume ends with the revelation that Deidara is still alive (the thing that exploded was a doppelganger he created) and that someone named Tobi is going to replace Sasori in the Akatsuki.

It's a good thing that Kishimoto didn't have Chiyo reveal her transference technique in an earlier volume, or it would've been obvious much sooner how Gaara's death would be dealt with. I'm glad that Gaara is really still alive - he's always been one of my favorite characters. Since the demon inside him has been removed, I wonder what he's capable of now. I had always thought that many of the things he did were due to the power of the demon inside him, but I doubt that Kishimoto will now say that he's not powerful enough to be Kazekage.

One part of this volume that I found particularly touching was Chiyo's hint to Sasori that she had planned to use the transference technique to breathe life into Sasori's parent puppets, thus giving him his parents back. It's a bit freaky (just because the puppets would have life doesn't mean that they'd be his parents, no matter what they look like), but still sweet. I was really surprised that Sasori dies in this volume. I had expected him to live longer, all the better to throw his angst around some more.

Kakashi's Mangekyo Sharingan was a bit of a surprise. I can't remember if it's come up before in the series - it sounds familiar, but I read enough spoilers that it's possible I might've heard about this on the Internet rather than in the manga. It took me a bit to figure out what the Mangekyo Sharingan was actually doing. With all the things that the various Sharingan can do, Byakugan seems pretty limited. I wonder if Kishimoto will be making up new things for Byakugan as well. Anyway, it appears as though Kakashi has also been training hard in the past three years. Besides being able to use a new ocular technique, he's also able to use it for a significant amount of time without passing out. Go, Kakashi!

Overall, I enjoyed this volume. Naruto's come a long way from what it used to be. The art is cleaner, clearer, and easier to follow than the art of the earliest volumes, and the story is definitely moving forward, if slowly. I love Gaara, but I really want to see what Sasuke's been up to. As far as extras go, there's only a thank you from Kishimoto for all the fan mail he's gotten.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Shaman King (manga) by Hiroyuki Takei - Manta, a rich but wimpy kid who can see spirits, meets Yoh Asakura, an apparently lazy shaman. They become friends, and Yoh gains Amidamaru as a spirit partner (spirit partners can lend their skills to shamans, and Amidamaru was a samurai). Gradually, Yoh befriends others, participates in battles against other shamans, and sets out on the path to becoming the Shaman King. Those who'd like another lengthy series featuring intense battles and friends saving one another might like this manga. There is also an anime based on this manga, but I haven't seen it yet and can't say how similar it is to the manga.
  • 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.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa; Fullmetal Alchemist (anime TV series); 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 find the Philosopher's Stone and use it to restore their bodies. Those who'd like another series with fantasy elements that features humor, drama, and action may enjoy this series. In addition, this series occasionally has messages about peace very similar (in my opinion, anyway) to the one this volume of Naruto ended with. 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.

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