During my last vacation, I sped through 12 volumes of this series and would have read more if I had had the time. During this vacation, I read all the volumes I had (7) and got through them fairly quickly, but...I think this series had lost its shine for me. I'm tired of battles that last multiple volumes. I'm tired of Naruto having to become more and more powerful so that there can be bigger and bigger battles to hold readers' interests. I'm tired of dealing with a story so huge that I can't remember all the details and what the motivations are of the dozens of characters.
That said, I don't imagine I'll be abandoning the series anytime soon. I won't ever buy it, but I'll keep reading it via the library. If Kishimoto ever ends the series, I want to see that ending. It's just not quite as enjoyable a ride as it used to be.
Read on for spoiler-filled synopses of the volumes, plus a few brief comments.
Naruto (manga, vol. 44) - Naruto learns that Jiraiya is dead and falls into a depression until Shikamaru snaps him out of it and convinces him to help decipher Jiraiya's final code. With that accomplished and nothing else to do, Naruto agrees to begin Sage jutsu training. Meanwhile, Sasuke and his group are going after Eight Tails' jinchuriki.
This volume was a tad boring. Since there's more training (the Sage jutsu stuff), it was heavy on complicated jutsu explanations. I was also somewhat taken aback by how abbreviated (?) the grieving in this volume felt. One or several characters say that there's no time to grieve, and this carried through several volumes - a lot of tremendously bad stuff happens in the next few volumes, but, since the characters didn't get much time to process and feel it, it felt like there was less emotional impact.
Oh, and Eight Tails' jinchuriki raps when he talks. Reading his dialogue was so annoying that I found myself skimming it more often than not.
Naruto (manga, vol. 45) - Sasuke and his team briefly captures Eight Tails, although Eight Tails breaks off a tentacle and manages to escape. Meanwhile, Naruto pretty much masters Sage jutsu. While he's off doing that, the Akatsuki/Pain directly attack Konoha. Tsunade tries to call Naruto back to the village to help protect it, but her message is intercepted.
There is a lot of stuff going on, but it feels like there's little heart to this series anymore. Bad stuff happens, Naruto has to keep getting stronger, etc. When will he be strong enough? When he's capable of destroying whole planets? Also, wow, Naruto practically mastered Sage jutsu in the space of a single volume.
On the plus side, Kakashi got some page time and Eight Tails' jinchuriki was slightly less annoying. I was amused that Eight Tails seemed to find him as annoying as I did.
Naruto (manga, vol. 46) - Because Tsunade's message never gets to Naruto, Naruto continues learning Sage jutsu while Konoha is being attacked. Kakashi is killed and Konoha is utterly destroyed before Naruto finally finds out and arrives. Naruto, in Sage Mode, fights the various Pains.
The massive amount of destruction and awfulness in this volume packs quite a punch. Even if people survive, they'll have to rebuild from scratch, because everything is gone. Unfortunately, again, there is no time to grieve, no time to stop and reflect on just how terrible all this is. Naruto and Pain are still fighting, and Naruto has gone super-super-powered.
Of all the deaths and near-deaths in this volume, the one that hit me the most was Kakashi. He has long been a favorite character of mine.
Naruto (manga, vol. 47) - Naruto fights Pain and defeats most of them. Unfortunately, he's immobilized before he can get the last one. Hinata enters the fight and is nearly killed, which prompts eight of Nine Tails' tails to manifest. The Fourth Hokage shows up inside Naruto's mind, tells Naruto he's his father, and reseals Nine Tails. Naruto fights Pain again, this time with an eye towards locating the Master Pain, the one controlling them all.
I know there was lots of fan speculation that the Fourth Hokage was Naruto's father, but I think this might be the first volume that confirms it. Hurray! The additional revelation that Madara was the one who made Nine Tails attack Konoha years ago was pretty interesting. I also liked that Hinata finally told Naruto how she felt about him. Not that they talked about this at all in the next few volumes. As a NaruHina fan, this annoyed me.
So, a lot happened in this volume, but...I'm still glad I'm not buying this series. It could use a lot of tightening up. Also, while I thought this volume was fairly good, I did think that parts of it could have been drawn better. For example, Hinata's brief fight with Pain was hard to follow, to the point that I wasn't entirely sure what happened.
Naruto (manga, vol. 48) - Naruto learns the sad truth about Pain's past. He can't forgive Pain for the damage he did to Konoha, but he won't kill him either, so Pain performs a jutsu that resurrects the Konoha villagers he recently killed. In the aftermath, Tsunade is in a coma and Danzo successfully gets himself named as the 6th Hokage. Meanwhile, Sasuke learns that Konoha has been flattened, preventing him from flattening it himself.
Things happened in this volume! It was a little less chaotic than several of the previous volumes, and I was glad to see some of the characters (like Kakashi!) weren't truly dead. I growled a bit when Danzo was named 6th Hokage and cheered when all the villagers were happy to see that Naruto succeeded. Naruto has come a long way, as far as villager acceptance goes. If it weren't for the series' long, drawn out storylines, I could easily imagine him being named Hokage within 10 volumes. As it is, it's probably not going to happen for at least the next 100.
As happy as I was to see some of the character deaths undone, I also considered this to be major cheating on Kishimoto's part. Either kill characters or don't. Fake deaths are just a cheap way to manipulate readers' emotions. Speaking of emotional manipulation, as sad as Pain's past was, for some reason it didn't affect me nearly as much as learning all the details of Sasuke and Itachi's pasts. Maybe I've become numb to it all.
Naruto (manga, vol. 49) - The five Kage meet and Danzo almost tricks them into naming him the leader of a unified shinobi army. That fails, and then the Akatsuki and Sasuke arrive. Sasuke battles Raikage, while Naruto, Kakashi, and Yamato talk to Madara and learn that the conflict between the Uchiha and Senju (from the beginnings of Konoha) has been going on for generations. Sasuke may be past saving. Meanwhile, Shikamaru may have convinced Sakura that it's necessary for Konoha to kill Sasuke.
Again, yay, the story is moving forward (at a crawl, but whatever). I was glad that Danzo's tricks didn't work, because, ugh, I really dislike him. However, the Kage meeting was pretty dull. Also, this is the volume when it struck me that I don't like Sasuke anymore. Naruto's blind defense of him no longer moves me. To my mind, Sasuke's last chance to reverse his path was when Itachi told him why he massacred the entire Uchiha clan. He's gone from being a character who I could feel sympathy for and who I believed could be saved to...nothing. He's just a big, boring blob of ice cold hatred that serves no purpose other than to be Naruto's tragic enemy.
Naruto (manga, vol. 50) - Gaara tries to talk sense into Sasuke but fails. Sasuke battles a few Kage and barely survives. He's taken away by Madara. Sakura, Shikamaru, and friends catch up to Naruto. Sakura tells Naruto that she loves him and rejects Sasuke. Naruto refuses to be swayed from his vow to save Sasuke and doesn't believe her profession of love. Meanwhile, Killer Bee (aka Eight Tails' jinchuriki) is off learning to sing enka and is attacked by Kisame. His brother, Raikage, comes to his rescue.
Amazing - not only am I no longer a diehard Sasuke fan, but neither is Sakura. Too bad I absolutely hated her strategy for convincing Naruto to stop trying to save Sasuke. It seemed both cruel and insulting. And also icky and wrong.
Killer Bee might be one of my least favorite characters in the series. On the other end of the spectrum, I loved that Gaara got a few pages, even though he didn't really do much.