Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Naruto, Vol. 29 by Masashi Kishimoto

Gaara, Kazekage of the Sand Ninja, has been kidnapped by Sasuke's brother Itachi and a band of Akatsuke. What they want him for remains a mystery to the Ninja of the Leaf Village, but those of sand know the truth: the Akatsuki wants Gaara for the one-tailed spirit inside him, known as a Biju.

There are nine Biju in the world, and one of them is the spirit of the nine-tailed Fox that has been trapped in Naruto's body. Each Nation is apparently home to one Biju, but on their own, they are too powerful to be controlled. So to make the Biju into the ultimate Ninja weapons, the Biju were entrapped in the bodies of children, as the Biju inside Gaara and Naruto were.

Once inside the body of a human, the powers of the Biju could be accessed in a controlled fashion. It is almost impossible to remove the Biju from the body it inhabits, called the Jinchûriki. Unfortunately, it results in the death of the Jinchûriki as the Biju is ripped from his or her body and soul. And this is what the Akatsuki is seeking to do to Gaara. Thankfully, the process to do this is a long one, so they can rescue Gaara before it is complete.

However, the members of the Akatsuki have planned for this with a clever scheme to distract the pursuing Shinobi with battles against what appear to be members of the Akatsuki but are actually shadow dopplegangers of the members of the Akatsuki, covering members of the Sand Village Shinobi. They win their battles, but have they been in time to recover Gaara?

This manga seemed to be split down the middle, half battles between the various Shinobi/Ninja and half explanation of why the Akatsuki wanted Gaara in the first place and the whole talk about the Buji and Jinchûriki. But this split merely makes the battles more significant, as the characters, now understanding what is truly at stake, struggle all the harder to reach where the Akatsuki are hiding out and rescue Gaara.

I'm not usually one for big fighting in manga, but I actually liked this particular book very much. For one thing, the fighters weren't constantly pulling new techniques out of their butts... No, these are things they spent a lot of time learning, which elevates this manga from a slew of titles that are mainly all about whipping the collective butts of other fighters. Naruto tries, at one point, to use a technique to overcome power used against him and actually fails, a touch I found realistic, especially since the story points out that he didn't actually want to learn it from his teacher in the first place.

I don't usually like fighting manga, but Naruto is one of the better ones out there, being more focussed on the story and the reasons for the battles rather than the battles themselves. If you haven't already picked this one up, you should try it. Chances are, you'll like it, and more than a little.

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