Saturday, February 23, 2008

Naruto 390: The Final Jutsu!

Before getting to the chapter itself, I just gotta mention that the portrait of Naruto in the cover this week was quite possibly the best one I've seen of him in a long while - a portrait befitting of the son of the Fourth Hokage! But it's kinda funny at the same time that Kishimoto almost seemed to be making an apology to Naruto fans with the side-text message, saying that their favorite character's time will come eventually.

It's just, well, Sasuke's year right now.

And Dynamic Dragon, one of the most recognized Naruto colorists on the internet, finished coloring the cover too, already. Check his latest masterpiece out. (Comment on it here if you like it.) I swear, the guy can't be human. >.>

So we finally get to see the legendary Amaterasu in action - the all-devouring dark fire that frightened even Jiraiya himself.

A mysterious jutsu that came with so much fanfare, even Zetsu greeted its arrival with much interest. Unfortunately, I think we were all left feeling empty and thinking, well, Amaterasu was just another flashy jutsu that missed the mark. Just something extra for the video game developers to include in their new Naruto games (which seem to be mostly what shonen mangaka are concerned with right now, including Bleach's Tite Kubo and One Piece's Eiichiro Oda.)

At least we get to see just exactly why Itachi didn't hesitate before using it on his younger sibling without even worrying about whether it would completely destroy Sasuke's body or not. Why would he care about that, you ask? Because if Sasuke was engulfed by Amaterasu to the point where his whole body were nothing but ashes, Itachi would ultimately leave himself with NOTHING to be able to replace his deteriorating eyes with. In that case, would somebody mind explaining to me again what was the whole point of fighting this battle for Itachi, anyway?

But in order to stop Amaterasu from doing just that, we actually find this week that all Itachi had to do was, well, blink - and voilĂ , it was extinguished! Even if it hadn't finished the work yet. That explains that, I guess.

So how exactly did Sasuke avoid a jutsu that seemed about as fast as he could move? Well, I'd say that Kakashi's got nothing on Sasuke as far as being the No. 1 Copy Ninja, it would seem! (And that pains me to say too, since I'm a Kakashi fan.)

But, I mean, heck, already, in two battles with the Akatsuki (Deidara and now Itachi), we've seen that Sasuke's basically learned everything he could from his former treacherous master, Orochimaru. In fact, he's almost becoming a mini-Orochimaru himself (be afraid, Sasuke fans... be very afraid.)

Of course, we've already saw Sasuke perform bunshins comprised of snakes and even summon and control the late Manda himself (mostly with his Sharingan, though). Now we see him even replicating Orochimaru's regurgitation jutsu in order to escape from Itachi's black fire. That was something I didn't expect, but I'm certainly not surprised that Kishimoto smartly avoided depicting the whole disgusting process that we saw with Orochimaru back on the bridge, probably to avoid making Sasuke seem just as a freaky!

So, I guess now Sasuke's got the means to counteract Naruto's own ridiculous regenerative abilities now, too. Figures. "Anything you can do, I can do better..."

We also get to see Sasuke do a different variety of the Katon in his own style - apparently he likes dragons. While I'm not too disappointed with the designs at all, far from the contrary... I am somewhat distressed at just how many new jutsus Sasuke are able to do now, as opposed to Naruto.

It's really making our former troublemaker ninja look bad. Might just be that Jiraiya's own jutsus weren't so easily copied, though, well, and Naruto never seemed to have the same familiarity with the Toads that Jiraiya did - which might be a bad oversight on Kishimoto's part. Either that, or maybe with Jiraiya's passing, Naruto will 'inherit' his Toad jutsus as well later on on another adventure. Maybe that will come when the toad carrying Jiraiya's dying message will reach Naruto eventually - as well as whenever he might discover the toad scroll that Jiraiya left behind as well. Guess we'll just have to wait and see.

So, back to the chapter... we see that both Sasuke and Itachi are out of chakra, and gasping for breath, almost seemingly unable to move of their own accord. Itachi's looking MUCH worse for wear than Sasuke, though, what with his right arm which has been severely burnt by one of Sasuke's 'Grand Fireballs,' and one of his eyes now seemingly blind thanks to double usage of the Amaterasu (following a Tsukuyomi to boot). Despite all that, he's still hanging around. We find out he believes Sasuke's simply bluffing and that he actually doesn't have the chakra to pull off another jutsu and his Sharingan, what's left of it, apparently sees that much.

What do I think? I don't think Sasuke's preparing another jutsu on an empty gauge, because of all that, but he might already have a scroll prepared or something to be able to catch Itachi off-guard and seal his doom.

Whatever the case, I'm not sure how I feel about about Itachi's end seeming coming soon, though. I'm hoping now that this isn't the finale, because honestly I feel like Itachi deserves more than being completely dominated the whole battle with his little brother. Though he might be a closet psycho, he's still captured many Naruto fans' imagination with his cool demeanor and mysterious personality for years, and it'd be a shame to see the much-anticipated battle end like this. Utter humiliation. Though, I'm sure, that's just the way Sasuke wants it... oh well.

Only thing I can say is right now it's not over until the fat kunoichi sings!

Tune in next week and we'll see what happens.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

One Piece Volumes 49-50 - Thriller Bark Arc Finale

I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of One Piece by any means, but I do read it and I even enjoy it occasionally. Yesterday I just caught up to the end of the Thriller Bark arc with the latest chapter, 488, in the 50th volume (quite a milestone huh?). Well, guess what - I'm happy to say that this time, I thoroughly enjoyed an One Piece story arc all the way from the beginning to the very end! So have no worries, I certainly won't be too hard on Eiichiro Oda in my quick impressions here.

I'm going to assume you all already know what's gone on beforehand so I won't go too much into the earlier chapters. So I'm going to start with volume 49, which opens with the gigantic, insanely powerful Oz's final confrontation with Luffy's bloodied and determined crew. Minus, of course, Nami, who had just beaten her would-be bridegroom Absalom with the hippo-zombie Lola's help, and also missing is the captain of the Strawhat Crew himself, Luffy, who's typically been tricked by Moira's shadow into having ran off into the distance. Though both would naturally still eventually contribute to Oz's eventual defeat in the end with their typical dramatic flourish. Finally, keep in mind that since my thoughts here will essentially cover the span of two volumes, I'll probably miss discussing some interesting details here and there. So for even more in-depth thoughts on each chapter, make sure to visit Sahugani's reviews at Mangahelpers.

Well, I won't go into too many details regarding how Luffy's crew stood their ground against Oz - there's far too many scenes that involved them performing all sorts of combinations of attacks. Let's just say that Eiichiro Oda must not have been very satisfied with Final Fantasy: Advent Children! Either that or he was ridiculously inspired by it. You know the part where Cloud and all his teammates combine in order to take Bahamut down for once and all? Well, that was nothing compared to all the chaotic teamwork on display during this entire battle!

Nearly every two members of the crew must have somehow teamed up to perform some sort of ingenious combination to strike a blow at Oz - take, for instance, Franky with Chopper with their quick stairs-building technique and the "Super Fra-pper Gong," Chopper and Sanji with the "Armee L'Air Kokutei Rodeo Shoot," Zoro and Sanji with their building-tossing "Santouryuu Daibutsugiri" and "Jenga Hou," Usopp and Franky with their "Super Hinotori-Boshi" and the ill-advised "Iron Man Comet," and so on. Even the newcomer, skeletal musician Brooke, merrily got into the act by also teaming up with Usopp, Robin, and Nami in an united single attack, the "Raikotsuken" (Thunder Bone Blade).

You get the idea. The funniest thing was that the warm-up to all this craziness was sort of a parody of what was to come: the infamous, Power Rangers-like "Tactics Fifteen," which was the one strategy that Robin wanted nothing to do with. (I don't blame her either, it was pretty ridiculous looking!) Either way, all the One Piece video developers are going to have plenty to work with as far as combination attacks after this one, for sure.

Of course, once 'Nightmare Luffy' entered the picture, the drama went up another notch, as usual whenever the little would-be Pirate King comes to the rescue.

How do you fight the power of the Kage Kage no Mi? Well, as you could possibly fight fire with fire, in this case you fight shadows with shadows. And that's exactly what Luffy became - a powerhouse infused with the souls of all the shadows Moira's created in the Florian Triangle.

Thanks to Captain 'Proposal' Lola, the original owner of the hippo-zombie's soul, and her crew, Luffy was able enter the battle with Oz being able to more than hold his own weight. After a few powerful knockdowns, the ten minutes required to keep the shadows within himself passed, and morning was almost in sight. However, Luffy and his crew, now completely reunited, was able to finish Oz off with a strategic attack using the strength of each crewmate: Zoro's swords, Usopp's accuracy, Sanji's kick, Chopper's strength (not to mention his knowledge of human anatomy), Franky's craftsmanship, Robin's unique power, and Nami's Clima Tact. And for the occasion, Luffy also depended on his Gear Two mode, as well. In the end, Oz's spine was completely shattered, and he fell, completely defeated. The bigger they are, the harder they fall...

With the threat of Oz ended, another loomed, however, which severely challenged the crew's resolve. The Shichibukai Gekko Moira himself had absorbed all the shadows of his underlings to become even greater and a thousand-fold more powerful than Nightmare Luffy ever was.

Not surprisingly enough, though, while he had enough power to crack the island in half, the over-bloated Moira lacked the agility to sufficiently avoid Luffy's wild punches. In the end, I think Moria proved to be the most unimpressive opponent Luffy had ever fought, especially after he failed to use his most potent weapon: simply out-tricking Luffy. But as Zoro said, in this case, Moria was only stalling for time until the sunset, I suppose. So, it's all understandable. Lucky thing that the crumbling tower just happened to fall on Moira himself, essentially ending the fight.

But what's this? ANOTHER threat of annihilation? Yes! While I normally would have groaned at such an obvious case of a prolonged battle, in this case I actually cheered. Since Bartholemew Kuma had already appeared on the ship, and made it obvious his intentions that the honor of the Shichibukai not be besmirched any longer by the actions of the Strawhat Crew, it was clear that he wasn't there to be a friend. Also, I found him infinitely better as an antagonist than Moira could ever hope to be, despite his own reign of terror on the seas. (Blame it on Oda's character design there; I thought Moira looked like a cross-breed of Disney's Ursula from The Little Mermaid and Hades from Hercules, and I didn't exactly like him all that much for that reason. Kuma, on the other hand, had more of a fresh character feel to him.)

Kuma's ability was interesting. I'm still wondering how exactly he got rid of Perona, though. Did he just "repel" her to where she wanted to be? How would he even know where to send her? And he has a 'warping' power as well - not unlike Rob Lucci. That's going to make him a seriously frustrating enemy for Luffy at a later point in the story, no doubt.

To boot, he was also a death ray-belching cyborg, much like Franky, but even more powerful as he was apparently designed by the greatest intellect in the world, a "Doctor Vegapunk." Apparently a homage to Dragonballz and Dr. Gero and the androids there, but I won't hold it against Oda too much I suppose, considering Kishimoto Masashi also has homages to DBZ in his own series.

Of course, the one thing I most liked about Kuma's appearance was how it led to quite possibly one of the most powerful scenes in the series, which just happened to showcase my favorite character in the whole series...

I mean, c'mon. How can anybody not love Zoro after this scene? He's one tough bastard. Taking on the added burden of Luffy's pain to his own, all to save the crew and to send Kuma away.

What a beautiful scene. Zoro certainly deserves to be Luffy's first mate, he's more than proved that here. And I'm definitely glad Sanji didn't hog the scene instead, I don't like him as much. >.>

(Besides, being knocked out unconscious by Zoro that easily, Sanji wasn't up for the challenge anyway, eh! All talk, nothing else... >.> Not to mention Sanji put Nami in deadly danger by shouting up to her on the rooftops! Pffft. Zoro for me anytime.)

That leaves one more thing we've yet to cover. Brooke.

Okay, I'll admit it. I already loved Brooke, but I had no idea that his own flashbacks would move me nearly to tears. Watching his crewmates fall dead one by one, while they're all in the middle of partying, that's got to have been so tough for him.

And Laboon was a mightily cute little whale, I have to admit!

Overall, I only have very few bones to pick with the arc (still waiting for Brooke to use that pun!). One being that Luffy's crewmates being knocked down by Oz and having their shadows stolen by Moira doesn't have nearly the dramatic impact it should have anymore, considering that they just keep getting back up to fight again. Wile E. Coyote has nothing on these guys - throw them in a canyon, they'd probably all survive that, too. >.>

I mean, Chopper was saying Oz's biggest weakness was that he didn't experience the pain he was going through while they were all attacking his right arm. Well, Luffy's crew also seemed zombie-ish themselves too, they didn't look like they were slowed down by their own agony, either!

Still, putting that aside, I did enjoy the arc very, very much. It was rift with comedy, drama, more fun villains, and a lot of action that made good sense. In the end we were treated to a very emotional scene and the addition of what I'm sure will be a very fine member to the crew. Good stuff. Good move, too, to make up for the new character I actually didn't like much either, Franky. More of this, Mr. Eiichiro Oda, and you might just yet make me a devoted fan, too.

Monday, February 18, 2008

ARCHIVE: Naruto Vol. 32 Ten Comments

A little quick note here. I'm also intending to archive older reviews here just to back them up. This one was my very first Naruto volume review, a mammoth project which took me about a week to write and finally finished on August 12, '06. I posted it at MH during a lull between Naruto chapters as a sort of treat to my readers while they waited for the next installment in the series. It was fun and received plenty of positive feedback, but it certainly took a lot of time.

Hope you enjoy, if it's your first time reading. Keep in mind that I had already known what was going to happen up to Naruto vol. 35 at the time of this review. Also, if any of the images are down, let me know and I will replace them (if I have the time.)


Well, with the possible lack of a Naruto chapter this week, I figured this would be the perfect week for me to follow up on a poster's suggestion here and do something a little different... a retrospective review of a complete, older Naruto volume! Hey, why not! So, I hope you enjoy this special edition of my Ten Comments.

There's going to be some differences, though. Due to time constraints, this review won't be such an in-depth look at all the chapters individually but rather an overall, comprehensive look at the volume with an emphasis on its highlights and lows.

However, I'll still try to pinpoint certain parts of the volume that might have become more clear with the revelations of latter volumes, and also try to remind fans of questions that still haven't been answered. Because what is the point of a retrospective review, after all, if we're not looking for stuff that we may have missed? That's what makes us Narutards, after all. So with that being said, if you're expecting a spoiler-free review of Volume 32 here, think again. You'd be well advised to read to the latest chapter before reading. Just a warning.

I'll also do some extra features which you guys may find enjoyable as well. One other thing, the covers, which usually I comment on at the beginning, will instead be at the end of this review. Finally, I'll also be rating the volume based on not only the entertainment value of the chapters contained within it, but also how well they flow together in order to make the reading experience a memorable one. For example, there'll be times where a particular chapter isn't so great as a stand-alone, causing fan impatience and the like, but coupled with previous and following chapters, one can gain more of an appreciation for the art and the writing. Woo.

Oh, and I'm starting with Volume 32, because it was the beginning of the most recently completed storyarc and it's always best to review these things from the start, right?

And that being said, let's get goin' already! As always, feel free to comment when you have the time, and please enjoy!

* * * Gold Knight's Ten Comments on Naruto Volume 32 * * *

1. An Alliance in the Making...!

Blondie and Shorty - a team to be reckoned with!

Right off the bat, we witnessed the prologue of Team 7's mission to save Gaara from the Akatsuki, and we saw Tsunade finally revealing the reason to Shizune why she was so quick to appoint Naruto's team to rescue the Kazekage. "The only person capable of understanding a jinchuuriki, is another jinchuuriki."

So, just like Kakashi, Tsunade had also recognized Naruto's innate talent for making others trust in his abilities. Guess she wasn't such an airhead after all...! If you'll recall, way back in Chapter 251, Jiraiya seemed to almost admonish his former teammate for what seemed like a rash decision - a scene that I joked about in one of my older Ten Comments reviews at Tsunade's expense. Well, our Godaime proved that she wasn't just being silly, and to boot, may have indirectly successfully formed a long-standing alliance between Sunagakure and Konohagakure for as long as both Gaara and Naruto are alive and well. Of course, it was a rather dangerous gamble by Tsunade to be sure... which is scary, thinking about it, considering her horrible luck...! But guess what? Looks like she's got a winner in Naruto. I'll bet you anything that the resulting alliance will eventually play a potentially huge part in the series at some point, and one day may just save Konoha from total destruction.

Chapter 281 was actually packed full of highlights. Besides that touching moment, we also saw one of the funniest moments in the series so far (see end of review for more on that), a bizarre encounter between Tobi and Deidara when they met up in the forest (which would be the beginning of their strange partnership), and finally, of course, the first appearance of a new, mysterious character who was well on his way to becoming a mainstay in the series...!

2. Conspiracy...!?

Friend... or Fiend?

When Danzou announced that Sai would be joining Team 7 in order to carry out a secret plan, I can still recall how fans went and dreamt up all kinds of wild theories about the truth of his mission, mostly believing him to be after Naruto's bijuu. Heh. But even knowing now that the "Root" organization actually had the best interests of Konohagakure in mind after all, the feeling of conspiracy from within Konohagakure early in these chapters was still something totally fresh and refreshing to the readers. We were all expecting an uprising at some point, weren't we? Fun times...!

But then again, Danzou did mention Naruto by name here, too, which was something of a red herring. It misled most of the readers in believing that Sai's mission had something to do with him rather than Sasuke. Then there's the part where Danzou's timing here was strange. If you'll recall, Sakura was still on her way back home from Suna, and obviously had not yet revealed to Tsunade the information she had won from Sasori about Orochimaru's spy at the Tenchikyou. Obviously, Danzou couldn't have known that they were going after them on their next mission. Does he now possess Sandaime's crystal ball, or something? Hmmm.

I guess the most reasonable explanation would be that Danzou must have been counting on Naruto and Sakura's intense desire to find their missing teammate, and had gotten information that they would depart on a search for him sooner rather than later. But all the same, I think Kishimoto jumped the gun here a little quickly on Sai's first appearance, all things considered, in order to get the next storyarc started...

Sidenote: When this chapter came out, I also remember the fans all wondering about Sai's sex. Most wanted him to be female rather than male, although there were some who pointed out his stomach as an obvious sign that he was a guy. It was still all quite entertaining, though - there was even a bet by one of the translators that he would shave his head if Sai had turned out to be female - lucky for him that he turned out to be right!

3. Making Concessions..!!

Shizune trying to act all innocent... Sorry, Tsunade's not buyin' it.

The next few chapters dealt mostly with Tsunade's problems convincing first Shizune and then the Konohagakure elders, Homura and Koharu, that Naruto should be allowed to have the freedom to leave Konohagakure on missions. Even despite the Akatsuki's search for the Kyuubi. The funny thing is that I think Shizune was actually already convinced, but she had already talked to the elders about the matter. Oops. No wonder she was so red-faced!

This whole scene, aside from pretty much confirming that Tsunade had the utmost faith in Naruto, did explain a little more of why Danzou would have been ready to incorporate Sai into Team 7. My guess would be that the elders had a conversation with the bandaged warhawk that went something like this:

Danzou: Yo, elders!
Koharu: What up dog?
Homura: You're looking good. Uh, not really, but you know.
Danzou: Shut up. I heard the Kyuubi brat had come back. How is he doing?
Homura: He just completed a mission in Sunagakure and is coming back.
Koharu: I swear, I don't know what Tsunade is thinking sometimes.
Homura: Yes, it's astonishing that Godaime-sama would put Naruto in such danger as that.
Danzou: Danger?
Koharu: Well, he does have that bijuu inside him, and the Akatsuki is all over. They may catch him one of these missions.
Homura: Indeed. Shizune just informed us that Naruto actually fought one on the last mission.
Koharu: We'll have to talk to Tsunade soon.
Danzou: What are you thinking?
Koharu: To keep Naruto in the village and in a four-man cell.
Danzou: Ah! May I make a suggestion?

Danzou may have predicted (correctly) that Tsunade wouldn't have stood for Naruto being kept at home, and decided to take the opportunity to put Sai in the team right then. He *knew* they would have gone after Sasuke eventually...

Of course, we already know that Tsunade took precautionary measures to make sure that Sai and Danzou would be kept in check by having Yamato be the field leader. And to kill two birds with one stone, she also picks somebody who can also suppress the Kyuubi's chakra as well. Again, she proves that she can think ahead.

4. Familiar Faces...!

The gang's all here...!

At the time these chapters were released, I thought Kishimoto was forced to show these characters before he was really ready. After all, he would've risked being lynched by angry and impatient fans! But considering that Sasuke was ALSO going to show up at the end of this storyline in similar fashion, I think Kishimoto had planned all along for this to happen.

Anyway, at it's at this point that we finally get to see the Part 2 versions of Shino, Kiba, Hinata, Chouji, and Ino (Shikamaru had already shown up in Chapter 246) as well as Akamaru, who's obviously been eating some biscuits since we saw him last.

I'll have to admit, when I first read these chapters, I was somewhat annoyed that Kishimoto was doing so many "splash pages" (when a panel fills the whole page) of these characters, feeling that it was slowing down the story pace. But within a volume, it's actually not so bad. Furthermore, now that we know they weren't intended to be a part of the next storyarc at all, so I suppose that it's just as well that he did take the time to give them all "highlight pages," just to satisfy the fans. The only minus was that the fans would be disappointed when they realize that the appearances would only be brief, and I think they took it out on poor Sai, a new, suspicious character that nobody at the time really cared about. Heh.

I think I'm still the most impressed by Shino and Ino here. Oh, Kiba and Chouji were fun, but I loved how Kishimoto decided to give Shino a "gangsta" look, and even gave him a little more of a personality as well by having him feeling slighted when Naruto didn't recognize him. And then there's Ino; she certainly looks even more feminine than ever (no wonder Sakura wanted input from Naruto early on about her own femininity, she was probably still insecure because of Ino!)

Kiba looks more like a pimp, Chouji looks more of a warrior, and Hinata... hmm. Well, it's not that I don't like that Kishimoto stuck to keeping her looking a bit like a "dark, weird girl" (Naruto's words) because a radical change in personality would also be giving us a completely different character. And it appears that she's likely still the most insecure of all the girls in the series, since she still covers herself up the most. Hinata's body type was also probably intended to be totally different from the others. But at the same time I sure don't blame her fans for being disappointed.

I think this just proves that Hinata's story, however, is not yet done. She's still got some issues to work out, and I think the series will focus back on her again at some point, in a big way. She hasn't yet broken out completely of her cocoon, but if she had, then there wouldn't be much character development at all, would there?

And then there's the exciting part where Shikamaru and Chouji actually showed us some new stuff...!

Clobbering Time!

Pincushionin' Time!

It's probably because Shikamaru had already been revealed that Kishimoto felt that he should show us something else from him. But whatever the case, I was hyped up! I loved his Kage Nui no Jutsu, which apparently materialized his own shadow into sharp tendrils that could impale a target. And Chouji's "big fist" attack was fun, as well, a bonus. It all showed that Neji wasn't the only one that had improved his old tricks.

We now know that Shikamaru and Chouji's abilities have more to do with "yin and yang" manipulation rather than any basic element manipulation. It'll be good to find out more about that, eventually...

Team 10 certainly seems like it's going to be a force to be reckoned with now - it's so funny how they were once considered one of the weaker teams in Konoha.

5. A New Sensei!

You just knew he was gonna be cool.

Yamato taichou is quite possibly the best new character to have appeared in the series since Jiraiya. It's interesting that Kishimoto has such a knack for writing sensei-type characters. (I'll be commenting on Yamato's awesomeness more at the end of the review.)

It was also good timing as well, because Yamato provided a nice alternate "new character" for fans to also get used to while they also had to deal with Sai at this point in the story. At the very least, we had somebody who was cool right off the bat. That's probably why Kishimoto worked so hard at having Yamato be both impressive and personable quickly instead of allowing his character to slowly develop like Sai. Although even now in recent chapters, Yamato continues to surprise us with something neat almost every week. Guess you just can't keep a good character down.

Don't mess with him. He'll take you to the woodshed.

For a while, I even became as much of a fan of Yamato as I am of Kakashi. Hopefully we do get to see more of the Konohagakure jounins, because Kishimoto certainly does a good job with adult characters.

Sidenote: Just something I find interesting, but Tsunade assigned Tenzou his alias ego "Yamato" only for the duration of his mission with Team 7, yet even after its conclusion, Yamato still prefers that Kakashi call him by his codename. I suppose it's for whenever Yamato isn't working with the ANBU, but I tend to think he actually likes that name better than his own. XD

6. The Resolve of "Roots"...!

On guard!

We also got to learn more about the "Roots" organization in Chapter 285 when Sai's senpai came calling. Guess now we know the truth of the statement, "That which supports the great tree of Konoha, unseen from within the ground, is the resolve of our organization, Roots." They did indeed have Konoha's best interests in mind. Yeah, it's a vigilante group that works under the nose of the true government, but it feels pretty appropriate in a world of clandestine organizations.

And we also know what was concealed in the letter that he gave to Sai, and why Sai gave a dubious look when he realized what it was. I would have, too!

There's one thing, though. In order to keep up the drama, Kishimoto did have Senpai say THIS...

Apparently, it was... gee, since Sai obviously didn't catch Sasuke, what would his punishment be? Hmm? And Danzou even let him stay with Team 7 as per his request, too. Tsk tsk.

Guess they did tolerate it this time... or were they just afraid that they couldn't stop Sai from doing what he wanted, especially with his newfound friends? He is pretty capable, after all, of reneging on the "Roots" completely and being able to expose them completely to the Godaime. Although, if Yamato had already filed about Sai's connection to the "Roots" in his report... it all kind of leads me to think that Danzou may have wanted to stay low for a while and just let Sai have his way Hmm.

And then there's still the question of the cat hiding in the bushes. I still firmly believe that wasn't just a cat, and was actually one of Yamato's summonings. Why, you ask?

Well, because we did see Yamato searching through Sai's things at the hot springs, and Senpai's mask was lying on the table. Alright, it may have been Sai's, especially since it was right by his bag, and all the members of the "Roots" might wear these masks. Still, I can't help but feel that Yamato taichou had a run-in with Senpai before Team 7 even left on their mission, and while he wasn't able to get any information from him, they did have a battle, and Yamato won. In any case, don't expect to see Senpai again. If he shows up, I'm probably wrong.

7. Bad First Impressions.

Amazing Sai didn't lose any teeth here.

As we all know, Sai had a pretty rough time trying to fit in with Team 7. Being able to smile genuinely was the last thing he really needed to worry about, 'cause he sure didn't have any social grace whatsoever.

But it wasn't just Sai that made a bad impression. Yamato came in fully expecting to see two very outstanding students based on his respect for Kakashi, and found two very temperental brats. Ouch.

Scary, isn't he? XD

So you can't really blame him for going the "Reign of Terror" routine. But it's all good and dynamic writing, though, so I liked it. After all, why should the Akatsuki hog all the fun in having bizarre teams?

Here we had four very different characters who were trying to work together. A strict taskmaster, an intense former troublemaker, an emotional kunoichi, and a detached assassin. When you think about it, even the original Team 7, with Kakashi and Sasuke, had less trouble getting to know each other. And something tells me THAT'S exactly why Kishimoto wanted to shake things up in the series a bit, having Sasuke depart Konohagakure, and Kakashi so often hospitalized. In order to keep the story interesting, Kishimoto knew he had to break up the team at some point and create new teams, and he had planned to do that from the beginning, because Sasuke did get his curse mark early on.

Of course, now the "new" Team 7 seems to be getting along well enough, but don't be surprised if Kishimoto also intends to break it up all over again at some point. Of course, since he seems to be starting to put the focus on other teams a little more, this version of Team 7 might be safe... for now!

8. Getting to Know an "Emotionless" Boy.

So distant, he doesn't even care that he's dripping ink on himself.

Alright, I've waited long enough to talk more about Sai here, who was obviously the centerpiece of the whole story... at least until Sasuke showed up. I waited because it took quite a while for the readers to get to finally understand Sai better, too - which we started to do a bit more when Sakura had the conversation with him at the docks. I'll be honest here. I initially didn't think much about Sai, the first time we were introduced to him, believing that he would soon become a little-used secondary character or even be killed.

Why? Well, he had all the makings of a villain - he seemed cold and distant, he was assigned a covert mission from a mysterious organization that seemed to be up to no good, and I've never seen a character insulting a protagonist's genitals and getting away with it! XD And even if he did eventually become good aligned, he didn't seem to have much of a future in Team 7 what with Sasuke possibly coming back at some point. In which case, I fully saw Sai sacrificing his life in much the same matter as Haku. But by the end of the volume, though, it had become clear that our new boy was meant to have a meaningful relationship with Naruto and Sakura, and in two volumes even more than a temporary teammate. Surprise, surprise...!

So now on re-reading the chapters in this volume and knowing how Sai was going to continue being a big part of the series, I do enjoy them a little more now. I don't feel as much anymore that Sai was a character just waiting to be written out. And it's always especially amusing to see again the first words Sai ever said to Naruto in particular...!

Easily the best taunt in the series thus far! XD

You know, for a guy who felt "nothing" at the time, he sure had a knack for getting others all heated up around him. But it even seemed like he was enjoying taunting them. Amusement is an emotion, isn't it? So these scenes sent me mixed signals the first time I read these chapters - is he devoid of emotion or what? I guess now we know he really wasn't as much as he was just depressed over the death of his brother without even knowing it. Withdrawal, depersonalization, unreality, and an anesthetizing of affect - all classic symptoms of grief. Sai had said here that he felt nothing when his brother died, but he quite likely was shell-shocked. He wasn't able to smile from the heart, but I don't think anybody can when they've lost all hope - and especially when it's only been a few years since their dream was shattered. So I can relate to him a bit more now knowing about his history, and these chapters are more fun to read now that we're not so puzzled by his attitude.

It was also still quite the contrast - Naruto and Sai - passion and apathy - and it's pretty fun to experience that all over again. The way Sai would always set Naruto off was completely different from how Sasuke did it. Naruto wanted more attention and recognition from Sasuke, but from Sai, he would just soon rather him keeping his mouth closed than not. Funny, eh?

Aw, he wants to be your friend.

Gotta give Kishimoto some more credit here. By having Sai be such a strong but empty character to begin with, our manga-ka did a very unique introduction. Through their conversations, Sakura and Naruto actually molded Sai from a faceless killer to a dependable friend. Usually, any new supporting cast, you know, are supported to add to the main characters, not the other way around so much. So it was a totally different approach.

Also a slower process than usually seen in any manga to be sure, but a little more realistic than all these "sudden moments of enlightenment" that change people without any warning (yes Sai had his own "moment" later on, but that was after a LOT of talking, wasn't it...)

Some people may see Sakura's conversation with Sai at the docks a little boring, but in the long run, when read with other chapters, and knowing what will happen, it's a much more enjoyable and makes more sense why Kishimoto would do a chapter like that. People aren't so easily changed, after all. One has to make an attempt to know them, first.

Art knows no bounds...!

Now for his abilities! Well, now we have a character with the ability to bring "ink" to life through his drawings. You'd think that'd be something new in the series, but two Akatsuki "artists" were also introduced in Part 2 - Deidara, through his exploding clay creations and Sasori with his army of puppets. And now we have Sai, the inking wonder. You gotta wonder why Kishimoto all of a sudden went that route for a while, but at least he got it out of his system all at once, I suppose. Doesn't look like we're going to get any more "artists" now.

Even though any more artists would have been overkill after Sai, it was still a nice piece of ironic writing, to have an artist needing some kind of identity (though it's probably been done before). I mean, just think of it this way - Sai was struggling for his own style. Heh.

Strangely, Sai's "drawings" seem to have the same look of the Nibi, although the latter seems much in sharper focus. Wonder if there's anything to that...

9. What Would You Do to Save a Friend?

Wasn't expecting that, huh, Sai...!

Most fans might allude to the moment where Sakura lectured to Sai about the importance of bonds in Orochimaru's lair as the reason that he finally regained his emotions and the desire to do something for himself. But it actually started way before that.

Throughout the volume, Naruto had been acting somewhat like a spoiled brat and always complaining about Sai, making it known that he wanted nothing to do with him. His distaste for Sai was so strong that I wouldn't have been surprised to see him leap at him, strangle him with his hands, and tear his throat out with his teeth. So the moment where he, instead of doing just that in response to one of Sai's taunts, decides to declare that he would do anything, including working with Sai, if it meant getting his friend back - it was one of the MOST poignant scenes in the series so far. It stunned me. It impressed me. You could make the argument that it was quite possibly Naruto's most mature moment in the whole series.

If Kishimoto really wanted to get across a question of just how far you would go for a friend, he sure accomplished that here, and in spades. It's this one scene that literally "made" the whole volume for me! Just as I was starting to have some doubts about Naruto ever being a candidate for Hokage, just one sentence regained my whole faith in him as a worthy protagonist. Now that's dramatic writing for you.

I can just see Yamato getting all teary-eyed here.

It even impressed Sakura enough to quickly follow suit and say the same thing - and when was the last time you saw Sakura being inspired by something Naruto said to that extent?

Well, never. Yep. This is the first time.

Even though they came out of this mission having failed at their objective, I think Sakura came out of it with a whole lot more respect for Naruto than ever. I've always often wondered how Naruto could possibly become the Hokage if he's never considered a leader in his own team. But with more moments like these, it won't be very long at all.

10. Old Enemies...!

Uh-oh, they're back...!

The volume certainly ended on quite a nice cliffhanger, when Yamato, disguised as Sasori, discovered at the Tenchikyou that the spy was none other than Kabuto, followed quickly by a wonderfully drawn double spread, in which we see that all along, Orochimaru was lurking close by and just waiting for the right moment to strike...!

It's that kinda stuff that makes you want to come back for more.

RATING: 4 out of 5. While it started great and also ended with a bang, it was still not one of the most exciting volumes ever, especially as most of the time, readers were struggling with having to deal with understanding Sai. The scene between Sakura and Sai, especially, felt a little bit dragged out. The comedy here and there and the poignant moments at the end of the volume, and especially the introduction of Yamato, made up for it, though.

* * * Star of the Volume * * *


What exactly is he doing there with his hand, anyway...

Now you guys know why I waited until the end of review to talk about Yamato more! He's easily the most impressive character in this volume, and ever since he took off that ANBU mask, he's done nothing but amaze us. Not only with his awesome Mokuton techniques, a skill that the only other person to ever possess was the first Hokage, but also with his quirky personality. He's the first character in the series to actually employ a "spooky manner" to emphasize that he means business. Quite effective in shutting Naruto up, something not even Kakashi could do very easily. Score one for Yamato. And he also possesses a stoic but calm manner even under pressure that you'd expect from any good veteran jounin who's been through a lot of battles.

Now that's camping in style...!

But even the most skeptical of readers quickly became fans when Yamato demonstrated, for the first time to us readers, the amazing Four Pillars House Technique!

Of course we wouldn't learn more about his background until the next volume, so I'll save that for the next volume review. But either way, Yamato was easily the star of this volume far and away.

[Special Note (2/18/08): Some people back then were puzzled that I discounted Sai as being a candidate for "star of the volume" for Vol. 32. Actually, I had already looked ahead to Vol. 33 and 34 too (though I never did find the time to write the reviews on them), and I decided that Orochimaru was the star of 33, AND that Sai had to be the star of 34 (yes, instead of Sasuke.) My reason - Sai came into his own at that time as he eventually became a trusted ally and even saved Naruto's life, whereas Sasuke, while it may have been his first appearance after the timeskip, didn't overly impress me with his defeatist attitude (though I still loved the volume). By contrast, Sai in Vol. 32 was mocked, beaten up, a bit dull at times, and ultimately seemed a jerk, though yes, the story still centered around him. Even so, it was no contest for me that Yamato was the best character of this volume.]

Runner-Up: Tsunade. Somewhat overlooked since her moments happened so early in the storyline, but she proved for the first time (to the readers) that she was a capable Godaime.

Lamest Character: Hinata. Sorry, but when your only appearance consists of running away when your crush is nearby, and then fainting when he finds you... tsk tsk.

[Special Note (2/18/08): Don't take this one personally. I actually like Hinata. But there was no other character that even came close to her in terms of potentially giving a bad impression upon her first re-appearance. Not even Ten-Ten.]

* * * Best Scene * * *

"...Even Work with You."

My particular favorite scene in this volume would have to be one where Naruto tells Sai that he'd be willing to do anything to save his friend, including work with him. That scene made the whole volume work for me. More details on that under Comment # 9.

Runner-Up: Chouji's showdown with Sai's animals. That scene was quite memorable, I think. Part of it was because it happened so suddenly without any warning. Also funny that at first, we all thought that he was about to strike Naruto down for calling him "Fatso!"

Worst Scene: Hinata's Fainting Scene. Even if it was meant to be comedy, it made me groan rather than laugh. It was like Hinata's character hadn't changed whatsoever. I know I said that I liked that she remained much the same, but if Kishimoto was trying to be funny, he shouldn't have done it right after Hinata's first appearance in Part 2, which was enough already to give her fans a pause.

* * * Funniest Moment * * *

The Piggyback Training

It's so funny 'cause they're so serious looking. XD

This was for me, personally, one of the most hilarious moments in the series so far! Coming off a sobering moment what with Chiyo's funeral, it was such an unexpected sight. Even now, I still laugh every time I read it - especially when Gai does his sparkly grin and Kakashi is just like, "Oh God, why me!" And he takes off across the desert. Priceless stuff.

Runner-Up: The Onsen Fiasco. When Sai commented on Naruto's penis at the hot springs... I'm sure you all remember that moment, and how he reacted to that comment. The funniest part was Sakura's expression compared to all the other laughing women next door.

Saddest Moment: The Good-Bye to Chiyo-baa. Funerals are always sad, but this one was especially so because we had gotten so attached to Chiyo. Just think of how Sakura must have felt - she was the last one Chiyo ever fought with.

* * * Volume 32 Cover Gallery!! * * *

Credits: Eagle colored Chapter 282, while Dynamic Dragon did the rest of the chapters.

Note: These colorings are my favorite versions of all the covers. I thought it'd be nice to show them in color instead of the black & white ones for a volume review.

Best Cover: I'd have to go with 281, the "Chained Naruto" double spread that Kishimoto himself colored. It was such a nice composition. Something else: the text there said "Countdown to Rampage," which foreshadowed that Naruto would go berserk when he met up with Orochimaru. So sometimes you do have to pay extra attention to what Kishimoto writes on the double spread.

Runner-Up: There's not really any one that really stands out, because they're all profiles. Still, my next favorite would have to be the Sakura one. That's actually probably my favorite cover of her.

Runner-Up # 2: Gotta admit too that the Shizune one is cute.

Worst Cover: I'd have to say the Naruto one from above. That's just Kishimoto running out of any good ideas and just trying to find a different perspective on Naruto, but this one wasn't exactly much to look at - even colored.

Volume Cover: Well, not that I don't want to see Shikamaru, Chouji, and Ino in color, but I would have far preferred to see the "new" Team 7. Especially Yamato in color. But oh well.

Phew, that certainly took some time! Hope you enjoyed, and looking forward to seeing what you think!


Hohzuki Island Chapter 01 | A Beautiful Island


Hmm, so last night I read the first chapter of a new seinen in Young Gangan - Hohzuki Island by Sanbe Kei - which Zinny's decided to translate at MH. It's supposed to be a horror/murder mystery. Then a group called Gievmoar released a scanlation, and so I decided to read it. It was actually pretty well done, for a first chapter, so I have a good feeling it's here to stay and I've decided to write up something about it. So here goes.

First, gotta show where the goods are, right? RAWs can be found here... Zindryr's translation of the first chapter here (he's done two more chapters)... and of course, if you're lazy like me and just want to read the scanlation, Gievmoar's can be found here. There are also some other scanlations floating around right now but I haven't looked at them yet; Gievmoar's scan was good enough quality for me anyway.

Be sure to read my commentary only after you've finished reading the actual chapter, otherwise get ready to be spoiled out of your mind


Hohzuki Island Chapter 01 | A Beautiful Island

Well, since the chapter title itself is reflective of the protagonist's own impressions of Hohzuki Island, I might as well go ahead and comment on the artwork first thing.

In short, I can only say that Sanbe Kei's art here was OK - adequate - and certainly more than sufficient enough to keep you interested in the story. The art's not fantastic like what you'd find in Vagabond or Berserk, but more comparative to Full Metal Alchemist but not even as detailed as that, either. Regardless, the artwork still does the job for what's supposed to be a suspenseful story. The character designs for Kokoro and Yume are simple, straightforward, and not particularly impressive, but that's good because we're more able to identify ourselves with them without dwelling on the differences so much. That way our own adrenaline should get pumped up when it's supposed to without a hitch - that's the theory anyway.

The background art, also, can be be considered creepy, because of its quiet simplicity - the details aren't distracting enough that we fail to notice all the broken wooden planks in the Academy, for example, and Sanbe Kei knows where to place the shadows just so that you can't help but wonder if something's going to pop right out. He also includes just enough accompanying details to the background that helps give more of a suspenseful feel to the story - spider-webs and scrawlings, just to name a few.

Now what does disappoint me, though, is the artwork does fail to make an big impression as far as the island itself. Unlike Kokoro, I couldn't really say that I thought the island was that scenic and impressive, so I simply had to trust him on that. Unfortunately, this may be a bigger detriment down the line. If the story is supposed to make you think of Hohzuki Island as a sentinent, frightening presence all of its own, the writing is still mainly going to have to pull that one off.

Fortunately, though, there's much potential in the story itself so far.

We get thrown into the action right off the bat, immediately seeing an exhausted Kokoro frantically carrying his blind sister, Yume, through the forest from some unseen antagonist. We quickly see that they're trying to get away from a crazed dude with a knife - the spider-web was a nice touch there. Our kids get some unexpected help from a ghost girl that Kokoro recalls was already killed by their pursuer, so it's obvious they've just suffered some unknown tragedy. They end up hiding behind a log, and suffer a brief scare when they think they had just gotten caught.

And well, that's all. That was naturally only supposed to be a taste of things to come. After all, can't have an opening chapter of a horror series without showing a preview of what's in store for us! Still, we did need to know the characters themselves in order to really care about what's happening to them, not to mention see more of what exactly went on beforehand, so back to the beginning we go.

We learn that Kokoro and little Yume have just been enrolled into a small academy on an island that only includes eight other people - four of them fellow students, and four teachers, including, I can only assume, the principal who introduced them.

All well and good. Slowly and surely, we learn little bits about Kokoro (he's a bug lover and nicknamed "Hoh-zuki" himself, what a coincedence!) and Yume (a blind girl who can learn her way around as long as she's left alone.) We find out that they're part of an unfortunate world that abandoned them at one point - and they had to survive on their own. Obviously Kokoro would certainly feel a huge amount of responsibility in taking care of her sister. What we don't learn yet, though, is how they came to be recruited by the principal.

We meet one of the teachers, a peppy gym teacher by name of Ms. Yukino, who gives them the tour of the place and shows them to their bedroom (located in what I'd expect to be a very frightening part of the run-down building... far to the back) as well as warn them about all the "dangerous stairs" around.

Later, we meet the other four students as well. First, Shuichiro, or Shu, a quiet but semi-conversational fourth grader who then introduces them to Hatsune, an even more silent girl whose disquieting gaze first greeted them when they arrived at the island.

Then comes the two more interesting students (at least to me) - Rikiya and Futoshi, two boys who seem to mysteriously hint at the web of deceit surrounding them all at the school. Riki, typically, is a brusque boy used to getting his way, although he doesn't scare Yume in the least. I don't blame Yume, though - Riki never threatened so much as he tried to get their attention, and tried to inform Kokoro of what to watch out for - not really what you would expect from a schoolyard bully.

Still, Riki does sock Futoshi one in the head when the fat boy let slip about a departed student named Hisanobu - which does seem to indicate they're not all on the level. And by Shu's own reaction, he also knows more of what's going on, too.

Naturally, of course, being told that the "adults" might lead them all to an untimely death would give one a sudden start, and we see that from Kokoro, if not Yume. Why not Yume? Well, perhaps it's understandable; their own parents abandoned them, after all. They should probably be used to that sort of thing, huh?

Still, wouldn't you know, turns out the locked drawer in Kokoro's room happened to once belong to that very same mysterious name, Hisanobu. Of course one thing leads to another, and Kokoro manages to open the drawer with a crowbar he found nearby, and finds naught but... blood. And a knife.

Not a bad way to end the chapter. Sure, it wasn't earth-shattering or anything, and more or less what one would expect at the end of one of these things, but it was enough to make one curious - a decent hook for reading the next chapter.

Overall, a good chapter, a good start, and a potentially good series. Looking forward to more.