Saturday, May 28, 2011

Naruto 49 & 50 by Masashi Kishimoto

Yes, I'm still reading these. What can I say? I have to have some piece of violent serialized popular entertainment, I suppose -- don't we all?

I'm only a casual Naruto reader, though, and any serialized story that runs this long will tend to prefer dedicated readers to casual ones -- the story is only a bit shy of 10,000 pages long by this point, with more characters and details than I can honestly keep track of, some of the time. Luckily, Kishimoto isn't trying to tell a story just for the continuity nuts, but it is a reasonably complex world (five secret villages of ninjas, each with their own hierarchy and traditions, plus a raft-load of various semi-supernatural fighting techniques and abilities, including a lot of jargon), so getting back up to speed each volume can be tricky.

And Naruto himself is much more of an ensemble player now as well -- he's near the center of the story, most of the time, but there can be whole chapters of other people fighting or yelling at each other (still the two main modes of Naruto) in which the main character doesn't appear. I'm also finding it interesting -- and stereotypically Japanese -- how Naruto started off as the goofy oddball, loud and inappropriate and boasting, and has had most of his rough edges sanded off, bit by bit, to make him into the standard shonen hero: resourceful, smart, dedicated, and vastly more self-effacing than he was when he started. The Naruto of the early books would declare often that his goal was to be Hokage -- the leader and best ninja of his home. But the Naruto we see now wants to be, like every other shonen hero, a great salaryman, working as hard as he can for someone else and not asking for any more reward than more work. (Socialization can be a bitch.)

I still have hopes to make it to the end of this series, and I think that there actually will be an end, eventually -- Kishimoto's story has a definite shape, and things have been slowly coming together over the past thousand pages or so -- but it's entirely possible that this is only the halfway point of Naruto; there are lots of ways to extend a story and the manga industry is expert at all of them. No one is going to be in a hurry to end a cash cow like Naruto.

This was nothing like a review, since volumes 49 and 50 of anything are essentially unreviewable -- the only people with the standing to really look at them closely are so in love with the series that their opinions are unreliable, and those are the same people who could evaluate reviews, as well. But I spent the first three years of this blog insisting that I'd never really review books, and I suppose some of that spirit will still come out, now and then.

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