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Naruto is a manga that ran from 1999 to 2014 on the weekly Shounen Jump magazine, written and illustrated by the Mangaka Mamashi Kishimoto.
The story of Naruto has been a gateway to anime for years during the run of the original anime, and had the reputation of being a part of the illustrious big three, standing alongside Bleach and the industry juggernaut One Piece.
Naruto is a story about a young boy named Naruto whose aspiration is to be the greatest ninja to have ever lived and be the leader or Hokage of the Hidden Leaf village. We will be taking a look at the first volume of the global phenomenon.
The set up of the story is simple enough, and has the hallmarks of the typical shounen story, the difference here being that the main character is hated by everyone in the village and so goes out of his way to make people pay attention to him.
This is the central motivation for the character: acknowledgement and acceptance. Where most stories focus on the search for a physical thing, Naruto approaches this in a way that the MacGuffin is something abstract as other peoples feelings. This one aspect immediately makes him relatable.
Within the first couple of chapters we are introduced to an intriguing set of characters, and a world that is just as interesting, melding technology with a fantasy setting seamlessly. What is instantly noticeable is the fact that all the characters are incredibly expressive, and at no point are you wondering exactly how they are feeling. In addition all the characters have a distinct personality, and each of their outfits are all distinct that they are all easily recognizable.
The backgrounds, when they are illustrated in the larger panels or the splash pages, are incredibly detailed. You could spend many minutes soaking up the village, the architecture, the blending of nature, and the scale of things while also being very compact.
The comedy is fantastic, with a clear and satisfying payoff almost every time, and there are times when the set up is placed in panels that seem to have no real consequence, brought attention to in another panel of no consequence, and paid off in spades. This allows the reader to connect the dots on their own and, therefore make the quality of the joke that much better as it feels as if we are an active participant in the joke as opposed to simply spoon feeding it.
During the moments of action, the same energy in the illustrations during the moments of comedy are present, only they seem to be amplified by five. There is a sense of motion and a kinetic energy to some of the panels that make it engaging and exciting to see. It also helps that the the panels are clean and easy to decipher, allowing the eyes to flow across the page with ease.
The dialogue in the manga can seem overly expository a fair amount of the time, especially when it comes to expanding on the lore of the world that we are entering, thankfully there are just as many moments where the individual personalities of the characters are are brought to the forefront using the dialogue. A piece of, what I think is, genius in writing is showing the duality of how Sakura behaves in front of others compared to how she feels by showing the ‘Inner Sakura’ is brilliant. Making for some great moments of comedy and the mindset that she has and letting us get to know her better.
The first chapter is a fantastic opening to the epic story, with a lot of emotion crammed into it, with solid panel work, and a fantastic pace to the narrative. Saying that, there is a moment when the medium of manga was not used quite to its fullest potential and a significant moment of pay off and emotional catharsis was somewhat undercut, not diminished completely just undercut, as it was still very emotional. That is my only nit pick with the opening chapter.
With just how much personality is oozing from the supporting cast, it was disheartening when Sasuke was introduced as he felt more like a stock brooding pretty boy character to be the complete opposite of Naruto in every way as opposed to a character in his own right. Compared to him and more often than not Naruto himself, Iruka and Kakashi end up stealing most of the panels and sequences that they are a part of, making them seem far more interesting than the team 7 squadron.
I would be hesitant to recommend the entire series as there are 72 volumes and that is a massive investment of time, in addition the quality of writing, and the strength of the narrative tend to fluctuate too much for my liking. The anime is an even more of an investment on time. Ultimately Naruto has highs and lows, when it is high it is incredible with a lot of emotion involved, and when it is low it is quite tedious to read. That being said if I was only recommending the first volume, I would encourage you to check it out.