Naruto Vol. 1

By Masashi Kishimoto
192 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

Naruto is a backwards series. I don’t mean that reversing the title reveals the secret word “Oturan”, and I’m not referring to the right-to-left progression of the page. No, Naruto is a backwards series because creator Masashi Kishimoto has cleverly reversed all the normal standards of a “young hero in training” comic into something uniquely different.

Uzumaki Naruto is a teenager who desperately wants to become the greatest ninja of all time. An orphan, he’s always been shunned by the adults of his village, and that attitude has filtered down to the children. What only the adults know, though, is that Naruto is also a living prison for the dreaded nine-tailed fox demon that nearly destroyed the entire village twelve years ago. Now, as Naruto tries once more to graduate to adulthood and truly become a ninja, that truth is about to be revealed…

I’m sure there are some readers who are gasping, “Greg just gave away the big twist of the series!” If this was written by someone else, I’m sure it would have been a good fifteen, twenty chapters before we discovered “The Secret Origin of Naruto!” with a lot of clumsy hints leading up to it. Naruto reveals the tie between Naruto and the nine-tailed fox demon in the very first chapter. Even better, most books of this nature have a very talented, suave, “I want to be him” lead character as the star, usually with a wacky sidekick. Well, here it’s the wacky sidekick that’s the title character, while the suave guy is Naruto’s bitter rival. You see where this is going? Naruto is wonderfully inventive and original, and it’s awfully funny as well. Once you’re past the gimmicks, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable story and it’s got enough twists and turns that it’s no wonder Uzumaki Naruto’s name partially means “spiral”.

It’s kind of hard to describe the look of Kishimoto’s art in Naruto, because there’s a strange dichotomy about it. On the one hand, it’s very stripped down in places, using just a couple of lines to define an entire face. On the other hand, though, there’s a strange sort of intricate beauty to it, with lots of curves and waves existing inside the artwork. At times I almost felt like I was looking at wood carvings instead of pencil and ink drawings. Even when you’re looking at the more stripped down drawings, though, you won’t mistake that style for a lack of craft. Like so many Japanese artists whose work is now showing up in English, Kishimoto has a remarkable skill in drawing the human face. Looking at Naruto, you can tell at any moment what’s going on in his mind because of the art. Happiness, anger, frustration, grief… all made to look as simple to draw as possible.

It’s rather ironic that the series I’m really enjoying the most from SHONEN JUMP are the ones that I knew the least about (One Piece, Shaman King, and Naruto). I’m thrilled this is in a collected edition because if there’s any justice out there, Naruto is going to be huge. I’ve got no idea what Kishimoto has in store for readers next, but I know I’ll be eagerly awaiting each new installment.

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