Article first published as Manga Review: Naruto Volume Four by Masashi Kishimoto on Blogcritics.
Naruto Volume Four is a manga by Masashi Kishimoto, and it was released in North America by Viz Media’s Shonen Jump imprint in 2004. The series is rated “T” for teens; from what I’ve read in the manga and from what I’ve seen in the anime series, I would agree with this rating.
Naruto Uzumaki, the title character of the series, is an orphan who has decided that one day, he will become the Hokage (the leader) of his village. Unfortunately, Naruto isn’t the best of students at the ninja academy, is ostracized by many people in the village, and constantly pulls pranks in order to force people to pay attention to him.
Unknown to Naruto, the Fourth Hokage sealed a fox demon that was attacking the village inside of Naruto when he was a baby. The Hokage died shortly after, and he hoped the villagers would see Naruto as a hero; instead, the adults of the village shunned him. The Third Hokage returned to the position of leader of the village, and he decreed that the disclosure of Naruto’s secret is strictly forbidden under severe penalty. Naruto’s peers don’t know his secret, but many of them picked up their parents’ animosity toward Naruto and perpetuate it.
In the first three volumes of the series, Naruto is tricked by one of the academy instructors to steal a sacred scroll. He learns a cloning technique from the scroll, and it becomes Naruto’s signature jutsu in the series. When the traitorous instructor tries to take the scroll from Naruto, he is saved by his teacher, Iruka Umino.
Naruto manages to graduate from the academy, and is placed in Squad 7; in his squad is Sakura Haruno (a girl he has a crush on) and Sasuke Uchiha (a boy Naruto strongly dislikes, and Sakura has an obvious crush on him). They are assigned to a new teacher named Kakashi Hatake, and they begin doing missions together.
During Volume Two, Squad 7 is on a mission to serve as bodyguards to a bridge builder named Tazuna. However, they quickly learn that the bridge builder omitted some very important details about his situation, and that the mission is really a higher ranked mission than the Hokage had realized. The members of Squad 7 find themselves face to face with some of the most lethal Mist Ninjas.
At the beginning of Volume Four, Squad 7 is in the middle of a battle with Haku and Zabuza on a bridge. The first six chapters of this volume focus on this battle, as well as the aftermath of the battle. I know this portion of the story from seeing the anime series, but I really appreciate how much quicker this battle resolves in the manga than it does in the anime. Unfortunately, the anime really stretched out the battle on the bridge, sometimes accomplishing the stretching by spending almost half an episode showing what had happened in the battle in the previous episode. By being able to read the manga telling of this story, I’ve come to gain a better appreciation for The Land of Waves story arc.
The final three chapters of Volume Four begin the Chunin Exam arc of the story. The Chunin Exam is a test and competition of the junior ninja from Konoha, the Hidden Leaf Village (where Naruto lives), the Hidden Sand Village, as well as the other minor lands. Those ninja who are deemed worthy enough at the end are promoted from the Genin rank the Chunin rank.
During the final three chapters, several new characters are introduced. These characters include three siblings from the Hidden Sand Village (Gaara, Kankuro, and Temari) and three Genin level ninja from Konoha (Rock Lee, Neji Hyuga, and Tenten).
From this section, it was interesting to note how the tone of the confrontation between Squad 7 and the Sand Siblings is a bit different than in the anime. In some respects, I have to say Kankuro comes off a bit “meaner” in the manga telling of the confrontation than he does in the anime telling. In some respects, I think I tend to prefer the anime’s version of this scene over the manga portrayal.
As I read Naruto, I’m impressed by Kishimoto’s ability to convey his characters’ feelings through their facial expressions. In some respects, the character designs can feel a little “rough” at times, but I think this is probably due to the fact that I have more familiarity with the character designs from the Naruto anime series.
I personally enjoy the Naruto manga series, but it can be a little slow to get going. However, by the time you reach Volume Four, the story has gotten going, and the reader starts getting to know some of the main characters. Since I’m much further along in the anime series, I’m willing to say, without giving away any spoilers, is that if you keep reading through the manga, you will be rewarded with a series that goes much deeper. These early volumes are only “scratching the surface” and are working at building up the world and characters of the Naruto series.
I wrote this review after reading a copy of Naruto Volume Four that I checked out through the King County Library System.