Naruto Volumes 4-6

By Masashi Kishimoto. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

And this is why everyone should give Jump series about 5-6 volumes before they give up on them. This omnibus is definitely a big step up from the first, with the leads being slightly more likeable, lots of interesting new characters introduced, and a new arc that promises to be much more thrilling – and possibly more deadly.

First, however, we have to finish up the cliffhanger from last time, with Naruto and company defending the bridge and its creator from the evil ninja and the mob boss who hired him. Once again, we are reminded that small, petty villains are always MUCH WORSE than noble yet evil guys in the Shonen Jump world, and while Zabuza spends a lot of time showing us what a horrible person he is, he does manage to get some redemption, as does his gender-malleable assistant. I was rather startled at the death of Haku here – it’s quite gory, and from a blow by Kakashi, no less (if accidentally). Clearly ‘nobody dies in Naruto’ is not a meme that’s going to take hold. Well, not yet anyway.

Once that’s over with, we head back to the village and begin our next big arc – the exams are coming up for journeyman ninja, and despite only having worked together for a short time, Kakashi recommends that they all do it. This is a huge exam with over a hundred ninja apprentices from all walks of life, most of whom we meet in this book. I have no idea who will be important later or not – the only ones that really stuck with me are Hinata, who clearly has a crush on Naruto that’s a mile wide; Ino, who has some sort of rivalry/friendship with Sakura; and Gaara, who gives off the appearance of being one of the next big villains, so must not be one.

And then there’s Rock Lee, who really deserves a paragraph of his own. Even though I’d never read Naruto before this, I still knew of Rock Lee – how could I not? Amazingly, he’s exactly as I anticipated, being a larger than life Sylvester Stallone type bruiser in the midst of all these tricky ninjas. His master Guy looking pretty much like him only older also amuses me, and I was rather startled to note that Guy can apparently hold his own with Kakashi – even the comedy characters here are tough cookies.

As for the exam itself, it’s a ninja exam, so naturally there’s lots of secret cheating, given they all assume the point of the exam is to see how good they are at not getting caught. The final question is psychological, something that works on many of the exam takers but not on Naruto, who is far too stubborn for such tactics. (Note: not dense – Naruto seems to fully understand what he’s sacrificing. It’s the principle of the thing that bothers him.) And then we get Round 2, featuring a survival match through a deadly forest – one that has been infiltrated by one of the villains, Orochimaru.

This last third of the omnibus is far more serious than the volume before it, and once again shows that the author is not afraid to laughter its minor cast members in the way of drama. There’s lots of good stuff here – Sasuke shows that he’s not all smug jerk, though unfortunately seems to get infected (possessed?) by the enemy anyway. Even better is Sakura, who while she doesn’t accomplish much does show a plucky streak that’s very endearing, and is at least clever enough to not fall for the minor mook’s traps. The three leads are all coming along, and I’m interested in seeing how they get out of all this.

This still hasn’t reached the heights of One Piece for me – the battles still have trouble keeping my attention, for one, and introducing 25-30 new cast members in 2 volumes is over the top even if you *aren’t* meant to remember who they all are. But it’s definitely come along from the first omnibus, and this new Exam Arc is indeed as exciting as people said it would be. I’m looking forward to seeing how things go from here on.

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  1. You can expect a lot of deaths in Naruto, and not just the bad guys. Kishimoto is definitely not afraid to kill people.

  2. yeah i think he likes to make us watch many deaths … way too many in naruto shippuden

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