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Naruto, Part II (2005-)

Following on from Naruto Part I, Part II follows on three years from the end of the ‘Rescue Sasuke’ arc, with a late teenage Naruto returning to Konoha after training with his mentor, Jaiyraia, so that he can finally fulfil his promise in rescuing Sasuke. I’m somewhat tentative about reviewing Part II of Naruto, as the series is still on going. But ignorance be damned, I said I would, and I love it when a plan comes together.

Something that is notable about the change in Part II is that the artwork of the main characters, in my opinion, improved dramatically. This may be because of the more angular features and longer faces, but I find this style somewhat more appealing than that in Part I. Also, as the series developed, the artwork definitely increased in detail, possibly because of the widespread attention Naruto has gathered for itself.

Also, some of the new additions to the cast are much appreciated, one being the inclusion of Sai and Yamamoto, to recreate Team 7, adds a new dynamic to the character’s relationships that could have easily gotten stale. Also, the exploration of the crime group, Akatsuki, creates some of the more memorable villains from the series, such as Pain, Itachi, and Sasori (one of my personal favourites). They seem a lot darker and three-dimensional than the villains from Part I, which was a successful move by the writing team.

These are all things that work about Naruto, Part II.

But unfortunately, its time to flip the coin.

Despite having the qualities of being a good sequel (or continuation), Naruto Part II has largely become bloated and weighty under its own grandeur. In the initial series, the focus of the plot did not deviate largely from Naruto as a protagonist, however in Part II the huge range of characters demands that the plot be spread between several locations. For example, at the current issue (Issue 590) the focus of the plot is split between Naruto, Sasuke, The Kage’s, with reference to  Kakashi, Sakura, Sugetsu… the list goes on. This results in, at best, frustration, or at worst, apathy in the reader. It also emphasises that an extended universe must be grounded in a protagonist and a main arc, and subsidiary plots need to support or feed into this arc, and not detract the attention away from.

Also, some of the more heartfelt drama in the Naruto Part I arc becomes clichéd in Part II, almost to the extent of being predictable. This isn’t a constant complaint, as the Asuma arc seemed to be a return to form, but attempts at romance between Naruto and Hinata seem forced, and altogether boring. The character of Sasuke was one of the worst victims of this, as his character for a large proportion of the series has become a stereotype, his two-dimensionality becoming painfully obvious when held against his far more complex brother, Itachi.

But one of the greatest failings of Naruto Part II is that it fails the genre that Part I established. Fights rarely seem to have the same gravity, and when they do its even rarer still that they are as well thought out and exciting as in Part I. Part I’s strength in its final arc was that the readers felt that the main characters were in mortal danger, being children against trained killers. In Part II however, there is very little question as to whether or not Naruto will win a fight, and the cunning that made Naruto Part I stand out makes Part II seem like a generic brawler.

Will I stop reading Naruto? No. After reading the series for so long I feel compelled to finish it. But to the outside reader, I would recommend that, if you feel that you have to read Naruto, then read Part I. Part II is a monster that will simply keep on dragging you in, reminding me of a joke that I heard once.

What is the difference between a) following a series arc from A to B and b) deviating from a series arc so that you can include 5 extra arcs? ANSWER 4,500 PAGES.

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