Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Naruto, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and to Accept Manga

Masashi Kishimoto; Naruto Volumes 01-46 (Viz Media, various publication dates, various ISBN's, artwork by Masashi Kishimoto).

Several years ago The Young Lady got hooked on Pokemon, thanks to the influence of classmates and other kids (mostly boys) at her summer camp. This later evolved into an interest in Bakugan, and (most recently) Yu-Gi-Oh. In each of these, you've got a toy line, a game line (sometimes tied together), a show/movie line and a manga line. Anything that encourages reading is pretty much O.K. by me, so we encouraged the interest (to a certain extent!).

About a year or so ago, The Young Lady started getting interest in manga, again, thanks to classmates. We bought a couple of series (ranging in numbers from a one-off that is never repeated to a small run of three, to runs of thirty or more) and took some out from the library (hard to get a complete run there): the only thing we insisted on is that we would look at it first and make sure it was age appropriate (yes, these things have ratings on the back...but they are all mixed together on the shelves and the more adult ones are not, for example, sealed in plastic or your standard brown wrapper...). So we worked through Fruits Basket and Kitchen Princess and moved into fantasy such as Anima or Mamotte Shugogetten.

One series that seemed to be read by her classmates was Naruto. It seemed tailor-made for what she was reading: there were young characters, it was an ongoing series, it mixed fantasy with action/adventure or science fiction, and even had multiple strong female (secondary) characters. So I bought the first four or five issues of the (trade paperback) manga for her to read.

Well...what happened next was not what I expected. The Young Lady did not really seem that interested in the series, but I started reading it (we were spending a week "dad sitting", so my entertainment resources were limited). Five volumes were joined by the next five...and the next five...and the next five...and the "Official Fan Book" and a book of artwork and a series of books on the anime and the next five installments and...well, you get the picture when I list 46 books having been read this year.

See the link (to Wikipedia) above for a description, list of characters, etc. After 46 books I'm finding it hard to summarize what has happened, there are so many characters, primary story lines, secondary story lines and the like!

So why did this hook me? The artwork is great. It is reduced for these slightly-larger-than-standard-paperback-size volumes from the original appearances, but still look good, especially when the drawing spreads across two pages. Toss in a number of interesting characters with many quirks running from what we are used to (conflicts among schoolmates) to the pure fantasy (spirits trapped inside children). We've got a strange mix of the primitive (all transport seems to be on on foot, unless you use a animal or animal equivalent) and the advanced (those wonderful electrical poles you find in Japan) the magical (spells and potions) and the mundane (raman noodle shops). Storylines that run across multiple volumes, both major and minor. Characters that care for each other, and base their actions on ethics, beliefs, and things like trust, friendship and love.

And dozens of "action sounds". Some day I'll sit down and make a list.

Good stuff, fun stuff. Recommended.

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