"We'll just keep mastering jutsu on top of jutsu. Then it'll reach a point where even the adults won't be able to ignore us."
Before we get to the meat of 623, I want to go over the surprisingly split poll from last week's review. In fact, at the time of writing this, slightly more of you don't think the topic needs exploring than do, a number of voters equal to either thinks the moral quandary should be mentioned if not explored. Granted, this is shonen, not seinen, so I wouldn't expect the level of depth that other writers like Naoki Urasawa or Takehiko Inoue might bring to the discussion. But as a popular, international manga series that reaches a broad and occasionally younger skewing audience, I'm happy that Kishimoto is at least pointing out the ethical flaws of settling dispute through violence, even if Naruto is part of a genre that utilizes violence (however fantastical) mostly to excite and amaze. I was personally also excited last week to see how far Kishimoto would explore that topic for two reasons.
- Culturally, pacifism has been thematically important to Japanese culture and art post-WWII. It's nothing new. It's popped up in Kurasawa films. In manga dating back to Astro Boy. In modern movies like Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle. And Naruto 622 felt like a condensed thesis, as though Kishimoto was flat out spelling his thoughts on this system which could be considered analogous to real world samurai culture. Or more recently, the fervor of nationalism that swept through Japan during the second World War.
- I've tackled this before in my interview a couple of years back, but war is thematically important to each of the Shonen Jumps big three titles. Yet Bleach, One Piece, and Naruto explore this topic in different ways and with different aims. Specifically, Bleach seems most concerned with using war and battle as a backdrop for deeper aesthetic and philosophical discussion. It's rare that two characters are ever just fighting in that series. It's more like two ideas come head to head. Case in point, the Gotei 13 divisions representing different facets of the ideas of duty and battle and the Espada quite literally representing different facets or causes of death. One Piece is more similar in its approach to Naruto, but I would argue that it is more heavily geared towards exploring the root problems of authority and anarchy and the way in which institutions are corrupted and ultimately fail to protect the freedoms and desires of the individual. So in this case, war has seemed more like the side effect of the chief thematic exploration and not the most important theme. But in Naruto, violence, war, and battle is always front in center. It is the reason these characters exist. It's what most of them are trained in from an early age, and every character in the series seems to be questioning their place within the system (the spy characters, the compromised Jonin, the Kage, quite often the villains) or their meaning within a world of senseless violence (very much the villains of the series) or whether or not conflict can be avoided through determined empathy and compromise (Naruto's quest, the Kage, and Naruto 622).
There are other reasons too why this has been on my mind lately. The Academy Awards just recently wrapped and was chock full of movies that prompted debate on how violence is depicted in media and the responsibility an artist has or doesn't to craft a socially conscious message. And in light of increased public shootings in America, there's been an increase in this sort of criticism.
Now for the chapter review...
Naruto 623 A Glimpse
The images in this review are credited to Mangastream
Elsewhere this chapter's title is 'A Sweeping View' which I happen to like more than 'A Glimpse'...
Though Hashirama and Madara have very different temperaments, they bond over a shared ambition and begin meeting more often to train together, all without revealing which clans they belong to. They fight (evenly), joke around, discuss what it would take to create lasting change. And here they decide they need to amass unmatched strength so that no adult can ignore them. By focusing on their weak points, they'll eventually become shinobi worthy of being followed. They continue to train (complete with scaling walls competitively like Naruto and Sasuke used to scale trees), Hashirama dreams up the system Konoha will actually adopt (dismissed as a daydream by Madara), and both boys lament not being strong enough to protect their dead brothers.
Their idylls come to an end when Hashirama's father discovers what's going on. He's sent Tobirama to track his brother and learned that the boy Madara is the same Uchiha whose killed a few of their Senju adults. Hashirama is given a mission for the clan. Meet again, follow Madara back to their village, and gather intel. Should Madara become suspicious, kill him. On the day of their meeting, the boys skip stones to one another and suspiciously run at great speed from the area, having both left warning messages on their stones. The father, Butsuma Senju, gives chase to Madara accompanied by Tobirama, but he's intercepted by Madara's father, Tajima, and brother, Izuna, who had much the same idea.
There wasn't a lot here that was showy. The locales were kept to forest, the action was minimal and basic, and there were no showy jutsu. However, the future site of Konoha was pretty lovingly illustrated and looked like the kind of serene spot the two would pick for their location. And Hashirama and Madara remain dynamically drawn characters. Seriously, Hashirama's face when teasing Madara while he's trying to take a leak is one of the funniest bits in this chapter. But what's probably going to stick most in peoples minds are the appearance of the elder Senju and Uchiha fathers with kids in tow.
Alright, I've been thinking about it, but this span of chapters stretching back to Naruto 619 might be the strongest and most consistent since the latter half of the "Uchiha Brothers vs Kabuto" or "Naruto vs the Jinchuriki and mastering Bijuu Mode". In hindsight, the steps Kishimoto's taken are measured and precise in moving the plot forward and filling in missing gaps of history, but going forward I've been continually surprised at how the flashbacks and reveals play out.
For instance, after the last chapter, it wouldn't have taken much more to convince me Hashirama and Madara formed a natural bond and I would have expected that to be sped through in a couple of pages. But Kishimoto spends an entire chapter exploring how that friendship grows based on camaraderie and rivalry, and lays out the seed of Hashirama's dream of a village hidden in the forest. But that introduces another kind of tension. Knowing a rift between the two was inevitable and seeing them so happy for ten or so pages, the chapter sets up an expectation for tragedy and delivers it with Butsuma's ultimatum. When Madara and Hashirama flee, that's expected. But when fathers and sons from both sides meet at the river, it's jarring, exciting, and a little bit beautiful in its symmetry.
All in all, I've got no complaints about this chapter, so I'm giving Naruto 623 a...
*5 out of 5
*I guarantee you that I would have given this chapter an instant 6 if we were actually shown them developing a Mega Fist of Fiery Illusion Shuriken Slicer Double Impact jutsu.
If Obito can be trusted to have reliably given Madara's backstory to Sasuke, than we know that the eventual Uchiha-Senju truce came after his objections. So there has to be a break somewhere between the two friends. My money is on both of their parents dying (perhaps even in the next chapter), putting the burden of heading their respective houses on their shoulders. This would quickly mature both as they follow the path they set out on, accumulating fame and power and eventually becoming the heads of their respective clans.
One Line Reviews
- Gantz 378 just shuffles along to the inevitable battle which unfortunately only begins in the last panel of the chapter.
- After a series full of wackiness, you'd think One Piece would run out of ways to surprise, but 701 sets up unexpected weirdness with a strangle locale and even stranger inhabitants. So much so that even our Strawhat Gang stares in open mouth, uncomprehending awe at what they're witnessing.
- Teams are set and mysteries are answered and more mysteries are opened in Tower of God S02 Ch54. It's a solid chapter but mostly setup for the presumed training and getting together that has to occur before the big Gongbang Tournament, but a worthwhile read just for a certain character snapping who usually keeps their cool.
- Bleach 529 came very close to being my pick of the week. Very very close. The chapter was loaded with reveals about characters we've known and how SS works and gives us a glimpse into what took place between the story's beginning and the last of the Turn Back the Pendulum chapters we got.
- But I'm going to go with this week's Naruto for the Best of the Week.