After going into release overdrive last year to keep ahead of the US release of the anime series, Naruto drops back to one volume every two months. Volume 28 was the a new dawn for an already great series, moving the action forward three years and raising the stakes with our hero once again on the Akatsuki's hit list.
However, in the last volume we saw that he
wasn't at the top of the hit list, Akatsuki agents Sasori and Deidara instead
launched an audacious attack on the Hidden Village of the Sand. Their
target was Gaara of the Sand, now the Sand's leader and host of the demonic
one-tailed beast Shukaku. Succeeding in their mission after an epic
battle, Sasori and Deidara have returned to an Akatsuki hideout to begin the
process of removing Shukaku, but Kakashi, Naruto and Sakura are hot on their
trail. Joined by Sand Village elder Chiyo, our heroes rush to intercept
their foes, whilst Konaha's backup team of Might Guy, Rock Lee, Neji and Tenten
head to rendezvous with them. It's a race against time though, removing
Shukaku from Gaara will kill him, so if they are to succeed in their rescue the
Team Kakashi and Team Guy will have to get there before the removal ritual is
complete. However, Akatsuki are not just going to stand idly by as they
close in. Team Guy come face to face with the exceptionally strong ex-Mist
ninja Kisame, but it's Kakashi Team that faces the hardest task when they find
the deadly Itachi Uchiha waiting for them. Faced with such powerful
opposition, do Naruto and co have any chance of getting to Gaara before it's too
late, or even at all?
After a few pages of setup in the Sand Village, the pace really picks up and is then pretty much unrelenting. Flitting between Kakashi and Guy's teams as they rush onwards and keeping one eye on what Akatsuki is doing really ramps up the tension. With such a frantic pace you'd be forgiven for thinking that some of the plot may be glossed over, but instead we learn more in this volume about the monsters sealed within Naruto or Gaara than ever before. We learn why Gaara is the host to Shukaku and the discussions between Chiyo and Kakashi give a glimpse into the turbulent past where all of the major ninja nations fought for supremacy. It really enriches the story and provides depth and context to the characters' current struggles, whilst also explaining why some characters have the personalities they do.
I must admit I was a little worried about Chiyo becoming a main character as she seemed a bit dull at first, but she is really growing into her role. Having a more cynical older character also provides a decent counterpoint to the more serious Sakura and impetuous Naruto, as well as giving a peer for Kakashi to discuss things with. However, things really come into their own when Kisame and Itachi turn up. The two simultaneous battles give the chance for Guy and his team to show their stuff and also for Naruto to demonstrate how far he has come. Plus they're rip-roaring excitement too.
However, it just goes to show how good Naruto is at the moment that the delay for the next volume is such an issue. Naruto volume 29 takes what happened in volume 28 and builds on it, never relenting in its pace yet still managing to balance story and character development with action and excitement. The artwork remains brilliant and the pacing is sublime, plus we get a glimpse of the rest of the Akatsuki, if only in shadow. All of this adds up to another brilliant instalment to what is the best action manga available at the moment, every volume is even better than the last and that's no mean feat considering its quality. Superb.
As usual there are adverts and a 'read right to left' notice at the back of the book, and there's also the 'story so far', character pictures and author's comment at the start. This time though there's only one 'World of Masashi Kishimoto' comments page, which is admittedly pretty entertaining but one a little bit sparse for such a good manga.