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Book Review (Part One): Naruto: The Official Character Data Book by Masashi Kishimoto

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I agreed to review this book some time ago. Then I was interrupted by a series of life events. I felt really badly because I want to be timely when I agree to review a book. Sometimes though, what initially seems like bad luck can turn into good timing — this was one of those times.

My teenage daughter is a very big manga and anime fan. Before she came into my life, I was mostly ignorant about the entire genre, with the exception of the fact that my sister enjoys it as well and has been attending a large “con” called Anime Boston since its inception ten years ago. 

Last year was my first time at Anime Boston and I was quite out of the loop. Having no particular show I was committed too, I was unable to completely enjoy the veritable parade of characters that were the cosplayers at the con. Armed with Naruto: the Official Character Data Book by Mashashi Kishimoto, I vowed this year would be different.

I finally began to review the book two weeks before Anime Boston. At first, I was under the misconception that I would read the book front to back as I would with any book. Instead, I found myself reading back to front… which is traditional for Japanese manga (the book length comic books fans read). I learned that when manga are brought to the United States, they maintain their spine-on-the-right format as it better maintains the integrity of the artwork and the proper order to the pictures for the storyline.

My brother-in-law tells me this was not the case when manga were first imported, but that the tide began to turn when one artist refused to have his artwork printed in reverse, due to an icon in the characters’ uniforms that would become a swastika if the images were flipped.

Once I was oriented to the book, I headed straight for the first section, the “Character Files.” These include complete descriptions of the many characters who have been involved in the story. Much of the data is presented in a visual format that is quite easy to digest. I’m certain it took me longer to absorb some of the information than it would a fan who is familiar with the show. I was learning the “world” and the vocabulary of Naruto at the same time as I was reading the book. Each character summary includes a few frames of the character in action with some dialog. This helps to keep the pages active and provides examples of some of the character traits they are talking about.

There were more characters than I could possibly imagine! Over one hundred of them. Unfortunately, I was not able to glean the organizing element behind the order in which they were presented. It does appear that many of the more integral characters are placed closer to the front, but not completely. My next guess would be that they are presented in the order in which they appear, but I cannot verify that.

Following the character files is a section where the various characters are broken down visually into the “villages” that they come from in the story. This was helpful to me in understanding the relationships of the characters to each other. I also found the section entitled “Shinobi Facts” to be useful as it outlined many of the relationships and conflicts between the various clans of ninja in the story. (According to the Urban Dictionary, a “shinobi” is a high level ninja). It was in this section that the great “Tailed Beasts” were elucidated.

Given the key role of the Nine Tailed Beast to the storyline (Naruto contains the locked spirit power of the Nine Tailed Beast), I would have liked to have had this appear sooner in the book. While I’m certain a long-term fan would not need this level of remedial explanation regarding the Nine Tailed Beast, it would be helpful for those who may use the book to jumpstart their enthusiasm for the series…like myself…but that comes later…

The next major section of the book is “Jutsu Data” wherein the author explains the various powers the characters have available to them in their work. My husband, who grew up in Japan, tells me that the word “jutsu” means “technique.”

Let me tell you, these guys have some really cool skills! Bazooka Arm is particularly intriguing, but not all of the jutsu are violent. There are more mystical jutsu as well, such as The Mind’s Eye and Cellular Extraction Healing Jutsu. I wasn’t able to absorb the details of all of the various techniques described, but I was able to get the basic idea of the types of powers available and I knew where to look them up.

After leaving the Jutsu Data section, I found the real goldmine – the “Natultimate Relationship Chart”. This section was spread across only two pages facing each other, but it was invaluable for helping me to solidify my understanding of some of the loyalties and arguments between the various characters.

The ending of the Naruto Character Data Book has some interesting fan-generated information, such as favorite scenes and favorite characters. I was intrigued to find out that Naruto himself is not the favorite character of the series, but rather his mentor Kakashi is. There was a Naruto dictionary to close out the book. Words I would have liked to have had included in the dictionary were: chakra, shinobi, jutsu, and hokage.

Armed with my copy of Naruto: the Official Character Data Book, last year’s anime wigs and a vaguely thematic costume, I packed for Anime Boston, ready to identify and snap pictures with the characters and have “my manga” that I could speak intelligently about.

See my next installment of this review for my adventures at Anime Boston!

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