Elsewhere, Kishimoto provides the usual bewildering blend of backroom alliances and double dealings: not as much fun as the bizarre chakra battles that provide the series' big action moments, but I suppose they're necessary. This book out, Gaara battles a nefarious ninja named Deidara who sends out clay creatures as weapons. "True art is revolutionary, incendiary," the gloating villain proclaims just before letting loose an explosive clay bird. The resulting fight scenes are both dynamic and engagingly outlandish: entertaining action comics, in other words, that at times resemble a warped marriage between Steve Ditko and Moebius.
But the heart of the series remains our title protagonist. Though less childishly egocentric than the boy we first saw in the series - his concern for others is more upfront and consistent - he still retains enough of his core impulsivity and competitiveness to keep him an appealingly fallible figure to his readers. As a hero, he is enough of a goof to hold onto his sizable fan base.
Still, as a sign of just how much our young man - and this series - has grown, Mishimoto provides us with a revealing moment in the book's first chapter. Entering the village, Naruto comes upon some a younger would-be ninja who demonstrates his mastery of what used to our hero's sole trick: the creation of a buxom "ninja centerfold" doppelganger. "I'm not a kid anymore," Naruto responds to this display. "You gotta work on other jutsu, too!" Early in the series, Mishimoto would've followed this creation with a comic panel depicting some nearby horny witness ejaculating blood from his nose, but he avoids that gag this time. Mishimoto and his assistants are too busy working on their own storytelling jutsu to fall back on the same ol' jokes.