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Naruto: The Official Fanbook
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Written by maehara   
Thursday, 14 August 2008 16:00
Naruto FanbookNaruto is one of those shows that attract a particular brand of obsessive fans - and where you have that sort of fan, there's an opportunity to sell them things like this fanbook, that promise to give you all the information you'll ever need to know about the show. Note "promise" - does this book actually deliver..?

Well, it certainly delivers on the promise to deliver a huge amount of information, all neatly split into chapters that should be self-explanatory. Let's take a look at them, first:

1 - Countries and Hidden Shinobi Villages
Plenty of information here about the 5 main hidden villages, and outlines of the rest of them - how they came to be, how the leadership works, how they're related to the leadership of the countries they defend, and so on. There's a particular focus on Konoha (the Village Hidden in the Leaves) of course - that's to be expected, since it's Naruto's home village - so you can also learn about the gang's favourite hangouts in the village.

2 - Analysis: Konoha Ninja
The qualified ninja of Konoha have their own style and uniform - as do the ninja of other hidden villages - and this chapter takes a look at the 'standard' Konoha outfit, before going on to look at the various weapons, jutsu scrolls and animal familiars used by the regular characters. There's also a look at the ninja groupings that exist in Konoha - the Anbu Special Ops, Medical Corps and so on - and the ninja rankings that are used, from students through to the Hokage himself.

3 - Ninja Files
Everything you ever wanted to know about five of Konoha's ninja that are central to the Naruto story: Naruto himself, Sasuke, Sakura, Kakashi, and Iruka. There's a scary amount of of detail here, including a fair amount of info that I hadn't been aware of from the 70+ episodes of the anime that I've seen so far. Do you know that Kakashi passed the Chunin test at just six years old? Neither did I...

4 - Top Secret! Shinobi Missions
How the ninja missions & the teams that carry them out are organised, and mission reports from Naruto's team covering up to the confrontation between Gaara & Naruto and Orochimaru's attack on Konoha. This part's really just a glorified recap of the story - but there's also a detailed look at many of the opponents the gang have faced, which is far more interesting.

5 - Full Investigation: Ninja Academy
Want to know what it's like to be a student of Konoha's ninja Academy? Then this chapter's for you - from the original founding of the Academy, to the class structure and what's expected of its students, it's all here. And to give you a taster of what grades are required to become a successful ninja, you can take a look at the school reports of Naruto and his classmates, to see who lived up to expectations and who surprised everyone. The section ends with a crash course in how to sign out some key jutsu for yourself. Just don't expect them to work...

6 - The Creator of Naruto: Masashi Kishimoto
Now, you'd expect this chapter to be mostly talking with Naruto's creator, but no - there's lots of background material about Kishimoto-san, and plenty of information about how to go about drawing manga yourself, but it's close to the end of the section before we finally get an interview with the man himself. Fortunately, the wait is worth it, as it's quite a detailed talk.

7 - Naruto
And finally, there's the original Naruto manga story. published in Akamaru Jump in August 1997. It's more of a trial run for the series than part of the story proper - you'll recognise the character of Naruto himself, but not a lot else. After angering the Hokage with his arrogance and mischief-making, Naruto is sent to the city on a "training mission": to make a friend, and learn the meaning of trust that such friendships can bring. Oh, and he's not allowed to return home until his mission is complete. Artist's assistant Takashi looks set to be that friend - until he's framed for Takashi's murder...

There's also a lot of fan-created content slotted in throughout the book, both from US and Japanese fans, with fanart, haiku and more. Add in a few quizzes in the book to test your knowledge and confirm your fanboy status, activities to do (like make your own ninja military rations), and you certainly can't complain about a lack of content. What you can complain about is the way it's all organised. Say, for example, that you simply want to find out all there is to know about Naruto himself (or any other of the main characters, for that matter) - you can't just look up one section of the book, as it's all scattered about with no index to help you find it all.

The second main problem is those chapters - they're named logically enough, but there isn't a single chapter that just has the info you'd expect from the name. Get around halfway through each chapter, and it starts to wander into other subjects, and again there's no way from the book's index for you to find your way through this info - you just have to stumble your way through the book and see what you can find.

Of course, the true fanboy won't care about this - they'll just want to know all there is to know, and if you fall into that category then there's no problem. Me, I was hoping to be able to use it as a handy reference I can quickly refer to when I'm reviewing the latest Naruto DVD and need to know who Minor Character C is, but the book is laid out in such a way that it's not possible to use it in that way. Bah.

The most interesting part, though, is the original Naruto manga story, which stands separate from what we now know and is very different in style and setting. It has more of a gritty, real-world feel to it (although the Sexy no Jutsu is still there) and I can't help but think it may have a better story in the long run - but we're stuck with what we have. As a peek into how ideas can develop as they go along, though, it's fascinating.

For all that it doesn't meet what I would need from a Naruto references, the Naruto Fanbook is, obviously, more intended for fans - and for that audience it should fill the requirement nicely. It even has the added bonus of not being all that pricey, considering. If you find the world of Naruto and Konoha to be one of your TV or DVD highlights, then this is for you.

Rating - ***

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