Story/Art: Masashi Kishimoto
Translation/Adaptation: JN Productions
What They Say
It’s Shippuden homework time! Study up with this book and you’ll pass the test for “most knowledgeable shinobi of all time (at least till the next update!).” This handy, huge guide covers all the way to Volume 43 of Naruto!
The Naruto Official Character Data Book is presented in a decent, though not overly spectacular, manner. The book itself is a bit taller and wider than the Naruto manga books from Viz which gives it a bit of a standout appearance when placed alongside the series on the bookshelf, though the white cover nature of the book does this as well given the second half of the Naruto stories have used a black spine to set it apart from the earlier arc. And it isn’t just the spine that is white as white is the primarily color of the cover with the front using it as the background against which an image of Naruto leaning against one of the larger ninja scrolls while half crouching on one of the giant summoning frogs on the right is placed while the English series title and book title are on the left as well as the kanji title of the series. The spine uses the English logo at the top of the book with the title just below that and it also includes a close up of the image of Naruto from the front being placed just above the author’s name. The back cover meanwhile uses a large collage of the Akatsuki members on the right and it also includes an image of the now older Sasuke just underneath the copy and (again) series logo and book title. Presentation wise it is a more than a little classy in appearance and the book also adds some embroidering to the series and book title in all three places that they appear on the cover to add to the effect.
The pages inside use a fairly common type of paper similar to the ones used for the Naruto manga which allow for a little ink bleed on some of the heavier thick images but it really isn’t too terribly bad. Most of the images that accompany the guide are taken from the manga run itself with the exception of the new short bonus manga and s character sketchy as the most notable exceptions. The book also has eight color pages at the front whose images were chosen as “the best” scenes from the manga run and as such are mostly the same as were found in the manga run.
The text itself is a rather mixed bag as for the most part it is readable but it looks like someone did direct translations for the original text and then didn’t take the next step to smooth things out to make it flow better. A lot of the sentences begin with the conjunction “and” which is just annoying enough to be off putting after the 100th or so occasion. On top of that there is at least one occasion where a caption and the paragraph under it use the exact same wording which makes it seem like an error in editing. While the text is readable it comes off as stilted and often unnecessarily short which is compounded by the next sentence filling in the details and giving the impression that it really could have- and probably should have- been adapted more fluidly instead of seeming to be as literal a translation as possible.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The Naruto Handbook presents itself as a guide to Naruto for those looking “to catch up or brush up on all things Naruto” but it is probably more helpful to say it covers events and characters (mostly) from around Naruto’s return to the village in volume 28 to somewhere in the mid 40’s when it comes to actual material. The book does try to cover a good deal of material in its just over 350 pages but the usefulness of it can be seriously limited by the rather chaotic and uneven organization that is present.
Over a third of the book is devoted to character guides of the individuals who pop up or have played an important enough role to get mentioned but even in this there are wide variations in info. For the most part characters get a standard setup with an image of them, rank, skills set, village affiliation and profile information and where their various skill set fall on a power ranking graph (where known). Some of this could be considered sort of useful if one were doing an RPG game for the characters but given that there seems to be a lack of consistency in the power area as some characters “rank” the same on the little chart provided yet in the stories they are aren’t even close in class making it less than useful for that. On top of that some characters may see multiple pages devoted to them (which is fitting for main characters) while the secondary characters seem to have been given space according to the random preferences of whoever wrote the whole thing (yes Masashi Kishimoto is credited as such but it wouldn’t be the first time a corporation put together a guide book using the author’s notes and characters but not involving much input from a very busy creator).
There are also some useful-ish parts that gather together some of the information that has been dropped over the years into a short, somewhat coherent little pieces under the Shinobi Facts section of the book and the detailed list of the various ninja moves and powers used that were gathered together in the Technical Files are somewhat fun but the almost complete lack of organization does undercut the usefulness more than a little. To round things out there is also a collection of (Japanese) reader’s responses to a number of questions asked such as “Who would you want for an older/younger sibling?” as well as a section for some definitions of terms in the series, the bonus manga and a couple of other, smaller sections that include height comparison charts.
Now some of what I wrote sounds a bit harsh and probably could be brushed away as being from someone who has disdain for handbooks in general as they don’t generally present much new information but the truth is I tend to love guides and associated technical manuals when they are done well. I was the odd kid who actually looked forward to the printing of the Marvel Universe Handbooks back in the day as they allowed me to keep up with characters whose titles I either couldn’t afford to follow or who bored me too much to bother- yet I still wanted to keep an eye on them as their actions could be impacting in other places.
Now the Naruto guide is a bit different as I have most of the volumes of the manga (actually I think I have the entire run of stories this book covers) but its usefulness is just undercut by its almost random nature and capricious placing of the bios in nothing that seems to be a discernible pattern. While the sections collect and largely contain well their individual areas of focus, the lack of a well placed, organized and exhaustive Index isn’t terribly helpful to finding characters or abilities in a hurry. I imagine this is due to the limitations placed on VIZ by the owners of the original Japanese material but I really wish this book had been retooled a bit to make it friendlier-and more useful overall- to an American audience. Still, the book isn’t without merit as it collects nicely a wide range of material from the series but this is probably a book that will find itself being purchased more by the hardest of hardcore fans that the more casual one.
Naruto: The Official Character Data Book is one of those titles that plainly says what it is and it works to deliver upon that. Sadly the rather disorganized manner that the book is presented in will probably limit both its usefulness and potential audience as it has little in it that those who have been following the manga all along don’t know and it is a poor substitute as a catch up for those who may have missed a volume or more along the way. When adding in the sometimes stilted or awkward translation into the final account that includes very little new material one winds up with a book that the Naruto completist will likely need to own but which many others will be happier if they skip and use the money to buy either more manga, art books, videos or games featuring the orange ninja and his cast of friends and foes that they will likely get more excitement and enjoyment out of.
Content Grade: C-
Art Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: C-
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: January 10th, 2012