We last left Sakura and Chiyo in a deadly dance with the master of puppets himself, Sasori, long consumed by his powers and teetering closer and closer to the edge. Thus, volume 31 of Naruto continues this showdown, breaking out the last-ditch gambles and teeth-clenching final moves that each side hopes will seal the deal.
Chiyo lets loose with a moderate gang of puppets that even manages to impress Sasori, but his knowing smirk hides something larger: a virtual army of mannequins ready to pounce at the pull of a string. The mere fact that he’s using such a powerful move in a fight against Chiyo and Sakura shows how deeply pressed his back is against the wall, and he’s not going to go out without kicking up a storm on the way out.
Once that battle is wrapped up, we’re back with Naruto and Kakashi as they close in on Gaara, and everyone from the various team starts making their way back toward one another. Some of the sequences here aren’t quite as easy to follow as they usually are, but this is only a mildly glaring issue that pops up when Kakashi begins to use a new Sharingan technique. The effect of his power is kind of muddily conveyed at best, and the whole event is dragged out for a few dialogue-free panels more than necessary. While it may sound like nitpicking, it’s worth mentioning in a series that typically has such clear and well-planned set pieces.
It’s also kind of disappointing that some of the other teams get the shaft in favor of spending some extra time with the puppet battle to end all puppet battles. The transition from that to the end of Kakashi and Naruto’s mission might have served as some nice breather room and an opportunity to visit Rock and Guy, but I suppose we should all be grateful that Kishimoto isn’t constantly dragging things out for the sake of filling pages. It’s also not out of the question that I might be biased against everyone but Team Guy…
The most substantial moment of the volume probably goes to the chapter in which, in a fit of violent and vengeful rage, Naruto nearly unleashes the demon fox within. As it quickly bubbles to the surface and forms a ghostly outline around Naruto, Kakashi needs to seal the beast if they’re going to be able to focus on the trials ahead. There’s still the matter of Gaara’s life hanging ever so precariously in the balance, as well, so time is of the essence. Both this and the emotional events that follow help to develop Naruto himself a bit further, and manage to seal this segment of the story with an endearing cap that brings a few the main players a little closer together.
Publisher: Viz Media
Story & Art: Masashi Kishimoto