Given the enormous success of Naruto, it hardly came as a surprise when a spin-off was announced in its wake. Supervised by Masashi Kishimoto, drawn by Mikio Ikemoto, and written by Ukyo Kodachi, Boruto: Naruto Next Generations stars Naruto’s young son and his aspiring ninja friends. The manga’s fourth volume, out this week from Viz Media, collects chapters 12-15. When I reviewed the series’s prior installment, I found it to be a solid if unremarkable read. Does this latest volume up the ante? The official synopsis from Viz reads:
Boruto’s been entrusted with the very important mission of guarding the Daimyo’s son, Tento. Babysitting a spoiled brat isn’t the type of work Boruto had in mind when he became a ninja. But perhaps the two boys are more alike than they seem…?
Boruto and Tento’s antics are awkward and even a tad obnoxious, but they’re also endearing. These are adolescents, after all, so such interactions mean that they’re being written well. Much of the beginning of this volume consists of the two boys playing card games, boasting proudly, and talking about their personal goals. All in all, it’s a charming start to the volume that helps the reader get to know the characters as they get to know each other. The pair’s relationship just gets sweeter as the volume goes on, as they exchange gifts and even put their lives on the line for one another. Their dialogue and methods of bonding continue to be age-appropriate throughout, making the events feel very believable.
Like the series’s last installment, this volume also impresses with its art. The line-work is very thin and clean for the most part, giving the action a very calculated and precise look. This, combined with Ikemoto’s style of shading, provides the book with a pleasantly stark aesthetic. Specifically, there are very few moderate shades of gray outside of the occasional background. The vast majority of pages consist solely of solid black and white, creating sharp and perpetual contrasts that hold a firm grip on one’s attention throughout. The page compositions are also fairly well laid out; there aren’t many clarity issues in terms of being able to tell which characters are committing what actions and when.
Not only does this volume succeed artistically and in terms of developing characters, it also pulls off solid reveals and over-the-top humor. Mitsuki finally reveals his parentage in this volume, and it’s done in a comical, matter-of-fact way that somewhat subverts expectations for a more dramatic tone. Also humorous is the battle strategy of the main antagonist, Shojoji, who literally tries to devous Boruto and Tento. This results in some panels of his gaping jaw that call to mind how pythons ingest their prey. It’s so out of the ordinary for a battle between humans that it triggers a shock response in the reader similar to that which Shojoji induces in the other characters.
With all that said, there are still some faults here that prevent this manga from reaching its full potential. This volume is perfectly solid story-wise, but it’s neither unique nor exemplary enough in its quality of writing to be especially memorable compared to other shonen friendship stories. This is partially due to certain events feeling rushed, which is turn prevents Boruto and Tento’s relationship from being quite as poignant as it potentially could be. The art also lacks a sense of dynamism at points, particularly during battle scenes. The visuals aren’t exactly stiff, but they don’t exude energy that get you pumped up either.
Overall, Boruto: Naruto Next Generations Vol. 4 is a solid read that moves the series firmly in the right direction. The characters are likable, the art has a consistent and solid aesthetic, and there is some enjoyable humor throughout. With that said, some issues with the action and pacing prevent this volume from being a full knockout punch. Nonetheless, this is a charming story about growing up and friendships between adolescents.