I consider Naruto to be the Harry Potter of manga. They’re both coming-of-age series that debuted and reached their respective peaks around the same time, sold zillions of copies, and inspired plenty of copycats. Droves of fans were sad to see both series end, but each has tacked on an extra story to keep the mythos alive. Harry Potter has its Cursed Child, and Naruto has cursed children of its own, so to speak, in The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring, a one-book sequel story to the original finale.
A new generation of ninjas is coming of age in Konoha Village, and the cast of the Naruto series have aged into new roles as mentors, parents, and otherwise responsible adults. Two new characters stand out among the “what does their kid look like?” cameos: Sarada, daughter of Sasuke and Sakura, and Cho-Cho, daughter of Chojin and Karui. Both girls believe their parents are not what they seem. Sarada barely remembers her father, who has been investigating a long-dormant threat to the village, and she notices that she resembles one of his old friends more than her supposed mother. Cho-Cho, on the other hand, is in denial and simply wishes her parents were cooler than they are; a boy explains to her she’s in the throes of “tragic-heroine syndrome,” and her place in the story consistently drags the book down.
Cho-Cho is dark-skinned and larger than any other girls her age that have ever been drawn in the Naruto series. Her presence as Sarada’s friend ought to be as an excellent audience stand-in who swoons over Sasuke’s powerful summoning abilities and shudders at the creepy villain Shin and his army of clones (“ruthless lone wolf versus community of love” continues to be the ideological clash of this book, as it was in the original series). In several scenes, her starry-eyed attitude toward all the “cool” older ninjas makes her a great comic relief. However, the book goes out of its way to make lame jokes and observations about Cho-Cho’s weight and appearance in every chapter. She can stretch her body and contribute to a fight, so she’s not a powerless slapstick character, but dialog is frequently pointed at her expense. Here are some quotes that are just as bad in context as they sound here:
“If this test would change my weight, I’d consider taking it.”
“Training’s so freakin’ annoying, right? So let’s go eat some sweet red bean—”
“I wanna go slow and taste all the local specialties of each place.”
“I’m actually starving.”
“I’ll let you take those [plump-looking] guys on, Cho-Cho!”
When Cho-Cho fails to recognize his father after his weight loss: “Papa, what is this trick?! Is it some secret…? I wanna learn it! I promise to practice real hard! Teach it to me tomorrow!”
This shortcoming is a real shame, too, because the book otherwise pulls off its short story pretty well. Masashi Kishimoto’s back in the saddle as writer and artist, and his mixture of hatching with solid blacks will be familiar to fans. His action still reads naturally from panel to motion-blurred panel, and facial expressions sell the dialog and emotions well. The villain, Shin, only really exists as a brief ideological foil for Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke to battle with their cool ninja moves; the real treat is revisiting multiple characters and catching up with their development. The mystery of Sarada’s parentage comes tantalizingly close to declaring her an out-of-wedlock daughter of another character, but DNA sampling of an old umbilical cord stashed in a desk (you read that right) settles the genealogical mystery. During Sarada’s most intense doubt and frustration towards Sakura for raising her under a supposed lie, Naruto comforts Sarada with the belief that family goes beyond genetics and includes all kinds of bonds, using flashbacks to his own youth to hammer home the point that love is the only measure of value.
The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring justifies its place on manga shelves beyond a cynical cash-in or pale imitation. The power of its story relies strongly on familiarity with the cast of the original Naruto series, though many of the character moments and superpowers won’t lose any shine for a new reader. However, if Kishimoto feels like telling another story like this, I hope he gives Cho-Cho a cooler role.
Naruto: The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring
by Masashi Kishimoto
Publisher Age Rating: T