The manga market is fairly saturated with books about ninjas. Ninjas are the latest craze for boys, just like vampires are the latest craze for girls. It’s no surprise that plenty of people are trying to get in on the ninja bandwagon. Yen Press’ entry into ninja fiction, Nabari no Ou, has been publishing monthly in its Yen Plus anthology for more than a year now, and it’s picked up a lot of steam, but only recently has the compiled trade paperback (manga fans call them tankobon) been released.
The first volume introduces us to Miharu Rokujou, a completely apathetic schoolboy who wants nothing more than to take over his family’s restaurant and make sure that he never has to care about anything. Unfortunately for him, he is the carrier of hidden ninja world’s most powerful secret – the Shinra Banshou, and a faction of ninjas called the Iga Grey Wolves wants it bad enough to kill him for it.
Members of the Banten and Fuuma villages don’t want that to happen though –his classmates Aizawa, Shimizu, and his strange teacher Kumohira have all decide to help protect Miharu as he learns the way of the ninja.
As far as ninja manga goes, it’s pretty hard to beat out the top dog – make that top fox – Naruto. The dim but plucky ninja has been topping sales charts for the better part of the past two years, and consistently makes it to the top of the New York Times sales charts. Naruto has its own TV show, its own card game by Bandai, and all sorts of toys. If you’re going to do ninja manga, you’re going to have to do something different from Naruto. So the question is – how does Nabari no Ou stack up to Naruto?
The first thing you notice about Narbari no Ou is its wry sense of humor. Miharu’s antics are hilarious – his sarcasm and dry wit coupled with unrelenting torment of Kumohira make for plenty of great laughs. Miharu is multidimensional though, and in brief glimpses, we see the complex and complicated main character that makes good manga. Unlike in Naruto, where most of the main characters express their conflicts immediately, the characters in Nabari no Ou are more subtle.
Storyline is a great comparison point, because Naruto follows a much more standard line of manga writing where the main character triumphs over evil and his poor abilities to become a better person. Nabari no Ou is content to have its main character pushed and pulled, as other factions try to manipulate him for their own good. In the end, he makes his own decisions, but for reasons currently unknown, or due to his apathy. It is a fundamental difference between these two books that dramatically changes the reading tone. Where Naruto is high-energy and snappy, Nabari no Ou is more mysterious and dramatic.
The art of Nabari no Ou is also much different from that of Naruto. Where the art of Naruto can be sketchy, sometimes even dirty, the art of Nabari no Ou is very clean and simple. This is not to downplay the art of Naruto – it is, most of the time, much more realistic, and more interesting to look at, because the details are more intricate. Nabari no Ou gives much of that up, which is neither a positive nor a negative. It is a different style for a different story.
Price point is another consideration for the two different manga – for most of its collected, translated print run, Naruto has stuck to the $7.95 price tag. For the first 45 issues of Naruto (that’s right, 45 that have been published in English), Naruto has costed $7.95. It’s a cheap manga to pick up and read. Only recently, with Viz’s price increases, will Naruto be close to its competitors at $9.99. It is unknown if the increased price tag will bring readers any more for their money, but it’s doubtful. This means you get the same, slightly poorer quality paper and ink from Viz, for about a dollar less than Yen Press’ offering, which has cleaner, whiter paper and higher quality ink. Yen Press also has glossy color pages, something that Viz does not offer in Naruto. This won’t matter for all but the most up-to-date fans, so for the average reader, the first volume of Nabari no Ou comes a higher cost than Naruto. Overall, though, to read the entire published story of Naruto, it will take you plenty of time and money to collect it all, and that’s something to consider when starting either of these ninja manga.
Overall, Nabari no Ou is a good read that I can suggest to fans of wry humor, reality-based fantasy, and a healthy dose of apathy. If you’re looking for something that isn’t Naruto, this is a good place to start. It’s style and character make it much different from other ninja manga, and that’s a good thing. Nabari no Ou is a dramatic change from the ordinary, and the first volume has me waiting for more.