Naruto 4 by Masashi Kishimoto: B-

From the back cover:
There comes a time in every ninja’s training when he must put aside his morals and face the truth: ninjas are tools for killing. For Naruto, seeing Sasuke dead, that time is now. Rage awakens the nine-tailed fox spirit within Naruto, giving him the strength to overcome Haku—but can he bring himself to finish the job?

As the battle for the Land of the Waves comes to a tragic ending, our heroes return to the village of Konohagakure in time for the chuunin (journeyman ninja) exams. But junior ninjas from around the world have gathered to take the exam, bringing their own strange ninjutsu and mysterious goals…

Even though I thought elements of Kakashi and Zabuza’s fight were rather silly (ninja dogs? really?), I mostly liked the first half of this volume. Haku’s an endearing character, one of those who dedicates their life to being useful to their villainous friend/savior, reminding me of a couple of similar types from Kenshin. So, pretty much—if Haku was in the scene, I liked it.

I also liked that the nature of a shinobi is questioned—are they really just the killing tools of their government, or can they be people too? And Naruto’s reaction to Sasuke’s recovery actually made me kind of sniffle.

But… the last two chapters are kind of meh. I actually thought the journeyman exams sounded neat, and maybe it’ll shape up to be so, but so far it’s just a lot of posturing and prospective rivals eyeing Sasuke. At least Sakura has now openly acknowledged her uselessness. Dare I hope a power-up of some kind is in store?

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