So, it is likely to be quite some time before all the books are translated (if they even plan to translate them all) so I might as well review each book as I go.
To start, I really like the idea of a mini series in between the original and the sequel series. I think the world of Naruto undergoes a lot of changes during that time, and it will be nice to get some insight into them, as well as just to keep up with some of our favorite characters. However... I do wish they had kept these "secret chronicles" to manga
Don't get me wrong: I love traditional books. But I don't feel like the Naruto writers have quite mastered, well, writing them. There's a certain layer of detail that makes a book good that this first installment just didn't have. This layer of detail is not something a mangaka usually has to spell out as it's seen in their illustrations. So that's something I suspect I'll have to deal with throughout the entirety of this little mini series, but let's get on to this first story.
It's basically a Titanic story with more emphasis on the doomed vessel than the love story. (And honestly, I wish there had been even less emphasis on the romance than there was.) This is good in the sense that it addresses one of my main hopes for this series: how the world changes in between the two main series. Technology is finally advancing in the shinobi land, and our sixth Hokage-to-be is guarding their first airship.
This was supposed to be Kakashi's story, but honestly, the few moments where they do address his anxiety about being appointed as the new leader felt kind of sparse and disjointed. The little romance going on between Kakashi and Kahyo felt kind of forced, and there were a few instances where some of the other cast members felt grievously out of character. The villains were pretty one-note, and I wasn't a fan of Kahyo, who was the only villain they made an effort to develop and was clearly the one we were supposed to feel for.
And my last critique may be a little nit-picky... but here we go. Okay, so I get why they didn't want Naruto involved in this story, (even if it did feel like a kind of cheap way to make the other characters more relevant) but really guys? Every available shinobi rush to the scene of this great battle, but don't let Naruto know! Like he wouldn't notice something was going on. Even when he was dumb, he was never THAT dumb. Just what exactly was he doing during this time?!
It had its interesting moments, and it certainly could have been a lot worse, but I'm hoping this was just a shaky beginning, and not a specific harbinger of what's to come. I am actually really looking forward to the story concepts behind some of the later volumes, and I hope it improves after this point.
This story makes me feel a lot more optimistic after reading the first one. And I feel like this has a lot to do with the change in writer. Mr. Takashi Yano just seems to be a far better writer in general, though it's also a plus that he seems to have a better understanding of the characters. This book had a very Shikamaru feel to it... as should have been a given. However, Kakashi's story really just felt like a generic protagonist narrative, so this improvement was much appreciated.
On top of that, Gengo was a much more fleshed out villain. (I'm still not sure who exactly Garyo-- book one-- was, though his lackeys never shut up about promoting his ideals.)
I'm still not entirely sure I got the point of their over-arching moral in this story-- what it means to be an adult-- but overall, this was a great improvement upon the first installment. I am actually looking forward to the next one. I can only hope Tomohito Osaki keeps up with the writing standard set by book two.
This book brings up yet another aspect of their improved society that I liked to see-- the idea of mental health, especially in childhood, being just as important as a person's physical wellbeing. Certainly important in this universe, where nearly every character has a sad backstory of some sort. Add this to their proper orphanage and (I assume) foster system and the Leaf Village is on its way to being properly civilized. So there's that.
It wasn't terrible, but I didn't enjoy this author's writing style nearly as much as the last one. It felt very repetitive in some places. Like, I just read this conversation in full less than 10 pages ago, I don't need you to summarize it! Plus, there were multiple dumb mistakes where the wrong character's name was used. A simple thing that can change the entire meaning of a sentence. I know these could be simple translation mistakes, but it really comes across as seeming careless and occasionally makes me wonder how well these authors really know the characters at all.
And on that note, we've reached the main focus on this installment. Sakura. I don't know what it is about Sakura, but all the authors seem to continually drop the ball with her. I know there are people who have always hated her and will continue to hate her no matter what, but she's come so far as a character, and the way she's written just really doesn't seem to reflect that. It's like she regresses every time we bring Sasuke into the picture. And that's saying something, considering he doesn't even make a proper appearance in this story! It just really undermines the sort of romance that I want them to have. Because I do fully support the Sasuke/Sakura pairing, and I believe that she has grown to be the type of person who is able to understand him and take what he's willing to give and be happy with that. She's come a long way from proclaiming her "love" for Sasuke back when she clearly had no idea who he actually was. But this book doesn't really reflect that. It tries to, but we're more than 100 pages in (and these books are not that long) before we get any proof of that. Up until that point, it's just more of Sakura moping after Sasuke, and don't we have a right, by this point, to think she's grown out of that?