Review for Naruto Shippuden The Movie
That was fast! Manga Entertainment have only just released the first collection of Naruto Shippuden episodes, and they are already onto the first film. It's certainly proceeding at a pace even hastier than the first Naruto series. But then again, Naruto Shippuden hasn't exactly been a laggard in its native Japan. The Shippuden series debuted in February of 2007, and this first film was in theatres just six months later. At the time of writing, the series has just passed episode 167, while the fourth movie is about to be released to Japanese cinemas. With that in mind, maybe this rapid release of the first movie by Manga Entertainment isn't out of place at all.
15 years previously, the Hidden Leaf village was plagued by the Nine-Tailed fox demon. The Fourth Hokage ninja sacrificed his life to defeat the menace, and sealed up the spirit in the body of a newborn child. That orphan grew up as Naruto Uzumaki, a mischievous prankster with great ambition. He wants to be the strongest ninja of them all and be granted the title Hokage, leader of the Hidden Leaf village. In the first Naruto series, we followed him on his training as a ninja, tutored by Kakashi, and partnered with his ideal girl Sakura, and his archrival Sasuke. Of course Sakura was sweet on Sasuke, which didn't help, but slowly the three became firm friends. The dark clouds of ambition tore that friendship apart though, but it wasn't Naruto's ambition. It was Sasuke's, sole survivor of the Uchiha clan, slaughtered by his brother Itachi. He grew up wanting revenge on Itachi, and wanted to gain in power and strength as quickly as possible. Sasuke gave into the temptation for easy power offered by the renegade ninja Orochimaru. Sasuke left to join Orochimaru, and Naruto swore to get him back. The Naruto Shippuden series takes place after a 2-and-half year hiatus where Naruto was off training, and follows his return to resume his mission.
Of course the film has nothing to do with that at all, and is like all the earlier Naruto movies, pure filler, a standalone story that features the characters, has them off on a mission unrelated to the main plot, which offers 90-odd minutes of entertainment for cinema going Naruto fans. But this Shippuden movie does offer characters who are older and more experienced in their ninja techniques, which should mean for more animated fireworks on screen.
Several years previously, a band of rogue ninja tried to take over the world with the aid of an otherworldly demon named Moryo. The priestess of the Land Of Ogres, who separated Moryo's body from his soul, and sealed both separately, stopped them. But now, they are trying again, and have liberated Moryo's soul and are taking it to his body to complete the resurrection. The ninja of the Hidden Leaf village have their hands full battling the reanimated ghost Terracotta Army that is laying waste to the lands, and the rogue ninja are going to assassinate the current priestess Shion before she has a chance to seal Moryo away again. The only ninja team that can be spared to protect the priestess is Naruto's, and teamed with Sakura, Neji and Rock Lee, they race to the Land of Ogres before the enemy can get there. The thing about the priestess is that she has an unusual ability. She can see the future, but only the deaths of those sworn to protect her. And she's just dreamed of the death of an orange haired ninja. Can Naruto save the priestess, save the world, and change his own destiny?
The first Naruto Shippuden movie gets a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. It's an NTSC-PAL conversion of course, but it's a bright, shiny anime, with little evidence of ghosting or compression artefacts. It's just the usual interlacing, and judder during pans and scrolls, but watch enough anime, you begin to blank that stuff out. The movie budget does offer wider scope for the animation, it's a lot more fluid and energetic than the television series, character designs are a little fuller and more refined, and the action sequences really zing in comparison to the television show. That's in comparison to the television show. Standing alone as a feature film, Naruto Shippuden The Movie seems a little unrefined and simplistic, not really justifying the budget, although I guess some of that comes from having to keep the character designs consistent from TV to movie. By far the biggest culprit is some horrendous CGI, especially with the Terracotta Army. There is no attempt to blend it into the 2D animation, and where the two have to interact, it looks dire.
You have a choice between DD 5.1 English and Japanese, along with translated English subtitles. The dialogue is clear, and the upgrade in sound is appreciated for the film's many action sequences. My preference as always was for the Japanese track, but the English is there if you prefer. I didn't think to sample it, until I learned that guest starring in this film was Wil Wheaton, Wesley Crusher himself.
The check disc had a couple of issues with the subtitle stream, with a couple of missing lines (including one rather important one), and more importantly, the subtitles were out of sync throughout, ahead of the screen dialogue by a fraction of a second. Manga Entertainment are aware of this, and the retail release should have subtitles that are correctly timed.
The disc gets a static menu and jacket picture, as is normal for anime discs these days. The extras on disc are minimal, but you may have an appreciation of a 6-minute Japanese movie trailer reel (although this lacks subtitles). You'll also find the Line Art Gallery with some 30 images, as well as the trailer for the Shippuden series.
In the series, prior to the film's release, the opening and closing credit sequences were altered to publicise the forthcoming film's release. These special movie versions of the credit sequences are here on this disc, Hero Come Back - Special Movie Version, and Michi - Special Movie Version.
Can Naruto save the priestess, save the world, and change his own destiny?
What do you think? Seriously, what were the writers thinking when they came up with a lethal prophecy for the title character to defy? There is an ongoing series you know, there's a whole find Sasuke, defeat Akatsuki story to resolve. Trying to sell a movie on the potential vulnerability of the title character, when you know full well that not only will he be alive and well, but that the events of this film will never even be acknowledged in the series, is sheer lunacy. It is a filler story after all, and our characters will be no different at the end compared to where they were at the beginning. It's all about the guest character and their story, and really how well that is fleshed out in the film's runtime.
You'll find nothing that different from this Naruto film compared to the three that have come before. True the characters are older, and true we get to see more in the way of ninja action from them, but in terms of the film's structure and story, it's nigh on identical to that which has come before. Naruto has to help a guest star, in this case the priestess Shion, overcome powerful adversity. Once again, the guest star starts out as something of an obnoxious brat that invariably rubs Naruto the wrong way, but over the course of the film, he learns that both he and she have much in common. And through sheer force of Naruto's personality and his perseverance in the face of desperate odds, she becomes a better person. The only twist to this version of the Naruto movie tale is Shion's fortune telling ability, but that is rendered moot of course, by the inevitability of Naruto's survival.
But Naruto Shippuden The Movie is a well-told tale, with interesting characters and a lively pace. It also plays to an audience that has grown up with the show, and consequently can take the story into darker places. The earlier movies certainly didn't have such a focus on mortality, which is what Shion's ability results in. Of course the script has the dumb logic of a shonen action film, with Naruto determined to fight because his death has been prophesied. But action fans won't be disappointed, with not only Naruto, but also Rock Lee, Neji, and Sakura in action. Rock Lee unleashes his trademark hyperspeed kung fu, and there's an all too brief burst of drunken style as well that is bound to put a smile on many a face. Neji breaks out his trademark 64 palms technique, while perhaps the biggest treat for me is to see Sakura in action. In the first series she was often the observer while the boys did all the fighting, and it's long overdue for her to deliver a smackdown or two.
Of course it's wise not to use any brain cells for this movie. Or else you'll wind up asking why events as profound and as world changing as two attempts to take over the world by the demon Moryo, as devastating as two world wars, are never referenced in the series. From what we see in the film, with the size and power of Moryo, and the scale of the Ghost Army, these are events that make the Nine-Tailed Fox attack look like a fracas in a pub. Naruto Shippuden The Movie is fun entertainment, perfect for the Naruto fan that wants to see some large-scale ninja action, but without the story development that takes fifty or so episodes. But it is ultimately disposable fare.