Review for Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 8 (2 Discs)
It was all going so good. The previous two instalments of Naruto Shippuden got things interesting again, amped up the story, the action, and the excitement, culminating in a major development for the ninja of the Hidden Leaf village, when one of their most loved and respected members was slain by the Akatsuki. And now that the eighth collection of Naruto Shippuden episodes is upon us, two problems immediately become clear. The first is that the gap between volumes has now stretched to the point that watching the show is becoming difficult. I put the first disc in, pressed play, and realised that I had no idea what was going on. It's been so long since Collection 7, that I'd forgotten where the story was. If this keeps up (and given Naruto Shippuden 9's release date of June this year, it looks to get worse), then Manga Entertainment would be best advised to stick the final episode of the preceding volume at the head of the next volume, just as a reminder. The second problem, and far worse in the opinion of many fans, will be that just as the story was getting good again, we start another stretch of filler episodes, filler that will take us to the end of Collection 9. From episode 90 to episode 112 will stretch the Sanbi's Arrival filler arc. Episodes 89, 90, and 92 of this set do contain some canon material though, so you can't just disregard this collection.
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 wanting to gain in power and strength as quickly as possible. Sasuke gave into the temptation for easy power, offered by the renegade ninja Orochimaru, when Orochimaru infiltrated the village during the Chunin exams, and assassinated the Third Hokage. Sasuke left to join Orochimaru, and Naruto swore to get him back. For the last two and half years, Naruto has been in training with the sage Jiraiya, and he's now returned to the village, empowered and ready to rescue his friend. But Orochimaru and Sasuke haven't been resting easy either, while the Akatsuki group of renegade ninja, of whom Sasuke's brother Itachi is a member, have been accelerating their plans, and top of the list is obtaining the Nine-Tailed Fox Demon, the one that is currently sealed up in Naruto.
Manga Entertainment present the next 12 episodes of Naruto Shippuden spread across 2 discs.
89. The Price of Power
90. A Shinobi's Determination
91. Orochimaru's Hideout Discovered
93. Connecting Hearts
94. A Night Of Rain
The aftermath of the battle with the Akatsuki duo has taken its toll, with Naruto's new Rasen-Shuriken ability so powerful that it actually puts him in hospital. Worse, it becomes clear that it's too damaging to his chakra to be used again. Elsewhere, Orochimaru's own plans are advancing, the day that Sasuke is in full mastery of his abilities, and ready to be Orochimaru's next vessel come closer, and in preparation, Orochimaru orders that the ninja Guren be brought before him. Guren originally wanted the honour of being Orochimaru's next vessel, before Sasuke came on the scene, her Crystal abilities marking her out as a unique ninja. Now Orochimaru offers her the chance to regain his favour, if she helps his plans for an odd young boy named Yuukimaru to come to fruition. The pace of his plans are accelerated though, when an Anbu black ops agent discovers his hideout and sends word back to the Leaf Village. Kakashi, Shino, Kiba and Hinata are sent on a mission to track the hideout down, and if possible, rescue Sasuke. Meanwhile, Naruto is looking for another new powerful jutsu, now that he can't use the Rasen-Shuriken. Fortunately Jiraiya shows up to offer him some new training.
95. The Two Charms
96. The Unseeing Enemy
97. The Labyrinth of Distorted Reflection
98. The Target Appears
99. The Rampaging Tailed Beast
100. Inside the Mist
Finding out where Orochimaru's hideout is becomes secondary to finding out what Guren's mission is. With the team of rogue ninja she has at her disposal, just keeping up with her is a major hurdle. Kakashi's team needs back-up, which means that Naruto has to put his training aside to join Sakura, Sai and Yamato. The time runs out for him to perfect his new jutsu when they catch up to Kakashi's team, and find them trapped inside a giant crystal. Orochimaru's plan finally becomes clear when they learn that he's competing with the Akatsuki group to take control of the Tailed-Beasts. Yuukimaru and Guren's abilities in combination should be able to control and tame the 3-Tailed Beast, missing since the last great ninja war. But they've underestimated its power, and soon all sides are in equal danger.
Naruto Shippuden is now presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. It looks as if in this volume, we've gone back to the NTSC-PAL conversion; certainly the blended frames evident of such are apparent once more as is the 4% longer running time. However the image is just as sharp and clear as the previous volume, with little of the softness of a standards conversion, and this also may be why thankfully, in this collection of episodes, the egregious judder that has so afflicted Naruto Shippuden of late appears to have been eliminated. Shippuden's animation and its character designs are sharper and crisper than those in the first Naruto series. It's certainly more detailed while the colours are a little more muted. As we are in filler mode, the guest character designs take a beating and become rather plain.
The DD 2.0 English and Japanese stereo is more than adequate in recreating the original experience, and given a little Prologic magic does offer a pleasant ambience and some discrete action. Yasuhara Takanashi takes over the music reins from Toshiro Masuda, and the result is if anything even less memorable than the music from the first series. But it works well enough in driving the action, and it doesn't get overbearing. Once again, I only sampled the English dub and found it acceptable if unspectacular. It certainly isn't the worst I have heard, but some of the actors don't seem particularly suited to the characters.
The discs get static menus, with the episode chapter breaks in place. Most episodes ends in a brief animated Naruto comedy skit, and there's even one masquerading as an advert for the Japanese switchover to digital TV.
The extras are on disc 2, 10 line art images in a Production Art Gallery, and trailers for the first Naruto Shippuden movie and the Naruto Shippuden series.
You know that you're smack dab in the middle of Naruto filler, when the writers pull out the toilet humour. There's a vicious fart gag in episode 98 which threatens to push the viewers' IQs down into single digits. You also know that you're in Naruto filler mode when the writers introduce the young, damaged, character with a dark past, for Naruto to empathise with and eventually redeem. In that respect, we're in double the usual amount of filler, as while Yuukimaru offers the immediate dose of hurt and damaged young victim, Guren too has her own dark past which has led her to Orochimaru's side, but who also shows some signs of humanity, and a character worth saving.
What makes this release so infuriating is that the pace of Naruto Shippuden's DVD output has slowed right down of late. At four months between volumes, that's less than one episode a week, and while this release does take the series past the 100 episode barrier on DVD, we're still 150 episodes behind the broadcast and simulcast, and that gap is only increasing. Having waited since October last year to find out what happens next, to be confronted with filler results in a sinking feeling. With the next release also mostly filler, it means we'll have to wait a whole year to find out happens in the main, manga adapted storyline. That's far too long, and someone at Viz Entertainment needs to rethink the Naruto release strategy, as they are holding up the rest of the English speaking world.
All that, and the fart gag aside, this isn't as awful a stretch of filler as it could have been. Certainly we have the recycled guest character arcs, and of course there's no way in which this storyline will impact on the overall story. We also have some daft, and completely out of the place comedy with Naruto's training sequences, which contrast poorly against the darker Orochimaru storyline that unfolds. But the story here doesn't stand completely out of place with the main arc, where the Akatsuki are hunting for Tailed-beasts, with Naruto, host of the 9-tail one of their targets. As Orochimaru stands aside and even in opposition to the Akatsuki as well as the Hidden Leaf, it would make sense that he's also in competition to control one of these demons, which makes this storyline reasonable in the context of the show. It also means that we get to see some serious ninja action in the story, some epic scale action that befits the seriousness of the situation.
That makes this stretch of filler watchable at least, even though it on occasion loses its way, it recycles yet again the concept of Naruto redeeming the guest character, and the balance between the comedy and drama is off-kilter. It also manages to introduce characters with powers that seem to break the ninja rules as we have learned them. So far we're told that the ninja abilities stem from the elements, Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water, but Guren shows up with an ability all her own, Crystal, which will only make sense in the Naruto universe for this stretch of filler, and thereafter will be forgotten completely.
The positive here is that we get to see most of the Hidden Leaf ninja at work, Yamato and Kakashi, Naruto, Sakura, and Sai, Hinata, Shino and Kiba, while in the next volume we'll see Lee, Tenten and Ino added into the mix. The characters are fun, which makes the episodes fun to watch even if the story is just spinning its wheels until episode 112. We also get to see some more of Sasuke, in one of the few scenes of canon material in this volume. Thankfully, so far the Shippuden filler has never been as bad as the original Naruto filler, which makes it a lot easier to recommend this volume with provisos in place. They just need to pick up the pace with which they release these things.