Review for Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 11 (2 Discs)
As I begin my 34th review for a Naruto title, I find myself hard pressed to come up with yet another intro. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a reflection on the show itself, as at this point, the Naruto story is as strong as it has ever been, and my interest in the story has never been as high. It’s just that there’s only so many ways that you can dive into a review about a luminescent orange ninja before you start repeating yourself. Anyway, while I try and think up something suitable, you go ahead and read the review...
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.
Previously on Naruto Shippuden, Sasuke returned to the story, and he did so in a big way. He’s formed his own Hebi group to help him enact his vengeance upon his brother, and his reappearance on the scene throws everything into question for the Hidden Leaf Village and the Akatsuki group. A sort of three way cold war results, with Sasuke hunting Itachi, Naruto and his team trying to find Sasuke and defeat Akatsuki, with Akatsuki hunting the tailed beasts (including Naruto) while moving to eliminate Sasuke from the scene before he can derail their plans. And in the middle of all that, we got a useful bit of back story regarding Kakashi’s youth, and a certain member of the Uchiha clan, and Jiraiya learned some unsettling information regarding Akatsuki.
We begin this collection of fourteen episodes with some more essential back story, this time about the Pervy Sage.
127. Tales of a Gutsy Ninja – Jiraiya Ninja Scrolls – Part 1
128. Tales of a Gutsy Ninja – Jiraiya Ninja Scrolls – Part 2
Jiraiya wasn’t the perfect student when he, Tsunade, and Orochimaru were learning from the third Hokage. In fact he was a lot like Naruto, unfocussed, idiotic, and more obsessed with the girl on his team than with actual ninja-ing. When the third Hokage came up with an idea to get him focused, he unwittingly set Jiraiya forth towards an unexpected destiny, and the fulfilment of an obscure toad prophecy...
129. Infiltrate! The Village Hidden in Rain
130. The Man Who Became God
131. Honored Sage Mode!
132. In Attendance, the Six Paths of Pain
133. The Tale of Jiraiya the Gallant
Jiraiya sneaks into the isolationist Village Hidden in Rain to search for information regarding Akatsuki. The last time he had dealings in the region, it was during the last great Ninja War, but this time he’s shocked to learn that the previous all-powerful ninja who ruled the region is long gone, and in his place is the mysterious Pain, a figure who everyone reveres, but whose face no-one has seen. He’s so powerful that many believe that he is a God. But the truth about Pain is far more ominous, and it’s a truth that has its seeds in Jiraiya’s past. In trying to attain his destiny, Jiraiya may have inadvertently caused the downfall of them all.
134. Banquet Invitation
135. The Longest Moment...
136. The Light & Dark of the Mangekyo Sharingan
138. The End
Since Naruto first met Sasuke, it’s been clear that the moody young ninja has had just one thing on his mind, to find and kill the older brother that brutally wiped out the whole of the Uchiha clan, leaving just Sasuke alive. He even caught up with him briefly, only to be made aware of his shortcomings in a way that drew him into Orochimaru’s embrace. Now the time has finally come for Sasuke to have his revenge on Itachi, but Itachi has his own plans for Sasuke, and there are truths yet to be revealed about the Uchiha clan, and the driving force behind the Akatsuki group.
139. The Mystery of Tobi
Naruto is hot on Sasuke’s tail; in fact he’s closer to him now since he’s been since Sasuke left the village. The only problem is that the enigmatic Akatsuki member Tobi is in the way, and he won’t let any of the Konoha ninja pass. He’s also got some mad ninja skills which no one can comprehend. The thing of it is that Tobi has his own reasons for getting to Sasuke first.
Naruto Shippuden is now presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. We’ve now 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 volumes, with little of the softness of a standards conversion. 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.
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. Several of the episodes end in a brief animated Naruto comedy skit.
The extras are on disc 2, 10 line art images in a Production Art Gallery, and trailers for the second Naruto Shippuden movie as well as the Shippuden series.
Time to avoid spoilers and keep it short. This is the good stuff, the story that we have all been waiting for since the series started. It’s in full flow at this point, perfectly paced, replete with ninja fighting action, and with a torrent of narrative that explains so, so much. This is the best that Naruto has ever been, and the show also gets darker at this point. There are character deaths, people getting limbs ripped off, and siblings ripping each others’ eyeballs out... Remember when Naruto was just light comedy ninja antics and fart gags? That seems so far away now.
When Naruto was first being marketed in the West, it was being sold as a ninja Harry Potter, and there’s some truth in that statement. The Philosopher’s Stone was all wondrous magic and chocolate frogs, but by the time we came to The Deathly Hallows, we were in serious teen angst mode with battles to the death. The difference here is that with Naruto, we’re hardly in the middle of the Shippuden cycle, and there’s a lot more yet to come, with probably some more filler as well. Anyway, appreciate Naruto Shippuden for what it is, as right now, this is perfect shonen action storytelling, on a par with Fullmetal Alchemist.
Just as the previous collection has an apparent narrative side step in the Kakashi Chronicles two episode arc, which initially appeared to be filler, but was subsequently revealed to be essential back story, this collection begins another two episode back story special, with the Jiraiya Ninja Scrolls telling the life story of the Pervy Sage. We meet him as a very Naruto-like slacker that gets an unexpected boot onto the road of destiny, the sort of prophecy that had Qui-Gon looking for the Chosen One in Star Wars. Jiraiya’s pursuit of this prophecy has a similar result. The explanation of his back story isn’t as oblique as Kakashi’s as we go straight into what it means in the next arc. Jiraiya’s on a self appointed mission in the Village Hidden in Rain, trying to discover some truths about Akatsuki, and what he finds relates directly to choices that he made in his past. There’s some seriously well-animated ninja action at this point.
The action doesn’t relent, as once that arc concludes, we see that Sasuke has finally caught up with his older brother Itachi, and his revenge is at hand. That’s a revenge that has been building, a story arc that has developed practically since the beginning of Naruto, some 350 episodes ago, and you can bet that the wait is worth it. But it’s no simple matter of Sasuke avenging his clan and his parents, as for one thing Itachi has his own reasons for facing his brother at this point, which relates to one of the darker secrets of the Uchiha clan, while on the other hand it turns out that the massacre that occurred all those years ago wasn’t quite as clear cut as Sasuke believed. The revelations that follow this battle threaten to shatter everything that Sasuke ever believed in, and the volume ends on one of those agonising cliff-hangers that will only be resolved for us in the UK well into 2013.
This is the best collection of Naruto so far. It validates all your faith in sticking with the series through thick and thin, and makes sitting through all that filler worthwhile, even the Naruto pee-conniption episode. Hopefully I'll have that intro sorted for my 35th Naruto review next year...