Review for Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 12 (2 Discs)
Can you believe the non-stop shonen that I get to review nowadays? There was once a time when long running anime series just weren’t viable in the UK. Half-hearted attempts to sell shows like Yu Yu Hakusho fell woefully flat, and it seemed that all we would ever get in the UK would be spin-off movies and the occasional OVA. Then Manga Entertainment took a chance on Naruto, and all of that changed. Since January, I’ve been reviewing Dragon Ball Z: Volume 5 followed directly by Volume 6. Bleach’s 4th Movie found its way in there somewhere, and when I ran out of Dragon Ball Z, the next collection of Bleach episodes showed up. I finished typing up my Bleach review only to have this next collection of Naruto Shippuden take its place. That’s more testosterone that the East German women’s athletics team. East Germany was a communist country once upon a time... Communism was a way of thinking that said that money was bad, but sharing was good, but forgot that without money there would be nothing to share... You know you’re getting old when your topical references are two decades out of date. Anyway, this summer, Manga Entertainment are also throwing One Piece into the shonen mix. I may overdose. Let’s make the appropriate hand signs and yell out ‘Kage bunshin no jutsu!’ as we approach the twelfth instalment of Naruto Shippuden. That way we can split up the various shonen series among different clone versions of ourselves, and save some time.
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, Jiraiya infiltrated behind enemy lines to learn more about Akatsuki, and wound up having to face his past once more with tragic consequences. At the same time, Sasuke finally caught up with the brother he has long despised, Itachi, and this time he’s finally strong enough to face him in battle.
We begin this collection of fourteen episodes with Sasuke having to deal with the aftermath of that epic confrontation.
It turns out to be a bittersweet conclusion to the Uchiha family feud, when Madara reveals to Sasuke the real reasons behind Itachi’s actions. His words have the ring of truth about them, but Madara has an ulterior motive. It works too, as Sasuke is re-enthused with a new enemy to defeat, and a new ally at his side. Now he will be working with Akatsuki to bring about the downfall of the Hidden Leaf Village.
142. Battle of Unraikyo
143. The Eight-Tails vs. Sasuke
Hebi is no more. Now Sasuke’s group has taken the name Taka, and as part of their new arrangement with Akatsuki, their new target is a Jinchurichi like Naruto, this time the Eight-Tails. The Eight-Tails demon is resident in a hip-hopping ninja currently training in an isolated ravine. But by attacking him without his curse-mark powers or the legacy of Orochimaru, Sasuke and his Taka group may have bitten off more than they can chew.
145. Successor of the Forbidden Jutsu
146. The Successor’s Wish
147. Rogue Ninja’s Past
148. Heir to Darkness
150. The Forbidden Jutsu Released
151. Master and Student
Even as Naruto’s group is returning from their unsuccessful attempt to retrieve Sasuke, news comes in of another urgent mission that falls to Yamato’s team. Soon he, Naruto, Sakura and Sei are on their way to the Tsuchigomo clan to uphold the bonds of loyalty forged between them and the Hidden Leaf. During the previous Great War, the Tsuchigomo clan came up with a powerful and destructive ninja technique, so destructive that it was promptly forbidden. It fell to the leader of the clan to safeguard it and keep it from use. Now that he has passed away, the duty has fallen to his inexperienced granddaughter Hotaru. With hostile forces targeting her, they’ve called the Hidden Leaf for assistance. What Naruto and his team find when they get there isn’t promising. The Tsuchigomo have split, leaving just Hotaru, her retainer Tonbei, and her reluctant teacher, the rogue ninja Utakata to defend against a group of bandits intent on claiming the forbidden technique.
152. Somber News
153. Following The Master’s Shadow
News of Jiraiya’s fate reaches the Hidden Leaf village, and while Naruto has to come to terms with what has happened, no one else has the luxury of time for reflection. Jiraiya has left clues that need to be unravelled, and the priority becomes solving a code that may point to the secret behind Akatsuki. While Sasuke is reaffirming his desire for vengeance against the village to his last remaining relative, the time may have come for Naruto to grow up, and put his childhood behind him.
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.
Then the final two episodes on this collection reveal that they’ve reverted to a native PAL transfer, with the requisite 4% speedup. The image is sharper, ghosting and blended frames are absent, and there’s an increase in resolution. Absent this time is the judder that plagued the first attempt to release Naruto Shippuden in PAL, and it may be down to these being the Japanese broadcast episodes, not the US versions with the edited English language credit sequences. Hopefully we’ll stick with PAL for collection 13 and beyond.
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.
I suppose it was a bit much to expect that the brilliance of collection 11 would be extended through this volume, but I must admit to holding onto a little irrational hope nevertheless. But with collection 12 of Naruto Shippuden, it’s really back to normal service, especially as this set of episodes contains a filler arc as well. That said, the days of Naruto filler are long past, and as I have noted with recent sets, even when Shippuden does filler, it contrives to do it in such a way to maintain some sort of connection to the main storyline. With the continuing arc of Akatsuki hunting Tailed Beasts, it’s no surprise to see another one crop up in filler form, as the Six-Tailed Beast gets a back story and character arc unique to the anime. It also becomes clear that this is the last time that Naruto Shippuden can pull such a trick with its filler, and the next time the writers will have to get creative once more.
It’s a little disappointing that the excellence of the previous collection really only lasts one episode into this set, with Sasuke coming to terms with the results of the confrontation with Itachi, and the bittersweet coda that comes with Madara’s revelation of what really happened the night that Sasuke’s clan were annihilated, and just why his brother left him alive. You’d think that with the end of this blood feud, Sasuke could take a step back, but he soon has another enemy towards which he can devote his revenge.
The next two episodes are the first step towards that end, and see the renamed Taka group (formerly Hebi), form a tentative alliance with Akatsuki, and take on the responsibility of obtaining the Eight-Tailed Beast. You would expect these two canon episodes to be as thrilling as what has come before, but there are two problems. The first is that the animation takes a distinct hit at this point, suffering drastically in quality. It’s almost like watching a wholly different and significantly cheaper show. The animation is less detailed, less energetic, and very simplistic, while characters tend to stray off model at the drop of a hat. The second problem is that the Eight-Tailed Beast character is a twat. Really, he is the most annoying character to appear in the show, and given that Naruto is by definition an annoying brat of a ninja at the best of times, you can understand that it would take an extreme measure of annoyance to get under my skin. This self-styled hip-hop star that the Taka group have to take down makes Naruto seem saintly. Every single frame that he’s on screen makes me grind my teeth in chagrin. I wound up hoping that the Taka group would tear him apart.
There then follows an eight episode filler arc that is a whole lot better, even if it is typical for Naruto filler. Once again Naruto and his friends have a mission to complete, and it will involve him encountering someone who he can relate to on a personal level. There’s childhood isolation, powers bestowed on a child that can be both blessing and curse, and specific to this arc, the relationship between Master and Student. As Naruto goes to help Hotaru, he finds points of familiarity in not only her life, but that of her mentor as well, Utakata. Naruto, cursed with the power of the Nine-Tailed Fox, subsequently bearing the expectations of his village, and at this point in time thinking of his relationship with his absent master Jiraiya, finds the same aspects in the people he has to help. Hotaru actually chose to take on the burden of the Forbidden Jutsu for love of her grandfather, but is wholly unready to shoulder the expectations of her clan, while she wants Utakata to be her master.
Utakata on the other hand has a similar curse to Naruto’s, and because of it he’s felt betrayed by his own master, uncertain of just what the power he harbours actually means to his clan. He doesn’t trust the bond between master and student, and refuses to become the master of Hotaru. Of course there are bad guys abroad who are looking to steal the Forbidden Jutsu, and as is the way of Naruto filler, by acting to help them against the bandits, Naruto also helps them come to terms with their personal problems, and heal the rift between them. It’s a well told if familiar story, but the added dimension of the Six-Tailed Beast gives this arc a very bittersweet ending.
The collection ends with two more episodes of canon material, but it’s a reflective pause as the news of Jiraiya’s fate reaches the village, and Naruto has to come to terms with it. The implications of what occurs in these two episodes will really only become clear in subsequent volumes.
Following the excellent episodes in the previous collection, Naruto Shippuden Collection 12 is a comparative disappointment, coming with a filler arc rather than carrying on the manga storyline. But when the two duff episodes in this collection are canon storyline, you can forgive the animators for wanting to take a break. The filler arc is solid and entertaining and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. In that respect, the 12th instalment of Naruto Shippuden will be perfectly at home in your Naruto collections.