Review for Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 13 (2 Discs)
It’s been a few years since Crunchyroll started streaming Naruto Shippuden, and by the time they had started, there was already a fair bit of the series out there to stream. As CR are wont to do, they started simultaneously at the beginning and with the simulcast. This was before Manga Entertainment had started releasing the series on DVD; they were still polishing off the first Naruto series. When Manga did finish the first series and announced Shippuden, I became curious to see what the next iteration of the luminescent orange shinobi would bring. I made the mistake of clicking on the simulcast instead of the first episode, which at that time had reached the three digit episode count, and ran smack dab into a whopping great spoiler. With this thirteenth collection of Naruto Shippuden, now being released on DVD by Manga Entertainment, we finally catch up to that episode, but it was a spoiler so epic that I haven’t been able to shift it from my mind in the intervening years. I’m actually dreading watching this collection. For reference, in terms of Japanese broadcast and simulcast, Naruto Shippuden is now up to episode 317. We’ve really only just reached the halfway point! Just like that paradox about the frog that only jumps half the distance of the previous leap each time on his way to the edge of the pond, we’ll probably never catch up. Speaking of frogs...
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, Akatsuki had a new ally in the form of Sasuke’s newly reconstituted Taka group, and the first thing they did was capture the penultimate Tailed-Beast. That leaves just one more to obtain, none other than Naruto himself. As for Naruto, the news of Jiraiya’s defeat reaches the Hidden Leaf Village, and with it the inevitability of a follow up attack. Naruto has little time to come to terms with his loss, as the Hidden Leaf Village is running out of time to prepare for what is to come.
Once again, this collection of thirteen episodes is presented across two discs from Manga Entertainment.
155. The First Challenge
156. Surpassing the Master
Jiraiya may be gone, but he has left the Leaf Village enough, hopefully enough to prepare for Akatsuki’s counterattack. There is the corpse of Pain to be autopsied, its secrets revealed, there is the prisoner that he captured for interrogation, and there is the enigmatic code that he left for Naruto to crack. Naruto isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed and time is running out. One thing is clear, strong and resilient though he may be, Naruto is no match for Pain, the ninja that defeated Jiraiya. But the Toad sage Fukasaku has a suggestion. He’ll train Naruto in Sage Jutsu, the technique that Jiraiya had mastered, which allows its user to draw in the power of nature to enhance his own chakra abilities several-fold. Of course if Naruto gets it wrong, he’ll turn into a frog.
157. Assault on the Leaf Village
158. Power to Believe
159. Pain vs. Kakashi
160. Mystery of Pain
161. Surname is Sarutobi. Given Name, Konohamaru!
Time has run out. Akatsuki want the Nine-Tailed Beast, and they want it now. Following his defeat of Jiraiya in the Village Hidden in Rain, Pain knows that the Leaf Village will be trying to uncover his secrets, so the various incarnations of Pain attack the Leaf Village to capture Naruto, or force his location from his friends. Even while the attack continues, the Leaf ninja work against the clock to uncover Pain’s secrets. Tsunade realises that the time has come for Naruto to face his demons, and issues a recall, but at the same time, Danzo seizes his opportunity to take control of the Leaf Village, and prepares for a coup. And as the Leaf Village ninjas face destruction and death on a scale even beyond Orochimaru’s attack during the Chunin exams, Naruto is blissfully unaware, training with Fukasaku.
162. Pain to the World
163. Explosion! Sage Mode
164. Danger! Sage Mode Limit Reached
165. Nine-Tails Captured!
The message finally gets to Naruto, but it’s far too late. He returns to a sight of total devastation. What’s worse is his return is just what Pain has been waiting for. What Pain doesn’t know is that Naruto has already mastered Sage Mode. This time Naruto is ready for battle, and he has the skills to prove it. He warns the survivors of the village to stay out of his way, and to not try and help him. But against six incarnations of Pain, will even Naruto’s new abilities be enough?
Naruto Shippuden is now presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and we’ve flipped back to native PAL for this release. 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. 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 story comes across well, and the action sequences are impressively animated, while conforming to a long running anime budget.
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 theme songs have long since ceased being subtitled, which is a shame.
The discs get static menus, with the episode chapter breaks in place. Some 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.
The Empire Strikes back is my favourite Star Wars film, but there’s a moment in it that always makes me scratch my head. Luke Skywalker goes off to train with Yoda, and starts off as an eager young space cadet, and almost makes it to graduation as a Jedi Knight. Even on the fast track, you’d expect something like that to take weeks, if not months. Meanwhile, the Millennium Falcon dodges Star Destroyers, makes it to Bespin, and Han and Leia run into Darth Vader after a brief sojourn with Lando. This is a few days worth of story at best. Yet, the two plot lines run concurrently. I can never figure this out. This instalment of Naruto Shippuden has its Empire moment, with Naruto undergoing days and days of Sage Mode training at Mount Frog, while Pain attacks the Hidden Leaf Village and razes it in a matter of minutes. Once again, these plot lines run concurrently, and the timescales do my head in.
Naruto Shippuden Collection 13 also has something else in common with The Empire Strikes Back. This is my favourite instalment of Naruto so far, television or movies taken into account, and even nudging out the brilliance of Collection 11 in my estimation. Of course the big deal is that we’re back to the manga storyline, and the filler has been left behind in the previous volume. There are also spoilers galore in this collection of episodes; it’s replete with cool bits and plot development that will satisfy even the most jaded Naruto fans. After this you’ll be glad that you’ve stuck it through the previous 400 or so episodes of both series. There is plenty of action in this collection of episodes and there is no need to stretch anything out to fill some more runtime. Everything is fast-paced and compelling. Blink and you’ll miss something of value.
It just builds and builds from the first episode in this collection, with Naruto still coming to terms with the loss of his master, and determined to strike back. Against the insidious Akatsuki, and the overwhelming power of Pain against which even Jiraiya failed, Naruto is ill-equipped. So when Jiraiya’s own master, the toad Fukasaku offers to train Naruto, to teach him Jiraiya’s abilities as a Toad Sage, it seems like a wise idea. That Fukasaku is small and green and old, invites no comparison to Yoda whatsoever, so don’t even think it!
While Naruto is off training, the Leaf ninja work against the clock to discover Pain’s secrets, and the first three episodes in this collection build the tension and heighten the anticipation. And then time runs out and Pain attacks. With what had happened to Jiraiya, the warning was there that Pain would be difficult to handle, but the reality of what happens far outweighs the rumours. He tears a streak through the village, relentless hunting down the 9-Tailed Beast, and dealing with his opponents with terminal intensity. Five episodes of devastation, five episodes of the Leaf Village ninja bravely, but futilely trying to fight back, and it just heightens the anticipation for the inevitable confrontation with Naruto.
By the time that comes, Pain has dealt such a devastating blow to the Leaf Village, that you know that there is no way that Naruto will hold back. The animators deliver in every respect when that confrontation comes, and the final five episodes in this collection are brilliant stuff. Then episode 166 happens, that episode full of mega spoilers that I saw on Crunchyroll way back when, and it has just as much impact the second time round, if not more, given that I now have the context for what happens at its end. Tragedy strikes, all hell breaks loose, and we have the kind of cliff-hanger that will have fans demanding Collection 14 from Manga Entertainment right now, rather than be willing to wait.