Review for Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 15 (2 Discs)
It’s a funny thing about first times. You always remember your first time, and you develop a little soft spot in your heart. I’ve seen a fair bit of shonen anime over the years now, and every month delivers at least one instalment of long running, fighting action in a different guise. It isn’t exactly the pinnacle of the anime medium, playing to a broad, young audience, with a set structure and predictable storytelling clichés. Some shows I like, some shows I dread, and all go through phases of canon narrative and studio produced filler of questionable quality. I positively cower in terror of each subsequent instalment of Bleach, while Dragon Ball Z managed to turn me into some sort of brain dead zombie by its final collection. One Piece is fun, and Fairy Tail may just be the best show of its genre so far, but never for any of these shows do I get the warm feeling of anticipation that I do for Naruto. It’s only for Naruto that I look forward to each new boxset. And when it comes to filler, the original Naruto had the worst of it all. We’re in the middle of another filler arc now, but I’m still looking forward to watching it. It’s no surprise, as Naruto was my first shonen anime!
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, we concluded the battle of the Hidden Leaf Village, and reached a crescendo in the storyline, with Naruto achieving one of his long held ambitions, and finally laying one of his past demons to rest. That was a good place for the animators to take a break and wait for some more manga source material to be created, and we launched into a series of short and stand-alone adventures set back during the original series, when Naruto was an all orange ninja, still pals with Sasuke, and where the heaviest thing that weighed on his mind was the next bowl of ramen.
The next 13 episodes of Naruto Shippuden are presented across 2 discs from Manga Entertainment.
180. Leaf History – Inari’s Courage Put to the Test
Way back at the start of Naruto’s adventures, they helped a little boy and his grandfather against a bunch of gangsters and the rogue ninja Zabuza. Naruto helped Inari overcome his cynicism and cowardice to find an inner strength and willingness to stand up for himself. But that sort of thing doesn’t take straight away. On their way back to the Hidden Leaf Village, Naruto learns that he’s forgotten a ramen voucher, but when he goes back to find it, he learns Inari has gone missing.
181. Leaf History – Naruto’s School of Revenge
Finding a lost ostrich isn’t the sort of mission to inspire team 7, but when Naruto stumbles across a half-hearted vendetta, he decides to offer the wimpy vengeance seeking swordsman some training. But this tale of revenge resonates more with Sasuke.
182. Leaf History – Gaara’s Bond
Gaara’s first encounter with Naruto caused him to reflect on his life, and make some changes for the better. But the people of his village weren’t trusting of that change, and trouble arises when Gaara is teamed up with Naruto’s team on a joint mission.
183. Leaf History – Naruto: Outbreak
Naruto sneezed on Sakura, which is disgusting enough, but now Sakura’s sick in hospital. There’s a lethal chakra virus about that is the scourge of ninja, and Naruto may just be Typhoid Mary. Tsunade orders the medical corps to contain Naruto, only the little orange ninja is scared of injections.
184. Leaf History – Deploy! Team Tenten
Tenten’s first mission as team captain was to lead Naruto and Neji to retrieve some weapons from the Ninja Tool Experimental Lab, unsurprising given her skill with weapons. But the Lab has been relocated far outside the village, and there’s a reason for that.
185. Leaf History – Animal District
The ostrich is back, and this time he’s picked up ninja skills. He’s taken refuge in one of the Hidden Leaf training grounds, and it falls to Naruto, Shino and Rock Lee to go in there and get him out. Only this time, the ostrich has friends.
186. Leaf History – Ah, The Medicine of Youth
Following the Chunin exam, when Rock Lee was still recovering from his bout with Gaara, his master Gai would make him an elixir from a rare flower to aid his healing. When Naruto takes a taste from his last bottle, it seems that Lee’s dedication to his healing has all been for naught. Naruto determines to find some more flowers.
187. Leaf History – Gutsy Master and Student: The Training
188. Leaf History – Record of Gutsy Ninja Master and Student
When Naruto left the village with the Legendary Sage Jiraiya to train for two years, the first thing he had to learn was how to deal with Genjutsu, the casting of illusions that is Sasuke’s area of expertise. The best place to learn to do this is in a village in a mysteriously charged forest. But when they get to the village, Naruto and Jiraiya find that is now hidden behind a tall wall.
189. Leaf History – Sasuke’s Paw Encyclopaedia
Looking for lost pets comprise the majority of d-rank missions that keep genin busy, and aren’t exactly appreciated, but when a mission arrives to get a certain cat-monster’s paw print, it’s a mission that Sasuke takes surprisingly seriously.
190. Leaf History – Naruto and the Old Soldier
With the village in chaos following the Chunin exam incident, it’s important that the Leaf ninja show they aren’t diminished. Naruto’s added to another team to go on a patrol mission, and on that team is the Leaf Village’s oldest genin, a man who’s stayed in the lowest rank of ninja for over fifty years.
191. Leaf History – Kakashi Love Song
Could Kakashi be in love? The sight of him showing a pretty young girl around the village is enough to spark the curiosity of Naruto, Sakura, and even Sasuke. It’s never that simple, as Hanare is a spy, and she’s been captured and interrogated by the Leaf Ninja, and the one thing they learned is that she has a connection to Kakashi...
192. Leaf History – Neji Chronicles
If you ever wondered what Neji was doing during Orochimaru’s attack on the village with his Sand Ninja allies during the Chunin exam, then it turns out that he was on a mission of his own to rescue Hinata, who’d just been kidnapped by a couple of opportunistic Cloud Ninja.
Naruto Shippuden is now presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen in native PAL. 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. This collection sees the debut of a couple of new theme songs, so catchy and so appropriately animated, that I didn’t skip them once during this collection.
The discs get static menus and jacket pictures, with the episode chapter breaks in place.
The extras are on disc 2, 10 images in a Storyboard Gallery, and trailers for the second Naruto Shippuden movie as well as the Shippuden series.
What we have here is pure filler, two discs, thirteen episodes worth of material created by the animators to fill air time while they wait for canon material to turn up. It’s usually cheap and cheerful, hastily constructed, quickly animated, and with no ongoing import to the main storyline. At its worst it can lead to the infamous urination episode from the original Naruto series. At its best, it’s watchable if nothing more. Fans will decry filler as taking them away from the story that they are most interested in, and there is an element of truth in that. Yet with collection 15 of Naruto Shippuden, pure filler from beginning to end, I found that I enjoyed it thoroughly, and didn’t begrudge a single minute of it.
The thing is that these aren’t the hastily put together episodes that bear no resemblance to the main storyline; they instead have a little more thought put into them, especially when it comes to characterisation. Another thing is that they sparked a spirit of nostalgia in me, as they are mostly set during that original Naruto series, when growth spurts were still in the distance, and our hero still donned that bright orange kagoule to help him with his ninja blending-in skills. With the exception of a two episode arc, these are all stand-alone episodes, little bursts of action, and mostly comic silliness to entertain, which certainly lightens the mood after the attack on the village by Pain. It’s as if they showed Harry Potter and the The Deathly Hallows on TV, and stuck The Philosopher’s Stone on in between the other two movies.
The first episode in the collection is a nice little sequel to the first major Naruto adventure, the Zabuza arc. We get to see what happened to the little boy Inari after Naruto’s team left that village. There then follows a somewhat inconsequential episode about a man seeking revenge, which ought to have resonance with Sasuke, but is more memorable for the ostrich. That ostrich learns some ninja skills and shows up for a wholly comedic sequel later on in this collection. Another sequel worth watching is to see Gaara in the process of seeking redemption from the Sand Village, taking Naruto’s example to heart on his first mission after the Chunin attack.
The rest of the episodes too follow the principles of filling in little gaps in the back-story, or just indulging in comic silliness. Some are simply fun to watch, while some, like Naruto and the Old Soldier are really well-written and engaging tales. The only weak spot in this collection in my eyes is the two parter. It should have been the more interesting of the stories, one set in the two year gap between Naruto and Shippuden, as Jiraiya begins training Naruto. Alas this is the sole story which actually falls on the standard model of Naruto filler, that of Naruto coming across a village in peril, and meeting a whiny brat who has given up on fighting, only for him to regain his confidence when Naruto befriends him and promises to protect and help him.
I really did enjoy this batch of filler. Its trip back to the original series era was nostalgic and fun, and I got a kick from seeing those old character designs revisited in widescreen, and hearing those music cues again from the original series. But enough is enough now, and I really think that Collection 16 should get back to the Shippuden canon storyline. But by no means should you think you are wasting your time by watching this Collection 15. It may not be canon, but it is still entertaining.