Review for Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 21 (2 Discs)
The thing about long running, serialised anime is that you really need a regular fix of episodes to remain on top of things. When it’s being broadcast at one episode a week, that’s one thing, but on home video release, where you tend to get 13 episodes per collection, you really do need to have around four releases a year, evenly spaced to get the same effect. Long gaps between releases just don’t help keep the story fresh and at the front of the forebrain, while when you get to 300 plus episodes, re-watching the show becomes a daunting prospect akin to climbing a mountain, not to be taken lightly. If I’m going to re-watch Naruto at this juncture, I’ll wait till the series has ended completely and then start from the beginning again, as picking up a random collection from the middle just doesn’t hold any appeal. So while Bleach races headlong to its conclusion and the One Piece releases carry on apace, the fact that it’s been over seven months since the last Naruto Shippuden release is more than a bit of a pain.
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 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... I’ve only got the vaguest idea about what’s been going on in Naruto Shippuden after all this time. There’s something about Naruto training with Killer Bee to control his 9-Tails Chakra, something about a giant turtle, a Ninja World War, and then some repeats of the first series? Hopefully I’ll get caught up again as we go along.
They weren’t repeats, they were remakes, or rather a retelling of the friendship between Naruto and Sasuke that was torn asunder by the latter’s ambition. These three episodes take us through the tumultuous events of the Chunin exam, and then the encounter with Itachi, that drove Sasuke into following the dark path to power, falling into Orochimaru’s embrace. The key moments of a couple hundred episodes of Naruto, reanimated for widescreen.
261. For My Friend
262. War Begins!
263. Sai and Shin
The opening thrusts of the war begin to play out. Anko’s team have discovered the army of White Zetsu heading towards the Shinobi forces from underground, but the question arises whether the information can get back in time. Both sides send Commando units ahead of the armies, and the resurrected Deidara and Sasori encounter Kankuro’s team, where Sai learns that the most devastating weapon the enemy has isn’t physical at all when he comes face to face with his brother Shin, resurrected and turned into an undead weapon against him.
264. Secrets of the Reanimation Jutsu
As Naruto moves on to the next lesson in his Tailed-Beast training, Madara and Kabuto are papering over the cracks in their association with threats, blackmail, and scheming. Madara wants to know just how Kabuto’s Reanimation technique works.
265. An Old Nemesis Returns
266. The First and Last Opponent
Way back when they first became Genin, team Kakashi’s first A-Rank mission was to protect a bridge from a couple of Hidden Mist ninja, Zabuza and Haku. It’s a mission that ended in a tragic way, but now that they’ve been reanimated, Kakashi has to face Zabuza and Haku again, and this time they’ve brought their undead friends. Will history repeat itself?
267. The Brilliant Military Advisor of the Hidden Leaf
There is the Zetsu army coming from underground, another Zetsu army coming from the ocean, along with reanimated shinobi of all lands under Kabuto’s control, and facing Gaara are four reanimated Kage, including his father, and a rare Kekkei Touta mastering three elements. The Raikage commanding the allied Shinobi forces would be playing catch-up, but fortunately he has a tactical and strategic genius advising him, Shikaku, Shikamaru’s father. Meanwhile, Black Zetsu searches for where the Feudal Lords are hiding.
269. Forbidden Words!
270. Golden Bonds
There’s trouble for those fighting on the beach, as two of those resurrected ninja are former Cloud Village elite turned criminals, Ginkaku and Kinkaku, who have an uncanny sealing ability using words, but more chillingly, in an early failed attempt to subdue the 9-Tails, became infused with its chakra. They’re a foe that only the legendary Ina-Shika-Cho formation can stand against, but for Shikamaru’s team, there’s another adversary to face that will cause them far greater anguish.
Naruto Shippuden is 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.
In this collection, there’s a whole lot of strategy going on, lots of cutaways to maps and diagrams, and lots of screen captions reminding us of just which army we’re looking at. It’s fine in the Japanese version with subtitles, but this volume really does need a signs only track for the English dub. Also, there are more than a few corrupt symbols in the subtitle track. It’s never illegible, just annoying.
The discs present their contents with animated menus, and this time the sole extras are the usual trailers for the Shippuden series, and the first Shippuden movie.
I never thought I’d say this, but canon Naruto has become tedious to watch. It used to be that fans would dread the filler, where the story writing and the characterisations would plummet in quality, and distract from the all important storylines regarding Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura. As soon as normal service would resume, and the animators get back to adapting Masashi Kishimoto’s original manga storyline, things would turn a whole lot better. Not anymore, as the Fourth Great Ninja War has started, and what began as a fun, magical ninja story featuring a handful of likeable characters and the various shenanigans they got up to, as they learned more about their world, and the hidden pasts that have shaped their lives, has now become Kishimoto’s war epic. The ninja Harry Potter has become Saving Shinobi Ryan, and quite frankly as a narrative, it’s a mess.
The thing is that if by this point you are a Naruto fan, it’s an essential mess. You simply have to watch it to find out what happens next. In the midst of the unsatisfying editing, the piecemeal storytelling, are the essential moments that will inform the story to come. The worrying thing is that this looks to be establishing a pattern for the way of things to come with Naruto. The ninja world war starts, and we get a little bit of strategising at HQ, both for the Allied Ninja and Kabuto and Madara, and then the action switches to one battlefield for a few episodes of conflict, at first the focus is on Sai and Kankuro’s team versus the resurrected Sasori and Deidara, which goes up to a certain, but not total conclusion, then the action switches to another arena, where we get Kakashi and Sakura’s group versus the resurrected Zabuza and Haku and their team. Again this is fought to a certain climax, but the action shifts before we know the true outcome. There’s a tantalising glimpse of what Gaara’s army will face, but no action, and then we get a couple of episodes of battle on the beach.
I must admit the idea of reanimating fallen ninja and setting them against the allies has a certain thrill to it. Not only do we get to see fallen enemies again, some of them brilliant characters, but the allies have the anguish of now having to battle fallen loved ones reborn to serve Kabuto. But the bottom line is there is no satisfaction to be had with this collection of Naruto Shippuden. The story progresses, but there’s no conclusion to any of the arcs that we see here, and the likelihood is that even more fronts will open up in the battle to further divert our attention as the series progresses. Incidentally, at the time of writing, Naruto Shippuden is up to episode 424 and continuing, and the Fourth Ninja World War still continues. Although thankfully the manga has concluded, so there is an inevitable end to the anime.
The real problem is that this collection of episodes is great if you’re a fan of certain side characters, particularly Sai, Kakashi, and Shikamaru, and maybe some other more obscure characters that have occasionally held focus during previous episodes, but if you’re really invested in the ongoing storyline regarding Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura, then you’re in for a disappointment. They’re hardly in it. Aside from the opening three-episode filler flashback, that’s pretty much your lot. We get a glimpse of Sakura during Kakashi’s rematch with Zabuza, and Naruto’s in it for about ten minutes all told, as we cut away on occasion to see how far his training is progressing with Killer Bee. It’s made all the more tedious by every resurrected character invoking a ten minute flashback to the story where we last encountered them to remind us of who they are, all animated anew for widescreen.
The opening gambit of the Ninja World War may mean big things in the Naruto storyline as a whole, but in anime form it’s a bit of a squib at this point. Maybe when Naruto actually gets in on the action, and the story focuses more on the characters I’m invested in, rather than the characters I have a hard time remembering, I may enjoy this style of storytelling better. If I were a cynic, I’d say that this is where Masashi Kishimoto has his audience by the short and curlies. The last five hundred episodes or so, not counting the filler, has given the audience what they want from Naruto, and if they’ve stuck it out this long, they’re not going to drop it now. So by gum, he’s going to tell the story that he wants to tell, whether the audience likes it or not! If I were a cynic that is...