Review for Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 24 (2 Discs)
Last time, stuff meant that I got DVD-R screeners for Naruto Shippuden Collection 23. This time the balance has shifted the other way, and a degree of tardiness means that instead of the usual silver screeners, Manga Entertainment have sent me the final retail discs, albeit without the packaging. I could at this point enthuse about the disc label art, only it’s not exactly arresting. In fact, I can’t even tell what the image is. Hopefully that will change somewhere during these thirteen episodes.
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, the Fourth Great War continued... slowly. At this point in Naruto, we’re knee deep in filler again, original episodes created by the animators to keep the show ticking over while they wait for more manga to be written. Actually, at this point it really feels more like a heap load of filler, lightly sprinkled with the odd, canon episode. The previous collection had 12 out of its thirteen episodes as filler, the final one returning to the canon storyline. But, of that filler, six episodes were some of the best Naruto I had seen in a long, long, time. I doubt we’ll get more filler on a par with the Power arc, but hopefully it’s still watchable. Anyway, we have six episodes of manga storyline before we return to another extensive filler stretch.
297. A Father’s Hope, A Mother’s Love
298. Contact! Naruto vs. Itachi
299. The Acknowledged One
300. The Mizukage, The Giant Clam, and the Mirage
302. Terror: The Steam Imp
The war progresses, with the Allied Shinobi facing the forces of the resurrected, controlled by Kabuto, and even though Naruto has joined the battle, the balance is yet to shift. In this stretch of six episodes, Naruto has to face a couple of familiar foes once more, although the battle against Sasuke’s brother, Itachi doesn’t go the way that Naruto or Kabuto expect. Meanwhile Gaara’s forces are arrayed against the resurrected Kage, among them his own father. The last thing that Gaara expects from the previous Kazekage is closure for his traumatic and isolated childhood, especially in the middle of battle, while the other three Kage present even more of a challenge.
303. Ghosts From the Past
304. The Underworld Transfer Jutsu
305. The Vengeful
The battle continues, with more resurrected ninja causing problems for our heroes. This time, it’s the Sound Ninja four that took Sasuke from the village to Orochimaru, and caused such problems for Shikamaru’s team as his first mission as a team leader. They’re back, the Reanimation Jutsu has enhanced their curse mark powers, and they want revenge on Shikamaru, Kiba, Choji, and Neji. And this time, they’ll take them to hell to achieve it.
306. The Heart’s Eye
When Sasuke was still in the village, there was going to be a fireworks display to celebrate the new Hokage, Tsunade. Sakura wanted to go with Sasuke, and needed someone to fend off Naruto, so she asked Hinata to go. This was the best thing ever for Hinata, except for the Hyuga family ritual training, required for the potential next leader of the family. Training with Neji, she overdid it and hurt her eyes, and the week’s long recuperation would mean missing out on the fireworks. But then Neji heard of a potential treatment made from a plant that grows in a forbidden valley...
307. Fade Into The Moonlight
308. Crescent Moon Night
Kabuto’s latest gambit is to resurrect the Leaf ninja Hayate, who fell victim to the duplicitous Kabuto during the long ago Chunin exam. His plan is to send Kabuto and two others to the medical encampments of the Allied Shinobi, to steal the corpses of the dead to bolster his army of the resurrected. But serving as a helper to the medical ninja is Yugao, Hayate’s lover who has been mourning his loss for the last few years.
309. An A-Rank Mission: Food Fight
When Naruto comes across s resurrected Samurai on the battlefield, holding a group of Allied Shinobi at bay, he’s surprised to recognise the swordsman Tatewaki. It reminds him of a mission he undertook as a genin, assigned to Shikamaru’s team, to kidnap a young Lord being held hostage, and to return him home. Naruto was on the team because of his talent for transformation, but the mission really hinged on Choji, and his ability to eat.
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.
The discs present their contents with animated menus, and in the extras you’ll find 5 pages of storyboards, six pages of line art, and the usual trailers for the Shippuden series, and the first Shippuden movie.
I’ve probably said it before in a previous review, but as flashbacks are appropriate to this particular anime genre, I’ll say it again. Masashi Kishimoto has Naruto fans by the short and curlies at this point. If you’ve read however many volumes of manga, watched the five hundred odd episodes of anime, then you’re unlikely to quit at this point in the proceedings, and he can tell whatever story he feels like telling, certain in the knowledge that his core fanbase will stick with him through sheer inertia alone, regardless of whatever flight of fancy springs forth from his pen. With Naruto, he’s effectively turned the Hobbit into The Lord of the Rings, only Naruto hasn’t the weight behind it to support such epic musings. We’re in the middle of a major war arc here, with action happening on several fronts, and with the story proceeding at a glacial pace when we’re with the canon storyline, and diluted even further by excessive interludes of filler. Naruto is no longer fun. It’s something you have to work at.
We’ve got six episodes of canon material in this collection, seven in total including the one episode at the end of the previous collection. That’s seven episodes bounded by 12 filler episodes on one side, and 18 episodes on the other. We have two canon arcs in this collection, and to be fair they are quite interesting. We have Gaara and his forces facing the four resurrected Kage, although it’s only the first episode of the four that really hits the spot. Gaara has to face the previous Kazekage, his father, and he gets to work out all of his abandonment issues here. It’s a touching, emotionally heavy episode that as in the best of Naruto evokes empathy in the viewer. We return to that battle after a gap of two episodes, only for things to take a turn for the comic, as the resurrected Kage insist on telling their weaknesses to the allied Shinobi in order to be defeated, only to learn that their foes lack the strength to exploit even those weaknesses.
Episodes 298 and 299 take a break from this battle to catch up with Naruto Zero and Bee. I call him Zero as he’s the original, not one of the countless clones that are everywhere else on the battlefield looking for White Zetsu shapeshifting infiltrators. Naruto and Bee get two episodes facing a couple of interesting resurrected ninja, offering a rematch in one case, and an intriguing development in the other. Sasuke’s brother Itachi and Nagato (from the Pain arc), are Kabuto’s latest pawns, and once again they have the chance for a conversation before battle commences when Kabuto assumes control. We get an idea of how powerful Naruto’s become, and it looks to be the threatening level of power that might just become tedious, as it did in Bleach when Ichigo would swing his sword and mountains would explode. But what interests here is the development with Itachi, which also reminds you that you have to remember everything that has happened in Naruto to keep track of the story. Thankfully there are flashbacks to remind, in this case of a little throwaway moment that happened some two hundred episodes ago.
Then it’s back to the filler. The basic rule of filler is that nothing can happen to the overall plot. Leave things exactly as they were when you found them. So we have two sorts of filler here, the flashback to past events, usually prompted by the resurrection of a prior foe or friend, or the small bit of inconsequential story on the battlefield. In some cases we get a combination of the two. The Sound Ninja from the Rescue Sasuke arc show up again looking for revenge against the team members that defeated them. They don’t get it. Hinata and Neji fighting together prompts memories of when Neji protected her a few years back. A Hidden Leaf Ninja named Hayate is resurrected to steal some corpses for Kabuto, and runs into his former lover in the medical camp for plenty of angst, and we end on a cliff-hanger, halfway through a story set in the past, when younger Naruto went on a mission with Shikamaru’s team.
I don’t particularly appreciate the non-canon war episodes, as they don’t advance the plot, and really dilute the overall storyline. But I can bear the flashback arcs, as they take us back to a time when Naruto was fun, daft, and trivial. Hinata’s angst about seeing a fireworks display with Naruto is sweet, as is Sakura’s obsession with Sasuke yet to be tainted by betrayal. It’s also fun seeing the younger characters again on a typical amusing mission, goofing around when they aren’t being too serious. Choji’s the perfect choice to go undercover at an eating competition, while it’s funny seeing Naruto’s disappointment at eating meat buns in the first round, only to be too full to appreciate the second ramen round.
I guess it was impossible to expect more filler on a par with the previous collection’s Power arc, but what we get here is watchable at least. The problem really is that Naruto just isn’t as much fun anymore. If you’ve stuck it out this long however, why would you stop now?