Review for Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 27 (2 Discs)
Manga Entertainment recently revealed that Naruto has sold 520,000 units in the U.K. which is a staggering number for anime. Of course when you think about it, you get some perspective on the numbers. After all, Naruto is a franchise, two full length series, several movies, and spin-offs. When you take into account releases, re-releases, consolidations, Blu-ray and DVD, we’re talking close to 100 titles or SKUs as they are so economically called. That’s still averaging over 5000 sales per unit, an astounding number for an admittedly mainstream genre in a niche medium. It’s quite a few times more than the average anime title can achieve in unit sales. Yes, there is the inevitable decline in sales as time passes, and the fan-base turns over, and I do recall those early volumes of Naruto Uncut pushing five figures in sales. But consider this... Manga Entertainment have successfully marketed the Naruto franchise on home video in the UK for over 10 years now, with hardly any television exposure. Not counting Blu-ray and DVD, multi-movie packs, consolidated series re-releases and the like, this, then is the 49th unique Naruto franchise release in the UK. And this year the Boruto spin-off series starts in Japan.
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 war still continued, with Naruto and Killer Bee facing the masked man who calls himself Madara Uchiha, and the other Tailed Beasts alongside the resurrected Jinchuriki. Meanwhile, the five Kage of the hidden ninja villages faced off against the actual Madara Uchiha, resurrected for the war alongside so many others. Speaking of resurrected, Itachi Uchiha, Sasuke’s older brother was also brought back to life, but through his unique abilities, was alone in breaking free of Kabuto’s control. On his self-appointed mission to find Kabuto and break his reanimation jutsu, Itachi encountered Sasuke, and the two faced Kabuto together. 13 more episodes of Naruto Shippuden are presented across 2 discs from Manga Entertainment.
336. Kabuto Yakushi
337. The Izanami Activated
338. Izanagi and Izanami
339. I Will Love You Always
340. Reanimation Jutsu: Release
341. Orochimaru’s Return
342. Secret of the Transportation Technique
343. Who Are You?
344. Obito and Madara
345. I’m In Hell
346. World of Dreams
347. Creeping Shadow
348. The New Akatsuki
Naruto Shippuden is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen in progressively encoded NTSC; no more PAL speed-up. The image is clear and sharp, and the progressive playback allows for smooth animation. 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.
On a side note, one of these check discs came through scratched. Now I’ve had DVDs that refused to play after someone looked at them funny in a pub. Discs can be sensitive to even the slightest flaw. The Naruto disc looked like a cat had gouged at it, or a 9-Tailed Fox. Other than a bit of pixellation in one episode, the disc played smoothly all the way through. Go figure!
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 subtitle font is still the quite small white (it helps if you watch this on a larger TV). The volume levels are a little low, but the theme songs are subtitled.
The extras haven’t changed much, the same static menus, with 5 Storyboard images, 7 Production Art images and the trailers for Naruto Shippuden and the first Shippuden movie all on Disc 2.
Naruto Shippuden continues to be the infuriating experience that it has been for the past few volumes now. We’re in the middle of the Ninja World War, so the attention gets split all over the place, following different characters in different settings, facing their own personal demons, and much as the current focus may be interesting, there’s always that question in the back of the mind, “Just what is happening with character x in situation y, while all this is going on?” Or worse, the action will suddenly shift back to the resolution of a cliff-hanger left lingering for the last 40 episodes, and you’ll have completely forgotten it, any tension or suspense about that particular plot arc will have vanished, and even though it may be a spectacular plot resolution, you just won’t be invested in it.
I say it’s infuriating, because this is canon Naruto, and we’re getting to the good stuff now, the plot revelations and story arc resolutions set in motion way back at the start of the series, some 500 episodes or more ago. Naruto fans (that haven’t read the manga) have literally been waiting ten years for this. Because it’s been so long, when we get to the important plot revelations, we have to pause the action for a flashback to the relevant episodes to remind us of the import of the story developments; in some cases effectively repeating earlier episodes almost in their entirety. The end result is that what should be epic, grand and utterly thrilling turns out to be slow, tiresome, and hard work.
Take the opening four episodes for example. Sasuke has reunited with his resurrected brother, and they’re working out some serious family issues while they face off against Kabuto. Now if you’ve forgotten why they are fighting Kabuto, I don’t blame you, as I had forgotten as well. It seems that half a hundred episodes ago, Itachi had promised Naruto that he would deal with Kabuto and end the Reanimation jutsu that is so tormenting the Allied Ninja forces. For one thing, the story insists on revealing Kabuto’s back story to show just why it’s so tragic. Whole episodes worth of flashback keep us from the really interesting stuff with Sasuke and Itachi, and when I fell asleep during the first two episodes, bored out of my mind, I was certain that this collection would be a stinker. Thankfully it didn’t turn out that way, as we do eventually get back to the good stuff. The Reanimation jutsu defeated, the resurrected army in the process of moving on to the afterlife, Itachi finally gets the chance to heal the bonds with his younger brother, and he also reveals the whole truth behind the massacre of the Uchiha clan. Come episode 339, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I had a little something in my eye.
But this was followed by an egregious ‘jump the shark’ moment. If there’s ever anything to get you swearing at the TV, a moment that might convince you to drop the show even after so many hundred episodes, it’s the resurrection of Orochimaru. Now Orochimaru is a fantastic character, and I have to admit that his absence from the roster of the reanimated was a disappointment. But even while the reanimation jutsu is fading, Sasuke decides to bring him back to ask him a few questions. He pulls Orochimaru out of Anko’s curse mark. Or rather Masashi Kishimoto pulled a plot twist out of his fundament! Sorry for the spoiler but I think in this case it’s less a spoiler than it is an essential warning.
The rest of this collection splits itself two ways, following the five Kage battling against the reanimated Madara Uchiha, and Naruto, Kakashi, Bee and Gai battling the masked man who called himself Madara, as well as Tobi. The Madara Kage battle is epic, and the leaders of the five ninja nations take some serious battering. And in another eye-rolling development, the reanimated Madara doesn’t disappear along with the other reanimated ninja... because... It’s not as bad as Orochimaru’s return, but the internal logic of the show does take a bigger beating than the five Kage at this point. And they do take a beating before Madara gets bored and goes to join his masked namesake. Tsunade has literally fallen apart in the battle, and thanks to the awkward pacing and the filler in this show, by the time we get back to her, you may no longer care about her predicament, if you remember it at all.
But the real juicy part of this collection is the battle against fake Madara/Tobi. For in this battle, the mask finally cracks, and we see the face beneath, learn the identity of this manipulator, and learn the details of what he plans by collecting the Tailed Beasts and using them to bring forth the mythical Ten-Tails. In probably what is an open secret if you’ve been watching the show, the identity of the masked man turns out to someone Kakashi knows really well, and if you can’t remember, the show puts on the brakes at this point to pretty much rerun an earlier episode to refresh your memory. But the flashback goes past the end point of that episode to see what happened next, how Kakashi’s friend got so warped and hell-bent on his destructive course.
It’s certainly not as bad as the Kabuto flashbacks from earlier, and it manages to hold the interest, even if you might be wondering what’s happening with Naruto and the others on the battlefield. For one thing it is information essential to the plot, and for another it’s paced well and it’s an interesting story. We end the collection with two episodes of filler, although you might not notice it. We’ve got the (re)birth of the Masked Man, following his conversion and training by the local equivalent of Darth Sidious, and we see the first of his machinations when he gets involved with three of Jiraiya’s disciples, Yahiko, Nagato and Konan. It takes us to the formation of the Akatsuki group. The final two filler episodes extrapolate on that, and give us an original story as to how the initially positive Akatsuki fell into darkness. Akatsuki means Dawn, and the three war-orphans turned ninja start out with the laudable goal of bringing about peace by negotiation and understanding. The final two episodes show how that dream is warped into the Akatsuki that we first encountered, who were anything but peaceful.
The flashback arc seems to come to a full stop here, but if you’re looking forward to jumping back into the fray with Naruto and his friends as they battle the now un-masked man and Madara Uchiha, you’ll have to wait for the volume after next. What follows next is 13 episodes of mostly filler. It’s not too bad, as of late Naruto has given us filler on a par with the series episodes. It’s certainly nowhere near as bad as the filler of the original Naruto series. It’s just the delay in gratification which infuriates. And that is the state of Naruto today, exemplified by Naruto Shippuden Collection 27. This is the good stuff, the brilliant, satisfying and hard-worked for story revelations and character developments that we’ve been waiting to pay off for hundreds of episodes now. But it’s all told in a cack-handed, slow, and tedious manner which makes you work for every morsel. I only wish there was some way to un-see Orochimaru’s return. Hashtag ‘dumbest thing ever’.