Review for Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 29 (2 Discs)
Naruto Shippuden runs to 500 episodes. We’re at episode 362, and for all intents and purposes, this looks like the finale. Madara Uchiha has been resurrected, Obito’s plan is about to come to fruition with the advent of the 10-Tailed Beast, and a mega-powered up Naruto is all that stands in his way. This can’t be the end, surely! Otherwise the next 138 episodes are going to get pretty tedious, even with the alleviation of filler episodes. Speaking of which, we’re coming off the back of a whole collection of filler, the Kakashi: Shadow of the ANBU Black Ops arc, and getting back to the climactic events after some 13 episodes away.
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.
Thirteen episodes ago on Naruto Shippuden, the war seemed to be coming to a head, with the resurrection of Madara Uchiha not vanishing with the rest of the resurrected ninja, and unleashing some serious jutsu on the five Kage before joining the battle with Naruto, Bee, Kakashi and Gai versus Obito. As we rejoin the story, Obito’s plan to unleash the Ten-Tailed Beast is about to unfold.
362. Kakashi’s Resolve
363. The Allied Shinobi Forces Jutsu
364. The Ties That Bind
365. Those Who Dance in the Shadows
366. The All-Knowing
367. Hashirama and Madara
368. The Era of Warring States
369. My True Dream
370. Sasuke’s Answer
372. Something to Fill the Hole
373. Team 7, Assemble
374. The New Three-Way Deadlock
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.
3:44 into episode 368, there is a frame jump.
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, 6 Production Art images and the trailers for Naruto Shippuden and the first Shippuden movie all on Disc 2.
They’re going to make this Naruto climax fill the next 125-odd episodes the way that they’ve always done these things, with flashbacks, side-stories, and filler stretching things out so tenuously that you’ll forget what most recently happened to a character as the next time it’s referred to, 40 episodes will have passed. I exaggerate only slightly. Over 30 episodes ago, we left the fifth Hokage Tsunade on quite the cliff-hanger. That finally gets resolved in episode 374. An annoying itch that has been bugging me and distracting me from the rest of the Naruto Shippuden episodes that have unfolded since the end of the Madara vs. Five Kage battle has finally been scratched.
You might think that the typical tactics for delaying narrative satisfaction might have left me on a downer for this collection. After all, we do take a four episode break to learn about the first Hokage, Hashirama Senju, and his unlikely friendship with Madara Uchiha, years ago, before the ninja clans organised into villages. But so much happens in this collection that grabs the attention, delivers satisfying moments for committed Naruto fans, that this does turn out to be one of the best collection of canon Naruto episodes in a long time.
For one thing, Madara and Obito have teamed up, and they’ve achieved the next step in their plan to reshape the world, bringing forth the 10-Tailed Beast, an amorphous monster that makes the other Tailed Beasts look like cute little hamsters. There is some serious ninja combat and action to be had from this collection, even if some of the chakra-nukes going off made me roll my eyes. It only took about twenty episodes of Bleach before Ichigo was swinging his sword around and demolishing mountains. At least Naruto waited around 600 episodes before getting as hyper. Things get personal too for Kakashi and Obito, understandable given their shared history, and the character focus gives this collection some more weight.
Then, the first four Hokage are back! With so much of recent Naruto about reanimation and resurrection, it’s actually a surprise that it’s taken this long for them to appear, but this time they’re brought back for a different reason, and not by the bad guys, although it doesn’t seem that way at first; for Sasuke has a decision to make, a decision that will change the course of the war. The episode 373 title is enough of a spoiler for that, but seeing Team 7 back together for the first time since the original Naruto series, fighting together on the same side is the biggest moment in this collection. To top it all off, it turns out that Sakura has levelled up as well, thanks to her training with Tsunade, and she’s just as lethal as her teammates.
Of course I have to reiterate the itch that got scratched, my own personal high point of these episodes, seeing Tsunade finally pull herself together, albeit with unlikely assistance. All the flaws of Naruto Shippuden at this point in the series are still present. It insists on stretching out its story until it's wafer thin, and the narrative is so epic that the characters get lost, but this collection is by far the most satisfying canon material we’ve seen in some hundred episodes or more. If you’re collecting Naruto, then this set will really make you smile.