Review for Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 31 (2 Discs)
Here’s a tough question. Do you have the time to re-watch Naruto? I’m currently in the middle of a re-watch of Bleach, having gotten as far as the Arrancar arc, some 150 episodes in, and I’m always on the verge of ejecting the disc and giving it up as a bad idea. Then again, it is the Arrancar arc, which is where the story gets seriously dull. But think about Naruto, which is some 800 episodes in length. If you’ve been collecting since the beginning, that’s some 17 collections of Naruto Uncut, and with this set 31 collections of Naruto Shippuden, with some 8 more or so to go. At 13 episodes per collection, that’s around 800 episodes. Now if you watch one episode a day, that’s still the better part of 3 years to watch it all. Can you imagine binging on it it? Make it a Naruto movie each night, four or five episodes, maybe squeezing in one more by cutting out the credits. How long before you burn out? It’s as if someone released all of Coronation Street on DVD, or Eastenders.
That’s a depressing way to begin a review for the next instalment of Naruto, but I’ve been peppy and upbeat for 47 collections now. It’s about time for the ice bucket challenge of reality... 10 out of the next thirteen episodes are filler, all of collection 32 will be filler, five episodes out of 33 will be filler, and from the subsequent three collections, all but four episodes will be filler. 78 episodes, from which 13 are canon. After that, it’s a straight run of canon material to the end, except for a four episode stretch. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.
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.
The fourth Ninja War continues...
388. My First Friend
389. The Adored Elder Sister
390. Hanabi’s Decision
391. Madara Uchiha Rises
392. The Hidden Heart
393. A True Ending
394. The New Chunin Exams
395. The Chunin Exams Begin
396. The Three Questions
397. One Worthy as a Leader
398. The Night Before the Second Exam
399. Demon Desert Survival
400. As a Taijutsu User
401. The Ultimate
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.
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 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, and 9 Production Art images all on disc 2, but this time Madman have delivered a different variety of trailers with their authoring. Following an antipiracy thank you, you can see trailers for Snow White with the Red Hair, Ultimate Otaku Teacher, Aoharu x Machine Gun, and The Asterisk War.
This far into Naruto Shippuden, the fans that have still stuck with the series will be coasting through on sheer momentum until the end. There’s very little that I can say at this point in a review to deter existing purchasers, or attract new fans to the show. All that this review is really for is to confirm that the discs work in the DVD player, and there aren’t any major production flaws. They do, and there aren’t. You can buy in confidence. Everything else is just me massaging my ego with regards to a critical review of the content. We do however mark a major milestone in Naruto history. We’ve passed episode 400 of Naruto Shippuden. That means that there are less than one hundred episodes to go; we’re down to double-digits. You can start counting down the releases until we all move onto Boruto, and at the pace Manga are going, we should be done in a couple of years, if not less.
As for this collection, it once again goes to show that unless we get the canon material in large enough blocks, so epic, elaborate and long running it is at this point, then the filler material is actually preferable. We get three episodes of canon in this collection, and it really does absolutely nothing for the story. We start off with Obito having been stopped in his tracks, his plan derailed and all things looking rosy for the heroes, and in the space of three episodes, it’s all turned around, Madara has the upper hand, and things are looking bleak indeed for Naruto and Sasuke in particular. It’s not enough to get excited about, and it’s certainly not enough to get excited enough to post a “Did you see what happened in Naruto Shippuden Collection 31?” post on social media.
So it’s all down to the quality of the filler. We begin with a fair stand alone episode on Gaara’s character a flashback during the battle against Madara, which essentially covers ground that has been covered before, regarding Gaara’s childhood and his subsequent rehabilitation. The two following episodes do much the same for Hinata and her family, how she was groomed to be the next head of the Hyuga clan, but when she fell short of expectations, the burden fell on her little sister Hanabi. But once freed of those expectations, she followed her own path inspired by Naruto, and actually became far stronger. It’s probably the best story in the collection, but once again covering familiar ground, albeit from Hanabi’s perspective.
The big filler arc which only begins in this collection is the New Chunin Exams. The original Chunin exams were Naruto’s Triwizard Tournament (remember when Naruto was being marketed as the ninja Harry Potter?), and it was where all hell broke loose setting the direction of the story. When Naruto returned from his training with Jiraiya, he learned that many of his contemporaries were now Chunin, while he was still a Genin. Flashing back to the timeskip between series, this arc introduces the idea of a second set of Chunin Exams that took place while Naruto was off training, and develops that story in this stretch filler. This time it’s co-hosted by the Leaf Village, and the Sand Village with their new Kazekage Gaara. Once again, there are ulterior motives behind the test, with the Leaf Village wanting to gauge what Akatsuki is up to, and Gaara wanting to unmask rebels and discontents in his village opposing his leadership.
Just like the first Chunin Exams, this one begins with a written exam that isn’t what it appears to be, which takes far too many episodes for such a simple concept. It then moves on to the second test, the teams competing for the Heaven and Earth scrolls. It’s just the same as before, except the venue is the Demon Desert near the Sand Village. We get the first three episodes of that test in this collection, and they focus on Rock Lee bonding with his bone-headed Sand Village counterpart. It’s a cute story, but the animation quality really plummets in the filler arc, making it a chore to watch at times.
You’re collecting Naruto. You already know that you’re going to buy this collection, and you already know that at this point, the canon material splutters and chugs along like an ailing Model T Ford, while the filler material is like the first Datsuns, a poor knock-off of a superior European car. You’d be grasping for similes and metaphors too if you’d reviewed over 50 of these things.