Review for Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 33 (2 Discs)
I totally forgot to write an intro for this review! It was bound to eventually happen. There are only so many Naruto releases you can review before your mind goes blank. You’ll have to make do with this poor excuse for an introduction this time, and we’ll all hope that my brain will be inspired to create some worthy prose for Collection 34!
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 resumes in this collection of 15 episodes... after a fashion.
416. The Formation of Team Minato
417. You’ll Be My Backup
418. The Blue Beast vs. Six Paths Madara
419. Papa’s Youth
420. The Eight Inner Gates Formation
421. The Sage of the Six Paths
422. The Ones Who Will Inherit
423. Naruto’s Rival
424. To Rise Up
425. The Infinite Dream
426. The Infinite Tsukuyomi
427. To The Dream World
428. Where Tenten Belongs
429. Killer Bee Rappuden: Part 1
430. Killer Bee Rappuden: Part 2
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 6 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 One Piece Film Gold, Steins;Gate the Movie, Expelled From Paradise, and One Punch Man.
For the next fifty episodes, this is as good as Naruto Shippuden is likely to get. Until that point, this is the last DVD collection where a significant fraction of the episodes are canon; over a third. And there are significant developments to be had as well, culminating in the Doctor Who, end of season moment, the point where it looks like the universe is about to end, and there’s no way out. The stakes literally cannot be higher at this point in the series. Given all of that, Naruto Shippuden still succeeds in annoying more often than not, with some really pained storytelling. There may be six out of these fifteen episodes that are canon, but they are still split up with filler, and the climax of one amazing fight is put on hold so that the protagonist can have two episodes of flashback.
There may be spoilers ahead...
When last we left canon Naruto (I can’t remember when), all looked lost, with Naruto and Sasuke both on the brink of death at the hands of Uchiha Madara. In a last ditch attempt to buy some time, Might Gai (Rock Lee’s mentor) opens the Eighth Gate, maxing out his taijutsu skills, the only thing left that might work against Madara. Cue the awesome fight sequence which pauses to introduce us to little Might Gai and his dad during that ill-placed flashback sequence.
Buying time turns out to be useful, as the founder of all things ninja has been loitering around like Obi-Wan’s ghost, and now that Sasuke and Naruto are maxed out on power and at the verge of death, he shows up to deal some more exposition, and give them both one final ninja skill upgrade. Naruto and Sasuke rejoin the action, but it’s too late. Madara manages to put into motion his ultimate plan, the Infinite Tsukuyomi, and only Sasuke, Naruto, Kakashi, and Sakura, Team 7 manage to escape its grasp.
Madara’s methods and ideology may suck, but his intentions are pure. He’s seen the pain, the bloodshed and the hate in the world, that all manner of idealists just like Naruto have failed to defeat, all amplified by a history of ninjutsu in the world, and he’s come up with a solution. He’s plugging everyone into a Ninja Matrix, everyone gets their own private little dream world where they are all ultimately happy, and that’s where we leave the canon episodes in this collection.
... Let’s face the music, and dance!
As for the filler, we have yet another iteration of the Obito back-story, Gai Sensei’s childhood, and the story of how Naruto taught Konohamaru the Rasengan that he used against Pain, which are all flashback sequences. The final four episodes in the collection follow Madara’s ‘victory’, and we get two episodes of Tenten’s perfect dream world, which features an alternate universe Hidden Leaf Village, with characters that might seem familiar from the Road to Ninja movie, and we get two episodes of Killer Bee’s perfect dream world, where the tailed beasts have been reduced to cute mascot size, and he’s on a mission to form the ultimate Jinchuriki team.
They are fun stories, well put together, with interesting skews on the Naruto world, but I’m put in dread of the next fifty episodes of filler. I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re going to get fifty episodes of each of the characters and their perfect dream worlds where they are happiest, and I can tell you right now, that is going to get really old, really fast. Naruto Shippuden will have to prove my expectations wrong with the next few collections, as we won’t see a continuous stretch of canon again until episode 470.