Review for Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 34 (2 Discs)
I don’t know how I feel about Naruto anymore. It’s been a long journey to this point, and I remember the novelty of a long-running anime show actually being released in the UK, the growing excitement at learning that it was actually pretty good, and the sudden shock when we got our first stretch of filler and the quality suddenly plummeted. But the thing underlying it all, the hook into the series was the story, this tale of a plucky young ninja, and the dangerous world he was growing up in. Then somewhere along the way, it went all X-Files. The X-Files gave us 5 years of un-missable, compulsive viewing, a couple years of fair to decent television, and then the better part of three years of TV that you watched on sheer momentum, because you owed it to the investment you made at the start. That’s where I am with Naruto right now; actually counting down the episodes to the series conclusion. I owe it to that bright-eyed 33 year old who started watching this show to see it through. Somewhere along the line it has stopped being entertainment and has instead become a duty.
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 is over! Madara has won and activated his Infinite Tsukuyomi. Now everyone is trapped in a perfect dream world, and as these 14 episodes play out, we travel to some of these fantasies... Yes, 14 episodes of filler ensue.
431. To See That Smile, Just One More Time
Jiraiya Ninja Scrolls: The Tale of Naruto the Hero
432. The Loser Ninja
433. The Search Mission
434. Team Jiraiya
435. Order of Priority
436. The Masked Man
437. The Sealed Power
438. The Rules or a Comrade
439. The Child of Prophecy
440. The Caged Bird
441. Returning Home
442. The Mutual Path
443. The Difference in Power
444. Leaving the Village
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 10 Storyboard images, and 3 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 Tales of Zestiria: The X, Charlotte Volume 1, Assassination Classroom Part 1, and One Punch Man.
This review is short and sweet, after all, every episode in this collection is filler, and if you are that way inclined, you can skip it completely. The next collection concludes the current storyline with six more filler episodes before resuming the canon story. I did state a worry in the previous collection, that with Madara’s Infinite Tsukuyomi jutsu brought to pass, and everyone plugged into their own personal ninja Matrix, we’d get every episode a different vision of ninja paradise, depending on the character. Thankfully that isn’t so. We get just one more standalone filler episode, which shows us Karin’s dream of dying in Sasuke’s arms, but thereafter starts a long filler arc, the Jiraiya Ninja Scroll: The Tale of Naruto the Hero. Incidentally, this is the ‘second’ Jiraiya Ninja Scroll. Episodes 127 and 128 of Naruto Shippuden were a canon, flashback story that related Jiraiya’s early life.
As for this scroll, bear with me. This arc of 18 episodes focuses on the 5th Hokage, Tsunade, as she is trapped in the Infinite Tsukuyomi. Her private paradise sees her taking time off from work, putting her feet up, and reading Jiraiya’s latest novel. The story that she reads is that which is animated here. It’s the tale of Naruto and Sasuke if their pasts weren’t so tragic. In this story, Naruto’s parents survived the 9-Tail attack, Minato is still 4th Hokage, and Naruto was raised in a loving, appreciative family. Also, Minato managed to uncover the Uchiha clan plot, defused the situation, and resolved it peacefully. Sasuke’s family is alive, and his brother Itachi is still part of the Hidden Leaf.
Naruto’s life is pretty much the same when this arc starts. The villagers don’t trust him because he’s a Jinchuriki, and resent him because his father is the Hokage, meaning they can’t show their distrust directly to his face, and suspect that he gets special treatment. Sasuke is always being unfavourably compared to his genius older brother, and otherwise practically ignored by his father, and then this talentless pipsqueak who doesn’t follow orders starts gaining in strength and power. While Sasuke’s also looking down on Naruto, he’s also competing against him in who can be the strongest.
The story pretty much unfolds the same way, although their initial encounter with Akatsuki is a little less confrontational. This story arc has a different Madara/Obito masked character who has a connection with Neji, and whose goals are different. As Naruto gains in skill and power, and gains the respect of his fellow Genin and the villagers, Sasuke grows more and more jealous. After a three year time skip, when the difference in their training and abilities is made clear, all it takes is a word from Danzo and Sasuke’s off to apprentice with Orochimaru.
One thing that really stands out in this arc is just how much of a dick Sasuke is in this reality. In the main storyline he has our sympathy given the tragedy he faced as a child, but here he chooses to be the whining brat, driven by jealousy. Then again, it’s also hard to see just how Naruto’s personality ended up exactly the same, given that he had loving parents to raise him this time around. But the biggest thing that you take from this arc, the most worrying thought to contemplate, is that they could have told the whole Naruto saga, all 800 plus episodes worth, in just 18 episodes.
Anyway, Collection 34 is all filler, but it’s well put together, watchable, and even thought-provoking filler.