Review for Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 36 (2 Discs)
Just 41 more episodes to go! That’s not the best way to start a review of a long running series, looking towards its eventual end like it’s some kind of release from captivity. I haven’t exactly been serving hard time with these Naruto reviews, but sometimes it can feel that way. Especially given how this collection begins. In Collection 35, we effectively had 13 and a half episodes of filler (albeit some that was canonical filler), before getting back to the present day storyline. In Collection 36, we begin with almost a complete episode of contemporary story, Sasuke and Naruto facing the resurrected Kaguya, before we flashback to a long stretch of ancient history and Kaguya’s story. It’s too tiring even to just swear at the TV now!
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 had thought he had won and activated his Infinite Tsukuyomi. Only he’s just absorbed too much chakra, bloated up, and hatched into Kaguya Otsutsuki, the ethereal otherworldly being who initially brought chakra to the world, the mother of all ninja, and she’s here to chastise her children for straying from the true path.
459. She of the Beginning
460. Kaguya Otsutsuki
461. Hagoromo and Hamura
462. A Fabricated Past
463. The No. 1 Most Unpredictable Ninja
464. Ninshu: The Ninja Creed
465. Ashura and Indra
466. The Tumultuous Journey
467. Ashura’s Decision
468. The Successor
469. A Special Mission
470. Connecting Thoughts
471. The Two of Them... Always
472. “You Better...”
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 extras haven’t changed much, the same static menus, with 9 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 Tales of Zestiria: The X, Granblue Fantasy, Fairy Tail Zero, and Made in Abyss.
I wound up liking this collection of Naruto episodes more than the other recent collection releases, although that’s despite the content, not because of it. The series is still being totally Tantric about delaying gratification, and in this collection it’s actually worse than before. What’s different is that we’ve actually come to the final battle of the Fourth Ninja War; it really is the end of the story that began all those hundreds of episodes ago, when a no-hoper wannabe ninja somehow contrived to graduate the academy, armed only with an ambition to be Hokage. With this collection of episodes, we can finally see light at the end of the tunnel, although having taken a peek ahead; I ought to warn you that Naruto Shippuden has an ending that makes The Return of the King seem truncated.
As this collection of episodes begins, Madara has been sucking in all the chakra, as the Infinite Tsukuyomi jutsu continues to create his ‘perfect’ peaceful world. But that has its consequences when it frees Kaguya Otsutsuki, and it turns out that this was the plan all along. It turns out that Naruto and Sasuke are the only ones who can seal her back in her prison, and that’s something she won’t allow. She begins by pulling all those who threaten her into a lava dimension where the battle ensues.
It’s at this point that the show pauses for three episodes to tell us just who Kaguya is. We’re talking ancient history here, as it turns out that she’s the one who brought chakra to the world, essentially the mother of all ninja. We’ve already met one of her sons, Hagoromo, who previously appeared to Naruto and Sasuke to power up their chakra and fill them in on some exposition. Incidentally, Hagoromo’s ghost is still sticking around as he has some more exposition to fill in for the four dead Hokage who’ve been resurrected, and are pretty much all that remains free of the Infinite Tsukuyomi in the real world.
Episode 463, and it’s back to the fight between Kaguya and the heroes, and there’s a delightful call-back during the battle to the Naruto we first knew, before Kaguya uses her dimension jumping powers to send them all into an ice world. It’s time for another stretch of flashback, this time lasting five episodes, and indeed actual filler instead of manga padding. We next see what happened to Hagoromo, and meet his two children who caused the split in ninja ideology that has resonated down the centuries, and is currently embodied in the feud between Sasuke and Naruto.
The filler ends, and we get another flashback episode, a complete non-sequitor, set in the original Naruto series period, where the Hidden Leaf Genin once more try and unmask Kakashi. We’ve had a filler episode in this vein before, and this is most unwelcome at this point, no matter how nostalgic or entertaining it might be. Then it’s back to battle, where Naruto and Sasuke have been placed in separate dimensions, all hope of them sealing Kaguya lost. Or so it seems. It’s a good thing that they have Obito with them, for a long time the villain of the piece, but now given a chance at redemption. His particular ninja speciality is opening doors to dimensions, and he’s the one chance they have of getting Sasuke and Naruto back together to take down Kaguya. But he’s putting his life on the line, suffering mortal wounds. The final two episodes in this collection offer not one, but two flashbacks to Obito’s life, and a what-if fantasy as well.
Just when you think the show might have built up some momentum, it pauses for a flashback. And that is utterly infuriating. The only saving grace here is that the flashback is all worthwhile, including the stretch of filler. We really need to know about who Kaguya is, her place in the grand scheme of thing, and what her descendants did. I don’t even find the Obito flashbacks too onerous, as it turns out that his sacrifice is quite moving. The only episode I would begrudge is the Special Mission episode, but even that offers something unexpected.
The truth is that we should have learned all this exposition and back-story before, and the climax of Naruto Shippuden should have been allowed to play out seamlessly. It’s like that bit in Austin Powers, where one of Doctor Evil’s henchmen dies, and we cut away for ten minutes to see his pals learn of the news, and how they react. At least in that movie, it’s the whole point of the joke. This is the best Naruto we’ve seen in quite some time, but it’s really only because the end feels within sight.