Review for Naruto Shippuden: Box Set 37 (2 Discs)
I’ve gone through stages with Naruto, from idle curiosity, to interest, to obsession, to disappointment, and weariness. It’s gone in a cycle that matches the show waxing and waning through canon material and filler. As Naruto Shippuden has come to its conclusion, teasing its storyline out for 500 episodes, what was initially a joy, began to feel more and more like a chore, until most recently, I’ve started to feel like Sisyphus, condemned to keep pushing a rock up a hill. We’re now at the penultimate volume of Naruto Shippuden, and I was finally looking forward to saying goodbye to these characters once and for all. But a couple of months ago, Manga solicited the review discs for the spin-off series, Boruto, and like Pavlov’s dog responding to that benighted bell, I’d requested review discs before it had even registered in my conscious. My subconscious is conspiring against me. While we’re down to the final 28 episodes of Naruto Shippuden, Boruto is already up to episode 114. Right now I’m just eliciting some glee at the thought that we’re down to the last two collections of Naruto. And this is a very special volume of episodes if like me you’ve been following the series from episode 1 of the original Naruto.
17 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.
473. The Sharingan Revived
475. The Final Valley
476. The Final Battle
477. Naruto and Sasuke
478. Unison Sign
479. Naruto Uzumaki!!
480. Naruto – Hinata
481. Sasuke – Sakura
482. Gaara – Shikamaru
483. Jiraiya – Kakashi
Sasuke’s Story: Sunrise
484. Part 1: The Exploding Human
485. Part 2: Coliseum
486. Part 3: Fuushin
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 10 Storyboard images, and 2 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 Himouto! Umaru-chan, Granblue Fantasy, and Made in Abyss.
I did something I haven’t done for years with Naruto, I binge-watched through a hefty chunk of episodes. Normally for review purposes, I watch two episodes a night to avoid burnout, a big risk during these latter collections set during the Fourth Ninja War. I started this collection off with that in mind, watching the first two episodes that concluded the war story, the final battle against Kaguya, and the immediate aftermath. But there was one thread left dangling in Naruto Shippuden, that of Naruto and Sasuke finally settling their differences, essentially leading to the conclusion of the manga adapted storyline, and I wound up watching five episodes in a row.
It’s the kind of ending that makes me want to go right to the beginning and watch the whole saga over again from Naruto Uncut Volume 1. Then there are the four Ninja Babies episodes that follow, which immediately disabuse me of that notion. Still, the collection ends on a high note with the start of the Sasuke’s Story: Sunrise arc, which is apparently adapted from a light novel.
This is the best that Naruto Shippuden has been in ages, maybe even ever. You would expect excellence when it comes to the series conclusion. For one thing, the animators go all out, and for another thing, the producers ditch any attempt to stretch things out with filler, or teasing things out with ill-placed flashbacks and recaps. It takes just one episode for Team 7 to come together and save the day, and seeing Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, and Kakashi back together almost makes the intervening several hundred episodes worthwhile... almost.
Then it’s the aftermath of the battle, and it’s time for goodbyes, and I seriously was not expecting Naruto to elicit tears at this point (not just tears of relief either), but it brings on the full-on emotional weight as it comes time to say goodbye. Given all the reanimation and resurrection jutsu in force, in some cases it means post-mortem redemption, and in some cases it means the end of an exceedingly brief family reunion. I dare your lip not to quiver when Naruto says goodbye to his dad!
But there is that unfinished business that has been lingering practically since episode 1, the rivalry between Sasuke and Naruto. What began as an oddly imbalanced love triangle around Sakura has become something more epic and meaningful at this point, and the future of the ninja world, weighing on both Naruto and Sasuke’s shoulders can only be resolved by a fight. Naruto’s positive view of where the world should go is opposed by Sasuke’s negative view. Just four episodes are given to the rematch, less even, and it’s an epic battle, both physical and philosophical, and again, well worth the figurative price of admission.
One episode is given to the aftermath of this, and the Fourth Ninja War, as life begins to get back to normal in the Hidden Leaf Village, as a new Hokage takes their post, the fallen are mourned, and injuries heal, and goodbyes are said.
When it comes to a show like this, no matter how epic an ending, no matter how much we get as a ‘final episode’, it’s never enough. Naruto at this point is akin to an addiction, and we need to be weaned off these characters slowly but surely. You don’t really want to say goodbye just yet. So we get four episodes of what I call Ninja Babies; a look at the characters when they were a lot younger, We get two character stories per episode, featuring Naruto and Hinata, Sasuke and Sakura... well the clue’s in the episode titles. These are little snippets of their respective lives before we really knew them, hardly any narrative to speak of, just inconsequential fragments of their lives. They feel like what George Lucas would call Tone Poems. The animation really takes a hit here, and if anything can wean you off Naruto, these can, so dull are they to watch.
But things perk up for the Sasuke arc, and it makes a welcome change to have him as the main character for the story instead of Naruto. At the end of the series, he left the Hidden Leaf Village on a long journey of atonement, but it’s clear that travelling by himself isn’t really going to help him deal with any lingering character flaws. The chance to do just that comes when the Leaf Village is attacked by exploding humans. Someone has been applying a ninja technique to unwilling victims to get them to explode violently at their behest; essentially creating time bombs where the humans are the explosives. The Hokage summons Sasuke back when it becomes clear that it’s some sort of visual technique (Sasuke’s area of expertise) that is the cause. But when Sasuke runs into the same problem in a small ninja village, he decides to investigate from there instead of returning to the Hidden Leaf.
Two of the local survivors are itinerant ninja who were passing through, Nowaki and Chino. Chino’s a cute and deceptively young looking girl who insists on helping Sasuke on his mission, and who quickly becomes Sasuke’s conscience. They learn pretty quickly who might be responsible, but finding him is hard, and they have to recruit help from an unlikely source. The animation is back up to quality in this arc, and the story and characters are really good too. The brevity of the arc stands in contrast to the usual, drawn out Naruto narratives, and it moves the story on in an interesting and engaging direction.
The canon storyline might end in this collection, but what follows, after a brief dip, is good enough for you to place a pre-order for that final instalment. I want to know what happens with Sasuke and the exploding people.