Naruto Shippuden Collection 20 (Episodes 245-257) (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 294 minutes approx.
For those with short memories the current main arc running in this series is the imminent Fourth Hokage War which the renegade group Akatsuki are hell bent on starting, having captured and extracted the tailed beasts from the first seven of their hosts, leaving Naruto and Bee as the only ones untouched.
I proffer this reminder as this storyline has been subject to a number of interruptions since it began a few volumes back, and similar to how the current Bleach Arrancar Arc has taken forever and a day to progress, forgetting the plot prior to these episodes is easily forgiven. But we are back on track with this twentieth release under the Shippuden banner – sort of.
When we left Naruto he was at a secret island location to learn from Bee how to control the nine tailed beast within him. The first stage before Bee can begin training is for Naruto to defeat his demonic doppelganger which he does in a rather unusually non-violent manner. Having passed this test, Bee takes Naruto and Yamato (acting as Naruto’s chaperone) to another secret chamber where Naruto is to enter a form of meditative stasis and fight his nine tailed beast head on.
The battle commences but Naruto is overwhelmed by the hatred of the beast which in turn recalls the years of abuse and prejudice Naruto suffered as a child. Suddenly a calming voice breaks through this cacophony of cruelty to comfort Naruto and guide him through this stage of his journey. It belongs to his mother Kushina Uzumaki, who explains the truth behind the nine tailed beast, along with regaling her son with stories of how she and Naruto’s father got together.
We are only two episodes into this set before the arrival of Kushina sets the template for the remainder of the content – the dreaded flashbacks. As if the filer episodes which were spent recollecting non-canon adventures from Naruto’s pre and post-ninja training youth weren’t enough, this pattern of taking trips down memory is resurrected here as a part of the main story. Certainly coming from the pen of creator Masashi Kishimoto, these reminiscences have more credibility and congruence to the overall story and fill in some much needed blanks about Naruto’s early life to delight fans who have been waiting since the original series to learn about his parents.
The story of how Kushina and Minato Namikaze met is admittedly rather sweet, based somewhat abstractly around Kushina’s red hair. The conclusion of this reflective yarn explains once and for all the full history of how Naruto came to have the nine tailed spirit sealed away inside him, which is long overdue and as eventful as you may think, incorporating some political and physical interference to hasten the importance of this act.
As worthwhile as this explanation is, one can’t help but feel Kishimoto is marking time with the progress of his narration, at least in animated form, creating a sense of extra unnecessary padding to a story which has already suffered from enough interruptions. It doesn’t end with this particular development either as the story splinters off into mini tales involving the various Akatsuki members in their search for Naruto, who also can’t resolve their issue without delving into their pasts to extend their adjunct adventures across two or more episodes.
For all the arguments one could present against these protracted developments there is no shortage of action in these twelve chapters (no my maths isn’t failing me as I’ll explain in a moment), with the most brutal fight honours going to the clash between former Akatsuki comrades Madara and Konan. Limbs are severed, blood is spilt and limits are exceeded in this epic grudge match that doesn’t scrimp on the violence, and surprisingly didn’t require a higher BBFC rating certificate.
Naruto’s battles with the nine tailed fox spirit are just as eventful but rely less on violence, favouring brute force and psychological warfare instead although the beast itself is more eager to feast on flesh. Another tense tussle comes when the shark infused Akatsuki member Kisame Hoshigaki infiltrates the island and Naruto’s colleagues are forced to fight him to prevent him from fleeing with the location information. It might be a handicap match for this former Ninja Swordsmen of the Mist but he more than holds his own and has a few tricks up his sleeve to gain the advantage.
Earlier I declared a twelve episode count for this release when I am sure you have already noticed that there in fact thirteen. The reason for this is simple – just as it looks like we were about to go to war, the final chapter in this set saw us return to the filler material! And not only was it another look back into the past of Naruto from the early days but I believe a fair portion of the content was a rehash from a previous filler flashback episode! And it looks like we have more to come before the main story resumes again!
Quibbles about the content aside, the animation and artwork is noticeably weaker in this release with the characters often slipping off model. There were occasions where the designs looked so rushed it was reminiscent of the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the 60’s, such was the lack of detail in the artwork. Usually the visuals for this show are fairly high to match the unique designs of Kishimoto, but the standard has not quite been met in many of the episodes here.
Grading this latest Naruto Shippuden release isn’t so easy, since it makes brisk progress upon returning to the main story arc but takes too many detours into the past to create an uneven viewing experience. One can only hope that when the story resume again (hopefully in the next volume) the long awaited pay-off is worth it.
A mixed bag for some, a nourishing feast for the Naruto faithful.
Disc 2 only:
Rating – ***
Man In Black