Naruto Shippuden Collection 21 (Episodes 258-270) (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 294 minutes approx.
It’s been a while since we last checked in with the spiky haired ninja – a whole six months in fact, so there is a fair chance your memory of the current state of affairs concerning the Fourth Hokage War might be a little rusty.
Matters aren’t helped though as the first three episodes in this collection are filler episodes set way back in the early days of Naruto’s initial ninja training alongside Sakura and Sasuke. While they add a little more fuel to the fire of Sasuke’s defection to the dark side, their relevance to a history from a storyline of almost a decade ago renders them rather redundant unless you have a photographic memory of this particular plot thread.
Then again such recalling of the minutiae is also required for when the main story arc finally resumes but we’ll get to that in a moment. As a brief refresher, the renegade group Akatsuki have captured and extracted the tailed beasts from the first seven of their hosts and the various village chiefs and feudal lords have formed an alliance to take the group down once and for all.
We pick up the story with Kabuto having used a forbidden jutsu which reanimates the dead, resurrecting many famous ninja from the past, be they friends or foes of the villagers, which spells danger for the alliance armies. This is where the aforementioned knowledge of Naruto history comes into play as the array of formerly familiar faces resurfacing for a last hurrah will be a treat for long term fans.
But if you are an ignoramus like me or your memory is fading, fear not as we are treated to flashbacks to remind or educate us on the history and skills of some of the retuning faces. As helpful as this may be, these newly animated scenes also serve to prolong the action of the long waited battle – one episode in particular involving zombie couple named Haku and Zabuza contains two minutes of action and eighteen minutes of flashback.
Similarly another episode is made up of the Feudal Lords discussing a new strategy in the wake of the addition of the zombie army; this may show a rare side of depth and planning on the side of the protagonists in battle but within the context of an ongoing battle that is already light on the action front, this serves as more padding.
In this instance however it is not really anybody’s fault and more the unfortunate result of how the episode count fits in with the release model of these disc sets. People watching at home on a weekly basis might begin to feel a sense of impatience while the actual battle is still kept at arm’s length but when we are presented with the chapters in one sitting, the ennui is even more palpable.
Rest assured the talking is finally over by the end of disc two and the final two chapters are superb, action heavy instalments that do not disappoint. Featuring two deadly villains named Gold and Silver Brothers, who have been imbued with the chakra of the Nine Tailed Beast, it befalls to Darui, the bodyguard of the Fourth Raikage of the Hidden Cloud Village, with a little help from his allies, to strike the first blow against the invading powers.
If you don’t know who Darui is you will after this battle, which is one of the positive aspects of this potentially epic war. Instead of relying on the same old faces to save the day, the entire spectrum of ninjas has been called upon to do battle which means fresh faces for the viewers to get behind while saving the familiar faces until later.
Bringing their own individual powers and jutsus to the table, this influx of hitherto unknown faces adds a much needed element of unpredictability to the proceedings, along with genuine boost in energy and excitement. Even with the brief skirmishes we have witnessed thus far, this idea is already paying dividends and is setting the bar of expectations for the future of the war admittedly rather high.
So where is the main man during all of this? Naruto is still in training in a secret location with Eight Tale beast host Bee, and has already learned some new techniques. For anyone who misses the eponymous hero, he is the focus of the filler episodes otherwise his presence is kept to an absolute minimum. And at the risk of blasphemy, Naruto absence has no impact on the main story arc and in many ways feels better without him.
In terms of production it is evident that the importance and scope of this battle has been reflected in the animation quality which takes noticeable steps forward than the usual fare. The opening scene the episode where Gaara addresses the 80,000 ninja under his command is a CGI tracking shot of this mass of humanity, a basic technique that adds a sense monument and gravitas to the moment. Similar CGI assistance is noticeable during the closing battle but it is never intrusive and merely enhances the experience.
Because of the haphazard narrative created by the way the episode count has landed, this collection is a hard one to get into. With the central storyline of a grave and monumental battle usually a recipe for hard hitting action and drama, the nine episodes dedicated to this plot feel more like a pre-game warm up than the beginning of a genuinely explosive main event. The last two chapters are a hugely enjoyable appetiser but the meandering foreplay isn’t enough to wet the palate.
Hopefully with the preamble out of the way, the next volume of Naruto Shippuden should see us leap into the heart of the Fourth Hokage War in earnest, and if the taster we’ve seen here is any indicator it should be a doozy! The rest of this collection is best served to the absolute devoted Naruto fan.
Disc 2 only:
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black
**EDIT** – Due to an authoring error the second disc of this title is region 4 and not region 2 which means it can’t be played on regular UK DVD/Blu-ray players.