Naruto Shippuden Collection 22 (Episodes 271-283) (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 295 minutes approx.
The Fourth Hokage War has begun and already we‘ve seen some casualties on both ends as well as the lengths the Kabuto Yakushi is willing to go to secure victory, including and not limited to forming an army of the dead.
It is this particular stratagem which leads us to the first major conflict of this instalment in which members of Team Ten – Ino, Choji and Shikamura – are forced to face off against the resurrected version of their beloved team leader Asuma Sarotobi. While Ino and Shikamura are able to differentiate between their mentor and the controlled corpse before them, Ino is finding it difficult to put his emotions aside, a severe handicap as he is the one with the power to defeat Asuma.
This is where the series forces me to pour cold water on any excitement engendered by the above summary as, in typical Naruto fashion, the execution is that of a sentimental melodrama and not a shonen action show. Spread out over three episodes, it revolves mostly around flashbacks to the training days of Team Ten to establish the former relationship that forms Choji’s emotional challenge in this current battle.
Resolve comes through action, naturally, and Choji reaps the benefits of this both spiritually and in the further development of his powers, but the intensity of the situation suffers from the eked out distraction of the nostalgic adjunct. Long term viewers of Naruto will already be used to this formula but that doesn’t prevent it from being something of a nuisance when the situation calls for – to quote Def Leppard – “action not words”.
However this is standard Naruto practice so expect this to be a recurring theme within the episodes dealing with the actual Hokage War arc – which is another thing: just as the battle gets under way we detour once again for the dreaded filler episodes. In fact, the first episode in this set is a worthless (unless you are a Sakura fan) one shot featuring Sakura losing her memory, while later non-canon chapters at least suggest they are set within the same time frame of the Hokage War.
The strongest of these would be White Zetsu infiltrating the medical facilities by transforming into one of the team, a tactic employed in two further episodes where Zetsu creates dissention among the members of Team Eight and later, tries to free Deidara from captivity by posing as a samurai guard. For anyone else watching who doesn’t read the manga these episodes may slip by undetected as filler material, cleverly exploiting on the fact that White Zetsu and the ninja featured had already played a part in the main arc.
On a lighter note this sense of congruence and continuity surfaces in a comedy heavy yarn about the wives and children of the Hidden Leaf Village form a makeshift home front defence league to deal with an invading ninja, a sort of “Mum’s Army” if you will. But the problem is that this frivolity undermines the seriousness and intensity of what is supposed to be a decisive, monumental high stakes battle of good vs. evil.
Levity has its place in a series like this, there is no argument there, but the way it suffers from the production constantly catching up with the manga source material, thus being forced into a holding pattern while the manga gains pace, is as much a handicap for the narrative as it is for the viewer enjoyment of the main story. At this stage of the story the battle has yet to gather any real momentum as a result, meaning it is hard to muster any real excitement toward it for the moment.
As seems to be the case with the show of late, the titular hero is scarcely featured here, this time getting four episodes out of twelve to remind us of his existence. Unfortunately for fans of the orange suited ninja, there is a little in the way of action from him leaving him to serve as more of a conduit for others – in this case Bee, the host of the Eight Tailed Demon, to engage in battle instead.
Obviously this is the proverbial calm before the storm as Naruto has ostensibly mastered the Nine Tailed Fox Demon within him and will be the deciding factor in the war against Kabuto and his undead army. For now though, this allows the support cast to have their fifteen minutes in the spotlight and prove their worth as ninjas before they are one again usurped by our eponymous hero.
With the start/stop/start execution of how this supposedly epoch making war has been presented it is difficult at the moment to suggest this is definitely the case but history has taught us that it is more than likely to play out this way. It’s a tried and tested formula and works for every shonen action series – Bleach is a great example – so to knock it feels churlish even if it is a little predictable.
But Naruto is a hero and so he must prevail in the end but for now it is hard to get a true grip on what he has to prevail over. This arc has had a tremendous build up with over the course of the series, with many past storylines converging to make this war something special, which it just doesn’t feel like. If the narrative can run uninterrupted over the next few volumes then perhaps this perspective will change, until then interest borders on apathy.
Conclusion – another frustrating release of Naruto Shippuden through no fault of its own, that has a potentially gripping and action heavy storyline to tell but is hampered once again by the unfortunate timing of the source materials running too close to this anime adaptation.
A mixed bag of canon and non-canon material likely to satiate the most devoted of the Naruto fan-base only.
Disc 2 only:
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black