Naruto The Movie – Road To Ninja (Cert PG)
1 Disc (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 106 minutes approx.
They say a change of scenery does you good but that isn’t quite the experience for the fiery ninja and close friend Sakura in this ninth big screen adventure. Set in between the Kage Summit and Fourth Great War arcs this feature length outing should be more aptly titled Naruto In Bizarro Land, proffering an interesting hypothesis based on Naruto’s tragic family life.
The Hidden Leaf are celebrating a successful victory over a group of Akatsuki with many receiving praise from their families. All except for Naruto that is, who has no family while Sakura rows with her parents and storms off in a huff. While indulging in some mutual wallowing in self-pity the duo are attacked by a masked Akatsuki ninja hitting them with a Limited Tsukuyomi justu.
When the smoke clears, the pair run to warn the others, finding Hinata, Kiba and Shino who react oddly to Naruto and Sakura, while their behaviour puzzles Naruto and Sakura. For example Hinata is a tough talking, no-nonsense chick, Kiba is a cat lover and Shino hates bugs! Elsewhere Ino is all girly and shy, Rock Lee is a pervert and Sai is a terrible painter. And Sasuke is still a loyal part of the village.
It is quite remarkable that despite Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto providing the story for this film, the alternate world concept has not been a major arc for his manga/TV adaptation. It is certainly a fertile and popular idea which other anime have used (Bleach and Fairy Tail come to mind, although the former was a filler arc) and with the rich and varied personalities that make up the Naruto cast plenty of fun can be had in reversing them.
With just 106 minutes for this film, only the surface is scratched in this respect but what we do get offers some prime amusement. Seeing Hinata threatening to kill Sakura if she looks at Naruto is a hoot but nothing compares to wimpy Rock Lee’s secret being exposed. The biggest change however is that Naruto is known as Menma is this world and his parents are both still alive, while Sakura’s parents are dead but are revered heroes for saving the village.
As this is a perverted mirror image of Naruto’s world the roles he and Sakura live back home are therefore reversed here – Sakura gets to live alone by her own rules while Naruto gets to experience being part of a family unit for the first in his life. It takes some adjusting for Naruto, initially rejecting his “fake” family but a brush with death during a mission to retrieve the Red Moon Scrolls forces a reappraisal of the situation.
This subplot brings us back to the core premise of Naruto, the ninja battles between the forces of good and evil, and while it serves as a detour from the doppelganger fun there is a congruence to it which won’t be spoiled here but does lead to an almighty battle we never thought we would see. There is also a longer running connection dating back to Naruto’s father the Fourth Hokage Minato Namikaze being killed by a masked assassin on the same night he trapped the Nine Tailed Beast in his baby son.
As exciting as this climax is, it does expose a problem with the formula of Naruto – and to an extent all shonen fantasy shows – in which the momentum of the main storyline is slowly filtered out to make room for the action sequences. Of course we shouldn’t begrudge one of the signature facets of the genre which goes a long way to providing a satisfying conclusion to the story, but we are left with something so achingly familiar it begins to border on the pedestrian.
With so many Naruto films now in the catalogue following the same pattern it is difficult to create something fresh and new with each passing production, but one wonders if the emotional side of Naruto’s life can be explored without it needing to be resolved on the battlefield. I grant you it’s a tall ask, and again the big battle is totally relevant to the issue, but the potential of the this particular premise feels a little compromised, at least in this one shot format.
Perhaps this is being picky but there are a couple of plot holes which surface due to the alternate world setting, not in the least being how Naruto and Sakura can co-exist with their opposite doppelgangers. While one of these is addressed the fact that everyone else has a different appearance be it in their attire or hairstyle, why don’t Naruto and Sakura in their regular guises stand out as odd? Possibly most egregious of all is the lack of Sasuke in the tale, the one person our protagonists have been yearning after, whom eh you might think they would make a concerted to get to know but don’t.
Visually there isn’t much of a noticeable budget leap for this theatrical outing aside from a few nifty CGI assisted 360º movement shots during a chase sequence. The artwork takes on an unusually light veneer in that the characters seem to be more about shades in the colours than strong outlines to define them, while the battle scenes get top priority attention as you might expect.
Naturally this is a film designed for a readymade and dedicated audience therefore too much diversion from the norm would be a huge risk, so this film earns a point for at least trying something new on the creative front.
Overall Road To Ninja is one of the more enjoyable Naruto films purely down to not being the usual rehash of the same tired storylines which have blighted the previous features. That said I can’t imagine the diehard Naruto fans being disappointed or short changed by anything presented in this film as it delivers what they love most about the franchise.
English Language 5.1
Japanese Language 5.1 w/ English Subtitles
Japanese Commercial Videos
Japanese Promotional Videos
Rating – *** ½
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