Naruto Shippuden Collection 24 (Episodes 297-309) (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 294 minutes approx.
Oh Studio Pierrot why must you mock us so? We finally return to the current running arc of The Fourth Hokage War and just as the action heats up you detour for MORE filler? I’m sure this was hell for Japanese fans watching weekly but it feels worse when watching in bulk as we Brits do, waiting patiently for each new release only to have the carpet pulled from under our feet.
To clarify, the first six episodes in this set are canon whilst the final seven are studio created filler, although they are what I call “congruent filler” in that they are set in the same timeline as the main arc. Some however choose to follow the flashback formula and begin with a current character being reminded of an event from the past which is duly recalled.
Kicking off this set is the conclusion of the scenario which closed the previous volume, featuring sand ninja Gaara confronting his reincarnated father Rasa. It’s not exactly Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader but we do get a father vs. son showdown when Gaara reveals that the One-Tailed Demon has been removed from his body, which his father had put there.
The duel comes to a head when the sand rises up to protect Gaara, taking the form of his late mother Karura, leading to a personal revelation about his parents and the power of the One-Tailed Demon Gaara had never been told. Gaara allows his father to escape then turns his attention to the dangerous Mū, which sees Naruto enter the fray, having himself just clashed with Nagato and Itachi.
Now in his Nine-Tails fiery form, Naruto is finding his victories are coming a little easier but along with Gaara, he is finding the Third Raikage a bit of a handful. A loud and gregarious character, the Third Raikage comes across a bit comical in telling his foes that he is a just a mirage and gives them hints on how to beat him, which they duly ignore. When the penny drops it is too late, requiring a combined effort from Naruto, Gaara, Dodai and Temari to bring him down.
This covers the bulk of the action regarding the canon material, subtly slipping into filler mode by returning to the story of the White Zetsu Army clones infiltrating the medical camp, which began in the previous volume, to act as the bridge between the two narratives – providing of course you can remember this particular plot thread since it only ran briefly.
We have discussed seemingly ad nauseam the flaws of the filler arc in terms of their interrupting the main stories, but a bigger issue lies in those fans who actively avoid watching them because they feel inferior to Masashi Kishimoto’s original yarns. This of course doesn’t account for everybody so the idea to incorporate the current storyline as a sneaky way to keep the flow going is actually quite a clever one.
But, by their very definition, standalone filler episodes rarely often resonate with fans or linger in the memory – at least not for the right reasons – so there is a risk in resuming a non-canon plot thread which many people may have forgotten or not cared about in the first place. So to recap, the White Zetsu Army plot involved the eponymous group passing themselves off as doubles in the medical corps to do Kabuto’s nefarious bidding.
With the Allied Forces on high alert due to these imitation interlopers, the reincarnation of a group called Otogakure’s Sound Four almost goes unnoticed. However the ever vigilant Neji, Shikamaru, Chōji, Kiba and Akamaru are on hand to take care of this problem – or so they think. Just as it seems victory is theirs, a seal is activated and the group find themselves whisked away to another dimension, realising they are in suspended animation with their chakra severely weakened.
Other supporting players afforded extra screen time during these episodes include fan favourite Hinata, who unwisely choose the midst of battle to reminisce about how Neji would look after her in the past, recalling a particular instance when she was forced to miss attending a fireworks display with Naruto due to temporary blindness. Awww.
Elsewhere a rarely seen character named Yugao Uzuki is pushed front and centre when Kabuto reincarnates Hayate Gekkou and uses him to infiltrate the medical camp and steal the KIA scrolls, which contain the secrets held by the deceased ninja. The shinobi are called to fight but Yugao refuses. When challenged by Sakura, Yugao confuses to have been a student and later a lover of Hayate’s.
Speaking objectively there is no harm in exploring the backstory or hitherto ignored past of a character, quite often helping to ingratiate them with the audience if they are usually on the periphery. I can’t imagine anyone begrudging Hinata a little nostalgia time but when they pluck someone from obscurity like Yugao, the impact of the tale won’t be the same, especially if said character returns to the shadows afterwards.
Arguably a little more irritating for those wanting the main arc to resume again, the flashback gimmick will become a tiresome contrivance, made worse when the period for these tales is right back to the very early days of the Naruto saga. The last episode here is such a yarn, seeing our heroes in their formative years involved in a food-eating contest.
It might very well be that this writer is a little jaded towards the Naruto franchise since it never connected with me as it has for others. Coupled with the instalments of the main Fourth Hokage War not being of the same standard of the previous ones, this is a comparatively average release displaying only flickers potential.
The hardcore Naruto faithful however will of course feel the opposite so more power to you. Enjoy and let’s hope for an improvement with the next release.
Disc 2 only:
Rating – ***
Man In Black