Naruto Shippuden Collection 26 (Episodes 323-335) (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 301 minutes approx.
Naruto fans rejoice – I bring good news!
We are finally back to the coverage of the Fourth Hokage War, meaning no filler episodes for the foreseeable future. However there are still flashbacks which slow down the narrative, but I’m sure fans will be prepared to overlook this in lieu of having the canon material back.
Picking up the action where we left it at the end of the last volume, the unmasked Madara Uchiha has the upper hand over Naruto and his pals, with our titular hero in a bad shape after expending his chakra supporting numerous clones across the battlefield. Just as things seem to be at a nadir for them, Lady Tsunade and A transport themselves, along with Mei Terumī, to the scene, reuniting the Five Kage.
Combining their efforts to take on the Madara that stands before them, the Five Kage send Naruto to aid Bee who is facing another Madara, a masked man calling himself Tobi. He speaks cryptically of his plan tsuki no me (Eye Of The Moon) and to execute it has reanimated the first seven Jinchuriki, or Tailed Beast holders.
If you have concerns as to who is who in this line-up, don’t worry as a chibi Naruto and friends sing a little song prior to one episode to help identify the beasts and their hosts. The battle is decidedly uneven despite the unity of Bee and Naruto, due to the seven Jinchuriki being able to coordinate their powers with each other, making sneak attacks impossible.
Thanks to Bee entering his Tailed Beast Mode as Gyuki and destroying the forest, the duo gain a temporary advantage until Naruto is swallowed by Roshi, the Four Tail Holder. This leads to a trippy couple of episodes where Naruto meets the beast, a giant ape named Son Goku whilst learning the identity of his own Fox Demon.
Earlier I mentioned the flashbacks that are favourite time wasting device in the Naruto universe, and they begin in earnest during these episodes. While not exclusive to Naruto himself he does feature in many of them, dating right back to the very early days of the original Naruto Unleashed TV series.
In truth they offer little to the narrative other than to re-establish Naruto’s headstrong demeanour and grounded moral compass yet work in juxtaposition with the hatred that drives the Tailed Beasts. As we learn being chained up and subjugated by mankind doesn’t sit well with this powerful creatures but if anyone can suppress the hatred it is our spiky haired hero.
This covers most of the material on the first disc however, with the Five Kage’s battle against Madara opening the second disc, before the last few chapters second half focusing on a different past being revisited from a surprise source. The group known as Taka are on the brink of disintegration with Karin in prison and Sasuke also captured, but the latter has escaped.
Keen on tracking his brother Itachi, Sasuke has no intention of it being a happy family reunion until he catches up with Itachi as he confronts Kabuto. Already past the point of derangement, Kabuto tries to stoke the flames of enmity between the brothers but instead forces an alliance against him. But as ever, Kabuto has a few unpleasant new tricks up his sleeve.
It is rather unfortunate that the canon material should be rife with reminiscence for the characters right after a run of filler episode which employ the same tactic, but I can’t imagine Masashi Kishimoto has the foresight to be able to presage when the animated adaptation will flounder and what stories the writers at Studio Pierrot will come up with.
Yet to be fair, in the cases of Lady Tsunade, Onoki, Son Goku and even Sasuke and Kabuto, we are privy to a look back into their past which has hitherto been unexplored, giving the material a relevance and level of insight afforded to the viewer against the unabashed rehashing of Naruto’s already familiar past.
Just in case anyone is wondering, the Son Goku featured here bears no resemblance to the hero of the Dragonball franchise, so apologies if anyone expecting a crossover is disappointed by this. Then again, since both shows have a habit of dragging out battles across multiple episodes, one could argue the crossover already exists! This Son Goku is a monstrous ape with sharp fangs, four tails and an a justified chip on his shoulder.
The Tailed Beasts have always been a bit ambiguous in terms of their agendas and motives and the exploration here offers a rare insight into what shapes their mindset and behaviour, and whether they are truly demonic or just misunderstood. As Bee has shown, there is a symbiotic harmony to be achieved between man and beast but for Naruto, his beast’s agenda has always been unclear.
Because of this fanciful introspection the action quotient isn’t as high as it could be in this set but that doesn’t mean it is in short supply either. With the fights intensifying, both sides begin to dig deep into their spiritual arsenals in the name of victory, and in the process reveal more about their powers. A prime example is Lady Tsunade who steps up for once and shows she is no push over woman.
For many fans I’m sure it will be the events of the latter chapters in this collection involving Sasuke, Itachi and Kabuto that will be of the most interest, from the revelations carrying the most weight and the sheer unpredictability of it all. What is arguably most fascinating about this is how it shapes the future direction of this saga – if at all, and we’re left on tenterhooks until next time to find out.
The resuming to the main story might feel like a return to form for Naruto Shippuden but the reality is more like “business as usual”, which is slightly different. But at least it is progress which is something.
Disc 2 only:
Rating – ***
Man In Black