Naruto Shippuden Collection 27 (Episodes 336-348) (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 306 minutes approx.
Since Jeremy Clarkson likes to employ metaphors when talking about cars, I thought I would use cars as a metaphor to discuss Naruto Shippuden. Right now, whilst in the middle of the Fourth Hokage War story arc, it is like an old Ford Cortina that has seen better days, the engine on its last legs – start, stop, start, stop, start, slowly moving forward before spluttering to an untimely halt.
Traditionally wars are full of fighting but this one appears to be the exception as it is full talking instead. Granted, talking usually solves more problems than the total destruction of a nation and the cost of millions of lives but this is a shonen anime so action is the key. Instead, in this latest volume we are treated to long passages of flashbacks, introspection and backstory with only the occasional burst of violence.
When we left the previous volume the brothers Uchiha Sasuke and Itachi had reunited, with the late Itachi having been reanimated by Kabuto, and were facing off against Kabuto as per Itachi’s quest to end the reanimation process. Having had a change of heart and full of regret for encouraging Sasuke to follow his dark path, Itachi wants to make amends.
Kabuto however is now too far gone having revealed the backstory of his joining Orochimaru and the tragic repercussions of his mentor’s manipulation of him. Kabuto is now in search of his “true self” and through his unbridled megalomania unleashes a final form that proves life threatening to the brothers. But Itachi has one trick up his sleeve – the Uchiha Clan special genjutsu Izanami.
Taking in the flashbacks, the dialogue exchanges and the endless explanations of how their special abilities work, this scenario takes up most of the first disc and even by Naruto standards is a bit of a slog to sit through. It must have been an easy gig for the animators since the characters in the present day setting barely move for the most part, while even the Izanami power involves creating a time loop, meaning recycled material.
Given that Kabuto is at the heart of the reanimation process and one of the main antagonists of the Fourth Hokage War, the exploration of his history will at least be welcomed to long standing and more dedicated Naruto fans than I. Having been a regular fixture of the Shippuden series we finally learn what drove Kabuto to follow the route he did in life and what made him such a malevolent force.
Similarly, disc two of this set also contains a retrospective biography of another opponent of the Alliance Ninjas, Madara Uchiha. If you recall the mysterious man appears to have two different forms – the familiar one behind the spiral mask now using the name Tobi and the one calling himself Madara, but sporting a wild shaggy mane of hair to obscure his face. Whilst the latter is battling Lady Tsunade and the Five Kage, the former is in combat with Naruto and friends.
It is during this testing clash involving Tobi’s revival of the ten-tails beast in its true form The Gedo Statue that the mask comes off and the man behind it is revealed. Here’s the twist – it is not someone fans will have heard of before but don’t despair because creator Masashi Kishimoto wastes no time in sharing his life story with us from his early days as an outsider to a teen ninja on the verge of something until fate deals a cruel blow.
As always, I try to avoid spoilers so I won’t go into detail what is revealed here but it does warrant a comment that this person is cut from the same cloth as many a Naruto foe, in that he is a decent chap who felt wronged and now seeks vengeance. In fact, this is true of many antagonists in shonen adventures – Bleach followed this template a lot too – but in a long running series like Naruto, the sense of déjà vu is sadly palpable.
However, in this instance, the turning point for this chap’s attitude is left open ended and the scant information we have – and apparently he has too – may be purely circumstantial but is sufficient to raise a big enough question mark over the situation. If it doesn’t fully justify his actions, it may at least engender some sympathy based on what we – and he – saw but the actual context is at the moment unknown.
Sadly, it will be a while before we reach the conclusion of this particular thread as this backstory subtly morphs into a filler arc concerning the formation of the Akatsuki that looks set to dominate the proceedings for the immediate future. We’ve discussed many times before the problem with the filer arcs yet they persist to be a problem when they appear just as a particular arc begins to gain traction.
In this instance it is more of a frustration due to the content here being so heavy on the exposition/history lesson side, already cutting deep into the action aspect of the Fourth Hokage War. If this new filler arc can redeem itself, it is that it is quite hot on action in the early going and presents some intrigue about the history of the Akatsuki, which we can only assume Kishimoto gave his blessing for.
Apologies for the repetition of this closing paragraph but this latest volume of Naruto Shippuden is very much aimed at the hardcore fans already invested in the story only and even with the divulging of long held histories of the main villains, the glacial pace at which it unravels may prove too much for the impatient.
Disc 2 only:
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black