Naruto Shippuden Collection 28 (Episodes 349-361) (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 306 minutes approx.
This latest instalment of Naruto Shippuden sails very close to being reported for false advertising as the titular hero is hardly in it! Aside from two blink-and-you’ve-missed-them cameos, Naruto only appears in the final episode, and even then, it is part of a flashback story concerning someone else.
“But what about the Fourth Hokage War?” I hear you ask. Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings but that particular arc is once again on hiatus. But fear not as it will return in the next volume (I hope). Until then, please enjoy this look back into the formative years of one of the Naruto mainstays and someone very important in the development of our hero’s ninja training – Kakashi Hatake.
A subject of mystery for many, especially to Naruto, who longed to find out why his standoffish mentor’s face was half covered, the story of the Copy Ninja Kakashi Hatake proves to be an interesting one. Providing a welcome change of pace and a fresh focus there is some deft story telling found in this arc, so anyone dreading the prospect of having to sit through more filler episodes might want to be give this set a chance.
Picking up from the events of the last volume which recalled the circumstances behind the formation of the Akatsuki, this mini-saga begins with young Kakashi being traumatised by the accidental death of his friend Rin by his hands, which led to the transformation of his other friend Obito into the role of Madara Uchiha.
He remains insular as a result which has been noted by his friend Might Guy and other around him, in particular Minato Namikaze who has just been named the Fourth Hokage, to the joy of his pregnant wife Kushina. Realising that Kakashi needs to focus on his duties and the benefit of his unique skills, Minato enlists Kakashi as an ANBU operative as his right hand man.
Kakashi is still a teen at this stage of his life but his abilities and fighting prowess are already fully formed and reputable among his peers. During this flashback, we bear witness to the genesis of Kakashi’s long lasting friendship with Yamato, whose own backstory is fascinating enough to warrant a few chapters devoted to it.
In the space of thirteen episodes a lot of ground is covered in detailing this pivotal period of Kakashi’s life, and whether or not Naruto Masashi Kishimoto had a hand in scripting or at least outlining the central points, the quality and depth of detail certainly appears credible enough to be considered canon – that is if it hasn’t already cropped up in the manga, which I’ve not read.
Besides Kakashi and Yamato getting the retrospective treatment, other major figures from the Naruto diegesis figure in this collection, also having part of their histories shared. Major political upheaval among the Hokage is a driving force behind much of the action here, including the power struggles between the villainous Danzo Shimura. Quite how he remains in a position of power after his duplicitous and pernicious actions is a mystery but viewers are finally given a broader understanding of how he operates through this adventure.
Another villain sharing the spotlight who also plays an important part in the growth of Kakashi and Yamato is Orochimaru, typically involved in unpleasant practices in his quest for eternal life and supreme power. A joint mission for Kakashi and Yamato, then known as Kinoe, overlaps into the assassination of Orochimaru but a prior incident and a little brainwashing by Danzos sees the two friends become temporary enemies, jeopardising their task.
Finally we get closer to the time frame most familiar with the long term fans, as we join Kakashi as an adult getting ready to train the latest genin, which happens to included a certain spiky haired young upstart, a feisty pink haired girl and the sullen younger brother of one of his former acquaintances, which kind of brings us full circle in terms of the story of Naruto.
If part of Kakahsi’s appeal for fans is his mysterious side, don’t fret as the revelations shared do nothing to destroy that mystique, instead they serve to delve a little deeper into what has shaped his attitude, motives and personal resolve. He has certainly been through a lot and this serves to explain his aloof behaviour, which was already part of his personality as a youngster, but we are left with a better understanding of what makes him tick.
The tone of these episodes is heavily dramatic with the only flashes of the quirky Naruto humour appearing in the closing chapters when the eponymous hero shows up. This is understandable however given the nature of the stories told, action packed but bleak tales of heartbreak, deception, death and political intrigue. Along the way, other fan favourites regularly crop up in their junior forms, whilst the elders in the current timeline still have their original hair colour.
Lest my eyes deceive me, it would appear that a different director or at least some new animators were brought on board for this season (every episode in this set made up season 16 in Japan) as the visuals are strikingly different in places. This isn’t a complaint though considering fillers usually suffer from a drop in quality, and here this isn’t the case at all.
It is most notable during the mini-arc with Yamada/Kinoe and the character designs of the Iburi clan which are distinctly westernised thus more defined than usual. The animation during the fight scenes are much more fluid and avoid the usual shonen clichés and short cuts to give us a nicely focused albeit too brief set of scraps to enjoy.
Normal service is expected to resume with the next release of Naruto Shippuden but in the mean time enjoy this surprisingly enjoyable, deeply emotional and revelatory dip into the past of the mysterious masked man Kakashi.
Disc 2 only:
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black