Naruto Shippuden Collection 31 (Episodes 388-401) (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 306 minutes approx.
Oh Naruto, why must you tease us so? We’ve only just resumed the Fourth Great Ninja War (again!) and yet you still desert us just as things get good. Yes, it’s another one of those releases folks.
Disappointingly, out of the fourteen episode presented in this latest volume only four continue the above long running storyline (and one of those is an flashback episode) leaving the other ten to follow their own path, with a two chapter arc featuring Hinata and new filler story also set in the past. More on that later.
For all the paucity of canon material on offer, it might be considered a case of quality over quantity given how the content provides significant story development in the Fourth Great Ninja War. Picking up where it left off in volume 30, Naruto’s devastating Massive Rasenshuriken has all but finished Madara Uchiha off while his comrade Obito is in a similarly weakened state.
Their defeat and an ending to this battle seems all but imminent as Obito begins to reflect on the error of his ways, recalling the links he has with Naruto and the Hidden Leaf Ninja. But Madara as always is one step ahead of them and executes his latest plan to pull the rug from under the Allied Forces feet, which has disastrous con sequences for their campaign, with Naruto and Sasuke suffering personally.
Rather cruelly, the final episode of this current run of this permanently interrupted arc is entitled A True Ending and ends on a huge cliffhanger as you might have surmised from the above synopsis. Obviously it can’t end there (spoiler: it doesn’t) but given the stop-start journey this particular story has endured over the past two years, the irony of this misleading chapter title feels quite divisive.
On the other hand it gives us something to look forward to and all but guarantees that when the story does resume in two volumes time (yes, it’s another long wait I’m afraid), the rabid Naruto fanbase will be itching to get their hands on that release with slavering mouths and palpitating hearts. It certainly does have a lot to live up to in delivering a worthy continuation given the high stakes point we left it on.
For now though, we must turn our attention to the rest of the material in this collection. As mentioned earlier the first episode is canon but is a flashback to the early days of Gaara. During a sticky moment, he has a typically inappropriately timed epiphany when recalling his childhood as an outlier in his village and how Naruto was instrumental in giving him confidence and friendship.
The first filler story is a two episode delve into the history of the Hyuga Clan when Hinata was a young ninja in training, harbouring secret feelings for Naruto, who at this point was still the local pariah. The bulk of the story revolves around Hinata’s younger sister Hanabi. Idolising her big sister, Hanabi wants to follow in Hinata’s footsteps so she applies herself to copying her training, proving to possessing naturally impressive kills.
Hanabi isn’t a character I recall being featured that much before – if she has it was probably so long ago and after a ton of filler to boot – but she is clearly an original creation of Masashi Kishimoto and part of the Naruto fabric. Give how she appears to be in line to usurp Hinata in the Hyuga Clan lineage of succession as head, it is clear she deserves more attention, unless that is still to come in the future.
We also travel back to the past for the second filler arc that takes up the remaining episode in this set and will conclude in the next volume. Set during the Chunin Exams, this again features little of Naruto himself, handing the spotlight over to his fellow cast members and limiting his presence thus far to flashbacks and cheeky comical references by Sakura, who teams with Ino and Choji.
Gaara has just been appointed the new Kazekage and is overseeing the finals of the Chunin Exams in the sand village. However the Akatsuki have threatened to disrupt the exams with leads to many Kage refusing to allow their students to participate while those who do are on high alert to ensure their students’ safety. But as ever, the Akatsuki are one step ahead of them and send Team Ajisai to participate in the exams.
One character who is given a prime role in this arc is Fu, the Jinchuriki of the seven tails from the Village Hidden In The Waterfall. She has a rather comedic role at the moment, portrayed as perky girl but lonely girl given her Jinchuriki status, having to suppress her chi to avoid detection. She hopes to make 100 friends at the exams but her superior power and social awkwardness instead scares the other away.
So far, we’ve seen some fiendishly difficult questions in the exams that test the moral and cerebral fibre of the students, with a few deliberately ambiguous posers to weed out the wheat from the chaff. In the second stage, the physical tasks begin which is where we leave them for this volume, taking in some team combat while Rock Lee makes an unorthodox friendship.
It is always difficult to be enthusiastic about Naruto Shippuden releases that, through no fault of Manga Entertainment’s, are split between an ongoing storyline based on the manga and anime only filler distractions, even if the quality of the stop-gap material is perfectly acceptable.
This is a gripe I’ve bemoaned before so I won’t bore you with it again, but this is coming from someone who isn’t even a committed Naruto fan – I can’t even imagine how frustrating it must be for the hardcore faithful out there. Then again it is the loyal ones out there who are keeping this franchise afloat in the UK, so more power to you.
Disc 2 only:
Rating – ***
Man In Black