Naruto Shippuden Collection 32 (Episodes 402-415) (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 329 minutes approx.
With summer virtually in existence, one might look upon this latest volume of Naruto Shippuden as that cool, refreshing drink to keep the heat at bay. In many ways, it could be likened to a glass of squash – 2% cordial and 98% water – with additional ice cubes as per your want.
To explain this analogy further, the first 12 episodes in this two-disc set close out the Chunin Exams filler arc that began in volume 31, while the last two chapters resume the long running and perpetually interrupted Fourth Great Ninja War story, adapted directly from Masashi Kishimoto’s manga.
A quick recap of where we are in the Chunin Exams might be in order here – held under the auspices of the Sand Village with recently appointed Kazekage Gaara presiding over the proceedings, we are currently in the second stage of the exams, in which teams of three must navigate the Demon Desert and win one of each of two scrolls – Heaven and Earth – from the other teams and take them to the centre base.
We rejoin the action with Team 8, comprising of Hinata, Kiba, and Shino, fending off an ambush by Team Kazami from the Hidden Grass. A devious trio, one of whom summons a giant mole who hates the dirt (!), Team Kazami show little mercy or compunction in the spirit of competition, forcing Team 8 to call upon their wits and guile to survive their effective attacks and claim their required scroll.
Setting the basic pattern for the rest of the run of this arc by dedicating a few episodes to each individual battle, the next confrontation pits Team Guy (Rock Lee, Tenten and Neji) against Akatsuki’s Team Ajisai, followed by Team Asuma (Sakura, Ion and Choji) embroiled in two different scrapes against two squads representing the Hidden Wind Village, Team Ameno and Team Saya.
Plenty of action can be found in these scrapes, the diversity of characters old and new providing a wealth of different powers and attacks to be displayed to give these battles a sense of freshness and unpredictability. Maybe that last notion is a little ambitious seeing as the Hidden Leaf ninjas are the nominal heroes of this saga, but their victories aren’t always a foregone conclusion against these new opponents
Because this arc is set in the past, a flashback adventure if you will, many of the participants reflect back on their pasts to help them soldier on in the present – in other words there are plenty of flashbacks in this flashback story. And because Naruto himself isn’t present in this particular tale, he instead crops up as a cogent influence – good or bad – to those in strife, which gives them the strength to face up to the current challenge.
I don’t know if you recall an episode of The Simpsons where Homer provided the voice for a new character in the Itchy & Scratchy cartoon called Poochie. Homer’s ego got out of control and he demanded the producers put Poochie in every scene, or failing that, have the cast ask “Where’s Poochie?”. In some ways, Naruto assumes a similar role in this arc since he only appears by way of reference from others, as if to act as a reminder that this is still his show.
One character introduced in the previous volume who was given some prominence was Fu, the Jinchuriki of the seven tails from the Village Hidden In The Waterfall. Continuing her jovial comic relief role, she is forced to get serious when Gaara happens upon a plan to disrupt the exams which in fact was a trap he was lured into to allow a Biwa playing monk named Hoichi to extract his Jinchuriki.
This may or may not be deliberate, but this incident parallels the happenings of the main Fourth Great Ninja War, as demonstrated in the brief recap prior to continuing the story at the very moment Naruto’s nine-tailed beast is being extracted by the evil Madara. The coincidences continue as Naruto is currently out of commission due to Madara’s attack leaving his cohorts to continue the fight, but a surprise change of heart sees the impetus of power swing away from one side to the other.
Even though we only get two canon episodes this time and they are admittedly light on action, they do not scrimp on drama and certainly whet the appetite for the next batch to come, which hopefully will bring us closer to a conclusion of this seemingly never-ending saga. The final episode in this set ends with another flashback to the past of one key player, which sounds like one reminiscence too far for this series, but the revelations thus far seem fertile enough to justify this.
In bringing the filler arc to a close, it was quite evident that the writers knew the canon material was to resume as the story suddenly ends on a hasty and rather flat note when there was clearly much more to explore. It was getting quite entertaining and it feels odd to admit this, but it would have been nice to let this story play out to its natural conclusion, which in turn might have meant fewer interruptions for when the main story is picked up again.
Forgive the pedantry here, but I do have to point out an egregious example of continuity being ignored in this volume, specifically during the Gaara Jinchirki extraction incident. You’ll notice at one stage his beast’s head has visibly been pulled out of Gaara’s body via Hoichi’s chains, yet in the next episode, the beat has suddenly retracted back into his body with just the chains showing. I mean, really!
Complain all you want about filler arcs in Naruto, this one was rather fun, allowing the supporting cast a moment or two in the spotlight. Next time, your patience is rewarded as the return to the source material continues in earnest.
Disc 2 only:
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black