Naruto Shippuden Collection 34 (Episodes 431-444) (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 330 minutes approx.
It’s déjà vu time with this review of the latest instalment of Naruto Shippuden in that I have to report ANOTHER break in the Fourth Great Ninja War story for more filler. I’m sure fans are used to this by now but this is something like the eight major interruption of this story, so it is understandable if many find their patience is being severely tested here.
The fourteen episodes in this set are all anime exclusive content but rather cleverly – or sneakily as is your wont – they are framed within the events of the Ninja War, specifically the casting of the Infinite Tsukuyomi, the powerful bounding genjutsu Madara employed to freeze everyone in its wake in a last ditch attempt to gain control over the allied ninja forces.
So, you will find some of the episodes open with a specific character being trapped by this powerful force as a prelude to the journey into their memories they undertake to occupy the minds whilst rendered physically immobile. The first episode is a one-off featuring Karin, the bespectacled red hair female member of Akatsuki and long time admirer of Sasuke. Her tragic backstory (is there any other kind?) is shared from her childhood to her meeting with Sasuke.
Hereon in, this set is dedicate to another cannily introduced flashback story, this time a flight of fancy that conflates the origins of the Naruto history with the storylines of the Shippuden series. As Lady Tsunade is enveloped by the Infinite Tsukuyomi, she dreams of being sat by a peaceful lake with the late Jiraiya, handing her his latest novel. Instead of his usual tawdry output, he’s written Jiraiya’s Ninja Scrolls, a fictitious account on the life of Naruto.
This meta adventure goes back to the beginning of the Naruto story but with a twist – Naruto isn’t a cursed orphan who has to fight his way through life to be accepted and earn the respect of the villagers; instead, his parents, Kushina and Minato are still alive, the latter the current Hokage, meaning many are jealous towards his advantage of being the Hokage’s son and getting a free pass, which is not the case.
It’s a cute inversion of Naruto’s life story but crucially his character remains the same – headstrong, capricious, foolhardy but selfless and good natured – and it never occurs to Naruto that he has any advantages, living and dying by his own sword. However, this does mean that his progress in learning and mastering a new jutsu is also reversed, picking them up much more quickly and proving a hero on the battlefield.
Staying with this alternate direction, Naruto and Sasuke are not friends despite Naruto’s attempts to make the best of their grouping as part of Team Seven with Sakura. Sasuke is one of the dissenting voices in thinking Naruto is riding on a wave of nepotism and along with is dismissive treatment of Sakura, sets the pair off as heated rivals. Sasuke becomes jealous of how much further Naruto is than him and demands to perfect the Chidori to match Naruto’s Rasengan.
But this is a subplot within an overarching story involving a mission to find missing senior shinobi, after a lone ninja is found, only able to say the word “Ageha”. The search sees the genin teams take different routes to locate their masters but each one has a different mindset regarding the rules of the village. Meanwhile Neji follows a masked man (like Obito’s orange mask but reversed) on a Scrooge-esque journey to witness a test he has set up for the Leaf Ninjas.
The central theme of this tale is teamwork and in particular, the maxim of the leaf village that fulfilling the mission is absolute even if your compatriots are in trouble. Team 7 are shown the grave of a shinobi who committed suicide after he saved his friends instead of completing a mission and was vilified for it. As you might expect, Naruto was very angry about this (not everything has changed then) and it becomes a focal point of discussion during this mission.
Running in the background of this story is the saga of Orochimaru, also presented in a manner fans won’t be accustomed with, looking to take his impact on the world of the Hidden Leaf ninjas in a different direction. It’s brave to merge two distinct and distant timelines for this alternate retelling but then again, it isn’t canon nor is it “real” either so the idea is presumably to have some fun with distorting the Naruto folklore and seeing what else would have been done with the story.
At a guess I’m sure many fans would be ready to engage with this idea had it not been the product of another detour from the Ninja War story, and would like to have enjoyed it as a standalone arc once the adaptation of the canon material had been completed. But, as we’ve discussed many times before on this site, this sadly isn’t how it works so it is what it is.
Most fans will be happy to see the show continue regardless of the material and in this instance will likely feel a sense of nostalgia in seeing the early stages of Naruto’s life again, albeit with this unique fanciful twist to it. How this affects their attachment to the characters would make for an interesting study given how we know the way they turn out later on, whether this offers a preferable or objectionable version of them.
While we wait for coverage of the Ninja War to resume this inventive diversion should hold enough interest for the hardcore Naruto fans to ponder over what could have been as an acceptable enough distraction. The rest of you, keep your fingers crossed that normal service resumes very soon….
Disc 2 only:
Rating – ***
Man In Black