Naruto is a series that has a lot of longevity to it. The manga of the series has been going since 1999 and has received praise the world over for the ninja universe it creates. Which is why it’s a great pleasure to bring you our first review of a box set from the ‘Shippuden’ incarnation of Naruto.
To give a bit of background Naruto – as a franchise – is separated into two parts. The first known simply as ‘Naruto’ focuses on the rise of a young boy who is an outcast for reasons unbeknown to him but he is determined to win over the respect of his peers and other residents of the hidden village of the leaves, Konaha. However along the way there is a unique story that develops taking on twists and turns that make it one of the most engaging series I’ve been following. One of the big points of this story is that a tailed beast that attacked Konaha is sealed within Naruto – keep that information in mind as it does play an important part throughout the entire story. The climax of this first section of ‘Naruto’ comes when Naruto & his teammate but also rival Sasuke come to blows – a moment that was teased & destined to happen given the way the story played out. This results in Sasuke turning his back on his team & Konaha for the sake of fulfilling his eternal goal of destroying his brother Itachi.
Naruto then entrusts himself with the task of bringing Sasuke back home as he believes Sasuke has been influenced to turn his back on them and follow this path. Fast forward two years – in the universe of the series – and we are now in the second part of the story known to anime fans as ‘Naruto Shippuden’. The story so far goes that the Akatsuki – a rogue group of Ninja – are plotting something very big involving tailed beasts. The start of the Shippuden story focused on them attacking and kidnapping Gaara – a character who was previously a strong antagonist but has now changed his ways and become the leader of his home, the Sand village – who has a tailed beast inside of him. They extract the beast and after a heavy battle Gaara was revived. Attention then turned to finding Sasuke and his trainer – who also is the main antagonist – Orochimaru which led to the beast inside Naruto being unleashed, demonstrating just how devastating it can be if this power is allowed to manifest itself and causing widespread damage. We then have the meeting that every fan was waiting for as Naruto & Sasuke finally crossed paths for the first time since their big fight I mentioned earlier. The plan Naruto had to bring him back does not pan out well resulting in Sasuke making it clear he does not want to return. This however does not deter Naruto in his desire to make this happen eventually.
As if that couldn’t be enough, the Akatsuki are on the move again and group of Konaha Ninja engage in a battle with two very powerful foes. A battle that tests the limit of those involved and also sees the passing of a character very close to the protagonists hearts. This fuels the desire to want to battle them again to get revenge & closure for their fallen leader and it’s just after the final blow of this rematch where the Konaha ninja were victorious where volume 8 of Manga Entertainment’s release picks up the story.
(I can assure you that is very much a short hand version of the plot. There are too many details to cover in full when condensing 300 episodes into a few paragraphs)
But now onto what to this DVD volume itself. [WARNING – THIS DOES CONTAIN SOME *SPOILERS*]
Following the conclusion of this battle attention turns once again to finding information on the devious Orochimaru and Akatsuki. This is where Kakashi, Hinata, Kiba & Shino come into play as they are sent to investigate a possible location for vital information on their whereabouts. What they find can described as vital information but it’s just as quickly taken away as fast as they received it. This leads onto a different direction for the series as we are introduced to a young boy named Yukimaru. Yukimaru is placed in the care of Guren – a woman with a unique ability and someone who idolises Orochimaru – and they head to a lake. It’s during this time we start to see a different side of the very brash Guren character. The young tendencies of Yukimaru clearly having an effect on her that she never expected when he was placed in her care.
During this time Naruto – still recovering from the battle with the Akatsuki he just endured – embarks on some new training with Jiraya. This time he wants to learn a new technique but must first understand the concept of connecting with someone’s heart leading to some very comedic moments like only the Naruto series can produce.
Here is where things take a slightly different twist in that the reason Yukimaru has been brought to the lake is that he has the ability to call on and tame the dreaded Three-tailed beast.
Personally I enjoyed this DVD set. Naruto as series – admittedly is a favourite of mine – has great pacing and structure but I can understand why people wouldn’t be so easily pleased with this story. It does deviate quite a bit from the previous arc focusing a lot more on characters you do not know to establish the plot. But if character exploration is something you’re a fan of – be them ones you knew previously or not – then this story is probably one you’d like. Guren (pictured above) – while seemingly created just for this story – does come across as a credible foe given her ability of using crystal fragments & the way she can manipulate them and her being presented from the outset as a loyal follower of Orochimaru leads you to think she’d do anything he’d want. Guren’s band of thugs she recruits for the mission at hand are quite the contrast, only a bit more impressive than a generic ninja that could pop up anywhere leading you to think they may be collateral damage later on.
If you are someone who likes the franchise more on the level of ‘I’m a fan but only want to watch the actual story’ – just the ones derived from the manga – this might not be the one for you. It features some fun moments with Naruto training, you get to see some characters you haven’t seen in a while – as was the case with the last arc – and features of one of tailed beasts as the main plot point. This is a welcomed plus as it helps bridge it into the overall story of Akatsuki collecting the tailed beasts, but if you’re expecting a fast paced story and high octane battles to the death that are integral to the franchise – don’t.
In terms of some technical features it comes with the English & original Japanese audio tracks. Truth be told I prefer to watch the Japanese audio but I must say they have done a good job with the English language version of this. It was far more welcoming to listen to than I expected. For extras you have some production sketches and some Naruto Shippuden related trailers too. I will add that there is a closing theme on this DVD has will having you singing along to it each time. It was very hard to skip it each time it appeared because it is so catchy. It’s a shame this wasn’t included on the DVD as textless extra.
In short for the price you can’t go wrong with twelve episodes. If you’re exepcting a story on the same level of the previous volume you won’t get it. But if you’re looking for the first half of a story you can get into with lots of new characters at a slower pace than normal then this is for you. This story will continue and likely conclude in the next volume.
Available now from Manga Entertainment. Order at Amazon UK HERE.
– Jeremy Graves