What They Say:
Episodes 245-255 of the ‘Naruto’ anime spin-off series. A trio of young ninjas, Naruto (voice of Junko Takeuchi), Sasuke (Noriaki Sugiyama) and Sakura (Chie Nakamura), are schooled together in the village hidden in the leaves. Each desires to become a ninja for different reasons and will face his or her own personal battles along the way. The episodes are: ‘The Next Challenge! Naruto Vs The Nine Tails’, ‘The Fourth Hokage’s Death Match!’, ‘Thank You’, ‘Battle in Paradise! Odd Beast Vs The Monster!’, ‘The Man Named Kisame’, ‘The Angelic Herald of Death’, ‘The Bridge to Peace’, ‘The Super Secret S-Rank Mission’ and ‘The Artist Returns’.
Set up in Stereo 2.0 in both Japanese and English instead of a 5.1 release is still an acceptable quality but a bit of tinkering of the volume was needed to make it of an acceptable quality, though there weren’t any issues in terms of the sound being out on sync with the subtitles or the video.
The video is again of a decent quality, and some clearer animation when it came to many of the flashback sequences meant this was a surprisingly good visual release for a filler season. No noticeable issues with lag or video in poor resolution during viewing or when pausing, so no problems with watching the whole release through, and I will mention they definitely got some of their better animation/design team here because this is one of the sets where they manage to get the combination of animation and CGI flowing beautifully (episodes 252 and 256 have great examples with the sea of paper and the crowd animations).
Set on a black background, with a sage mode/nine-tails powered up Naruto on the right, it is a very standard menu with the selections Play All, Episodes and Set Up on the first disc, with Extras available on the 2nd disc. The menus are very basic, and function fine in selection both from the main menu and from watching the show, but nothing interesting.
The extras are pretty much identical to previous releases in terms of what they are, though the content is different for two of them. We have the storyboards for a few episodes (only 5 of them), the production art of a number of the animal designs and Madara/Tobi, and yet again, the same trailers as have been since I started reviewing Shippuden of just the first movie (especially odd as I’m about to review a completely different Naruto movie soon, you’d think they would want to advertise that) and the series that you are watching and have bought/rented. It continues to boggle me why that is done…
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Like most long running series, Naruto is at its strongest when there is an arc that focuses on the story. Like most series as well, it struggles with the fact it always catches up with the author hence why filler seasons exist. And whilst some shows do it better than others, it is always great to return to a full arc (mostly) where the story continues and the set up for something epic is about to happen. With the Great Ninja War about to start, how does Naruto prepare us for it?
It continues with Killer Bee accepting Naruto as he manages to defeat his dark self after the stories from the previous set, and now is going to teach him into besting the Nine Tails to become one with it. At first, the set up is pretty standard, with Naruto having to try not to give in to the hatred of the Nine-Tails. Whilst this should set up a believe in yourself type of story that many shows (including Naruto) have told, this goes in a different direction as within a sacred location, he gets encouragement not from Bee, but from his deceased mother Kushina.
With Naruto being sealed in his own mindset, the feelings of meeting his mother come really quick as the two have a tender heart to heart, and Kushina tells her story of how she met Narutos father (and former Hokage) Minato. It has taken a long time but finally getting to see this, and how the story of how the Nine-Tails was sealed (Madara of course being heavily involved) is combined with a tender story of how the two met, how Minato always admired the tomboy like Kushina who was teased for her red hair, how she was targeted for her skill and special chakra leading to Minato rescuing her despite always being hidden from her, admiring her from afar. (Hmm, doesn’t Kushina’s attitude and Minato’s watching from afar have similarities with two ladies in Narutos’ life? Hmm….)
With his mothers’ blessing, Naruto defeats and seals the Nine-Tails as we learn that Kushina used to be the previous carrier of the Nine-Tails, but despite being well protected, Madara does seek them out and intend to kill Naruto. Minato clashes with him in battle as the Nine-Tails at its weakest from the labour is being controlled by Madara to terrorize the hidden leaf, but Minato stops him enough to avoid complete control, causing havoc still. This leads to the sad but heroic moments that Kushina and Minato have to seal the beast in Narutos’ body, forcing themselves to sacrifice themselves to use the chakra in doing so that Naruto can hopefully deal with it himself. It is both a sad and triumphant scene, which harks all the way back to the very first episode when we see baby Naruto with that seal. I am surprised how well this story development has come and developed though it took over 200 episodes for this part anyway, the fact it does come full circle showcases a great moment between mother and son, albeit a post-humorous one.
After his mother departs, Naruto now controls the Nine-Tails, but with that power, his bulls’ eye has gotten bigger, and Kisame returns to chase him down. However, after a few episodes of being seasick (partly filler, partly canon), Might Guy returns for another rematch with his (unknown for him sadly for Kisame) adversary. It leads to another great looking battle sequence with Guy winning with a new technique after releasing the Gates which uses just pure technique/taijutsu rather than chakra, making Kisame’s sword which eats chakra useless against it. However, before Yamato can read his mind fully, he actually bites his tongue and eventually kills himself (summoning sharks and devouring himself!) and even stops any further information leaking out by trap water prison jutsus and any info on scrolls being transported away. Must say, Kisame definitely had his dying moment of glory there combined with a good finalisation of his battles with Guy.
However, offsetting that good side, we tie up some lose ends with Madara who has gone to the Hidden Rain Village to collect Nagato’s Rinnengan, however is confronted by the final member of the Pain trio, Konan. We get a lot of background on the Akatsuki and of Konans’ friendship with Nagato and Yahiko, as well as more on their training with Jiraiya. This felt like a way to get a character we knew a little about a bit more back-story before her inevitable death, which does happen…and it does actually do the job. There is some good back-story, making all three of them more likeable before things went to hell, but as Madara how has everything; he now sets his sight on Naruto. As the group trick Naruto into a mission to try and avoid him realising what is going on the outside, Kabuto asks Madara to showcase his trust in recovering Naruto, promising to power the Zetsus and even showcasing his technique a la Orochimaru, and bringing a reanimation back to life(ish), here with Deidara returning to help him. Naruto is protected by the returning Onoki, but through some skill and trickery, Kisame evades capture, and actually kidnaps Yamato to escape back to the Akatsuki.
This brings us to the final main episode of this arc of the great Ninja War about to start. Kabuto whilst failing to bring Naruto, uses his reanimation technique to bring back a ton of famous ninjas from the series (ranging from Zabuza and Haku from the first ever arc, to the Hokages, including Gaara’s father, also Shikamaru’s teacher Asuma among others) and using Yamatos’ wood technique to power up the Zetsus. Meanwhile, as Naruto trains with Bee, the rest of the ninja war is being formed into five sections depending on their relevant skills. Pretty much all your favourite characters are involved in each of the groups so you will get to see them all in action – Shikamaru talking with Temari when we know Asuma is back? Gaara leading one of the factions with his father returned from the dead? Neji’s uncle being brought back to life considering the conflict his death had on him regarding the Hyuga family? Tons of possibilities as the set up is there…
…and sadly it looks like we head straight into a new filler season, and one which is basically just flashbacks back to when Naruto was a child, reminding us of his earlier missions with Team 7 to start with. Let’s just say it ended disappointingly because of that as we know there are more of these episodes on the way…
Despite the disappointment of how the next set is going to be, the rest was undoubtedly very good. Naruto’s training with Bee is obviously going to be very focused once we return to the story, but the joy of seeing him finally hug his mother was heart-warming, and Kushina herself in the short time we saw her was a great character. She is a strong woman, but also caring and whilst would have liked more on her relationship with Minato, the story told about the sealing of the Nine-Tails in Narutos’ body finally coming all full circle, and how fully Madara is involved with pretty much everything, it does feel that Naruto managed to get the storytelling right and how it is leading up to not only Naruto getting stronger, but how this is going to affect the war, especially with the signs of the different sections involved.
Some nice battles (and animation in general, not since the Naruto/Pain/Hinata fight has the animation impressed me so much) involving Kisame/Guy (who was a great source of comedy as well after the battle) and also with Kabutos’ tricks in capturing Yamato, and how relevant he is going to be for the Akatsuki now he has the techniques to bring back pretty much any character you’ve seen die in the series (and I’m aware this could also include Itachi…this should be interesting considering what happened when he died…) – there is going to be a lot of conflict and emotions, and that last pandering shot of the 5 Kages over the armies of the Leaf is drool worthy just ready to explode. This really has the potential of being a great set up to perhaps the finale of the entire Naruto series…
…just really wish I didn’t know there was filler on the way…boo.
20th Box Set of Naruto is also one of the strongest in a while, with the exception of the last episode (and the inevitable future of the next arc), the rest was pure story driven, with character background for lesser characters like Konan, and yet bringing the whole story full circle with Kushina giving a proper goodbye to her son in his mind, and the fact the Nine-Tails is fully in his control adds more set up to the war. Combined with the Akatsuki’s army under the not that trustworthy Kabuto, the final moments for Kisame/Konan, and the incredible potential the reanimated characters have for the war, I cannot wait to see how this is resolved.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: February 9th, 2015
Running Time: 293 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.