What They Say:
For my friends and family, I’ll risk my life for this mission! Long ago, a masked shinobi unleashed the Nine-Tailed Fox onto the Village Hidden in the Leaves to spread chaos and destruction. But the Fourth Hokage, Minato Namikaze, and his wife, Kushina Uzumaki, sealed the Tailed Beast into their newborn son Naruto to save the village, foiling the shinobi’s plans. Years later, Naruto and his friends succeed in driving away the infamous Akatsuki, who have mysteriously returned from the dead. Upon returning to the village, the young shinobi are praised by their families for completing a dangerous mission. Reminded of how alone he is, Naruto begins to wonder what it’s like to have parents, when a strange masked figure appears before him – the same masked shinobi responsible for the death of his parents!
A superb audio track for the movie, you have the selection of a 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound track in both English and Japanese, which seems to be standard for most movie releases but is still rare in general for UK anime DVDs. There were no instances of any slowdown or off-synching with the track or any problems with synching with the subtitles. With the film being a very action orientated movie, you get a lot of the background effects mixed in clearly with the movie in the same quality so the strength of the product overall is top notch. This is especially clear during the confrontations between Naruto and Menma (as both languages have the fact they need to differentiate the characters before the big reveal) so this is a quality release.
Set in the standard PAL format (anamorphic), it was watched on a full screen format. Again, this feels strange being a non-canon movie as a lot of effort was definitely put through with the animation – no transition problems between the video and the audio, no issues with any of the animation being off during pausing – with a series like Naruto, the action scenes are pivotal with the fluid movement and colour that it brings, but it doesn’t actually skimp out in many of the character scenes whether it is just Sakura eating some pudding and realising she is getting lonely or the amusing scenes at the public bath house. No errors that were noticeable and the colour scheme and motion were superb so again, really impressed with the effort put into this.
The front cover has a lot of the cast in full view with Naruto, Sakura, Kushina, Minato, Kakashi, Sasuke and Itachi in the foreground with a lot of the Akatsuki in the background, Tobi/Madara on the top right being the most obvious and the title on the bottom with the Manga Entertainment logo on the bottom left. With the reverse having an image of a young Kushina and Minato fighting alongside Naruto with 4 small screenshots – despite what I said about the video, the colour doesn’t come out as well with the image and almost seems a bit duller than what I usually expect from a Naruto release, though all the characters are defined was hard to make out Sasuke and Itachi at first glance. Not totally eye-catching but at least noticeable.
The menu has Naruto in battle pose on a dark background, with the Road To Ninja symbol on the top left hanging on top of a scroll having your selectable options, being Play Movie, Scenes, Set Up and Extras. All are easily selectable from the main screen with a quick transition or can be returned to the main menu from the movie easily. Nothing fancy but easy enough to use.
There were only a few extras – we have several movie trailer, promos and commercials all in Japanese (and the majority of those were all similar) and a small art gallery featuring 6 full colour art pages ranging from battles, characters to a fun Iruka/Naruto one. Nothing huge as most of the time the extras on the Naruto releases (both movies and series) are quite basic.
The Naruto movies like a lot of the movies of the big Shounen Jump series, always seem to suffer from a few things. As most of them are non-canon, it throws movie characters in which never seem to click or the plot/story is not very engaging and/or predictable. With this being the last non-canon movie to be released before The Last, I was understandably sceptical considering Naruto itself is a very hit or miss series in general.
To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. Whilst non-canon, it could easily have been established as a canon movie, with some actual moments where you tear up, some good action sequences, and an actual potential ‘what if’ scenario – granted it isn’t perfect, but there was a lot of good stuff that came out of this movie.
We start off with Naruto and his friends all fighting off what appears to be the Akatsuki, which includes ones they had previous defeated or killed. This immediately sets alarm bells but the group manage to fend them off quite well, to the impressed Konoha family and friends and even recommend all of the group to be promoted another level…except for poor Naruto who doesn’t have a family – which is why he feels a twinge of anger when he sees Sakura being upset about how her parents treat her. However, when they meet later on and Naruto nearly says something he could regret, it is revealed that Madara has tagged Naruto with a seal to the Limited Tsukoyumi. This genjitsu transports them to an alternate world, where almost everyone is the popular opposite character wise, Naruto himself is called Menma, and Sakura’s parents are the ones who saved the Hidden Leaf, not Naruto’s…but are also deceased.
You can probably guess what is going to happen here, particularly with Sakura’s character (and a later revelation with Naruto) but this is one of those things where you wonder what your favourite ninjas were like if they were the opposite. To list some of them, Neji uses his Byagukan to be a perv, Lee is a crossdresser, Ino is a sweetie, Tenten is a clumsy girl, Choji is thin, Shino hates bugs, and my three personal favourites being Shikamaru being a total idiot, Kiba now a cat person (leaving the fact he still has Akamaru a real problem) and of course, Hinata being a jealous bitch. Yes, hilarity definitely ensues with incidents in the hot springs, Hinata actually threatening Sakura to stay away from Menma (leading to one of my fave off lines of Sakura ‘this is the first time I’ve ever think to be angry at Hinata’), Lee being way over the top trying to hide his perversions, Kiba nyahing, Shino spraying away bugs, the world is definitely weird. Doesn’t help when even the adult characters later on also are opposites (Kakashi being energetic, Gai being despondent, and the Akatsuki being the good guys among others) – but the most interesting thing is that none of them know who Madara is, Sasuke is still in the Hidden Leaf (but now a ladies’ man)…and Naruto’s parents are alive.
This now leads into some interesting thought processes for our two leads – Sakura seems happier at first that she can do what she want without her parents nagging her, but throughout the movie grows to realise that this isn’t what she wanted. Naruto on the other hand, first can’t accept it because to him, those parents are fakes, yet they show him the love and comfort he never got to have in his own timeline, and slowly seems to accept it. The two leads have polar switches from what they want to what they don’t want, and this inner battle is always in the back of their minds when they are dealing with a masked warrior threat, convinced by Madara to deal with Naruto, whilst Tsunade (now flat chested) sends Naruto, Sakura, Kakashi and Gai to find something called the Red Moon scroll which is something that can defeat this masked man.
The twist can be seen a mile away, and is probably the weakest part of the movie, which to be fair seems to be a general problem in most non-canon SJ movies. Not just who the villain is, but there is no real backstory of how he was convinced or what he wants to do, just seems to be mind-controlled by Madara. He does capture Sakura as a way to get Naruto to him, where the twist is revealed that the masked man is, in fact, Menma, a.k.a. the alternate universe Naruto. Madara wanted him to be able to extract the tail beast from Naruto, to which Naruto basically actually synchs willingly with it and the Red Moon scroll is used to purge Madara from Menma. It is here where we get the touching moments, as Naruto has to put away a life he could have enjoyed to return to his own world, whilst Sakura now realises what Naruto had to grow up with, and not be so hard on her own parents knowing that Naruto doesn’t have them….yet Naruto still has a family, his friends, teachers, mentors, his life in the Hidden Leaf.
The movie has a basic three act structure, but it does have a few things which give it praise above previous Naruto movie reviews. First off, it focuses on our favourite characters and doesn’t have a movie villain per say that detracts from it. Granted, the villain (Menma) is thrown in as a threat just via Madara’s control, and was obvious who it was but at least it was a recognisable character, and fit in with the structure of the movie (Naruto lost his parents but grew up with a good life, whilst Menma grew up with his parents but never found his parents love enough for him, allowing him to be controlled). Secondly, the battle between Menma and Naruto is incredibly well animated, and whilst this is always a plus during the movies, it definitely seemed to step up the pace a lot more. Thirdly, the idea as brief as it was sadly, as an alternative universe of our favourite ninjas was more fun that it had right to. Gai, for example, whilst a minor role, him seemingly like a middle age old man whilst Kakashi is the hot blooded energetic one, really made me smile – Shikamaru doing stupid stunts like slipping on soap made me turn my head, and Hinata scaring the crap out of Sakura and Neji for either trying to take Menma or being a pervert just made me think if this world existed, how would I feel about this cast now, because these ones are a lot of fun – albeit the originals are more established so it is more fun as a what if one off situation than a permanent thing. Also, the Akatsuki being on the side of good (it is Itachi who saves Sakura – also Sasuke’s brief moments as a playboy was another ‘WTF’ moment) – considering how popular various Akatsuki members are, you do feel this movie was one that was made for fans in mind.
The fact that Madara/Tobi is more involved as well makes it feel that this could have easily come from the manga. Granted, a lot of the goofier elements with the reverse characters do feel out of place but the fact that his main girl, to take the fox demon from Naruto, is a plot point in this movie, makes it definitely feel more in the Naruto universe. Naruto’s psyche, in particular, is great as he goes through not wanting to do anything with his ‘parents’ as he knows this is a fake world, whilst Sakura initially embraces it, enjoying her life. However, as she slowly gets lonelier and not liking the world, Naruto then begins to enjoy his moments with his parents, and the reverse happens as you wonder if Naruto is in fact tempted to return. However, Naruto actually showcases his development in the fact that he always wanted to return home, but just a few moments of enjoyment seemed to be enough, and that was only ever slightly in doubt. Ironically, Sakura’s portrayal in the movie doesn’t really help her – she is always a character who fans at least in the West never took to mainly because she never really added any help or her character wasn’t that enjoyable, and this movie didn’t help matters (especially near the beginning when she is complaining to Naruto about her parents) whilst Naruto’s portrayal is one of the best.
Aside from that, the only real issue with the movie is the obvious twist. I think most of us figured the masked ninja was the alternate Naruto, and there would be a mirror match of sorts for Madara’s benefit. The plot, whilst more logical in universe, is still quite flimsy, and they tried their best to cram as much in under 2 hours but it did feel a bit rushed. However, it was a very good effort, managed to get most of the main cast in (though I would have loved to have seen an alternate universe Gaara dammit) – a shame that the alternate cast didn’t get much more screen time but they served their purpose to showcase the reverse world, a really good battle sequence (more so when the Akatsuki get involved) and some legit touching moments where I actually began to tear up as Naruto has a moment to consider if he should stay before talking to his ‘parents’. In fact, Minato and Kushina are really well defined – the flashback at the start, and the fact their characters didn’t change much if at all makes the viewer really wish they could return with Naruto, yet it was doomed from the start, which makes us feel for Naruto. The movie really shines in bringing the characters together, and whilst not perfect, is easily the best Naruto non-canon movie out there, perhaps even the best Shonen Jump non-canon movie full stop.
Road To Ninja surprises the viewer with a defined, if predictable story, a fun ‘what if’ scenario, and some actual choices Naruto has to make, both in battle and in life, whether to remain with his parents or with the world that initially shunned him. Some fun moments with the alternate characters combined with an excellent battle with Menma, and a story that actually would be in place with the Naruto universe makes this the best Naruto movie outside of the one to soon be released. Definitely one for Naruto fans, and in a good way.
Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Commercials, Promos, Trailers, Art Gallery
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: October 26th, 2015
Running Time: 105 minutes
Video Encoding: PAL
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 – 1.78:1
Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.