Naruto's reputation is starting to grow again with his defeat of Pain.
What They Say:
Karui and Omoi of the Hidden Cloud press Naruto to give information regarding Sasuke. Naruto realizes they're motivated by wanting to save their captured master, but decides he cannot sell out his friend. Instead, Naruto offers himself as a punching bag for Karui and Omoi to abuse to their hearts' content.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Plans are certainly fluid as we see the Akatsuki are working through some changes after having Pain dealt with, especially when it comes to Sasuke as there's the continuing issue that he may not be as easily controlled as some others have been. The need to have him properly taken care of is something that's going to be more of a focus for the Akatsuki as he's operating on his own a bit too much for their tastes and with the added problem of Naruto still seeking him out, especially now that he's been labeled as a kill on sight person by Danzo, the two are likely to come into contact with each other sooner rather than later.
The episode has an interesting turn that shows just how strongly Naruto feels about Sasuke as Karui and Omoi push him hard to get information out of him about Sasuke since they want their leader back. The knowledge he has about Sasuke and that of the Junchiriki makes him an easy target but he's fairly somber about the whole thing and just takes all the abuse, both verbal and physical by Karui, in order to not betray his friend. Over the years that have passed, it may be a fair bit naïve and foolish on Naruto's part to still be acting this way, but it says volumes about how serious he is about friendship, even if it is a one way street. And for Sai, who watches on from secret, it's a reinforcement of the kind of bond that Naruto has forged for him as well.
Shippuden does spend some quiet time dealing with issues as there are quite a few things going on. There's a particularly excellent sequence where after Naruto has been beaten up fairly well, he recovers in the care of Sai while talking with Yamato and Kakashi about things. His intention of bringing back Sasauke is still strong. With the events at play, with the hunt for the Junchiriki, the Hidden Could players getting into the game and the larger plans the Akatsuki have with Sasuke and the world in general are all slowly starting to come together a bit more. Naruto's revelations here aren't new to us, but telling others that he's met the Fourth Hokage and has learned some very important things about himself and controlling the Nine-Tails. It certainly gives Kakashi a new view of him and there's an almost fatherly view about him from both Yamato and Kakashi that's very refreshing. The start of the new journey really begins here and it's done in a way that makes it important but avoids making it rushed or overly dramatic.
With the episode prior to this and events here, Naruto Shippuden is moving things along very well in order to get the next storyline going. While I would have preferred much less of a break and more material highlighting events after the end of the Pain storyline, getting on track here again is wonderfully refreshing, from the pacing of it to the characterizations that shine through. Going back to present timeline Naruto after his younger days again shows just how much he's grown and reminded me heavily why I disliked a lot of the first series outside of the big moments. Events at play here are a bit convoluted as there are several factions at work and big plans continue to be teased out. There's a lot of things that will be happening as it progresses and it's got me excited to see where it will go (since I don't read the manga and avoid news out of it). Naruto continues to be one of those series I'm shocked I'm enjoying but when it does things right, like we saw during the last major arc, it does it right in spades.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Dell 10.1 Netbook via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.