I've clearly done something in a past life that deserves sever punishment, and handling Naruto Shippuden looks set to be my penance, I think. As Shippuden gets underway, Naruto gets back to the important business of saving someone who doesn't want to be rescued - and when you put it like that, you really do start to wonder why he's bothering...
What They Say
Naruto Uzumaki's one goal in life has always been to become the greatest ninja of all. His progress to date has been admirable, but with ever increasing danger looming in the form of the mysterious Akatsuki organization, Naruto is aware that he needs to up his game even further. His determination to improve his skills results in him leaving his village to pursue further training that will push him to his absolute limits.
Two-and-a-half years later, Naruto returns home to discover that everyone's been promoted up the ninja ranks - everyone except him. Sakura's now a medic ninja and Gaara's advanced to Kazekage. But pride isn't becoming of a ninja, especially when Naruto realizes that his good friend Sasuke never returned from his search for the snake-like shinobi, Orochimaru.
Meanwhile, the mysterious Akatsuki organization is still an ever-present danger. As Naruto learns more about the organization's goals, he realizes that nothing in his universe is as it seems.
1 - Homecoming
2 - The Akatsuki Makes Its Move
3 - The Results Of Training
4 - Jinchuriki Of The Sand
5 - The Kazekage Stands Tall
6 - Mission Cleared
7 - Run, Kankuro
8 - Team Kakashi, Deployed
9 - The Jinchuriki's Tears
10 - Sealing Jutsu: Nine Phantom Dragons
11 - The Medical Ninja's Student
12 - The Retired Granny's Determination
13 - A Meeting With Destiny.
Audio is provided in English and Japanese 2.0 versions - I listened to the Japanese track for this review. The audio is serviceable rather than impressive - there's decent use made of directionality but nothing that has an wow value, even during the fight scenes. Dialogue is clear, though, and there are no obvious encoding defects.
Video is presented in its original 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect, and looks pretty damn good - although given the profile of the show that's hardly surprising. There's some good detail in the backgrounds, while the animation is smooth, colours are bright and animation smooth. There are no obvious problems with the encode.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
The main menu for both discs is a static affair, with the boy wonder in an action pose against a dark background with the opening theme playing. Options are provided for Play All, Setup, and Episodes for scene selection. An option for Extras is added to disc two. There are no transition animations - a pet hate of mine - so it's all quick and easy to use.
There's a 15-piece gallery of production artwork, and that's your lot.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Right. While I haven't been reviewing Naruto for Mania, I have been following the series, even though I'm not exactly in the target audience for Shounen Jump fighting shows '" of which Naruto is probably the best-known current example. Only Bleach comes close. I'll be honest up-front and say that my biggest problem is the way in which they drag out what should be fairly short scenes and stretch them out far beyond breaking point. That said, I'd been quite enjoying the 'filler' arcs towards the end of the first Naruto series (a part of the series that most fans seem to despise '" go figure), so knowing in advance that Shippuden would see us get straight back into the main story arc had me hoping that things could only get better.
Fat chance. The first episode opens with what seems to be a glimpse of the future: a long search that finally brings Naruto and Sasuke face-to-face with Sasuke; a confrontation; a meeting with the nine-tailed fox locked inside him; and a defeat at the hands of his former friend. But the future isn't fully written yet - can this fate be avoided..? From there we skip quickly back to the 'present day', several years after we last saw Naruto, and after spending the time under Jiraiya's tutelage he's returning home. Quite a bit has changed in his absence - Sakura's punch has gotten stronger, for a start - but he's ready to prove his new skills...
When even walking through the Leaf Village's gate and saying 'Hi!' to a few people can be stretched to fill an entire episode, you know you're going to have pacing problems on your hands. The 13 episodes in this set essentially cover two stories, that begin separately & run parallel to each other before merging together to create the sort of battle royale that Naruto thrives upon. In the Leaf Village, we have Naruto's triumphant return and a test battle that pitches him and Sakura against their old tutor Kakashi, a battle that is Tsunade's way of working out just how useful Jiraiya's training has been.
In the Sand Village, meanwhile, Gaara '" now the Kazakage, leader of the village '" is being targeted by the Akatsuki, who are finally making their move after years of inactivity. Initially this came as a bit of a surprise '" after all, last time we saw the Akatsuki, their stated aim was to capture Naruto and gain control of the Nine-Tailed Fox sealed within him '" but by the end of the set their interest in him has been explained, and with it a little more of the mythology of the world in which the series is set.
Let's look at the good things first, though. Two-and-a-half years have passed in the show's world since we last met Naruto and the gang, and certainly there are some things that have changed '" the gang have all been training, proving themselves and '" except for Naruto '" earning the promotions in rank that go along with that. Sakura's now an accomplished medical ninja, second only to Tsunade in skill, and the rest of the ninjas we're re-introduced to over the set are similarly powered-up. On the other hand, none of them really look or act much differently from what we knew them as before '" Naruto has a new-look boilersuit (still mainly orange, natch) and Gaara's adopted the robes and stately attitude that goes with his position, but other than that the characters are much the same as they were before.
The unfolding events do allow us to meet a few new characters from the Sand Village, though, in the form of Lady Chiyo and Lord Ebizo, two retired warriors who fondly remember the days when the Sand village was the friend of no-one and who are now rather scornful of the way in which they're having to rely on the Leaf Village for help. They're an interesting pair, and are hauled out of retirement by the revelation that their grandson is now a member of the Akatsuki.
For all that the setup is interesting enough, though, in execution the story suffers from the same old problem: it's just dragged out for way too long. Gaara's capture by the Akatsuki? Four episodes. The trip to the Sand Village by Naruto and the others? Three episodes. Naruto's battle against Kakashi? Another three episodes '" and none of these are events that couldn't have been handled in considerably less, if it weren't for the constant posing by combatants, with taunts and explanations using time that would be more enjoyably spent by them just getting on with the battle.
None of this should come as a surprise, though, and for all that I'm likely to vent after watching Naruto, it also has to be said that it does what it sets out to do and clearly pushes all the right buttons with its target audience. A show being popular, though, doesn't necessarily mean that it's any good, and Naruto Shippuden is at best average.
I'd guess that most people reading this review will be fans of Naruto to some extent or another '" anyone who wasn't would have given up on the series a long time ago. Or be reviewing it. If the first series worked for you, then there's nothing about Shippuden that's likely to put you off the adventures of the Leaf Village ninjas '" if anything, having it jump straight into a major story arc is a positive plus, even if it is being stretched out too long. For those less familiar with the boy wonder's tale, though, there's probably not much here to change your mind.
Japanese Language 2.0. English Language 2.0, English subtitles, Production art gallery
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.