Review

by Carl Kimlinger, Feb 4th 2011

Naruto Shippūden

DVD Box Set 5

Synopsis:
Naruto Shippūden DVD Box Set 5
Having failed a second time to bring Sasuke back with him, Naruto does a little brooding. But not too much; after all, it isn't really in his nature. Failure merely means he needs more training, and that's what he means to do. Kakashi decides it's time that Naruto learned to master his chakra "nature," and plans out a training regimen that only Naruto can use. Training never goes uninterrupted though, and before long Naruto and Team Kakashi (sans Kakashi ironically) are sent on a mission to the Fire Temple—in no small part to keep Naruto on the move and beyond the grasp of the Akatsuki. Nabbing grave robbers for temple monks seems easy enough, but of course it isn't so simple as that. Somehow it all ties into a coup d'état that Leaf jonin Asuma Sarutobi foiled ten years ago, and to Sora, the powerful son of one of the coup's leaders. That coup, it turns out, isn't as dead as Asuma thought.
Review:

The shadow of its progenitor's near-lethal devolution into uninterrupted filler lies heavily on Naruto Shippūden's first foray into non-canon storytelling. In a good way. The series has learned from its past mistakes. Rather than create characters, settings and situations of whole cloth, it opts for what is basically an expansion of a small and neglected portion of the manga's world—namely the Guardian Shinobi Twelve, an organization that was briefly mentioned in the manga as Asuma's former employer. It's a good move, one that keeps the arc at least marginally relevant to the main plot. The extra depth for Asuma definitely benefits future arcs (about which no more will be said), and the elaboration of the Guardian Shinobi Twelve is quite welcome. The series also keeps the ongoing story's major players in play, bringing Danzo in to play bogeyman (it's what he does best) and using the specter of the Akatsuki to facilitate the occasional plot point. Factor in the parallels the series draws between Sora and Sasuke and its willingness to let the plot and stakes grow epic and you get a filler arc that almost feels...substantial. Weird.

There are, of course, lessons that the series didn't learn. While the details, scale and overall integration of the arc are new, its broad outlines are dispiritingly familiar. Na>ruto being sent on a seemingly innocent mission, meeting a seemingly antagonistic youngster, and bonding with him while the mission blows up in everyone's faces... Where have we seen that before? Only in every miserable episode of the original Naruto's miserable mass of filler. The series mitigates the sad familiarity of its plot by having Sora genuinely cross the line to the dark side, but that still doesn't excuse Sora and Na>ruto's hackneyed they-fight-but-get-along rivalry, or their excruciating buddy-bonding. One whiff of their relationship's inspirational tone ("thank you Mr. Na>ruto for saving me from my case of the dark broodies!") could well send Naruto veterans running for the hills pursued by PTSD filler-flashbacks. And really, no one could blame them.

Though it would be a bit of a shame, particularly for veterans disappointed by the slow and humorless turn Naruto took when it became Naruto Shippūden. No longer required to drag its story out, the series is now free to include multiple significant events per episode. The number of episodes a fight covers can now finally be counted on a single hand. Oh blessed brevity! The tone is still dark, and objectively speaking the arc's progress is deliberate, but only insofar as it's beneficial in staving off undue frivolity. And neither stops the show from horning in a goodly helping of its now-infrequent silly humor (the best of it involving Sai and his how-to books). This is the first time, really, that Shippuden has successfully achieved the balance of goofy fun and emotionally fraught ninja action that characterized the best parts of the fist series.

The mixture isn't perfect. Neither the characters, specifically Sora, nor the writers are good enough to convincingly carry off the "emotionally fraught" part of the formula, and the humor tends to be recycled. Transparent plot devices (Kakashi just happens to be off on a mission when the villains bring the fight to Hidden Leaf) and long explanatory briefings also work their deadening magic. But the balance still stands, and still entertains, which places this filler arc, in one way at least, above the dreary arcs preceding it.

If there's another way this arc out-competes previous arcs, it isn't in visuals. Fight choreography remains one of the series' major weaknesses, and without Masashi Kishimoto's outrageous ninja inventions to lean on, it really shows. The show may have learned its lesson about inventing lame ninjutsu—the enemy ninjutsu, with their summoned mountains and floods and tornadoes, are pure spectacle—but when the battle gets in close, things tend to break down a bit. Inconsistent art and occasionally awkward animation play a part, but the main problem is that the series' martial arts just aren't interestingly conceived or executed.

The rest of the series looks fine. The show favors clean, proudly computer-assisted movement that looks uniformly good outside of its periodic breakdowns in quality control, and Hidden Leaf, within which the set's latter half takes place, has always been an artistic highlight. Even the mannequin-ish character designs get a boost in flexibility, mostly thanks to their new comic responsibilities. But even so the show's overall look never exceeds a sort of base-level competence.

Not so Yasuharu Takanashi's score, which while pretty bad at bolstering comic energy, is gangbusters at snaking tendrils of ominous dread into ninja brawls and backroom political nastiness. And not so the pleasantly melancholy pop opener. The two different but equally forgettable pop and pop-rock closers are a little more appropriately mediocre.

Viz continues to provide a nice, viable English alternative for the sub-averse, a kindness that should not be overlooked in these cash-strapped times. The new additions fit into the established cast without much in the way of glitches, the script remains conservative yet solidly written, and everything generally runs like the reliable machine the dub has become. The four villains aren't exactly subtly played, but since when has ham been an impediment to villainy? Rock solid, and be glad for it. Because it's basically the only added content you'll get on these discs. Oh sure, there are extras, but when the most substantial of them is a collection of dub-only omake, each of which is already available at the end of its corresponding episode, you can't really call them added content.

Fans may be reluctant to dive into yet another Naruto plot digression, and justifiably so. The series' track record with digressions isn't good. This is one stretch of filler you might want to consider digging into, however. And not just because it mixes a little bit of the ongoing plot (rote training stuff, but still essential) into its opening episodes. When the set ends—with a zombie-apocalypse cliffhanger no less—you genuinely want to see what happens next. And it's been a while since Shippuden pulled that off.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B

+ Faster and more humorous; better integrated into the overarching plot than it has to be.
It's still filler; sub-par action execution; the usual checklist of writing and plotting issues.

Series Director:Yasuaki Kurotsu
Director:Hayato Date
Series Composition:
Satoru Nishizono
Yasuyuki Suzuki
Junki Takegami
Screenplay:
Hayato Date
Masahiro Hikokubo
Yasuaki Kurotsu
Yuka Miyata
Satoru Nishizono
Yasuyuki Suzuki
Junki Takegami
Toshiyuki Tsuru
Shin Yoshida
Storyboard:
Charozo
Noriyuki Abe
Akitaro Daichi
Hayato Date
Masaaki Endou
Kiyomu Fukuda
Naoki Hishikawa
Masahiro Hosoda
Takayuki Inagaki
Hisashi Ishii
Kei Jūmonji
Yutaka Kagawa
Jun Kamiya
Shigeki Kawai
Hiroshi Kimura
Yuki Kinoshita
Hiroyoshi Kishikawa
Yoriyasu Kogawa
Junya Koshiba
Rion Kujo
Masaaki Kumagai
Tomoyuki Kurokawa
Yasuaki Kurotsu
Koji Masunari
Yukihiro Matsushita
Tokuyuki Matsutake
Shigeru Mita
Yuichiro Miyake
Kazunori Mizuno
Tsutomu Murakami
Masahiko Murata
Naomi Nakayama
Tsutomu Naniwa
Toshiya Nidome
Atsushi Nigorikawa
Toshiya Niidome
Ken'ichi Nishida
Mitsutaka Noshitani
Maki Odaira
Takahiro Ohno
Marabe Ono
Tetsuto Saitoo
Chikara Sakurai
Sumito Sasaki
Shinji Satoh
Gorou Sessha
Ogura Shirakawa
Yoshihiro Sugai
Masato Suma
Shigeharu Takahashi
Wakoudo Takahashi
Tetsuji Takayanagi
Chiyuki Tanaka
Toshiyuki Tsuru
Atsushi Wakabayashi
Keisuke Watanabe
Shuu Watanabe
Hiroyuki Yamashita
Shingo Yamashita
Yuu Yamashita
Hiroshi Yamazaki
Akitoshi Yokoyama
Episode Director:
Noriyuki Abe
Eitarō Ano
Hayato Date
Junichi Fujise
Kiyomu Fukuda
Hayato Goda
Naoki Horiuchi
Yoshihide Ibata
Hisashi Ishii
Yutaka Kagawa
Hiroshi Kataoka
Shigeki Kawai
Hiroshi Kimura
Yuki Kinoshita
Hiroyoshi Kishikawa
Masato Kitagawa
Rion Kujo
Masaaki Kumagai
Masaaki Kumatani
Yasuaki Kurotsu
Yasumi Mikamoto
Shigeru Mita
Yuichiro Miyake
Kazunori Mizuno
Masahiko Murata
Jun Nakagawa
Naomi Nakayama
Atsushi Nigorikawa
Ken'ichi Nishida
Hiroaki Nishimura
Mitsutaka Noshitani
Maki Odaira
Takahiro Ohno
Kunitoshi Okajima
Takahiro Okao
Katsumi Ono
Yūsuke Onoda
Maneko Ooku
Masahito Otani
Chikara Sakurai
Sumito Sasaki
Kazuma Satō
Mitsutoshi Satō
Shinji Satoh
Gorou Sessha
Ogura Shirakawa
Yoshihiro Sugai
Yuriko Sugaya
Hidetoshi Takahashi
Shigeharu Takahashi
Hideki Takayama
Hayato Takeda
Chiyuki Tanaka
Tomoya Tanaka
Tsuneo Tominaga
Hiroyuki Tsuchiya
Daisuke Tsukushi
Toshiyuki Tsuru
Hideaki Uehara
Fumiaki Usui
Atsushi Wakabayashi
Shuu Watanabe
Hiroyuki Yamashita
Yuu Yamashita
Hiroshi Yamazaki
Akitoshi Yokoyama
Unit Director:
Charozo
Akitaro Daichi
Hayato Date
Yasuaki Kurotsu
Koji Masunari
Tokuyuki Matsutake
Kazunori Mizuno
Masahiko Murata
Toshiya Niidome
Marabe Ono
Shinji Satoh
Chiyuki Tanaka
Toshiyuki Tsuru
Atsushi Wakabayashi
Keisuke Watanabe
Hiroyuki Yamashita
Shingo Yamashita
Yuu Yamashita
Music:
-yaiba-
Musashi Project
Toshio Masuda
Yasuharu Takanashi
Original creator:Masashi Kishimoto
Original Character Design:Yasuaki Kurotsu
Character Design:
Tetsuya Nishio
Hirofumi Suzuki
Art Director:
Hideaki Kudo
Shigenori Takada
Art:Hideaki Kudo
Chief Animation Director:
Seiko Asai
Kumiko Horikoshi
Yasuhiko Kanezuka
Gorou Sessha
Chiyuki Tanaka
Yumenosuke Tokuda
Zenjirou Ukulele
Animation Director:
Charozo
Hiroki Abe
Naoki Aisaka
Manabu Akita
Yoshinobu Aohachi
Erika Arakawa
Seiko Asai
Takahiro Chiba
Ik Hyun Eum
Akihiro Fukui
Manami Fukuyo
Kōji Furuya
Masatoshi Hakanda
Hiroki Handa
Noritomo Hattori
Hyo Jung Heo
Ken'ichi Hirata
Beom Seok Hong
Kumiko Horikoshi
Yūri Ichinose
Hiroaki Imaki
Keiichi Ishida
Hirokazu Ishino
Yūko Ishizaki
Yukiko Iwata
Min-Ho Jang
Hiroyuki Kamura
Yasuhiko Kanezuka
Koji Kataoka
Shigeki Kawai
Dae Hoon Kim
Kang Won Kim
Yuki Kinoshita
Yukari Kobayashi
Hiroki Koike
Yuki Koike
Ryo Komori
Masayuki Kouda
Yasuaki Kurotsu
Boo Hee Lee
Kengo Matsumoto
Hideaki Matsuoka
Tokuyuki Matsutake
Shin Minseop
Minoru Morita
Tsutomu Murakami
Hisao Muramatsu
Masahiko Murata
Takashi Nishikawa
Ichiro Ogawa
Yukimaro Ohtsubo
Hidehiko Okano
Hiromi Okazaki
Masaya Onishi
Marabe Ono
Noriko Otake
Hong Rong
Takashi Saijo
Konomi Sakurai
Shinji Satoh
Ryousuke Senbo
Gorou Sessha
Naoki Sousaka
Yoshihiro Sugai
Yuriko Sugaya
Hirofumi Suzuki
Natsuko Suzuki
Shinichi Suzuki
Naoki Takahashi
Makoto Takahoko
Itsuko Takeda
Tatsuki Takemoto
Kei Takeuchi
Chiyuki Tanaka
Hironori Tanaka
Hiroto Tanaka
Shinsuke Terasawa
Yumenosuke Tokuda
Eiichi Tokura
Megumi Tomita
Kayano Tomizawa
Akihiro Tsuda
Takenori Tsukuma
Zenjirou Ukulele
Atsushi Wakabayashi
Akira Watanabe
Keisuke Watanabe
Anna Yamaguchi
Hiroyuki Yamashita
Shingo Yamashita
Yuu Yamashita
Kwang Seok Yang
Mamoru Yokota
Hyo Sang Yoo
Hideyuki Yoshida
Hiromi Yoshinuma
Miho Yoshioka
Sound Director:Yasunori Ebina
Producer:
Fukashi Azuma
Tomoko Gushima

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Naruto Shippūden (TV)

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