Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jul 19th 2013
DVD Set 14
The wrathful ninja Pain has launched a devastating attack on the Hidden Leaf village, and Naruto Uzumaki is their last hope for survival! Pain's team of remote-controlled puppets has been reduced to one, and Naruto takes on the final Pain in a duel that forces out every last bit of his power—including the nine-tailed fox demon. As the inner beast threatens to go berserk, Naruto makes a shocking discovery about his abilities. Eventually, Naruto comes face-to-face with Nagato, the man behind Pain, and demands an explanation. How could Naruto and Nagato, who both trained under the great sage Jiraiya, have taken such different paths in life? The answer lies in their respective childhoods: Naruto learns of Nagato's tortured past, while Naruto's mentors reflect on the young troublemaker who has now blossomed into a hero.
The conclusion to the Pain saga is one of Naruto Shippūden's finest moments—not just for the titular hero, but for the entire series itself. As expected, the final battle pushes Naruto and Pain to the brink, but it's the personal storylines surrounding the battle that really make it memorable. This story arc goes beyond simple questions of who is the strongest, and whether good or evil will triumph: instead, it tackles more serious thoughts, like what it takes to become a hero or villain, and whether it's truly possible to believe in world peace. The series is still enjoyable for its flashy fight scenes, but there's also plenty more going on beneath the surface.
The episodes in this set don't take long to reach the realm of spiritual introspection. Right away, an enraged Naruto goes into beast form, while his human soul wanders the ether and meets an unexpected figure from his past. It's one of the most touching moments in the story, and just the push that Naruto needs to take control of the situation. Seeing Naruto gather the strength to defeat Pain is a thrill, but it's what he does after the battle that really proves his heroism—he demands a face-to-face discussion with the bad guy. Everything that follows from that is what makes the story a masterpiece.
The tale of Nagato is one of those moments when taking a detour from the main storyline is absolutely okay: his flashback completes the character, connects him to Jiraiya (and thus Naruto's own story), and sparks a debate about whose philosophy is right (Naruto's idealism versus Nagato's vengeful cynicism). The scenes from Nagato's childhood are incredibly tragic and harrowing—is this really still Shonen Jump?—but they do explain how someone with so much talent, plus a well-meaning teacher, could turn against the world. Then comes the real coup: Naruto takes everything he's learned about Nagato and Jiraiya, then twists their ideas into a message of hope. In that moment, Naruto isn't just a hero with his fists, but with his heart and mind.
How does one even top a conclusion like that? The answer is simple: you don't. The last few episodes in this set are predictably anticlimactic, closing out with some fillers about Naruto's youth. In addition, a brief young-Naruto escapade slots itself in just before Nagato's flashback, presumably to balance out the dark story content. These flashbacks aren't a total waste of time—they do show how Naruto's positive upbringing was markedly different from Nagato's—but obviously they recall a more lighthearted, less drama-laden era. Meanwhile, the plot churns quietly in the main storyline, setting up for the next great conflict.
As expected, the animation is at its most spectacular during the great battle—Naruto and Pain attack each other in dynamic fashion, often at camera angles lifted straight from the manga. Mind-boggling sights, like Naruto's raging beast form and Pain levitating a giant ball of dirt, are sure to leave an impression. A couple of artistic experiments don't quite work out, though: when Pain battles beast-form Naruto, the amount of contortion their bodies go through is impressive, but looks sloppily drawn; later on, the deep shadows at the beginning of Nagato's flashback create a striking look, but at the cost of detail and consistency. Surprisingly, some of the most enjoyable visuals come during the young Naruto episodes, where a rich color palette, crisp lines, and familiar old character designs set the tone. By contrast, most of the Pain/Nagato segment is an exercise in brown and gray, although given the mood at that point (and the rain-soaked locale), it's the best fit for the story.
A dramatic, full-orchestra score also adds to the impact of Naruto and Pain's battle, from loud power-packed chords when they clash, to mournful string elegies during Nagato's flashback. Even Naruto's triumphant homecoming gets a brass fanfare to call its own. However, the tales of Naruto's youth resort to more cheaply produced music, with rock instrumentals and other medium-to-light pop tracks playing in the background. The opening theme stirs up the show's Fighting Spirit with its hard-rock sound, but the slow-paced, bittersweet closer captures the other side of the story.
Because of the way these episodes traverse so many moods, they serve as a true challenge of voice-acting ability—and the English dub cast handles it pretty well. Maile Flanagan (Naruto) faces the ultimate test, having to be defiant, despondent, hopeful, and even comical at times, and she pulls it off no matter what the situation. Supporting cast members also do a fine job of bringing out the characters' myriad personalities and voices (plus, they pronounce the names correctly). Only during some of the filler-flashback adventures are there some unfortunate cases of overacting, and that's as much the fault of the story as it is the actors. The 3-DVD package is scant on extras, with only a small selection of production sketches, storyboards, and post-episode comedy shorts to go with the usual credits sequences and trailers.
For all the complaints about Naruto's filler episodes, long-drawn-out fight scenes, and minor characters getting too much attention, sometimes there are moments when everything just falls into place. This is one of those moments—a perfect storm of drama and action, back-story and plot advancement, and some surprisingly deep thoughts on what it means to strive for peace. Were it not for the tangential flashback episodes on the last disc, this would be a near-perfect story arc. Even the production values remain solid throughout, proving that mass-market shonen anime doesn't necessarily equate to cheap. This is one adventure that's worth the price of admission—the moment when a boy ninja takes that crucial step toward becoming a man.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ A spectacular, all-out battle leads to some seriously deep debate between the hero and villain—action, drama, tragedy, and hope all rolled into one.
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