Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 18th 2013
Naruto Shippūden: The Lost Tower
Naruto Uzumaki and his ninja companions are on a mission to stop Mukade, a villain driven mad by his thirst for power. Their quest takes them to Loran, a ruined city where Mukade plans to extract immense levels of chakra from an underground Ley Line. Naruto steps in to confront Mukade, but gets caught in a chakra blast—and is transported twenty years into the past! While stranded in this strange place and time, Naruto meets Sara, the young queen who once ruled over Loran and its numerous towers. Unknown to Sara, a dark secret lurks beneath the city, and Mukade himself is involved. Now Naruto must help Sara protect her city from evil forces, then figure out how to return to his own time. Luckily, some Hidden Leaf ninja from that era are on hand to provide some assistance—including Naruto's own father!
The rules of Naruto movies are simple: feel free to try out crazy ideas, make up whatever new characters you like, but whatever happens, don't mess with the continuity of the manga or the TV series. So it goes for Naruto Shippuden: The Lost Tower, which starts out with a unique premise but eventually falls back on the same old formula. There are plenty of appealing elements here—time travel, a medieval metropolis, and the glory days of the series' senior characters—but it all reverts to set-piece battles and a cop-out finale in the end.
Setting an entire adventure in a different time period is a convenient way to set up a "filler movie"—there's no way the characters can ruin the main storyline if they're doing their damage twenty years in the past. Even so, The Lost Tower does make an effort to be relevant: Naruto's father Minato is a key player, as are a couple of other well-known ninja dads, and even a much-beloved sensei makes a cameo. Fans will be excited to see these characters showing off their jutsu techniques and fighting evil in their prime, but that's about the extent of their impact on the story. Demonstrate some cool moves, impart useful advice, then step aside to let Naruto take center stage.
It's that "Naruto taking center stage" part where this movie falters. The plot goes through all sorts of contortions to keep the adventure going, whether logical or not. When Naruto first arrives in old Loran, he doesn't realize he's traveled through time—but conveniently enough, Minato just knows that the kid is from the future, and his solution for getting Naruto back to the present rests on some pretty shaky reasoning as well. As Queen Sara and Mukade get involved, the story gets even more contorted: due to Sara's low self-confidence and her unwillingness to fight back against Mukade, Naruto has to personally escort her through various save-the-city tasks. Go here, activate this device, rescue these people, fight this monster, and "do what you have to do." So now the plot is just forcing its way through an action-adventure checklist?
Sadly, that seems to be the case. By the time Mukade goes into full aggression mode, the movie has given up trying to be creative. Instead, it's one battle after another as Naruto and his father's generation fight side-by-side to defeat a one-dimensional villain whose only motivation is to rule the world (just like everyone else). The fight takes the most clichéd path possible, with the heroes defeating each of Mukade's various forms in different venues like a video-game boss battle. The final attack is a predictable one, and the only attempt at character development comes right at the end: Sara declares that Naruto has taught her a valuable life lesson, inexplicably elevating a young ninja to the level of time-traveling savior.
Despite the story's downslide into action-adventure cliché, the visuals remain beautiful throughout, thanks to the feature-film budget. The city of Loran takes its cues from medieval and Renaissance Europe, providing a dramatic change of setting from the usual Japanese-styled Naruto universe. The city's elaborate architecture and vertical layout also set up the perfect playground for airborne fights and chase scenes, where Naruto and friends violate the laws of physics but obey all the laws of how to look awesome in battle. Character designs remain consistent and highly detailed throughout (except for common city folk), while dramatic lighting effects make for some memorable nighttime scenes. The final fight scene, where Naruto goes all-out against Mukade, is the movie's crowning achievement in terms of special effects and high-framerate animation—but there are plenty of other stunning scenes throughout this adventure, where creative designs and technical polish come together.
The music is similarly on a higher level than the usual soundtrack cues used in the TV show; heavy strings and a dramatic, full-orchestra sound give this storyline the weight it needs. The musical moods run anywhere from melancholic to menacing to triumphant—no room for throwaway comedy tunes here—and only a couple of times does the movie resort to the banal hard-rock guitars that seem to come with every shounen battle scene.
A solid vocal performance makes the English dub just as enjoyable to listen to as the Japanese audio. The role of Naruto encompasses a wide emotional range, going anywhere from confused to thoughtful to fired-up—sometimes within just minutes of each other—and sweet-voiced Sara provides an ideal counterpoint, sometimes even stepping up to the task of singing a cappella. As the villain, Mukade could have gone way overboard (after all, the character is forced to spout awful lines like "I have infinite power!"), but his guttural growl manages to plumb the depths of evil without sounding comical. Instead, the comical elements are left to the bonus animation short on this disc, where a younger Naruto and his friends get into a clash over a bottle containing a wish-granting genie. Trailers for the Japanese release of the movie, plus an eye-catching gallery of background art, also round out the extra content.
Naruto Shippuden: The Lost Tower might as well be called "The Lost Opportunity" because of how it squanders its creative potential. Time travel is usually one of the best ways to spark a clever, mind-bending plot—but here, it's used mainly as a device to keep the movie from messing with the series continuity, and to bring in some surprise cameos from the older ninja generation. The logic behind the city's chakra power source, and how it relates to time travel, seems pretty shaky as well. So what do you do when the story starts looking weak? Fall back on explosive fight scenes and wild chases, just like every other Naruto movie. Even the unique setting, full of beautiful structures and lighting, serves as little more than a backdrop for wanton destruction and special-effects fireworks in the end. You can alter the flow of time, but you can't alter the rules of Naruto movies.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Fans will enjoy high-flying fight scenes, visually stunning backgrounds, and the appearance of several older characters in their youth.
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