Reviewby Amy McNulty,
Uncut DVD Set Volume 22
In the early stages of the Fourth Great Shinobi War, Naruto is still kept in the dark, although he soon discovers that the Five Kage have been sheltering him from the war. True to his nature, Naruto won't stand to hear that his village and his friends are in danger without being allowed to help in the fight, but Ay and Tsunade can't let him alert Madara to his location. Meanwhile, Choji, Shikamaru and Ino are the shinobi best suited for the job of taking out their undead sensei Asuma, but Choji's kind nature stops him from delivering the final blow. Sakura must deal with the enemy's deception amidst the turmoil of her medical work in the field, and Hinata, Kiba and Shino take care of a perimeter breach in a cave overrun by the enemy. Sasuke's searching for Naruto and Deidara's determined to make the most of his second life, even if he's undead. Chaos reins on the battlefield as Tobi unleases a giant attacking statue, and the non-combatants and children left back home are determined to keep the Hidden Leaf Village safe. Killer B's history is revealed, and he'll use his bond with Ay to change the Raikage's opinion on keeping the jinchūriki out of the war—or battle him trying.
Naruto Shippūden's 22nd DVD set (episodes 271-283) is a mixed bag, but it rarely disappoints. With the Fourth Great Shinobi War finally off the ground, there are countless battles to showcase and many, many stories to tell. While a number of the mini arcs featured in this volume do a commendable job of showcasing the action and character development for which the series is known, some episodes lag and stick out like sore thumbs. Fortunately, fans of the show's enormous cast will be pleased to learn that almost every major character gets some time in the spotlight. Among the highlights this batch is the episode that starts the set, an anime-original tale in which Sakura is stricken with amnesia. "Road to Sakura" was designed to promote the Road to Ninja feature film, which was released the week this episode aired. Not surprisingly, one needs to have seen–or at least be familiar with–the tenth entry in the Naruto film series to fully understand this story or it really does feel out of place. At one point, a large poster for the movie is prominently displayed in the background for nearly a full minute, ensuring that even the dimmest audience member gets the point. Although the episode doesn't bring anything new to the "familiar character loses his/her memory" formula, it does contain a number of genuinely funny moments, complemented by strokes of self-parody. "Road to Sakura" is also notable for featuring the first television series appearance of the pink-haired kunoichi's sharp-tongued mother and pun-spouting father. (These characters never even appeared in the source material.)
In addition to “Road to Sakura,” two other anime-originals on the set—"White Zetsu's Trap" and "Aesthetics of an Artist"—are perfect examples of filler done right. They don't overstay their welcome and they break up the monotony of the longer battles with their levity and focus on characters who aren't getting very much attention in the manga-based storyline. "Trap" and "Aesthetics" are so well-suited to the series, fans unfamiliar with the manga would be forgiven for thinking these stories were adapted from the source material. On the other hand, "The Allied Mom Force!!," in which the Hidden Leaf housewives do battle against a gang of villainous sumo wrestlers with the help of the snot-nosed ninja-in-training left behind, proves a little too silly, especially when compared to the tone of the rest of the collection.
The manga-based episodes are executed well with each installment paced just right to keep the story moving along without sacrificing any of the tension. The battles are also animated with relative finesse. While there aren't any masterfully-choreographed exchanges, the fights on this set are a step up from latter episodes in which heroes and enemies spend far too much time talking to one another instead of exchanging blows. The weakest episode on the set, "Mifune vs. Hanzo," drags because viewers have little to no connection with either character. While the intention may have been to showcase the samurai fighting style amidst a world dominated by ninja—and there are some aesthetically pleasing blade-on-kusarigama exchanges here—Mifune is a minor character if there ever was one, and it's hard to get emotionally invested in his life story.
To be honest, this set constituted my first exposure to the Naruto Shippūden dub beyond a few clips of the show on TV and the English voice tracks used in various American game releases. I found it to be surprisingly well done, far better than I expected based on the minimal exposure I'd had previously. Even so, there are some distracting elements: some of the background voices are noticeably recycled on more than one occasion, and the voice actors pronounce some Japanese names and terms almost too perfectly. It's a strange complaint, as I'd much rather have them pronounce the names correctly than incorrectly, but nearly every English-spoken sentence grinds to a halt when the voice actors wrap their mouths around names like "Sa-ku-ra" and "Na-ru-to"—to the point where it sounds unnatural in English. These labored pronunciations often make the aforementioned names sound more complex than they actually are.
Almost all of the voices fit the characters to a tee and bring the drama, tension and humor of these episodes to life with a couple of glaring exceptions: Naruto himself and Kurama, the Nine Tails. While Maile Flanagan gets Naruto's cadence and can-do attitude down pat, her voice is gravelly and grating whenever Naruto's on screen for more than a minute or so. It's not unsuited to the character, and many fans of the dub have embraced the portrayal for years, but it's a shock for a subtitle-only watcher to hear for the first time. Similarly, the producers seem to be trying too hard with Kurama's voice. Instead of the deep and resounding but still palatable voice of the Japanese production, Paul St. Peter's echoed-enhanced take is more comically monstrous like Doctor Claw from Inspector Gadget.
The music in Naruto Shippūden is repetitive but so good, it's never an issue. There are certain rocking-beat-infused tracks that play throughout battle sequences, quieter melodies that play for the touching moments like Choji coming to terms with the fact that he must kill his (undead) sensei, and tracks with gradually-building crescendos that are perfect for ratcheting up tension. Tracks that have been recycled throughout the series' run constitute nearly all the music on this set and serve as the perfect analogy to the series itself: slight modern sensibilities heavily infused with medieval Japanese style.
The promise of "original and uncut episodes" touted on the cover doesn't mean much now that both sub and dub watchers have easy access to uncut episodes online. Fans who pick up this box set will find song translations and eyecatches intact and a slightly higher picture quality than what's available on the web, but otherwise, nothing new. It's ultimately a collection for fans who cherish the series, not for more casual fans looking for something they haven't already seen.
The best thing about the packaging is the cover art, which perfectly reflects Naruto's vivacious personality and shows off three of the secondary characters who go through an important turning point in this box set. Otherwise, the packaging design is lackluster and the special features are disappointingly minimal. The highlight is a storyboard from a single episode, but it's only five pages. Clean endings and openings are pretty standard and unexciting, and "English credits" are not a special feature, no matter what the packaging and DVD menu claims. It's clear the manufacturers expect no one but the most devout Naruto fans to purchase this set, which is a shame because it's got some stellar episodes and even streaming fans might be happy to have this on their shelves.
Although volume 22 of Naruto Shippūden is not a good starting point for anyone new to the series, it's a solid entry in the Naruto canon. It features episodes recently streamed for dub fans, and viewers who are current with the streaming subtitled episodes will be brought back to a time when the Fourth Great Shinobi War was still fresh and exciting. Even if some installments are stronger than others, the episodes on this set are good examples of the show effectively juggling the simultaneous stories of dozens of characters during the war—long before it felt like the producers were padding episodes with flashbacks and endless fillers to make the show last.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A
+ Great price for an entire cour of the series, slightly higher quality picture, recent release for those who follow the dub, overall above average sample of Fourth Great Shinobi War episodes.
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