Reviewby Amy McNulty,
Uncut DVD Set Volume 24
Some opponents just won't stay down, even the ones helpful enough to offer detailed instructions on how to defeat them. As the Fourth Ninja World War rages on, Gaara is determined to clear the air with his recently-resurrected father, while Itachi breaks free from Kabuto's control and joins Naruto and Killer Bee in their fight against Nagato. In an effort to provide aid to as many campaigns as possible, Naruto spreads his shadow clones throughout a number of battlefields, first assisting Gaara and the Tsuchikage in taking down multiple reanimated Kage and then retrieving his friends' stolen souls from the reanimated Sound Four. Hidden Leaf shinobi reminisce about adventures from their youth as Yugao realizes she's going to lose Hayate a second time because the man she loved is now under the enemy's control.
Volume 24 of Naruto Shippūden encompasses episodes 297 to 309, another collection of stories set during the Fourth Ninja World War. Episode 297 picks up where the previous set left off, with Gaara confronting the reanimated corpse of his father, the Fourth Kazekage. The two never had a proper reconciliation in life, and it isn't until Gaara's sand takes the shape of his late mother that his emotionally-distant father realizes he was wrong for isolating his youngest son. Gaara then comes to understand that his mother, who died from complications during his birth, loved him dearly. This revelation runs counter to everything he'd been taught growing up. Since Gaara is among the series' most damaged characters, it's nice to see things go well for him. Having reconciled with his siblings a while back, getting closure from his parents was the natural next step in his character arc.
Episodes 298 through 299 are the highlight of the set, as Naruto and Killer Bee take on the reanimated corpse of Itachi Uchiha, the brother Sasuke finally managed to kill—and the only reanimation able to retain his free will, courtesy of the Kotoamatsukami, a special technique activated by his Mangekyo Sharingan. Nagato, the former second-in-command of the Akatsuki, must turn on his comrade and attack the trio under the will of Kabuto. The animation used to convey Itachi's Sharingan techniques is incredibly fluid and a visual treat. A crow emerging from Naruto's mouth and the stylistic Amaterasu attack are visually stunning images that are on par with the show's best aesthetic offerings. When Naruto, Killer Bee and Itachi join forces, they manage to free Nagato from Kabuto's control just long enough for him to express regret for his actions in life and to entrust his hopes to Naruto, with whom he shared a teacher (Jiraiya).
Episodes 300 through 302 shift the focus back to the battalion of ninja lead by Onoki (the Tsuchikage) and Gaara. Despite just laying his father to rest, the Kazekage still has to finish sealing the reanimated Second Mizukage and Third Raikage. It's not going well, even with their “enemies” trying to help. (While watching characters take on resurrected versions of fallen friends and enemies grows tiresome, seeing some of the reanimations offer up ideas on how to re-kill them is amusing.) With none of the featured players having much of a personal connection to these men, less time is spent on melodrama and regret, and more focus is devoted to action. When Naruto shows up to lend a hand, he goes into Sage Mode and gets the Third Raikage to take himself out with his own attack. In order to test Gaara's abilities, the Second Mizukage decides to stop “helping” him, prompting the ever-resourceful young ruler to formulate an ingenious plan. Using his gold dust technique, Gaara is at last able to immobilize and seal the powerful corpse puppet. This mini-arc is well-paced and features a number of solid action sequences, but there's been enough corpse-sealing at this point, and it's high time the players moved on to the next stage of this seemingly-endless war.
Naruto and his shadow clones barely have a chance to catch their breath before the reanimated Sound Four (the Sasuke Retrieval Arc's featured antagonists) attack the members of the original Sasuke Recovery Team in episodes 303 through 305, the first of this set's filler offerings. (The remaining episodes are all anime-original.) Shikamaru, Kiba, Neji, and Choji, who initially defeat the Sound Four much faster than they did in their youth, subsequently have their souls sucked into a barrier of vengeful energy. Shino, Hinata, and INO are the first to arrive on the scene and stumble upon their comrades' unconscious bodies. Realizing their friends have lost their souls, INO and Shino use their powers to keep their bodies alive while the others search for the location of the barrier trapping their spirits. When Naruto finally shows up, he saves the day by sending a Rasengan through a weakness that appears in the Sound Four's barrier when the enemies' vengeful feelings grow out of control.
Episode 306 takes us back to the past, as Hinata flashes back to an incident from her youth while fighting alongside Neji. After Hinata strains her eyes during training, Neji travels to a distant mountain with Naruto and Sakura to obtain medicinal plants that will cure her vision in time for a fireworks display she's looking forward to. This story offers a humorous break from the action, particularly for fans of Neji and/or Hinata. Naruto and Sakura feel wedged into the episode, though, even if Naruto is the object of Hinata's affections.
Episodes 307 and 308 focus on Hayate Gekko, a Hidden Leaf shinobi who was killed shortly before the Sand's invasion of the Leaf—and one of the few secondary characters who seemed to be dead for good. While leading a team of reanimated corpses tasked with bringing the bodies of dead combatants to Kabuto for “samples,” Hayate must confront a team of medical ninja, including former ANBU member Yugao, his one-time student and lover. The fleshing out of Hayate's backstory makes for a diverting tale, and it sheds new insight into this long-absent character. Still, given that he's been dead for hundreds of episodes, exploring his past at this late stage seems like an odd decision. Additionally, episode 307 devotes too much time to Kabuto telling Hayate what's happened since his death.
Episode 309, this set's endcap, isn't without its charms, but it's almost jarringly out of place. When Naruto recognizes a reanimated samurai from a mission he undertook with Team Asuma in his youth, a humorous flashback quickly follows. This mission entailed rescuing the son of a small country's leader from an allied power. To gain entrance into the country's normally-closed borders, Choji must enter an eating contest. (Makes... sense?) However, for Shikamaru's plan to succeed, he has to win second place—not first—and as we've seen in the past, it's never easy for this gluttonous ninja to display self-control when food is abundant.
In the span of these thirteen episodes, we're once again shown what a versatile series Naruto is. Certain stories tackle heavy themes, others emphasize action, and a few of them are comedic. Although every Naruto fan will find something to like here, this cour doesn't feature much of a unifying theme, despite all the stories being set during the same war. One glaring weakness in a number of episodes is the emphasis of telling over showing. As is often the case with this series, particularly in filler episodes, it can be distracting when characters speak aloud to themselves for the benefit of the audience, like when Kabuto explains the ins and outs of the Sound Four's barrier trap.
The dub is as good as ever, although a number of the male characters sound more gravelly in English than Japanese. (Derek Stephen Prince's Shino, for example, as well as Henry Dittman's Kabuto.) The performances still suit the characters, but they make for markedly different interpretations. Lex Lang's Hayate sounds too sleepy throughout his mini-arc. In a way, it suits the sleepy-eyed shinobi's laidback nature. On the other hand, this approach to the character doesn't really suit the tone of such an emotional, tragic arc.
The score, while not remarkable, does a solid job of emphasizing the action, drama, and comedy for which this series is known. As usual, the artwork and animation are a mixed bag. Some episodes (like the Itachi confrontation) look great and feature fluid animation, while others (like the comedy-focused fillers) leave a lot to be desired aesthetically and movement-wise. Fortunately, even the worst-looking episode's visuals are never so bad as to be distracting.
As with most previous collections (with the exception of Volume 23, which featured the never-before-seen director's cut of the “Power” arc), the extras are minimal and are not worth buying the set for. The art gallery and storyboards are worth a look, but the handful of images doesn't offer more than a minute's worth of entertainment.
All in all, volume 24 of Naruto Shippūden is a solidly middle-of-the-road collection. Most of the episodes are enjoyable on a number of levels, even if a few are out of place. Luckily, there aren't any stories that prove a slog to get through. Fans collecting all of the series on disc will definitely want to pick this set up. However, unless any of the featured episodes are among their personal favorites, there's nothing to recommend this set to fans who haven't started collecting the DVDs.
Overall : B
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ The variety of episodes offer a potent mix of action, drama and comedy, Gaara experiences some important character growth, some beautifully animated battles
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