Reviewby Amy McNulty,
Uncut DVD Set Volume 25
As the Fourth Great Ninja War rages on, a variety of secondary characters are confronted by reanimated reminders of their respective pasts, sending them on trips down Memory Lane. Killer Bee goes toe to toe with another Eight Tails jinchūriki, and comedy abounds in everything from a bathhouse episode to an unexpected love confession. Immediately after Naruto and his shadow clones arrive where needed on the battlefields, a reanimated Uchiha Madara engages Naruto, Gaara, and the Tsuchikage in a battle of (literally) cosmic proportions.
The seemingly endless Fourth Great Ninja War continues to unfold in Naruto Shippūden: Volume 25, which collects episodes 310 through 322. With the exception of episodes 321 and 322, every installment found on this set is anime-original. Fortunately, as far as filler content goes, Volume 25 features far more hits than misses.
Continuing the humorous flashback arc the previous set ended on, episode 310 finds Team Asuma, securing Shu, the kidnapped son of a daimyo, and whisking him away from his nation's enemies while Naruto stays behind and acts as his double. Thanks to the “prince's” sudden display of combat skills and complete lack of manners, Naruto's identity is soon discovered by Chiyo, the princess of the small country that had been keeping Shu (comfortably) hostage, and Tatewaki, her samurai retainer. Meanwhile, on the Akatsuki's orders, Deidara and Sasori attack Chiyo's country in the hopes of inciting a war, using the former's “art” and the latter's puppets to utterly obliterate the small nation. Though not entirely devoid of humor, this episode is much darker than the comedic eating contest that preceded it. However, since we didn't spend much time with the guest characters, Naruto being confronted by Tatewaki's reanimated corpse in the current timeline doesn't pack much of an emotional punch. Also, the muddled political machinations that drive the plot make what initially seemed like a straightforward story more complicated than needed. Neither of the newly-introduced countries having an identifiable name doesn't help matters. (In Japanese, the two nations are literally referred to as the “Land of This” and the “Land of That,” and the translation ignores this pun, never once identifying either country by name.)
As its title (“Prologue of Road to Ninja”) indicates, episode 311 is a non sequitur that takes place on the night before the events of the Road to Ninja feature film. This episode's airdate also coincided with said film's Japanese home video release, so in way, it also functions as a half-hour commercial—but a pretty entertaining one. Laden with slapstick humor and genuinely funny character moments, this installment is sure to resonate with fans who miss the series' lighthearted early days. Since it's set almost entirely at a bathhouse and filled with scenes of the Hidden Leaf 12 getting nice and clean, episode 311 contains more fanservice than you'd typically find in this series. Despite featuring a few jokes that need to be retired (breast size comparisons—how original!), most of this episode's attempts at humor pay off nicely, making it one of Volume 25's highlights.
Another anime-original figure from a Hidden Leaf ninja's past shows up as a reanimated corpse in episode 312. The goofy-looking Old Master Chen, who was a taijutsu master in life, engages Might Guy in combat, leading Rock Lee to reminisce about his training under Chen several years prior. Determined to master the Leaf Dragon God technique, Lee visits Chen's grave in an effort to find the missing secret to the technique. Naturally, Naruto (and Tenten) tag along on their friend's quest. The old man, in hiding despite supposedly being dead, initially rebuffs the idea of Lee becoming a ninja until he tests him in combat and finds him to be a worthy opponent. (Unsurprisingly, he once had a student who, like Lee, was unable to use ninjutsu—and was killed in battle as a result.) Although ninjutsu-impaired Lee proving his mettle to strangers has been the focus of more filler-sodes than I can count, there's enough funny character banter and original elements to make this one worth watching. (Plus, Tenten and Lee's tsukkomi/boke routine is always entertaining.)
Episodes 313 through 315 make up the worst arc on this set. The story finds Shikamaru, Sakura, and Kiba (who are all on different areas of the battlefield) simultaneously encountering the reanimated corpse of Yota, an old friend who controls the weather with his emotions, most notably his punishingly shrill crying. The young boy cries, giggles, dances, and chants “kon, kon, kon” so incessantly that I was tempted to mute the television each time he appeared. As it turns out, members of the Hidden Leaf 12 met the little imp when they were small children and forgot about him. (And really, who can blame them?) After saving Naruto, Choji, and Shikamaru from drowning, the ill-defined ragamuffin used magic to wipe his new friends' memories. While in Yota's presence, Shikamaru and company are able to remember him—and mistakenly believe themselves to be responsible for his death at the hands of the Anbu. Eventually, Naruto discovers that Yota, having been resurrected by Orochimaru, was undead when the gang first met him and determines that the three Yotas interacting with his friends are fakes created by Zetsu. Yota is undoubtedly supposed to be cute, endearing, and funny, but he's quite possibly my least favorite guest character in Naruto history. A story set during the Hidden Leaf 12's early childhood is an interesting idea, but Yota's frequent crying spells and grating demeanor hampered this arc at every turn.
Episode 316 helps wash away some of the bad Yota aftertaste as Kabuto flashes back to the first time he and Orochimaru practiced the reanimation technique on unremarkable shinobi. Since he's lost quite a few pawns since the war began, Kabuto decides to emphasize quantity over quality and deploys anyone and everyone he's ever revived, no matter how weak they were in life. The episode shifts between past and present, shedding additional light on the early reanimation experiments and showcasing the chaos being wrought by Kabuto's revitalized undead army. Despite its seemingly dark premise, this episode contains a fair amount of humor. An undead Sand ninja confessing his love to a flustered Temari is among this set's comedic high points.
Episode 317 sees the often-ignored Shino getting a rare chance at the spotlight as he faces off against Torune, his undead adoptive brother. The ensuing battle, which showcases the Aburame clan's insect techniques, is one of Volume 25's action centerpieces. As is often the case with stories of this nature, the episode ends with Shino coming to terms with loss of his sibling after making a surprising discovery. Torune, once Shino's only friend, left him to join the Anbu in order to get Danzo's attention off of Shino, freeing his brother to make more friends—which he eventually was able to do.
Episode 318 opens with a joke about Killer Bee falling behind Naruto while en route to the front lines because he had to take an exceptionally long pee. (Is this Gintama?) Shortly after watering the flowers, the muscle-bound rap enthusiast is spotted by several White Zetsu and Kabuto orders them to capture Bee so he can conduct experiments on him. The jinchūriki is subsequently confronted by the ghost of his predecessor as he's attacked by the reanimated Fukai, the previous Eight Tails jinchūriki. Fully capable of using the Eight Tails' chakra because of conveniently made-up experimental reasons, Fukai puts his successor through his paces. Of course, Fukai's past with a young Killer Bee, and the potential he saw in the headstrong youth, also factor into the story.
Sasori of the Red Sand's origins are explored in episode 319, with a surprisingly touching installment that humanizes the villain who shed his human form to become a puppet. Reanimated Land of Sand kunoichi Chiyo (Sasori's grandmother, not to be confused Princess Chiyo from an earlier story in the set) is forced to fight Kankuro, who battles her using one of her late grandson's puppets—the one that most resembled his true form. This encounter drives Chiyo to wonder if distancing herself from her grandson after the death of his parents is ultimately what led him down such a dark path. In the end, Kankuro shows Chiyo the love-infused puppets Sasori modeled after his parents, helping the old woman lay her regrets to rest.
In episode 320, Omoi, one of the Raikage's bodyguards, is suspected of desertion when he abandons his post and refuses to explain why. (Because with this many fillers, why not give every minor character his own storyline?) Karui, in full-on tsukkomi mode, comes to his defense, not believing Omoi capable of unjustified desertion. The Raikage eventually figures out that Omoi defied orders to aid a supply unit of children ninja that had been compromised by White Zetsu. Showing off his hero chops, Omoi battles countless Zetsu, holds his breath through poisonous fog, and endures a long swim through perilous waters in order to save the day. Like other episodes on this set, the thin plot is saved by a number of well-timed jokes. I defy you not to laugh when Omoi accidentally kills the shadow clone Naruto sent to lend him a hand.
The manga-based storyline picks up in episode 321, in which Naruto sends shadow clones to every battlefield, effectively saving the day many times over. A reanimated Uchiha Madara, the true mastermind behind the war, makes an appearance, causing scores of ninja to shake in their boots. This also brings about the realization that Tobi, the masked man commanding a team of reanimated jinchūriki, is someone else entirely. Madara commences his attack and does battle with Gaara, the Tsuchikage, and Naruto in episode 322, the set's most fluidly animated and action-packed installment. Madara's assault culminates in him summoning an enormous meteor to crush the opposing forces. While Gaara and the Tsuchikage manage to stop it, they're unable to do the same for an unexpected second meteor, resulting in heavy casualties for the good guys.
As usual, the dub is serviceable once you get over the strange cadences with which the English cast pronounces character names. However, when members of the Hidden Leaf 12 are shown as small children, they barely sound any different. This is distracting, as they sound more like adults trying to impersonate kids than actual children. On the guest character front, Tara Sands actually softens Yota up a bit, making this relentlessly annoying tot considerably more bearable in English. (He's still pretty annoying, though.)
Because of the abundance of humor-focused stories, this set features a lot of goofy music. Although none of these tracks are original, they feel perfectly at home in many of this volume's goofier installments. Conversely, some of the more serious tracks seem out of the place this time around. For example, the serious music played during Yota's attacks doesn't fit. Nothing is going to make this kid scary.
Like previous sets, this one doesn't feature much in the way of extras. There's the usual art gallery and storyboards, as well as clean openings and endings, none of which will provide more than a few minutes' worth of entertainment. The inclusion of better extras on future sets might be an effective way to entice fans to collect the series on DVD.
Heavy on comedic filler, Naruto Shippūden: Volume 25 may not be every fan's cup of tea. Fortunately, with the exception of the Yota storyline, most of the anime-original offerings are reasonably entertaining. Even if you avoid filler like the plague, you won't want to miss out on the Madara-centric episodes that close out this set. Still, given its lack of enticing extras, Volume 25, like many of the others, is more for completionists than casual fans.
Overall : B-
Overall (dub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Heavy on the humor, a few impressive action sequences, a variety of stories
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