Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Feb 18th 2009
DVD - Uncut Box Set 12
With Hinata in the grips of bee-manipulating ninja meanies, Naruto, Shino and Kiba rush to her rescue, only to be captured and subsequently rescued by Hinata herself. Afterwards it's business as usual for the Konoha ninjas-for-hire. Though who would have thought that the business of ninjas would so closely resemble charity work: freeing villages from greedy gangs, capturing thieves, leading ninja tykes in outdoor training. Naruto, of course, is less than enthusiastic about all of this, as he ostensibly has better things to do, not that he actually does them. His free time is instead occupied with training, which he sometimes begs from other ninjas, like Guy and Lee—though naturally, being the ninja flunk-out he is, Naruto fails to notice that the two have been replaced by badly-disguised rival ninjas.
Welcome to Filler Club. The first rule of Filler Club is, you do not talk about Filler Club. The second rule of Filler Club is, you do not talk about Filler Club. Needless to say, I'll be breaking rules one and two. Why? Because there's nothing else to talk about. This isn't a brief pause before the plot begins again, it's an entire world of filler, stretching as far as the eye can see. And if you're to survive it, then you need to adjust your expectations to fit the rules of filler. Filler episodes are ruled by what they can't do. They can't advance the plot. They can't invent new fight moves. They can't alter the characters. They're placeholders deployed to chew up time until the person who can do those things—in this case manga-ka Masashi Kishimoto—has the opportunity to do so. So don't be surprised if every story arc ends on a cop-out that negates any prospective plot development, if the same character shtick and finishing moves are recycled ad nauseum, and if the things that once made the series fun become pale imitations of themselves. After all they are imitations, written and executed by people tiptoeing around all of the series' important points. Nar>uto's search for Sasuke can be used to motivate a story, but the story cannot dig too deep into their messy rivalry for fear of repercussions when Kishimoto addresses the same issues later. The same is true of the ongoing villainy of Orochimaru and Itachi, and even relatively minor points such as Sakura's determination to become a medical ninja or Hinata's Nar>uto-crush—both of which get lip service, but little more.
So what can filler do? Well, it can do humor. Indeed much of this set is given over to generalized silliness such as the Guy and Lee imposters and Nar>uto's poor leadership during the outdoor training with Konohamaru. Some of it is amusing (the cop-out that hinges on Nar>uto's intestinal problems is unexpected enough that it doesn't rankle), much of it is plain stupid, and the sheer volume of it effectively de-fangs the series. Filler can also do short, self-contained story arcs that recreate the series' general formula without falling back on ongoing plot threads. Unfortunately, Naruto's writers prove to be shockingly incompetent at that kind of thing. The new characters around which they build their plots are lifeless, the climactic fights are shoddily set up, and the “emotional” component of each story is so uninvolving that it needs to be put in quotations. The preponderance of dippy humor doesn't help. Witness the indescribably lame curry-saves-the-day climax of the Curry of Life story and the purportedly humorous “Nar>uto, you rascal!” moments that cap off every story arc.
By this point one might begin to think that surviving the eighty-episode stretch of filler that this set represents isn't a matter of lowering expectations but eliminating them outright. And you'd be absolutely correct. There is the secondary cast, who are given more screen time now that character development is forbidden. As adorable as Hinata is and as weirdly cool as Lee can be, that's not an appeal to be dismissed out of hand. But they're fighting against a tide of tripe, including two-by-four-to-the-head Shonen Jump philosophizing (“experience, skill and knowledge are meaningless in the face of spunk.” How uplifting), so it's best not to expect too much from them. Even the visuals, freed from the restraints of the manga, grow erratic rather than adventurous. At times they are perspective-smearing fun, and at others they are detail-deficient, short-cut-ridden, robotically stiff exercises in soulless laziness. Kishimoto's designs remain appealing, but the new designs are bad pastiches of villains and victims past. Applied to such poorly-scripted, oft flatly-animated material, Toshio Masuda's rocking score is incongruous rather than cool, while the new opening and closing themes are remarkable only in their unremarkable-ness.
So why buy it? There are three possible reasons. One: you're a completist who must have all of the Naruto there is, regardless of the fact that legal web broadcasts of Naruto: Shippuuden now allow you to seamlessly skip every one of these sad excuses for entertainment. Two: you are one of the three people in the world capable of lowering your expectations to the depths necessary to enjoy these episodes. Three: you are an obsessive-compulsive who discovered nine Naruto playing cards in your set, requiring you to purchase the next five in order to complete the deck. Curse you Viz.
Not that you can blame Viz for grasping at straws (or playing cards). These are the least bankable episodes in the entire franchise, and they know it. Their usual deluxe treatment has been pared to the bone: the booklet has been discarded, the extras have become fossilized (storyboard-to-screen comparisons, lots of previews and promos), and even the excellent dub has lost its sparkle. The disposable new characters are cast and acted with less than the series' usual care, and the long-time cast members seem to have lost their enthusiasm. When the opportunity to spruce up the original dialogue presents itself, the script can't even muster the moxie to avail itself of it. Naturally, given Viz's record of late, the dub is solid enough at heart, preserving what charm the original's humor and secondary cast lent it, but as threadbare as that charm is, that isn't much of an achievement.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D-
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : C+
+ Hinata and Rock Lee fans will get a belly full of their favorite supporting players; occasionally kind of funny.
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