NARUTO SHIPPUDEN COLLECTION 14 (EPISODES 167-179) (12)2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 294 minutes approx.
Quite a mixed bag is this latest instalment of the perpetual Naruto Shippuden saga in that it is both introspective and retrospective. The set opens with the conclusion of the Pain arc in which Naruto is pushed to his limit by the pernicious ninja group who destroyed the Hidden leaf village. Having been disarmed by Pain, Hinata steps up to protect Naruto, finally declaring her love for him after god knows how many years. Unfortunately Pain is unimpressed by this touching scene and the meek Hinata is killed right there before Naruto's eyes. Unable to contain his rage any more the nine-tailed fox demon inside him takes over his body taking the transformation further than it has ever gone before - to eight tails!
It is here that the introspection aspect comes into play. While the fox demon is raging on the outside Naruto is trapped on the inside and the big bad beastie is manipulating our hero to unleash the final stage so he can avenge the deaths of Hinata and the others who perished back at the Village. It appears that the temptation is too strong but a shock visitor at the last minute helps put things into perspective for our troubled protagonist.
Once this arc is complete - interrupted incidentally for two filler episodes set in the past - we move onto a new arc that delivers the retrospective element to the material. Much like the aforementioned filler episodes, this arc - also filler - takes us right back to the time period of the first Naruto series and the early days of Naruto's training. This means we rejoin the exploits of a young Naruto, Sakura (complete with long hair) and of course Sasuke before he went renegade. We get a glimpse of the prejudice that Naruto suffered at the hands of the villagers due to being the vessel for the Nine Tailed Fox Demon and the difficulties he had fitting in with the other kids at the academy.
This is a unique direction for the show to take but with the manga material at that point covered Anime's cash/ratings cow needed to continue to be milked hence the dreaded filler. The previous Pain arc ends pretty conclusively so in many ways there is a valid logic to revisiting the past to explore the significance of the poignant ending. Many I am sure will find this nostalgic and perhaps will be grateful for having some gaps in the Naruto history filled in by these flashbacks. These episodes bring with them the return of the show's silly humour many enjoy, which was noticeably and understandably absent in the previous arc which will also be welcomed by those looking for some light relief after what was a pretty emotional adventure.
While this set kicks off with a fairly ferocious action packed episode things slow down as Naruto is forced into some inner contemplation. His mystery visitor ahs a lot to say so expect a verbiage heavy outing. Similarly when our hero finally catches up with the architect of the Pain group and their perverted plan of bringing peace through pain, we again find ourselves in info dump territory as the deluded antagonist has a lot to get off his chest as to what instigated his hate fuelled megalomania in the first place. Surprisingly the denouement is physically restrained and it is the power of words and the rationale of the heart that wins the day. A different approach to just having Naruto kicking butt but in this case it works and the pay off is satisfactory for a number of reasons.
It has to be said that the quality of the animation in this volume is palpably poor in comparison to previous releases. A number of characters suffer from having their features seemingly sketched and not detailed and their movements are sloppy and lacking in grace. There are some noticeable shortcuts in the action scenes too, especially in the first few episodes where the Fox Demon goes berserk. This may have been a temporary measure as the arc was coming close to an end and the animators were presumably trying to get this completed ready to start the next arc. Design wise - without wishing to spoil anything - the manifestation of the Fox Demon recalls the Hollow form of Ichigo in Bleach with a foreboding skeletal mask covering the already unnerving head of the Fox Demon.
With the unique paradigm shift in the closing of the Pain arc, we are led to believe that maybe Naruto has finally grown up. We will have to wait and see if this is the case however as we will be spending the next batch of episodes in the past, creating an interesting dynamic to this release. As always the faithful will be in their element and possibly even feel a little nostalgic with the flashback arc; either way another solid volume to add to your already heaving Naruto DVD collection.
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Disc 2 only:
MAN IN BLACK