Starring: Kate Higgins, Chie Nakamura, Maile Flanagan, Junko Takeuchi, Yuri Lowenthal, Noriaki Sugiyama, Ben Diskin, Akira Ishida, Brian Donovan, Hideo Ishikawa, David Lodge, Houchu Ohtsuka
Running Time: 325 minutes
Extras: Trailers, Production Art
NARUTO is one of those long running anime that if you’re not into already, the sheer amount of episodes, boxsets, and so on, may actually put you off exploring the show. No surprise though, given that this is the 11th box set of the second series. Series 1 consisted of around 220 episodes, and this box set starts at episode 127 of NARUTO SHIPPUDEN (the second series). So you’ll be spending a few hundred quid on DVDs if you want to catch up now.
NARUTO is the story of a young boy who yearns to be the best ninja that he can be. Obviously for a show to run this long it needs to be a bit more complicated than that, although actually if you consider something like POKEMON, then that’s not necessarily true. However, this show is complex, in that it has been building mythologies upon mythologies for years. This is both a blessing and a curse, as it means those invested are treated to a rich and detailed imaginative world, whereas the uninitiated are left confused, bewildered, and feeling a bit like lepers. At this point in the show’s run, it feels like it is becoming too much even for the writers, as lengthy snippets of exposition can sometimes fill entire episodes.
That’s the big problem with this collection of episodes. You are pushed around at high speed and then dragged around slowly. Sometimes a gloriously animated fight sequence can last up to three episodes in length, but then two characters may sit down and discuss every single twist that’s happened. These lengthy bits of dialogue really do detract from the creativity of the show, and you’d think, with so much information, that even the characters would stop and ask each other to repeat themselves. Either that or take some serious notes. But when the show’s kicking ass, it does it very well. In some of the fights, just the emotional context is enough to create a hard hitting battle, whereas other times it’s the magic used or the giant animals that really impress.
The first two episodes are a fantastic entry point for new fans, as you don’t need too much prior knowledge going into them. They work as a standalone mini-movie and a precursor to the story arc that follows. Titled ‘Tales Of A Gutsy Ninja – Jiraiya Ninja Scrolls’ it gives us the tale of Jiraiya, one of Naruto’s mentors. We follow him as a young boy who discovers he is a chosen one and is trained by a bunch of toads. It sounds odd when I say it like that, but it totally works in the context of the show. He grows up and does some travelling where he takes on three young apprentices. This is a wonderful part of backstory that shows us the kind of pain that is often inflicted in the world of NARUTO. Jiraiya tries desperately to steer the younglings from a path of revenge and hatred, and only teaches them for their own self defence.
After these two flashback episodes we’re back into the swing of the main story, and don’t be surprised if you become more and more lost. The first arc features Jiraiya investigating the ‘God’ who rules a city where it never stops raining. In this arc we are treated to some amazing visuals and creativity, such as a young woman who can turn herself into paper, and the idea that the rain acts as a kind of spy. It culminates in a huge battle that lasts three episodes. With fluent and colourful animation, it really does capture a great sense of peril for our characters. It has a very moving finale, but all the violence and danger is neatly matched with the comedic relief of two toad sages. Unfortunately, like many anime, the characters explaining their every move can get awfully tiring and banal.
The second half of this box set is more for the long time fans. It reaches a dramatic conclusion for two of the series’ warring brothers Sasuke and Itachi. The gradual build towards their full o conflict is handled rather well, as it begins with dialogue and flashbacks which underlines their frustrations and grievances. Despite this, you may need to break out a glossary if you are not a severely dedicated fan. The amount of terms they throw around in these scenes is immense. The battle that follows is epic, but at the same time it ends on a low with constant talking, exposition, and the unsubtle statement of characters’ motivations.
If you are new to NARUTO I’d suggest starting somewhere else, but dedicated fans will get a lot out of this set. Funnily enough, Naruto is pretty absent from the stories being told here as we focus on those around him. The animation is pretty faultless, and you’ll be amazed at how all the elements just seem as though they belong together. Some stirring musical compositions and exhilarating action scenes should also drop a few jaws, but it’s the inconsistency in pacing, dialogue, and accessibility that let this set down.
Extras: Just some basics here. The production art is always nice to have a scroll through, especially for aspiring artists, but a bit of discussion on techniques used would be nice. The trailers are just your average promotional material.
NARUTO SHIPPUDEN BOX SET 11 is released on DVD on 26th November. You can grab a set here.