The dawn of a New Year brings us a new Naruto Shippuden boxset. A New Year is thought to bring with it the possibilities of a fresh start; of new beginnings and promise for the future. Not so in the Naruto Shippuden universe, where the ninjas of the great nations are preparing for battle, with the world teetering on the brink of the fourth great ninja war. Looking on the positive side for our spikey haired friend and his ninja buddies though, the filler has finally been banished, at least for now.
Yes, you read that correctly! We finally, thankfully, get to enjoy a nice chunk of filler-free Naruto. This set of episodes kicks off with Naruto continuing his training to control his tailed beast, Karama the nine tailed demon fox. After once again battling his inner darkness, or Naruto's “true self” as Karama likes to call him, Naruto prepares for a confrontation with the nine tails in his consciousness and unseals the demon fox. The ensuing power struggle continues throughout the opening episodes. This battle of wills is interleaved with stories from the nine tails' past, as told by an unfamiliar face from Naruto’s past. So, introspection and retrospection are the orders of the day in the first half of this set, and some intriguing details about Naruto’s past are brought out into the open.
The second half of this boxset deals with the re-emergence of some old enemies and the repercussions of those encounters - repercussions which are felt all the way back at The Village Hidden in the Clouds, where tensions are high as the preparations for war hit full swing. In the midst of all this Naruto finds himself saddled with yet another nonsensical “S-Rank” mission. This is clearly intended as the comic relief section of these episodes, though there is little effective comedy to be found here and you’ll find yourself dying to get back to real meat of the set instead of wasting time counting animals with Naruto.
The very last episode in this set is something of an oddity, retelling as it does some of the early events of the original Naruto Unleashed series. You would be forgiven for thinking the episode was a straight copy and paste from Naruto Unleashed because, some new animation and editing aside, it presents the events in those early episodes almost verbatim, if at a somewhat accelerated pace. This will likely prove to be anathema to Naruto veterans already more than familiar with the story, but it may well provide a useful jumping-on point for those wanting to check out the world of Naruto, but who find the prospect of watching nine series of Naruto Unleashed and twenty boxsets of Naruto Shippuden a little daunting.
Between the flashbacks and Naruto’s “S-Rank” mission the story feels disjointed and never quite hits it’s stride. This is a real shame as this set contains some big events that really deserve better than the treatment they receive here. All in all, this set marks a noticeable improvement over the last few, and potentially provides a good jumping on point for newcomers. Some big ticket events help keep the pace and entertainment value of the set up, despite some perhaps questionable deviations along the way.
Finally some really good news: unlike many recent Manga Entertainment efforts we are pleased to report this release has fully functioning and sensibly positioned chapter markers; we only hope this isn’t the exception that proves the rule.