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DVD Review

DVD cover

Naruto Shippuden
Box Set 1


Starring (voice): Junko Takeuchi, Chie Nakamura and Noriaki Sugiyama
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: 12
Available 14 June 2010

Naruto Is back! And this time he’s older, stronger and wiser. Naruto Shippuden is the continuation of the original animated TV series Naruto. The story revolves around an older and slightly more matured Uzumaki Naruto and his quest to save his friend Uchiha Sasuke from the grips of the snake-like shinobi, Orochimaru. After two and a half years Naruto finally returns to his village of Konoha, and sets about putting his ambitions to work, though it will not be easy, as he has amassed a few (more dangerous) enemies, in the likes of the shinobi organization; Akatsuki...

Shonen (boys') manga has a long and proud history and if you have even the least familiarity with Japanese popular culture you can't help but be aware of its characteristic tropes. The hero cursed or blessed with tremendous power, not too bright but good-hearted and always ready to fight to protect his friends; the shadowy villain who preys upon the weak and can be relied on to wheel out some faux-Nietzschean patter about his destiny to rule over all; the heroic band of comrades (nakama) who stick together come what may; the dangerous special techniques, power-ups and hidden moves that the characters stop to explain at great length in the midst of pitched battles. The names of series change, but these and a few other essential features are always present in the biggest shonen properties of the day.

Masashi Kishimoto's Naruto, one of the titles that's been in the front rank of Weekly Shonen Jump Magazine's hit series for the last several years, presents all of the requisite features of the shonen action genre, yet on the evidence of these thirteen episodes, seems to lack either the weight or the quirkiness to make it more than an also-ran to the likes of One Piece or Bleach. The series picks up at a point where the loud-mouthed Naruto and his female peer Sakura return home to resume training and revisit friends, while their adult superiors fret over the machinations of the sinister Akatsuki ninja group. It's an ideal jumping-on point and much is made of the fact that this Naruto - both the series and character - is more mature than before, yet this maturity isn't reflected in the script or plot which are simplistic at best. Few of the characters feel as if they're ever likely to transcend the clichés of the genre, least of all poor Sakura, who in the time-honoured manner of girls in shonen shows has little to do but deploy healing magic and slap Naruto when he says something perverted. The only characters who possess any fun or spirit, the hot-blooded bowl-cut disciple and teacher duo of Rock Lee and Might Guy, show up too late in this run of episodes to make Volume One more than lacklustre.

Naruto as a series suffers from the one problem that blights all long-running anime and which none have successfully escaped - padding. A weekly anime that adapts two or more chapters of a weekly manga in each episode will catch up to itself with mounting frequency, meaning the canon storyline has to go on hold for weightless filler material that can't advance the action or provide meaningful characterisation without the risk of contradicting the main continuity. I haven't been able to sample any of Naruto's filler storylines, but given that a series like Bleach which has both memorable characters and a gift for comedy struggles to provide decent non-canon material, I can't imagine Naruto doing better. Worse, the episode directors have chosen to cope with the paucity of the story by drawing out scenes, narrative beats and the requisite shocked reaction shots as someone unveils a new technique or delivers plot exposition until all the tension of the show - such as it was - is exhausted. As a result, even if you have an emotional investment in the story and characters Naruto the anime is a dispiriting viewing experience.

I'd like to be able to fall back on saying 'fans will love it' - the traditional weak response to a series that doesn't grab you - but Naruto Shippuden doesn't seem as if it could succeed even here. The animation and direction are indifferent; even given the boost in production values that normally accompanies the start of a new series, the visuals and music are unspectacular throughout, and with a couple of exceptions (the great veteran Houchu Ohtsuka as the hearty Jiraiya and the always reliable Akira Ishida as Gaara) the voice acting is merely serviceable.

Manga have opted here for a simple two-disc release with thirteen episodes, plus a couple of trailers and artwork galleries - it seems that the trend for providing value for money in actual numbers of episodes per release is continuing to gain among anime distributors, and for this at least Naruto Shippuden Volume One is a worthwhile purchase for fans. Anyone wanting a fun and involving action series may want to look elsewhere.


Richard Hunt

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