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DVD Review

DVD cover

Naruto Shippuden The Movie


Starring (voice): Junko Takeuchi, Chie Nakamura and Ayumi Fujimura
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £17.99
Certificate: 12
Available 19 July 2010

When a rogue ninja unlocks the secrets of a powerful and ancient evil, the inhabitants of the Hidden Leaf Village are mobilized into action as a seemingly unstoppable army of animated terracotta warriors marches across the land decimating everything in its path. Naruto and the rest of Team 7 are given the unenviable task of acting as bodyguards assigned to protect a brash and arrogant young princess named Shion, the only one with the powers to overcome and seal away forever the malevolent forces...

Spin-off theatrical features from successful anime series are generally a winning formula for the franchise owners and distributors, less so for anyone but ardent fans of the property in question. With higher budgets and fewer limits to the creators' imagination, it's a shame that the strengths of a weekly anime series - focused characterisation and intricate plotting over a long-term, repaying familiarity with the characters - are often thrown aside in favour of empty flash and spectacle that in the end represents nothing more than widescreen filler. The three film releases for Bleach to date have all fallen into this category and this first entrance in the Naruto Shippuden movie series (Bleach's main rival in the shonen manga and anime market-conquering stakes) doesn't appear to have much more to commend it.

Naruto Shippuden The Movie (movie #1, to be accurate - there are three more still to come at the time of writing) is very much a bottle affair, but the movie-makers haven't taken any of the opportunities for risk-taking that detachment from the series continuity might allow. Instead there's a generic and easily contained singular evil to be stopped that doesn't provoke any internal conflict or divided loyalties among the main characters and can be reliably halted with the mystical intervention of an equally generic 'spoilt princess' character - who, as an aside, seems to be a shameless steal/amalgam of the character designs and traits of Dianna Soriel and the Heim sisters from Turn A Gundam, a far more interesting and complex set of characters from a superior series.

Before the final showdown, though, there's a series of battles to be fought between Naruto and his chums and the evil ninja overlord's quartet of minions, whose elemental abilities are superficially well-rendered but not conceptualised in any new or interesting ways. As with the portions of the TV series I've seen, most of the fun is to be had with the scenes devoted to the indefatigable Rock Lee, whose eye-catching character design and 'effort and guts' approach to beating down enemies the hard way stands out among a cast full of overpowered super-ninja. He seems to have wandered in from a different and more rewarding show and I'm sure that plenty of Naruto fans secretly crave to live in a parallel universe where he and not the dull main trio are the centre of events. His scenes are the only ones that had my full enjoyment, at least.

In any case, it's not revealing too much to say that evil is vanquished (following a great many scenes involving weakly rendered CGI warrior hordes) and the princess both accomplishes her mission and overcomes her personal hang-ups with the help of some pep-talks from the irritating blowhard Naruto. If I seem like I'm overdoing the snark it's only because it's a little sad that anime movie releases really don't shoot for more than this any more. You don't have to look back too far to find the likes of the Urusei Yatsura movie series, which counts among its run some of the most memorable and offbeat theatrical animation Japan's produced and nurtured the early career of Mamoru Oshii, who arguably produced some of his best work in the context of adapting a silly sci-fi comedy for the big screen before the success of the Ghost in the Shell movies made him a name director (and leached most of the humour and lightness of touch out of his work). It's hardly the fault of the creators of Naruto Shippuden that the appetite for innovation and risk in anime is in short supply, yet it's a shame the first entry in this movie series is so free of any form of surprise. Here's hoping better things lie in the series' future.


Richard Hunt

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