REVIEW: DVD Release: Naruto Shippuden The Movie

Film: Naruto Shippuden The Movie
Release date: 19th July 2010
Certificate: 12
Running time: 95 mins
Director: Hajime Kamegaki
Starring: Junko Takeuchi, Chie Nakamura, Ayumi Fujimura
Genre: Anime
Studio: Manga
Format: DVD
Country: Japan

Continuing, and integrating into the stories told in the “Shippuden” extension of the popular Naruto franchise, Naruto Shippuden The Movie tells the tale of a dark, banished force being resurrected to wage havoc and carnage on the Earth which, of course, our ninja heroes must prevent from happening.

Opening with an unsettling sequence of Naruto fighting with a demonic dragon, and ultimately perishing, we come to realise this was a prediction of things that may come to pass. With plans of reviving an ancient demon and his vast armies, a Shaman named Yomi travels to a guarded shrine to release the deadly Mōryō so that he may complete his quest for world domination.

As always, there is a weakness to the dastardly plan, and that comes in the form of a priestess known as Shion, who is the only one in knowledge of the sealing spell that can lock him away. Recruited to be her bodyguards, the familiar protagonists of Team 7 are drafted in to protect her as they travel together to incarcerate their dangerous nemesis…

As a progression from the series, our hero Naruto is, of course, aged in both appearance and vocals, but his attitude and stance on life, unfortunately, remains the same. Stuck somewhere between Ash Ketchum (Pokémon) and Goku (Dragonball), Naruto is a character with a huge amount of compassion and propensity for good within him, but also happens to be immensely naïve and prone to over sensitivity. He is a typical hero of an anime staple, someone whose heart is in the right place, but whose brain is liable to leave him at the most inopportune moment. Yet, it is these traits that lead Shion, the priestess he is charged with protecting, to fall for our blonde daredevil, as his brashness and exuberance wear off on her and, to a degree, her more demure, sensible self brushes off on Naruto.

For fans of the series, this instalment in the franchise will prove a worthwhile addition, as it retreads over familiar ground, and exposes the champions to the sort of conflicts and battles that have become the staple for the series. For those of us who are not engrossed by the stories of the world’s foremost ninja, it gives us very little to engage us on any sort of level. With feature length adaptations of long running anime, there is every possibility that criticisms may be levelled for doing nothing more than regurgitating the same tried and tested formula, but with a different antagonist at the end. The Dragonball Z saga was exceptional at doing precisely that, creating no fewer than fifteen individual films that, bar one, were all infuriatingly non-canon. It seems as if the Naruto writers, not merely content with being the foremost television programme with casual violence for the anime fan (since Dragonball Z’s departure), have set out to mimic the aforementioned series with completely redundant straight-to-DVD offerings.

It isn’t that Naruto Shippuden is unwatchable, it’s a vaguely entertaining story despite the highly clichéd ‘good vs. evil’ setup, but with series add-ons there must be some additional point to make the story worthwhile. Naruto, like the subsidiary characters, does not progress enough throughout the course of the story for the casual viewer to establish any emotional connection. The villain is but a cardboard cut-out, pasted from any number of generic storylines, bearing no relation or historical link with the characters, while his henchmen (despite their ninja prowess) wouldn’t feel out of place accompanying ‘The Penguin’ in an episode of the 1960s Batman series, given their mind-boggling anonymity. Additionally, because the Naruto saga is now so deeply entrenched in its own mythos and construct, there is little explanation to the whole array of terms that are used en mass, leaving the viewer somewhat dazed and stupefied.

As with all animated creations, there is one aspect of the production that cannot go without being scrutinised, and that is the quality of the animation itself. Being outside the usual twenty-minute time slot of the episodes, and specially commissioned, you could be forgiven for expecting a higher quality of drawing. Normally with feature length productions the animation is notably improved, for example the first Pokémon film, with a crisper finish to the format, but with Naruto Shippuden it is frighteningly normal. Not only does the quality fail to surpass its episodic counterparts, but the usage of CGI in creating the stone army of Mōryō verges on the comical for the lack of effort that has been put into merging it with the hand drawn elements.

While accessible and suitable for those with younger children, this cacophony of colourful madness pales in comparison to what is available to the more adult orientated market. For those searching for animated martial arts, there are titles such as Afro Samurai or Ninja Scroll that will more than deliver a greater punch, while for those searching for something more friendly, with warmth and charm, there is no better Japanese director than Hayao Miyazaki.

The latest tale of the boy with the “Nine-Tailed Demon Fox” sealed within him will please the hardened fan base, and undoubtedly create more followers, but there will be those who feel Naruto Shippuden is but one evolution up from Pokémon. BL

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