The Naruto saga has been an enduring and popular one, perhaps only eclipsed by Dragon Ball Z in viewer consciousness of anime in the United States. In Japan, its popularity lags behind only One Piece in addition to the aforementioned Akira Toriyama classic. For a story that started off so simply, about a spirited if dense boy who wanted to be a ninja despite the odds, it has been quite a ride to see the progression and evolution of the story, along with the franchise’s ups and downs.
Fittingly, The Last: Naruto the Movie begins by going back to the beginning in its opening minutes, before warping us years and years later, even beyond the point of the still-running TV anime adaptation, Naruto Shippuden. As a result, the events that Naruto Shippuden has yet to adapt, even in Japan, are completely spoiled. If you are unfamiliar with the manga and have been solely following Shippuden, you are in for a world of confusion, even if the movie tries to catch you up in the early going before getting down to business. This is helpful, especially for American viewers who have been following the DVD releases, which are a couple of years behind the Japanese broadcasts.
Romance has never been important in Naruto, and the way Naruto, who had been after Sakura’s affections for most of the story, would give up and finally accept Hinata’s own affections, didn’t seem convincing to a manga-only reader. It seems this movie’s purpose is to make those events convincing, and, in the process, put a full magazine of bullets into the hearts of those who like Naruto and Sakura together (full disclosure: I am a Naruto/Sakura shipper, and only semi-ashamed to admit this). For the most part, the movie succeeds in its goals.
The plot starts out simply enough: a mysterious individual named Toneri kidnaps Hinata’s little sister, Hanabi, mistaking Hanabi for Hinata and wanting the Byakugan. Somewhat surprisingly, the plot stays fairly simple. The Last: Naruto the Movie is not really about Toneri’s plot to destroy the world because of ninja abusing their power, a development that is never fully explained and feels trite as a result. The movie is truly about Naruto and Hinata, through and through, and about Hinata finally making her feelings clear enough to Naruto to get through his obliviousness to love in general. Toneri’s plot is merely a framework to trigger this event: an obstacle to prevent the lovers from being together.
The end result is something downright shocking: this film is a romance dressed up like a fantasy action film resembling the previous Naruto theatrical features. This is new territory, and the film does not shy away from showing the things that both Naruto and Naruto Shippuden couldn’t show. The awkwardness of hands being held for the first time. The blushing in embarrassment — not new for Hinata, but definitely new for Naruto! The sense of tension that arises when friends begin to notice each other in a stronger, more permanent way. It’s all explored here in detail during the many slower scenes featured in the film itself. Perhaps fittingly, Toneri plays the role of a Disney fairy tale villain, out to steal Hinata away from Naruto, which pushes Naruto to play the role of hero and get her back from the dastardly individual. Sakura, Sai, and Shikamaru, amusingly, make up the quirky band who provide side-commentary on this turn of events, like so many side characters in many of Walt Disney’s beloved classics. Sakura takes on the role of being matchmaker, trying to get both Hinata and Naruto to figure things out while she’s busy punching things and destroying them like she’s the Hulk.
The film goes into strange territory after the halfway point, and it was difficult to suspend my disbelief, even by Naruto standards. Toneri’s plot feels ripped from the classic Zelda game Majora’s Mask, in that he is going to bring the moon down and wipe out the whole world. Considering what happens in the end of the manga, this kind of escalation was probably inevitable, but the way it is resolved honestly breaks the laws of reality in a way that Naruto at least tried to avoid breaking before. Then again, when you have supposed ninja throwing around special beam attacks that put Gundam to shame, I guess it was inevitable that this final barrier would be broken.
That all being said, again, what matters the most is Hinata and Naruto here, and the film pulls off their relationship with style and tenderness. That’s the most of what fans can ask for, and the film delivers that. The flaws, as glaring as some of them are, are minute in comparison because they ultimately don’t affect things and draw upon issues that fans have long accepted at this point.
The film is directed by Tsuneo Kobayashi, who died shortly after making this film at 50 years old. A veteran of the industry and perhaps the most experienced director ever entrusted with a Naruto film (he directed Twelve Kingdoms, Midori Days, and Kurokami among others), he gifts the film with a confidence and perspective that have been lacking from many of the franchise’s theatrical offerings. There’s some new looks at traditional Naruto attacks, and a basis on movement over remaining closely on-model that evokes Stone of Gelel in the best way possible. There is also genuine passion in the animation that makes things hit just a little harder than we’re accustomed to from the TV series. Overall, this is a good send-off for a veteran in the industry who perhaps can be considered underrated.
The music is once again handled by Yasuharu Takanashi and his -yaiba- musical project. This is not Takanashi’s best effort for the franchise, but it gets the job done in the action scenes. The many scenes with Naruto and Hinata are also handled with the requisite care. Violin and cello solos take on a surprising prominence here, likely due to the romantic angle. The ending theme, “Vessel of a Star” by Sukima Switch, has a calmer, more emotional sound than many have come to expect from Naruto, probably for the same reasons.
The dub is a well-oiled machine at this point, with a reliably faithful script by Seth Walthier and strong direction by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. Robbie Daymond acquits himself well as Toneri, and most of the veteran cast have never sounded better in their roles, likely due to them growing older and closer to their own ages. The big question here for the dub is Maile Flanagan, who sounds like she has swallowed razor wire in an attempt to make Naruto sound even older and gruffer sounding than he already does in Shippuden‘s dub. Honestly, Naruto is eighteen years old in this movie, it’s time to swap Flanagan with a male voice actor. I understand the apparent loyalty to Flanagan because she has voiced the character for ten years at this point, but we’re stretching the boundaries of credulity at this point with Naruto’s voice.
Similarly, the original Japanese voice acting has an issue with Junko Takeuchi trying to do the same thing with Naruto. Takeuchi sounds like she made her vocal cords bleed during a couple of Naruto’s yells and screams at multiple points in the film, and she is never able to sound masculine enough for an eighteen-year-old young man. Otherwise, the Japanese voice acting is stellar.
Extras are pretty bare on this DVD copy that was sent as the screener. Japanese trailers and promotional videos are the only extras present. There is a Blu-ray/DVD combo out there, but it doesn’t look like it adds anything in the way of extras.
Overall, this movie marks a fitting end to the Naruto main story, and fills in the blanks in the final couple of manga chapters properly. It is questionable why Studio Pierrot released the film now rather than wait for the end of the Shippuden anime (it is also baffling that the Shippuden anime has not concluded period), but it is hard to argue with the results. This is probably the best epilogue to the main Naruto story that could be asked for, and Hinata’s many fans will be doubly rewarded by watching this film. It may not be the conclusion desired by some, but it was the conclusion that was needed considering the way the story ended. Naruto fans of both the anime and the manga will be pleased by this film, unless you disapprove of Naruto and Hinata being together. But that is what fan fiction is for, after all.The thread view count is 447