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Review: “Naruto Shippuden” Box Set 21 – Talked to Death

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Naruto Shippuden Box Set 21

Naruto Shippuden Box Set 21From where we left off in the last boxset, the Fourth Shinobi World War was upon us. Now the war actually begins. Is it the arc we’ve been waiting for since the Five Kage Summit so many episodes ago?

Well…

Hayato Date, the series director, was in a bit of a conundrum. Around the time these episodes were in production, Date and many of his best animators were neck-deep in producing the Naruto: Road to Ninja film. So his attention was partially elsewhere and the budget was being devoted to the film. Also, due to the plot twist involving Kabuto reviving scores of dead ninja to fight for his sake, a lot of ninja we haven’t seen for hundreds of episodes suddenly re-emerged. First and foremost would be Zabuza and Haku, who debuted all the way back in episodes 7-19 of the original Naruto anime. The end result is that the re-animated recap episode that concluded the last boxset turned out to be the only the first recap episode.

Yes, the first three episodes of this set are pure recap, plain and simple, aimed to refresh our memories of the original anime before the beginning of the war. The recaps have almost entirely new animation, but they lack the dynamic aspects of the original footage in almost every way, and feel rather cheap as a result. The recaps also add nothing that an experienced Naruto watcher wouldn’t already know. Yes, Naruto and Sasuke went their separate ways. Yes, Naruto has a transformative aspect on people but wasn’t able to save Sasuke. Yes, Sasuke turning to evil is a VERY BAD THING. We all already know this and there’s not enough of a new perspective to really make it worth watching all over again.

Naruto Shippuden Box Set 21Thankfully, after the recaps are over, the Fourth Shinobi World War arc kicks into gear. Kabuto, who long-ago completed his transformation into a freaky snake-human-thing, has revived a host of dead ninja to unleash upon the Allied Shinobi Forces. A mixture of characters we’ve never seen before, and far more that we have, charge right for the front lines to engage those who have allied themselves with Killer B and Naruto. These ninja zombies can’t be killed, as you can’t kill what’s already dead, so they have to be dispatched by either being immobilized or removing the jutsu that revived them. This should be a decent setup for an epic battle where creative methods have to be used for the good guys to stand any chance at all.

Unfortunately, the signs of a different approach to the arc compared to the last set become evident quickly. While Set 20 adapted the “Confining the Jinchuuriki” arc gracefully but relatively quickly, Set 21’s approach to the Fourth Shinobi World War feels clumsy, bloated, and often like it’s running in place. Attempts to force sentimentality (especially involving Zabuza/Haku and Kakashi) drag on too long. Characters often repeat variations of what other characters said in the same episode (how many times do we need a ninja zombie grumbling about being revived?). Plans are rehashed ad nauseum despite the fact that the groundwork for these plans are the basis for an entire episode. The result is that these episodes feel like the beginning of Naruto Shippuden, where the fear of catching up to the manga is so evident that they will spend every moment possible trying to stall to avoid adapting too many chapters in an episode.

Naruto Shippuden Box Set 21Ironically, what could have solved this issue would’ve been another filler arc. After “Confining the Jinchuuriki” came to an end, it was the producers’ last chance to break for filler without interrupting the war. Taking four episodes to recap Part One of the anime neither buys enough time nor adds any real entertainment value. However, the “Adventures at Sea” filler also showed that the writers and producers were out of ideas, so perhaps that is why they made the decision to just go for it and hope they didn’t catch up to the manga too quickly.

The animation for these episodes are frequently off-model and sloppy, failing to live up to the thrills of “Confining the Jinchuuriki”. The choreography has a flat feeling to it that fails to generate much excitement without stronger animation. There is little effort to give any real sense of drama or urgency to the many, many stills of when characters are standing around talking. Overall, the animation is boring and that makes what should be an exciting, culminating arc boring too.

That’s not to say that there is no excitement at all. There is genuine tension as Anko Mitarashi’s special-ops squad is picked off one by one as they try to run back to the allied lines with urgent info. There is also some urgency near the end of the disc when a pair of legendary ninja brothers start rampaging against one of the ninja armies assembled and a couple of name characters are eliminated from the arc and possibly the show. But these moments are too few and far between, and too often the animation and the deliberate, wordy scripting lets the show down.

Naruto Shippuden Box Set 21As I suspected, a whole bunch of new themes by Yasuharu Takanashi take over the soundtrack for the war. Old themes do pop up here and there, but the emphasis is on new music. Of course, it wouldn’t be Naruto without a particular track driven into the ground, and in this case it’s  heroic, orchestrated theme representing the Allied Shinobi Forces that pops up on nearly episode of the set. However, that’s not Takanashi’s fault, but the fault of the music selector. Takanashi’s new music tends to be more orchestrated than previous batches, though a new guitar-heavy theme does appear in the final episode of the set.

The opening remains “Totsugeki Rock” by THE CRo-MAGNONS, and my words from the last set concerning it remain true. “Cascade” by Unlimits remains a capable closer that feels more like a second opening. With two episodes to go, a poppy R&B-style tune called “Kono Koe Karashite” by AISHA (with a rapper named CHENON guesting) takes over, and its fairly upbeat, bouncy tone matches the optimistic endings of the episodes it’s placed by, but that likely won’t hold forever.

Naruto Shippuden Box Set 21The English dub for Naruto Shippuden is, for a lack of a better word, sloppy in this volume. Overall, the dub actors just feel tired. The performances are professional, but there is no real passion behind the acting here. There are also a lot of awkward reads, and Seth Walther’s usually reliable script doesn’t provide much assistance. There are a lot of sentences that pause in the middle, which doesn’t help with natural-sounding line reads. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s voice pool continues to be limited, which is not a good approach when a lot of new characters are debuting. This is particularly egregious when secondary character Darui’s usual voice actor apparently wasn’t available, and McGlynn opts to cast Killer B’s voice actor, Catero Colbert, as the substitute. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, except all I hear is a slightly more subdued Killer B. There’s a few other obvious double and triple-castings going on as well, but none are so glaring as what happened with Darui.

The Japanese dub, overall, while this isn’t their best work either, they at least don’t sound fatigued. A few of the performances, particularly of the villainous kind, get too hammy for their own good, but that’s happened so much in Naruto so far that I’m pretty much used to it.

Naruto Shippuden Box Set 21Extras are slim-to-none: just a clean opener and clean closers. The clean version of “Kono Koe Sagashite” has mono audio, however, which is a glaring error that needs to be corrected on the next volume. “Totsugeki Rock” also has bad audio throughout the disc, but that might be intentional in order to give off the “garage rock” vibe the song is going for.

Overall, very much unlike the last disc, this set does not offer the best Naruto has to offer, but instead manages to showcase many of the lesser aspects of the series. There are some thrills about, but this has not been a good start to what should be a battle royale of a final arc. There is not this much idle chatter when you’re on the front lines, and the anime producers and writers would be well-served to remember this as we get to the next volume.