Home News Review: “Naruto Shippuden” Set 19 – The Road to Paradise is Bumpy

Review: “Naruto Shippuden” Set 19 – The Road to Paradise is Bumpy

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Naruto Shippuden 19“Boy, it sure gets boring when everything goes right on a trip.”

Those are the first words uttered in Naruto Shippuden Set 19, spoken by none other than Naruto himself. That doesn’t bode too well, and it sets the tone for what follows (episodes 232-244)

The 19th Naruto Shippuden Uncut box set released by Viz Media is neck-deep in yet another batch of filler episodes that both Naruto series have become infamous for in Western circles. Generally, despite the stodgy reputation of Naruto filler (largely due to the 85-episode stretch of filler than concluded the original Naruto anime), the filler arcs in the Shippuden sequel series have been decent, expanding upon characters, situations, and references mentioned but not explored in the canon. The Three-Tails filler arc, in particular, did a great job expanding on something that occurred over a mere three chapters in the manga and fleshing it out into a 20-odd episode story that foreshadowed events pertaining to Orochimaru and Sasuke. It also gave various characters a chance to show sides of themselves they never would have shown otherwise (particularly Shizune in an surprisingly understated way), and showed an actual canon event in the process.

Naruto Shippuden 19However, this filler arc harkens back to more of the mind-numbing, never-ending filler that ended the original Naruto anime. Known as the “Adventures at Sea” arc in Japan, there is a tendency for quick one-shots that don’t expand on the series at all. Nothing of consequence happens even across multiple episodes, which makes the stalling even more blatant to the viewer. Understandably, the anime did need to take this opportunity to slow down. The “Five Kage Summit” arc, which we departed early on in the 18th box set, changed a lot of things for the Naruto story, and the upcoming “Confining the Jinchuuriki” arc is a short one by the manga’s standards. Director Hayato Date frankly didn’t have much of a choice, and neither did series compositor Junki Takegami and his co-writers. As Naruto Shippuden is one of the last shonen anime that doesn’t take seasonal breaks in Japan, they had to stall for a while. But it’s clear that the staff are just plain out of ideas at this point. Nearly every filler episode on this set exploits themes done to death in both Naruto canon and filler, and the filler characters who are introduced and then left behind unceremoniously tend to be carbon copies of other, long-departed and forgotten characters in past filler arcs. There’s only so many times a buff, slow-witted, dumb-as-rocks idiot can appear onscreen to either harass or be redeemed by Naruto (or both!) without it becoming a “here we go again” eye-rolling bout of pure tedium. It is even worse when we wind up flashing back three years ago to the time of the original Naruto anime (which we do, twice!). All that does is make the similarities to the “filler hell” of the original Naruto anime even more obvious.

Naruto Shippuden 19There are two episodes in this filler set that break from the norm. One episode brings us back to the Hidden Leaf Village, which is preparing for war against Madara Uchiha, and is struggling to form alliances with ninja villages they have long opposed. We follow Konohamaru and his friends in this situation. Konohamaru badly wants to join on the fighting, only to be lectured by those older than him that his place is to stay in the village. The story turns out to be a rather stark tale about war and its consequences, and how those who have never seen such intense battle don’t understand it. Konohamaru eventually realizes that he needs to stay in the village, in the rearguard to help protect the civilians, which is a thankful occurrence since the alternative is a twelve-year-old boy on the front lines. Temari does throw Konohamaru a bone after the ensuing battle between them, saying that Konohamaru will form the backbone of the post-Naruto generation of ninja in the village, but that only superficially blunts the message. Artistry and animation that is worlds above the rest of the “Adventures at Sea “arc simply adds an exclamation point.

The other filler episode that establishes itself well is the final episode. In it, the tensions between rival ninja villages are explored, demonstrating how some ninja who hold grudges over past incidents may not be able to set those grudges aside for the greater good. It gives the minor fan-favorite character Kurotsuchi a chance to interact with Naruto (something she’ll probably never get from the canon material), and their adventure together against someone trying to take Kurotsuchi’s life is both amusing and touching. This makes it all the more disappointing they’ll probably never see each other again. Unfortunately, like the other episodes in the filler arc, the animation is mediocre at best, which blunts the action sequences in the episode severely.

Naruto Shippuden 19However, after the conclusion to the “Adventures at Sea,” there are two episodes left on the set, both of which are canon. The “Confining the Jinchuuriki” arc is underway, as Naruto and his escorts finally make it to their destination of Paradise Island. These two episodes quickly prove how the Naruto brand has managed to endure for so long. The animation, while never rising to the heights of the Konohamaru episode earlier in the set, noticeably improves. The story becomes more lively, the characters start acting outside of their stock phrases and actions without losing their unique personalities, and even the background music is placed more carefully. Characters infinitely more intriguing than the filler characters are introduced and then expanded upon in ways not shown in the manga, and, of course, we get Killer B returning to the story. He is a loud, boastful character with hilariously bad rhymes and zero taste in rapping ability, and he single-handedly will wake the audience up from their stupor if they dared to marathon the filler in this set. There is even a classic, cheesy bonding moment complete with fist-bump that is uniquely Naruto. There are dark tidings ahead, especially as Naruto must meditate and find a way to get past a dark side of himself that has embraced the hatred Naruto has ignored his whole life, but the episode ends on a good note, implying that no matter what the obstacles are, they will be surpassed somehow . . . even if said obstacle is the powerful Nine-Tailed Demon Fox that Naruto has sealed inside him.

The background music, by Yasuharu Takanashi, is a mixture of fresh new themes with those that have been played ad nauseum. The Naruto Shippuden score has proven itself superior to the original Naruto score time and time again, utilizing live strings to evoke a sense of orchestration, mixed with traditional Japanese instruments. The hard rock tracks are played more sparsely than usual, and Takanashi’s approach to these tracks hews closer to Ozzy Osborne or Black Label Society-esque heavy metal than the hardcore punk style that was used in the first series. Surprisingly, despite multiple episodes flashing back to the timeframe of the original Naruto anime, Takanashi’s music is not swapped out in favor of Toshio Masuda’s original Naruto score (which is what happened in the previous filler arc). Witnessing the younger incarnations of Naruto characters with Takanashi’s score backing them is fairly unique, though somewhat out of place considering the more light-hearted mood of these flashbacks.

Naruto Shippuden 19The opening for the whole set is “newsong” by Tacica, which is a breezy folk-rock tune with surprisingly melancholy lyrics. The lyrics don’t match up with the stunningly goofy visuals for the opening, and I fear that the opening will clash violently with the show if we wind up in seriously dark territory in the future.

There are two endings on the set as well; the one that dominates the set is “Place to Try” by punk band Totalfat, whose vocal and musical stylings are reminiscent of the opening and ending sequences to the original Naruto anime. However, the visuals rely on themes done to death in previous Naruto openings and closings, mainly around Naruto’s loneliness and his vow to save Sasuke. Nothing we haven’t seen before, and better, about a dozen times. The themes are brought up again in the other ending found on the final two episodes on the set (coincidentally the canon ones), “By My Side” by alt-rock band Hemenway. However, the themes are presented far more uniquely, with a gorgeous, watercolor-esque approach to the visuals, and Hemenway’s guitar work reminds me of the great J-rock band The Pillows. There is even a tantalizing glimpse of what is to come in the next boxset, though it is done vaguely enough that new viewers won’t recognize the meaning of said glimpse. Both endings use a small amount of English lyrics, but Hemenway’s English is better from a grammar and pronunciation standpoint.

Naruto Shippuden 19Both the Japanese and English dubs for this show are well-oiled machines at this point. For the purposes of review, I concentrated more on the English dub, directed by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and adapted by Seth Walther. For this set, the dub is showing a surprising amount of rust, with lazy casting for the filler characters. It’s not a good thing when Kyle Hebert and Laura Bailey pop up in what seems to be a dozen characters between them. Derek Stephen Prince is a talented voice actor, but his range is limited in the sense that you know it’s him, and he shouldn’t be voicing a filler character right after a episode where he had many lines as his main role Shino. There are also some painful performances in episode 235, with the absolute worst being Erin Fitzgerald’s wooden, unnatural performance as filler character Tokiwa, but in the same episode Liam O’Brien sounds offended that he is portraying a complete sleazeball (Kokuyo) when the character calls for him to be devouring the scenery in the most goofy way possible. For that matter, the whole episode (which involves a young ninja lady trying to avoid being married to the sleazeball) has many  problems with it from an acting and writing standpoint.

That being said, the dub regains its typically strong form when we return to the canon episodes, and other than the one episode (235), the dub handles the filler arc with professionalism, if not with passion. Everyone sounds more energetic when we get to the canon episodes, and that includes the Japanese dub as well. It is sad to note that Troy Baker has left the role of Yamato for the greener pastures of voicing gruff men in action video games. Matthew Mercer steps in and does a capable impression of Baker’s voice, though his voice slips when he has to yell (understandably). However, Baker is still credited as voicing Yamato on the set, which is something VIZ really should correct for  Set 20.

Naruto Shippuden 19The Japanese cast also sounds a bit tired by the end of the filler arc, but they tear into the canon material with gusto. In general, the Japanese cast is more in-your-face and hammy while the English cast is a little more subdued. When both casts are firing on all cylinders, both approaches work marvelously. However, as neither cast performs as well as they could until the canon arc gets underway, the better cast is based solely on your preference.

The extras for this boxset are sparse. We have storyboards viewable on the DVD itself, though without high resolution it’s difficult to tell what’s going on in those boards. The English credits as always are given a two-minute rundown separate from the episodes themselves, which is annoying as no other anime series released in the US has to do this (they can lay English credits on top of the opens/closes). However, it’s probably due to licensing issues of some kind. We do get clean versions of the opening and both closing sequences featured in the episodes along with some trailers for other VIZ anime series.

In short, two great canon episodes and two decent filler episodes do not make for a great boxset. However, the two canon episodes at the end are important enough that if they are skipped the viewer will be lost later in the arc. There are entertaining moments, and when the show is great it is great, but there are many missteps along the way in the form of the most boring Naruto filler in recent memory. However, considering the tantalizing setup at the end of this set, Set 20 should be a great improvement.