The biggest difficulty with writing this review is that it’s difficult to articulate the same points that I did in the previous boxset without using the same words. The same issues that plagued the previous set of episodes are all throughout this one, although sometimes in lesser capacity. There are obvious, heavy-handed efforts to stall and some sloppy writing in what appear to be anime-only episodes that have nothing to do with the manga storyline. These continue to make the storyline feel bloated and tired when it should be hard-hitting and building on what came before.
After the end of Bleach‘s anime adaptation in early 2012, much of the Bleach staff was folded into the Shippuden production. The first episode of this set makes their presence known. There were many episodes in Bleach where there would be a one or two-episode filler break during the middle of a canonical arc. These filler breaks were usually innocuous fluff, although some cases were just a blatant advertisements for a film. Episode 271, “Road of Sakura”, is a entry in this tradition, as it is a side-story to the Road to Ninja movie that opened around the time this episode aired. There’s no real substance to it, but it is amusing to see all of the canonical characters fall over themselves trying to help out a seemingly amnesiac Sakura (or, in the case of Tsunade and Shizune, punch Sakura over physical slights).
After that diversion, we settle back into the canon, but things are slow-going. Ino, Shikamaru, and Choji have to face their old sensei, Asuma Sarutobi (who is now one of the undead ninja being forced to fight the allied forces), which is a good setup for a meaningful confrontation. However, the tension from fighting their old sensei is ruined by flashbacks that stretch the battle into two episodes and ceaselessly repeat the same themes we are already know about the relationship. Earlier, a (surprisingly violent) fight against Kakuzu is similarly stretched out to cover nearly an entire episode when it’s clear he should have been taken out in a few minutes.
Sloppy writing imperils multiple episodes on the set. A particular egregious example is late on the set, when Shino, Kiba, and Hinata have to deal with a Zetsu clone infiltrating their ranks and they have to figure out who the imposter is. It’s bad enough the imposter is obvious, but the way it is resolved is borderline moronic. Kiba at first doesn’t figure it out at all, and then it turns out he did…or didn’t he? This entire situation has no basis on the manga, so the blame for this lies solely on the writing staff. It doesn’t help that the same “Zetsu infiltrates the allied shinobi” storyline was done better earlier with Neji and Sakura grappling with the same circumstance at the medical camp.
Killer B and Naruto generally have the best episodes on the set, as they have decided they will not hide from Madara and Kabuto like prisoners and they decide to make a break for it and head for the front lines, only to be confronted by A and Tsunade. The clear conflict between these allies is stark, as neither side want to fight each other, but A and Tsunade have good reasons to prevent B and Naruto from fighting Madara and Kabuto directly (after all, they are what Madara and Kabuto want). However, Naruto raises an excellent point by saying he won’t stand around and let people die in his name (with the anime clearly showing that allied ninja are dying by the truckload for several episodes beforehand). This is an example of the writing actually working for the anime, as it fleshes out Naruto’s motivations and his outburst is built up well beforehand. However, this example essentially stands alone.
The animation remains stiff, though not as stiff as Naruto in the “filler hell” era. It’s clear that the majority of resources are still being devoted to the Road to Ninja movie, and the credits are filled with Korean names, indicating that virtually all of these episodes were outsourced across the Sea of Japan by Studio Pierrot. Naruto, with his new Nine-Tails cloak, is a visual highlight, and there’s one impressive sequence where Madara makes his Kido Statue sentient so it can blow up a significant swath of the allied ninja. Other than that, the action is fairly unremarkable, and the direction is by-the-numbers and uninspired. Not the show’s finest hour in that regard.
It is up to Yasuharu Takanashi’s score to rescue many scenes, and for the most part his background music rises to the occasion. Many new cues, nearly all of them orchestral and dramatic, erupt at the forefront of the battle scenes. Older music, including the 10-minute “Hurricane Suite” that debuted in Shippuden‘s very first episode, provide effective support to the new cues. Even a surprise reprise of Kushina’s theme emerges in a blunt yet effective manner during key scenes for Naruto, revealing part of his motivation for his actions during this set. While Takanashi’s score can’t quite rescue some scenes (like the plentiful, unnecessary flashbacks for Ino, Choji, and Shikamaru’s battle against Asuma), it does manage to inject enough intensity and dramatic heft to keep the events onscreen from getting too dull.
The 11th opening theme song, “Totsugeki Rock” by the CRO-MAGNONS, continues to be a poor fit for the series at this juncture. The R&B-styled “Kone Koe Sagashite” by AISHA also doesn’t follow up the darker-tinged episodes on this set well at all, even though its swaggering beats can cause earworms. Late on the set (episode 282), “Moshimo” by Daisuke takes over the opening, and “MOTHER” by visual kei band MUCC becomes the ending. “Moshimo” is a decent if generic opening guitar pop song, with visuals that are timed well if not in the most inspired fashion. “MOTHER” surprisingly has nothing to do with the mothers of these series at all (it even misses a grand opportunity to debut, as episode 281 actually is centered around the mothers at Konoha). Its visuals riff on the Naruto/Sasuke relationship yet again, but at least it’s done in a hand-drawn, canyon-and-watercolor-style which is a bit more interesting.
The English dub is a bit better than in the last set. Catero Colbert still can’t quite get a handle on Darui, but at least he’s slowly improved at channeling Darui’s more laid-back personality and make him sound less like Colbert’s main role, Killer B. Maile Flanagan proves why she’s Naruto’s voice during the key moments when he faces off against A and Tsunade. Fred Tatasciore’s presence is also helpful, as he clearly enjoys voicing Kakuzu and definitely provides entertainment through his voice alone. Overall, the dub is professional and manages to get across the characters’ emotions well, though I do question the decision to have Laura Bailey use her Kurotsuchi voice for a random ninja early on, not long before she has to voice Kurotsuchi for real. The Japanese dub also remains consistent in its quality from previous sets. Overall both sub and dub fans will have good choices for their options here.
Like usual, the boxset is pretty bare-bones. The clean openings/endings are universally screwed up with low-quality visuals and mono audio — an inconceivable mistake or decision in this day and age. The clean openings and closings are often the only extra on these sets, so downgrading audio and video on them is asinine no matter how you slice it, especially when virtually every other anime boxset out there doesn’t. Whether it’s a conflict with Aniplex (the music producers), TVTokyo, or Pierrot, or just an engineering mistake, Viz has to fix this. This is just not acceptable.
There are storyboards from these episodes included in the extras as well, but as they are only accessible on-disc they are not legible unless displayed on a TV screen.
Overall, this boxset shows that this climactic arc is becoming a bump in the road for Naruto Shippuden, when that is the last thing the show needs at this critical juncture. Hopefully something happens to help the show get out of this predicament before the final battles get underway, or this anime will end with a whimper rather than a bang.The thread view count is 62