After the exciting divergence in Set 23 with the “Power” mini-arc, Naruto Shippuden returns to the regular state of things with the Fourth Shinobi World War. And, unfortunately, the same rambling tedium that has haunted this show since the beginning of the arc continues through Set 24 and into Set 25.
The animation is an immediate letdown from the impressively detailed and fluid visuals of the “Power” arc. The arc manages to return to canon for a little while, following Naruto and Killer B having a faceoff with the resurrected Itachi Uchiha and Nagato (who was better known through his avatar Pain). The episodes are of some consequence, especially in regards to Itachi, but what consequences there might be are not going to be seen for a while. In fact, they’re not witnessed for the entirety of Set 24 or 25 as the show winds up mired in a mixture of made-up battles set during the war and random flashbacks to the Part I time period.
These are the episodes that I call the “Kabuto resurrects random ninja and chucks them at the heroes filler.” This describes literally 75% of these episodes. They’re not based in the canon, and while some of the ideas are interesting (like bringing back the Sound Four for a high stakes battle against the ninja that killed them), they tend to end anticlimactically (usually involving Naruto showing up out of the blue to stomp the foe). The most egregious is a short arc of flashback-heavy episodes centered around a resurrected samurai, with Naruto reflecting on a past experience with the samurai while he still lived. Those episodes simply flashed me back to the 85 episode “filler hell” the original Naruto anime concluded with, as the execution, animation, and storytelling are about on par with those much-maligned set of episodes.
It’s not until the final episode that Naruto Shippuden finally shakes itself out of its malaise, and shows the potency that the show can still have, much like “Power” did. The final episode of Set 25 (episode 322, aptly titled “Madara Uchiha”), is a testament to the true power of the greatest villain currently known in the entire Naruto saga. The entire episode is Madara marching into the giant shinobi army and becoming the lawn mower to their blades of grass, and it is frankly the most enthralling canonical Naruto episode since the “Confining the Jinchuuriki” arc. Even when Naruto steps into the picture, it is quickly shown that Naruto’s typical set of moves and tactics will not work on destroying Madara permanently. It is a smorgasbord of excitement and twists, seeming to do more in its 20 or so minutes than the rest of both sets put together. It is a true testament to the raw talent of Hiroyuki Yamashita, who has made a name for himself with spectacular key animation in previous episodes, and I hope this won’t be the last we see of him in this series.
That all being said, it is a dreary, often boring path to get to that one gem in the pile, and it is a testament to the hole that Hayato Date and Junki Takegami dug themselves into with this arc. As poor as the filler has been here, I can’t help but wonder if the show would have been better served by taking a detour into a dedicated filler story between the “Confining the Jinchuuriki” arc and the “Fourth Shinobi World War” arc, whether it was trying to do more with the “Power” storyline or conceptualizing something else. A lot of the problems here would have been avoided by simply quickening the pacing and cutting a lot of the pointless battles and dialogue out. A filler story would have bought enough time to allow a quicker pace in the war itself, which would lead to everything becoming more dynamic in general. Then we wouldn’t have flashbacks to Naruto’s childhood for multiple episodes at a time, for example. Unfortunately, it is too late for that now, and it’s clear that Date and Takegami are rapidly running out of ideas.
The background music by Yasuharu Takanashi continues to emphasize the newer tunes, and the pattern of using his music as a blunt instrument to manufacture tension and excitement that isn’t there also returns with a vengeance. Episode 322 debuts a new motif for Madara Uchiha as well as some new tunes based around the motif, and it is so over-the-top in its grandiose evil that it would almost be a joke if not executed so expertly in the episode itself.
Opening 12 “Moshimo” and Ending 24 “Sayonara Memory” both leave the series late in Set 24, and are replaced with a new opener and closer. Opening 13, “Niwaka Ame Nimo Makezu” is performed by rock band NICO Touches the Walls for their second opening theme for the Naruto franchise and their third song period (they also did the sixth closing theme). The song is fairly typical mid-tempo rock, but is marked by some impressive visuals and some wonderful blending of colors that leave a striking impression. The 25th ending, “I Can Hear” by rap-rock outfit DISH, has a frantic pace that is matched by some absurd, oddball visuals (including an epic shot of Naruto punching himself in the face). Late in Set 25, unremarkable folk-rocker “”Yume o Daite ~Hajimari no Clisroad~” by Rake takes over, and features some strange visuals itself centered around an oddly child-like, feminine Naruto in contemporary clothing.
The English dub continues to try to round up enough voice actors to fill out the burgeoning cast, with newcomers to the series like Cherami Leigh, Bryce Papenbrook, and Cristina Valenzula popping up in small roles in addition to Danielle Nicolet becoming the third voice actress for minor character Yugao. In addition, the voice actors for the Sound Four and Kimimaro return to reprise their roles, which is welcome as all of them handle the roles exceptionally well. For the most part, the acting remains on par as does the scripting, with one exception.
The re-emergence of foul-mouthed Tayuya with the return of the Sound Four puts scriptwriter Seth Walthier in a bit of a conundrum, as Walthier’s scripts typically feature little cursing (there even are substitutions of “netherworld” in place of “hell” in various episodes on this disc). Tayuya’s dialogue is handled as awkwardly as one might expect. At one point Tayuya is told to watch her language that, in the English dub, just had a rude cadence instead of any actual cursing. Finally, Walthier does give in (or give up) and lets Tayuya unleash a stream of mild curses for a quick rant, but it just highlights the overall awkwardness of the way her character is being handled, and the cursing doesn’t have a natural feel to it. The dub more or less returns to its normal, workmanlike feel once Tayuya is eliminated from the show.
The Japanese dub continues its usual clockwork pattern, and tends to feature hammier performances (especially for Madara) than the English version. Both versions are entertaining, but I’d suspect most people watching at this point decided their preferred version long ago.
Extras are thin on Set 24, but Set 25 does include a few storyboards and character sheets on the disc (sadly not in good resolution). The clean openers and closers have been restored to stereo sound, wiping out the error that had been present on previous discs.
Overall, both sets give the feel of a series that has become a zombie, lurching around, gasping for any sign of life, unlike the literal zombies that Kabuto has arrayed against the heroes here. This is not the best that the show has had to offer, but the preview of episode 323 does hint at better, more exciting tidings ahead. I sincerely hope they do, for the sake of the fanbase continuing to follow this series, as well for the good of the story itself. One gem among half a year’s worth of episodes is not a good batting average and it needs to be fixed as soon as possible.The thread view count is