Naruto Unleashed Series 9: The Final Episodes Review
Well, we’ve finally made it to the final series of Naruto! But have no fear for it is merely evolving into a new series entitled Naruto: Shippuuden (or Naruto: The Wind Chronicles as it’s usually translated as), which will take place approximately three years after the current series is set. So for now enjoy your last volume with the twelve year old Naruto, as we cram in three relatively short filler arcs before Jiraiya finally returns to take the young scamp on that long awaited training odyssey!
Episodes 209 – 212 make up a filler arc where Naruto, Lee, and Sakura are assigned a mission to help police escort a Shinobazu (Ninja Dropout) named Gantetsu to the Land of Forests for questioning. The Ninja Dropouts are a small gang of rogue ninjas who have taken to murdering and plundering wealthy homeowners in the country, and Gantetsu is their only lead towards locating the other three members of the outfit. Konoha’s presence is as a contingency plan should the Dropouts make any attempt to rescue their cohort, but it’s not just rogue ninjas Naruto has to worry about as the head of the police escort: Todoroki lost his parents and brother to a Ninja Dropout attack five years ago and he’s out to settle the score. When the Dropouts - lead by callous villain Shura - make their play it ends with Naruto, Gantetsu and Todorok seperatedi from the rest of the convoy and pursued through enemy territory; meanwhile Lee and Sakura discover a third part is pursuing the prisoner: A gang of orphans that were secretly saved from the Dropouts and raised by the repentant Gantetsu. It turns out the Dropouts want to interrogate Gantetsu too, for he has stolen all their loot so he can look after this band of orphans.
We have many of the overly familiar filler themes here: A person with a tragic past on the path of vengeance, a case of mistaken villainy (don’t you hate it when that happens?), and a band of rogue ninjas running around causing lots of trouble. It’s all very routine fillerific narrative-by-numbers, and while it’s far from the worst arc we’ve suffered through it’s certainly far from the best either. As always the villains are the weakest link - they’re just not interesting or intriguing in anyway shape or form – even the benevolent “anti-villain” Gantetsu is a bland goody-two-shoes whose moral compass is never in doubt. The character designs are cut price and the action is super-saver value, as each of the Ninja Dropouts don’t put up much of a fight. The one redeeming aspect of this arc is that the writers have put a little more consideration than usual into how Naruto fights, taking us back to what his most effective tactic is: Crafty use of Kage Bunshin.
In Episodes 213 -215 Naruto discovers a half drowned boy on the outskirts of town whilst searching for a rare type of bamboo root for the Ichiraku Ramen store (purely for his own gluttonous benefit). At the Konoha Hospital they discover he is suffering from retrograde amnesia and the only item he seems in ownership of is an ocarina. There’s no way to tell if he’s friend or potential foe, but when he rescues a baby from a freak fire in the hospital Tsunade decides to hand him over to Naruto and give them the run of the village to see if they can kick-start his memory. Naruto names him Menma after the bamboo roots and soon the good natured amnesiac is influencing Naruto to perform acts of goodwill across the village - that is until they are attacked by a mysterious invader. As Naruto struggles to capture the swift assailant Menma plays a melody on his ocarina that boosts Naruto’s chakra significantly, but his target escapes. Tsunade realises that the technique bears all the hallmarks of Sound Village ninjutsu, and the location of the boy’s body suggests he was washed up from the Land of Rice Paddies: the country where the Sound Village was said to be located.
Now suspicious of the boy’s motives, Tsunade orders Naruto, Neji, and TenTen to accompany Menma to the Land of Rice Paddies where they can search for clues as to his identity, but secretly it’s a mission to discover if he’s a Sound spy or not. Their search stops short on the border of the country, where they discover a half-destroyed village that has become the target of a group of bandits since gold was discovered in the local mine. The bandits are former Sound ninja - and I bet you can guess where the story is going from here - Yup, yet another in a loooong line of derivative filler story arcs! There are some staggeringly pointless plot devices in this one; not least of all is the idea that you can give ninjas a massive boost in chakra by playing some bleedin’ music! This is exactly the kind of cheap plot device that filler writers like to hand out to their creations like candy on Halloween and it really has no logical place in the universe that Kishimoto has established. It feels especially pointless when you consider Naruto’s already jacked up to the near-infinite Kyuubi chakra supply and hence shouldn’t really be relying on outside help to boost his chakra.
Naruto used Kage Bunshin effectively in the previous arc but this one is full of scenarios where he should obviously be using the technique – For instance, why work his socks off completing menial tasks for Konoha villagers when a multiple shadow clone job would finish the tasks in a heartbeat? Why does it take Naruto’s team more than one day to build an important barricade when again shadow clone would get the work done in a fraction of the time? There’s also a twist at the end where the fate of a character hinges on a scenario which would have easily been solved by using a clone, but conveniently neither of the ninjas involved remember how to use the technique! Annoyances about the impracticality of characters aside, the one intriguing element of this arc is the idea that one or more of the Sound-nin bandits know techniques similar to those Tayuya used against Shikamaru in the retrieve Sasuke arc. This gives the writers a chance to create action that would feel a little more tied in to Kishimoto’s manga than most, but the story takes so long to get to the point when Menma’s past is revealed that there’s little time left when the Sound bandits invade, which results in a lame duck finale.
Episodes 216-220 usher in the final arc of Naruto, and if you can say anything positive about this arc it’s that it is far from lacking in action and soon gets the ball rolling on the battle front. The story starts at the Village of Artisans which is the place where specific unique ninja tools are made, and the target of a scouting mission for Kakashi after rumours started circulating that members of the village are attempting to create the ultimate weapon. His mission doesn’t bear fruit thought as he discovers an empty ghost town where even the body of their founder: Seimei is gone. The very next day Sand Village commences their Konoha-style ninja academy where the Sand siblings are working as trainers, and only one cadet has the courage to ask for Gaara’s help. His tutoring is cut short however when some foreign invaders break into the Sand Village and kidnap the cadet, which soon leads the siblings out of the village in hot pursuit. Needless to say the invaders are ninjas from the Village of Artisans and they’re up to no good!
From one filler arc where a character can make people ten times stronger with an ocarina to another where rogue ninjas are using simple weapons that amplify their chakra. It seems that Studio Perrot’s manifesto is to keep churning out villains with cheap inexplicable abilities! Is it really that hard to design a ninja from scratch and develop a powerful fighting style the traditional way through natural strength or talent rather than some object with magical powers? I’d certainly be more interested in that kind of character than a gang of bland bad guys who use swords that blow wind or transform into a triple-headed sausage balloon type creature that for some reason prove a match for Kankuro, Kiba, and Chouji combined!
While the villains are as poorly written as ever I have to admit that their actual character design is better than average for TV filler, in fact they look more like the kind of villains we see in the film spin-offs. What’s more, there’s a big leap in the amount of action in this arc (which is mostly all action and no narrative) and a nice nod to the retrieve Sasuke arc with Shikamaru, Kiba, and Lee having the opportunity to repay the favour for when the Sand Siblings saved their butts from the Sound Five. While it generally feels like more money has been pumped into this final filler arc than normal, you can’t help looking at Series 9 as a whole and coming to the conclusion that it’s been a pretty pathetic way to end one of the best Shounen serials out there. Instead of segueing triumphantly into Naruto Shippuuden we’re reminded just how staggeringly talentless and lazy the writing staff at Studio Perrot are, and so a great show goes out with a distinctly flat whimper!
PresentationThose of you who find the lack of chapter stops around the opening and closing credit sequences will be annoyed to hear that Naruto Series 9 continues Manga’s recent trend of only inserting chapter stops at the start, midpoint, and end of the episodes. As for the presentation, the episodes in this volume of Naruto: Unleashed are presented on DVD to the exact same standards of A/V as in the previous boxsets, so to avoid repeating myself I will simply quote the Video and Audio sections of my previous reviews:
”Presented in Naruto’s original broadcast ratio of 4:3; the episodes in this set all look great. Naruto is a very bright, colourful anime, which is handled well by a transfer that exhibits bold, vibrant colours that are free from noise and any bleeding. Likewise, brightness and contrast levels are never less than impressive, while detail levels are as high as you can expect from a show that first aired in 2002. Look a little closer at the image though and you can spot the occasional recurring video artefact, things like cross colouration in some of the line work, dot crawl in some of the finer areas, very faint edge enhancement, and some very fine mosquito noise. There’s also the usual NTSC – PAL interlacing foibles as well, but the negatives should be almost unnoticeable on an average home cinema display.”
”Flicking between the Japanese and English tracks of each audio format it’s clear that they both represent the same auditory experience, so I will simply refer to each audio format as a singular audio track that covers both the original Japanese and English dub. Ok, firstly we have the DD2.0 soundtrack, the format that Naruto was originally recorded in. It’s an excellent track, dialogue is loud, clear and whenever any high screaming kicks in, it’s dealt with crisply with no audible tear. Likewise the sound effects and thumping bass provide a rich and involving companion to the dialogue.”
Optional English subtitles are provided with no spelling or grammatical errors that I can recall.