Naruto Unleashed Series 8:2 Review
The concluding volume of Season 08 opens with the conclusion of the Lee-Yagura story arc started in Episode 195 when an ultra-talented student named Yagura wormed his way between Guy and Lee and had lured Guy into a trap-house made entirely of kung-fu Wooden Men training dummies. In Episode 196 Yagura reveals his true identity to be Gensho, the eldest of the 3 Ryudouin Brothers, and is joined by younger brothers Rokkaku and Jako. Their true purpose is to avenge their father: Agira, who was severely injured in a dual with Guy a few years back and died soon afterwards. Sadly any hopes of a significant Guy-Lee story arc are dashed in this episode as the Yagura plotline is hurriedly brought to a somewhat dissatisfying close when Naruto, Neji, and TenTen provide Lee support in dealing with the Wooden Men based techniques of Yagura. There is some decent action at the end though when Guy and Lee become unwitting opponents against each other after Yagura uses an advanced puppetry technique, but this is about the only noteworthy ability that any of the brothers actually demonstrate during the battle.
Next up is multi-episode filler arc that takes up Episodes 197-201 when Konoha is put on high-alert after an old veteran ninja who was once renowned as Genno the Trapper is discovered to have infiltrated the village as a simple carpenter working on some property developments on the outskirts of town. He’s stolen the village’s extensive structural documents that could be a goldmine for anyone planning an attack on Konoha, but when ANBU finally catch up with him he commits suicide with paper bombs. To counter against any possible external attack Tsunade orders all the higher rank ninjas to protect the borders of Konoha territory while Shikamaru and the rest of the genin are given the mission of discovering where Genno has hidden the village blueprints. Naruto is particularly conflicted because during the time that Genno spent in Konoha he had befriended the old man over ramen at Ichiraku and can’t get that image of Genno out of his head.
This is a genuine rarity for Naruto fans: A filler arc that not only implements all 11 of the Konoha genin together on a single mission, but one that actually has a carefully developed plot, although action fans could be a little bored by the Genno arc as it doesn’t feature anything in the way of ninja duals and the finale is a bit of a damp squib action-wise. Here we don’t get any impressive show of force from a band of powerful ninja or a story based around some sort of hidden artefact or elixir that can grant anyone super-human powers, instead we get a mystery-thriller based around the threat an old ninja who understands the art of misdirection and stealth can generate when he successfully infiltrates a village. I also like the idea that the only ninja technique he needs to cripple Konoha is a simple paper bomb technique deployed accurately and frequently enough to bring the whole village down, this is very much in keeping with the spirit of Kishimoto’s writing and something most filler writers overlook.
Episode 202 is another unique effort: A clip show done in the style of a TV contest celebrating the 5 best battles in Naruto so far that was created to celebrate the series being moved to Thursday nights in Japan back in 2006. Naruto and Sakura host and comment on the five battles that conveniently are all taken from the “Retrieve Sasuke” arc and there’s little more to say other than hardcore fans may want to keep their fingers off the rewind button for the mock interview with Orochimaru at the end, where we catch a glimpse of Sasuke and are reminded of the themes that will be dominating when the canon episodes return.
Another filler arc commences in Episodes 203-207 where we find out that the Uchiha weren’t the only clan in Konoha to specialise in genius genjutsu practitioners. Whilst out training on the outskirts of town Naruto stumbles across a girl who is painting the village in the midst of a lightning storm. It’s a bright sunny day, but when she finishes the painting the thunderclouds descend and a lightning bolt strikes the Hokage offices. Shortly after the girl is forcefully taken away by a team of ANBU and medical nin, much to Naruto’s protest. At the same time Kurenai meets up with Hinata, Kiba, and Shino and announces her resignation as captain of squad 8. It’s not long before Naruto discovers that these two events are related, as the girl he met was Yakumo Kurama whose clan was once a force to be reckoned with when it came to genjutsu, but in recent years they’ve failed to produce any jounin-class ninjas and they’ve dwindled almost to nothing. Yakumo was born with the genius of old and as one of the village’s top genjutsu specialists Kurenai was assigned as her teacher by the Third Hokage, but somehow their teacher-student relationship ended when Kurenai sealed away Yakumo’s powers.
If the previous filler arc represented some of the best writing by Studio Perrot’s writing staff then this arc represents the worst qualities with all-too-familiar themes and plot devices that they’ve used over and over again in previous filler arcs. Needless to say there’s more to Yakumo than first appears and we soon learn that she is in fact a threat to the village because she’s nurtured a monster inside her mind that is threatening to take over her personality. Zzzzzzzzz. It’s certainly got more elaborate action set pieces than your usual filler thanks to the genjutsu theme, but as usual the abilities of Yakumo are poorly developed and make absolutely no sense at all when placed within the context of Kishimoto’s universe, where he has established strict rules about the use of genjutsu that are completely ignored here.
For instance we learnt in the “Retrieve Sasuke” arc that to trap someone in a genjutsu you have to assault one or more of the five senses, and to continue the jutsu you have to maintain the interface – so for example if you use music then the illusion will be maintained for as long as you keep playing. In Yakumo’s case her genjutsu abilities are not explained and seem to have no actual delivery mechanism, she just paints a picture and it happens in reality; like when she paints the lightning attack on the Hokage office from the outskirts of Konoha and it physically happens to the village – or at least everyone around the office in the village are under the impression it’s been struck by lightning. How the hell is that genjutsu? Throughout this arc we watch Yakumo trap people in genjutsu without exposing them to any form of sensory cue and it reaches the point where you just feel turned off by the cheapness of the technique rather than entertained by it. The ninja battles are supposed to be fun and/or gripping, not nonsensical to the point of annoyance.
I’ve made this criticism before about previous filler arcs, but it’s lazy writing to just produce an enemy with a godlike ability or introduce some form of plot-induced stupidity in the lead characters where they just stand around getting their ass handed to them by techniques they’ve clearly surpassed with their own abilities in earlier training arcs. It’s much easier to develop a one-sided action sequence than a closely fought, tactical battle and the writers have become drunk on that convenience here.
The volume ends with a simple one-shot filler in Episode 208 when Naruto and Kiba are hired as guards of an ultra-valuable artefact being transported through the land by an obnoxious guy named Shinemon who is a magnet for all kinds of trouble. It’s a half-arsed filler that tries to start off as silly comedy and become a little more dramatic by the end, but it is neither funny nor involving and it has a twist ending that makes even less sense than Yakumo’s genjutsu abilities! Still, we can all console ourselves with the knowledge that the “year of fillers” should end in the next volume!
PresentationThose of you who find the lack of chapter stops around the opening and closing credit sequences will be annoyed to hear that Naruto 8:2 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.