Coming soon, I’ll be releasing a new review format in addition to the regular reviews. This new format will be a quick thoughts/quick review style for anime where I don’t have much to say. An issue I’ve had and contributing factor to delays in recent reviews is struggling to find enough to write on some reader requests. Rather than drop the series, as I want to cover all requests, some will be in this format starting next week.
Sometimes a series is so similar to another I have already reviewed, where it would repeat many of the same criticisms, or it isn’t a series with much to analyse – some of my early reviews would fit this criteria. This format also allows for a few words on anime I drop – why I dropped it and whether I still recommend it or not. I will have several anime together, a few paragraphs for each. It’ll be flexible, saying as much or as little as I feel. There could be weeks with no need for such a write up, while I may need several in sequence at other times. Flexible.
Furthermore, I want to write more on currently airing anime while still relevant. I’ll use this format to round up some first impressions of what catches my eye, whether positive or negative, and note what I’ll continue. And at the season’s end, I’ll do a full review of the most interesting titles – again, both good and bad. I’ll start with these next season and knockout a few quick reviews off the backlog in the meantime.
Speaking of the backlog, it’s time for an update. The big change is the completion of Naruto: Shippuden, finally, alongside over 30 other reviews. However, reader requests and new releases have added quite a lot to the list (additional review format will help here). No, haven’t started One Piece yet.
The current backlog in rough alphabetical order (series flagged red are long):
Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is an anime that came off my abandoned list because a reader requested it for review. I had abandoned seeing this after judging it by the cover, for it has a character design type that I hate: the eye patch girl. You have no idea how much I hate that design. In particular, I hate the medical eye patch. I first encountered it in Ikki Tousen, a fighting anime featuring one such eye patch girl that has her clothes torn every fight. Wanted her to die.
I hate it because it doesn’t make any sense that they wear it all the time – medically irresponsible, even! It’s like those shounen characters with a band aid, usually across the nose. At some point, it has to come off. If you need a permanent eye patch, then get a proper one. The medical one just screams try hard of the lowest order and I have this irrational hatred of it. Before this turns into a full-blown rant about eye patches, I should start the actual review.
Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions takes the eye patch design and mocks it for the pathetic tacky fashion statement that it is. Yuuta is trying to escape his middle school past as a “chunibyo” called the “Dark Flame Master”. A chunibyo is the sort to believe that retaining your virginity until 30 turns you into a wizard. He fancied himself a fantasy hero. He was a LARPer who took it a bit too literally. No matter. He’s now in high school, where nobody knows of his dark secret. Time for a new leaf. In comes Rikka to ruin all that!
She is a magician of some renown and power, possessing the “Wicked Eye” that could unravel one’s destiny. Or so she believes. So dangerous is her eye that she covers it with an eye patch.
Try as he might, Yuuta can’t escape her delusions, aided by other classmates that join her magic circle and drag him back to chunibyo hell. The Dark Flame Master rises once more!
I find her a great character from the first episode when he sees her at the train station. The way she pretends to use the Force to open automated train doors and her smug strut on board that follows is simply a perfect introduction to the character. It isn’t long before the eye patch makes sense in completing her farcical appearance. This girl, whom I once hated based on appearance alone, is a delight to be around. My favourite scenes have to be those between her and her sister.
Her sister indulges the delusions on occasion, manifesting as epic duels of magic and comically oversized weapons (I love the cutaway to reality that shows them just smacking each other with an umbrella and ladle). The comedic timing is great throughout the series.
Chunibyo isn’t comedy all the way, however, as it introduces the drama at the heart of Rikka’s condition. Normally, this is where I would tell you that the story goes to crap while the writers try to force some emotion down your throats at the last minute. We’ve seen it time and time again in comedy anime, as though the writer is afraid that if the series doesn’t end with a gut punch, no one will take it seriously. They seem insecure in their comedy. But for Chunibyo, this isn’t the case.
First, it doesn’t bring this out of nowhere for the finale. We see hints of it from the first episode before the midpoint brings it to the forefront and the final act hammers it home. It explores the reason behind her chunibyo condition and her belief that if she can get strong, find just the right spell, she can see beyond the boundary of reality into another realm where her father has gone. It’s a clever way of explaining her character and giving her more depth than expected.
Now Yuuta, he’s rather flat. He works as a compliment to her craziness, but you never get the sense that he is a character beyond this story. He’s fine. I find the supporting cast more entertaining, particularly the girl who believes she wields the power of Mjolnir in her twin tails. I felt so sorry for her at the end.
Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is one of the comedy dramas that manages to end on a satisfying note. Sure, it doesn’t elevate itself to some unmissable masterpiece, yet at no point did I deem it a bad show. It is an enjoyable ride from start to finish. And the eye patch didn’t suck.
Art – High
More animation went into this anime than what was needed, which is appreciated. It allows the fantasies to come to life and lively characters to shine.
Sound – Medium
Neither the music nor script are anything to write home about, though they aren’t bad at all. The acting is the strongest element in the audio department.
Story – Medium
A girl who uses fantasies to escape from reality drags those around her into a world of everyday chaos. This simple plot manages to balance comedy and drama to deliver a satisfying, if predicable, anime.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is better than I expected and you may think so too.
It pains me – it pains me to report how disappointed I am with Kurozuka. This is my type of story. Historical fact woven into in a fantasy narrative with vampires, romance, unflinching action, and cyberpunk – what’s not to love? Maybe the fact that we are missing the middle of the story.
Kurozuka opens in feudal Japan with Minamoto no Yoshitsune (a real historical figure, also known as Kurou) and his closest ally as they flee into the mountains after the fall of Kurou’s brother, first ruling shogun of Japan. The real historical account says that he committed suicide here. Kurozuka postulates that idea of him meeting a stunning woman, Kuromitsu (based on a fable), whom he soon discovers is a vampire and rather than fight her, falls in love. He falters while defending her, but she turns him into an immortal to save his life. Thus a romance set to span over a millennium is born.
I love this setup, particularly in the presentation. It doesn’t hold back on the gore and dark fantasy. His conversion to vampire is the perfect illustration of this, where the norm would be to have him die and then wake up as a vampire or show a sanitised transformation at most. Kurozuka has him alive as a dismembered head while Kuromitsu prepares a new body for him. It’s gruesome and just right (narratively relevant in future as well). The tone of the romance is clear from the start. I am in!
Then episode 3 leaps a thousand years into a dystopian cyberpunk future with Kurou having no idea how he got there. A chance encounter has him join the resistance to combat the Red Imperial Army sporting the same emblem as the clan that tried to kill him and Kuromitsu all those generations ago. The resistance promises they can help him find the one person he knows.
And here is where you lose me.
The setup promises a twisted romance through the ages, Kurou and Kuromitsu forever entwined in a love story painted in blood and guts. I wouldn’t be wrong in expecting to see these two appearing in various eras throughout history, perpetuating the unhealthy cycle of their relationship, one of those affairs where the best decision would be to end it now, in a moment of happiness, but they can’t help themselves from trying again, slaves to their love.
Instead, the story plants itself in the future city with extensive use of flashbacks to dole out bits of the past, of the “middle” of the story for us to figure out. This does not succeed. At all.
The structure is disjointed as all hell. When we flashback, we aren’t sure of which period we are in half the time. This is intentional, as revealed later. Worst of all, the idea of having an amnesiac Kurou on a quest to find Kuromitsu removes her, the most interesting character, from much of the story and turns him into a blank slate. I’ve said it many times: be careful of using amnesia as a plot device. The two most important characters have the least agency. The resistance fighters feel more important to the day-to-day of the story and the main villain, a Joker-like laughing maniac, grates one’s nerves within a single scene. (I would be remiss in mentioning that the horror goes down as the sci-fi goes up too.)
So, why structure the story in such a manner? It is all for the twist that reveals why he has amnesia, why he doesn’t wake up in the future beside her and why the Red Army wants him. The writer sacrificed everything to deliver such a mediocre twist. Worse yet, the twist is a fine piece of vampire lore that could have created plenty of great conflict along the way, if we could have seen it throughout time. I can’t wrap my brain around the insistence upon nailing this twist. It just doesn’t make sense.
I don’t want to give it away, in case you do watch Kurozuka, so allow me to craft an example instead. Imagine if you took Code Geass, as is, but you hid the fact that Lelouch had the power of mind control (don’t worry, Kurozuka’s twist isn’t mind control). You therefore removed any scene that shows his power because it would give away the twist. Sure, it’s an interesting reveal that he was mind controlling people all along (only once per person as well, to further the twist), but at what cost? You’ve now removed most of the compelling scenes and conflict, all because you wanted a big surprise.
Kurozuka is this hypothetical version of Code Geass. It has the components for a fantastic story. I can point to several elements I love, yet leaves much to be desired once brought together. Forget the twist. I want their relationship. Give me their turmoil, damn it!
I am more positive than negative over Kurozuka, though this has much to do with it being the type of story and aesthetic that I like. The ideas and possibilities that made me ponder interesting questions captivated me more than the product itself. As such, if you aren’t into vampires or cyberpunk, it is unlikely to work for you in the face of its structural and character issues.
Art – Medium
In its heyday, Kurozuka would have looked great. Age hasn’t been kind, ironically, as certain animation techniques and elements like CG blood do not hold up. The visual tone, however, is still strong in conveying atmosphere and several action scenes have great animation.
Sound – Medium
I like that they kept the kabuki narration in Japanese even for the English dub – not the sort of thing that works in another language. The acting is good, probably the strongest element of the entire production. The soundtrack is an intense electro death metal collection that, though not to my taste, is a perfect fit to the cyberpunk tragedy when you think about it.
Story – Medium
A samurai falls in love with a vampire woman, sparking a romance destined to last over a thousand years. A brilliant start filled with promises of a dark romance through the ages soon falters with a leap to the future, all in favour of an unsatisfying twist.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For dystopian fans only. I was going to suggest trying Kurozuka, but as the opening few episodes are deceptive to the overall experience, I can’t do so. The paranormal dystopian aspect is the draw.
Kaguya-sama Love is War is the perfect antidote anime to watch after Naruto’s Great Ninja War. What an uplifting show. Contrary to the violent title, Love is War fills one with joy at the comedic antics of these lovers in denial. It follows two students so competitive in nature that neither is willing to make the first move in their relationship, a relationship they aren’t even aware of.
He, Miyuki, is of a poor background and notoriously stingy, but is also the top student in school and holds the position of council president. She, Kaguya, is of a family so wealthy that it rains money on their estate and she’s an excellent student, though still second to him. They are the perfect couple. Everyone knows it except for them.
What starts as a heated rivalry, where both parties do everything in their power to force the other side to make the first move in any minor dispute, soon turns into a stubborn romance. These two lock horns more than competing bighorn rams. Remember that thing you used to do as a kid where you and another kid are holding something, and you refuse to let go because it means you lose. Lose what exactly? Nothing. Letting go first means you lose, and losing is unacceptable. These two are like that about everything. And I love them for it.
I had low expectations going into Love is War. A high school rom-com about a couple that refuses to communicate? Conflict created by a lack of communication in romance is one of the worst tropes. However, taking that trope to a comical extreme morphs the conflict from eye gouging stupidity to sidesplitting hilarity.
One episode has them arguing over where the council should go for an excursion: beach or mountains. He insists on the camping in the mountains – much more romantic (the astronomic wordplay in his fantasy of how she will finally break and confess is priceless). She insists on the beach – he will see her in a swimsuit and confess immediately! Back and forth, back and forth they go, refusing to budge. Then he’s reminded of bugs, something he can’t stand, and is about to change sides when Fujiwara, student council secretary, airily mentions that if they are to go to the beach, she will need a new swimsuit since she has grown in the last year. This reminds Kaguya of her own flat chest – of course Miyuki will fall for those bouncing fun bags! Change of plan: Kaguya is now pro-mountain! They swap sides and the stalemate continues.
It’s just great. Every episode had me laughing. Furthermore, the structure of having three scenarios per episode keeps the pace moving at a clip where no joke drags. If this had been adapted a decade ago, they would have stretched a scene per episode and killed the humour. This is the ideal format.
Speaking of Fujiwara earlier, she is another defiance of the genre. Well before a dear reader requested Love is War for review, I had seen memes about this character as well as her ending dance. Didn’t know which anime she came from. My impression was of that overly cutesy but actually annoying side character from every high school anime. Turns out the fan content didn’t do her justice. To my surprise, she is a fun lovable character within that archetype. She’s the version done correctly. The side story where a ramen snob takes her for some ramen normie because of her ditzy countenance is perfect. Never has eating ramen been such serious business. I loved her within one episode.
I can say as much about any of the main trio. On paper, they are the clichés you have seen many times before, yet they are almost the opposite of one’s expectations in practice.
A key ingredient in making this simple premise work so well is the relatability of the characters’ personal conflicts. He has many jokes related to being poor; she has plenty related to a rich and sheltered upbringing. For instance, she had such a sanitised childhood that children’s slang for penis, like “wiener”, has her rolling on the floor as the most vulgar thing she’s ever heard. I used to be like that (I wasn’t rich – just raised in a different society), though one wouldn’t know it looking at me now. As outlandish as these scenes are, there is a relatable core to each of them. You can witness their turmoil and say, “That’s like me!” or “I have a friend like that.” These characters have genuine weaknesses that work to the theme and fun conflict of the narrative.
Love is War is an anime type of anime but doesn’t simply throw whatever random nonsense at you in the hopes that something sticks, relying on you going, “It’s random, but that’s just crazy Japan, I guess, so it must be genius.”
If I have to give you a flaw in this series, it would be the ending. It near falls into that trap seen in 90% of anime romantic comedies. The serious final episode. You know what I’m talking about. The series so far has been comedy every minute of the way untroubled by serious drama, but then as if to inject depth (which it never needs), the comedy loses all humour in favour of drama that tries to make you feel something. Most anime comedies that avoid this do so by having no ending at all. Not ideal either. Love is War, thankfully, doesn’t go full drama. Episode 12 is still funny. But it breaks structure for a dramatic narrative that doesn’t even pay off. It offers no progression, as it needs to keep the battle going. A bloody fake out. We end on the weakest episode.
There is another season on the way in 2020, which, if it is the end, hopefully delivers a better conclusion. There is every chance that this next season could bump Kaguya-sama Love is War to my highest rating tier. I find plenty to love here. The characters, including the supporting cast, the humour, the romance, the conflict, and the visual flair are all so much fun!
Art – High
On premise, this sort of anime would sport bland visuals, as seen in My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. Having no fantastical elements often results in a series with nothing worth looking at. Love is War is the opposite. It employs creative visual compositions and techniques to keep your eyes on the screen.
Sound – Very High
Fantastic script. Fantastic acting. The main three in particular play so well off each other. Love the narrator too. They even managed to hire someone who can speak good French to play a French character. Miracle! And as if that wasn’t enough, Love is War has quite likely my favourite opening song of 2019.
Story – High
Two students that like each other refuse to be the first to admit their feelings. A fun ride throughout that only lacks a strong finish, which the next season may fix.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Watch it. Kaguya-sama: Love is War is so much fun that I would hate for you to miss out.
It is finally done. Naruto Shippuden (and The Last Movie) is no longer on my backlog. It gives me a mix of emotions – relief at having such a giant off my back, nostalgia from thinking 16 years into the past, and a tinge of sadness that it is over. It wasn’t an easy journey to reach this point. 500 episodes of Shippuden – after 220 episodes of Naruto – isn’t an afternoon’s viewing experience, especially once you hit The Wall that is the Great Ninja War. More on that later. Let’s go back. There is a lot to talk about here, so forgive the ramble and tangents.
Naruto ended with two central threads: Sasuke has betrayed the village to seek out the arch villain Orochimaru’s help and the criminal organisation Akatsuki has revealed itself to the ninja world. Shippuden jumps ahead two and a half years as Naruto returns to the hidden leaf village after a long training adventure with his perverted teacher Jiraya. The anime (unedited version) opens with a flashforward of Naruto and Sakura finally catching up to Sasuke in Orochimaru’s lair, giving the audience a taste of the major event to come. It fails to mention that we don’t reach this until Shippuden episode 51 and that it’s the most anti-climactic moment in the entire franchise. Not a great start.
Shippuden also disappoints in how it handles filler. Where Naruto padded the episode count after the main story concluded while we waited for the sequel, Shippuden inserts extensive filler arcs every second or third season.
To drag out the series further, canon episodes regularly have artificial lengthening techniques. Battle anime are notorious for static pans across a battlefield or characters’ faces. Shippuden takes it to another extreme of time wasted. I particularly remember an episode where Naruto confronts Orochimaru and only a minute of real content occurs between dramatic pauses, slow pans, and repeated lines. Replaying scenes from the previous episode is more rampant that ever, unjustified in their presence. They often repeat within the same episode in case we have Alzheimer’s. The absolute worst padding you will ever see is when Naruto’s allies remove the seals on Akatsuki’s hideout.
Let me set the scene. Akatsuki have sealed themselves inside a cave while they perform a ritual to extract a powerful demon beast from within a ninja. Outside, several of Naruto’s allies split up to remove five seals scattered around the area. Before that however, a trap summons an exact clone in ability and strength of each ninja, which they have to 1v1 before they can proceed (I thought this was the dumbest fan service idea only for it to be outdone later). These fights are just moronic. It’s repetitive and devoid of any depth – don’t forget stretching out every single shot. So, if they are fighting their exact equals, how can they win? Well, by fighting harder than themselves from before! What…? This makes one facepalm so hard that my friends and I still bring it up each time Naruto is mentioned.
Anyways, after that comes the seal removal. Each character grabs one and counts down to pull them in sync. What begins is the longest countdown in cinema history. It takes several minutes off the end of an episode, ending in a cliffhanger, only to repeat from the beginning of the next episode and take forever again.
You know what it’s like? Daytime soap operas. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Passions, Days of Our Lives, or the likes of The Bold & the Beautiful then you will know exactly what I mean.
With how much Shippuden wanted to waste my time, I opted for the “Kai” edit this rewatch. When originally watching this while current, I made it early into the Great Ninja War (Shippuden episode ~250), so I had plenty of experience with the broadcast edition. No way was I sitting through all of that unedited. Little did I know the worst was still to come.
From here on, I will be reviewing Naruto Shippuden under the assumption of the Kai edit, which follows the manga closer [almost] free of filler. There’s not much to say about the filler. It’s trash – don’t watch it.
So, Naruto Shippuden proper, how is it? I can best summarise it thusly: old is good while new is bad.
In essence, the direct continuation of story threads from the original series is successful, while new elements introduced are just crap. Interestingly, the story structure almost alternates between old and new threads, throwing you from one end of the engagement spectrum to the other.
The first arc sees Akatsuki venture into sand country to capture Gaara for the demon beast within him (their goal is a combine the power of all demon beasts). We get to meet a couple of new members, including former sand ninja and puppet master Sasori. Naruto loves to have villains that are former citizens of the place they’re attacking to add that extra emotional connection. Sasori works here, not only for giving us a great fight between three generations of puppeteers – and the only good fight involving Sakura – but also in emphasising the damage ninja life can have on oneself. It’s a good complement to Gaara’s story arc. Where Gaara fell through maltreatment from his family, Sasori lost himself when his parents died. Both grew twisted because of ninja society. A little care and consideration saved one from evil, while the other could never be human again.
Naruto’s execution of theming and tying heroes to villains is among the best in shounen anime and it makes you care for the conflict. Sure, they have a variety of interesting powers and fighting styles that make for great action – action is important to keep it exciting – yet without that emotional core, it wouldn’t stay with the audience once the battle is over. We see this time and time again. Think Lee vs. Gaara (untalented hardworking nobody vs. effortless prodigy gifted with immense power) or Naruto vs. Neji (unloved yet free outsider vs. popular and powerful slave). There are many such examples in Naruto that pack an emotional punch. The same is true for Shippuden in the better fights. The perfect example of the opposite is in the grand finale, but let’s not jump ahead just yet. My rant has some way to go.
Sasori’s partner – Akatsuki always travel in pairs – is Deidara, a loudmouth with mouths in his hands that chew special explosive clay. I hate this character. His backstory is so lame, likely thrown in place at the last minute when the author had to hit a deadline (it doesn’t come up until much later, when his story is already over, by the way). His backstory is the edgy teen who wasn’t allowed to blow things up so he went and joined Al Qaeda in protest. That’s it. And he never shuts up. Plus he ends each sentence with a “yeah” or “hm” grunt. I understand that with such a large cast you need to get creative with differentiating characters, yet you don’t need their quirk in every. god. damn. sentence. The actor never makes it sound natural by the end.
His fight with Gaara is quite good though. More of a visual spectacle. It works by contrast to Sasori’s fight, which has more story and is on a smaller scale in a confined environment. Keeping Deidara going after this arc was the mistake.
Overall, this arc is a good start and gives the [false] impression that Shippuden will maintain the same qualities that made the original series good.
Next arc introduces Sai, the replacement for Sasuke on Naruto’s team. Here we have the first example of “new” failure. His trait is being socially barren. Raised as a spy and assassin since infancy, he has no understanding of emotion or relationships. It’s a classic sad Naruto backstory, which is fine, but his arc doesn’t contribute much. He was forced into the team by the head of ninja CIA with the secret mission of killing Sasuke once found, rather than bringing him back alive. This doesn’t lead to anything. He grows a heart by becoming friends with the others before they find Sasuke, pre-empting the conflict before it starts. To top him off, the story forgets about him a third of the way through. If you were watching this week to week, his return would come as a surprise. “Oh hey, I remember that guy! What was his name again?”
That said, Sai is one of the better new additions. Most newcomers are indistinguishable from filler episode characters. The story leads Naruto to the other ninja nations, each presenting their own crew, none of which is interesting. The most important of the lot is another demon beast ninja who speaks only in rap. It is as annoying as it sounds.
After my praise for Naruto’s supporting cast in the original, it saddens to have to report on how forgettable the new guys are. Worse still, the original cast are little more than background images. Why bother creating new characters when you had such a strong cast to work with already?
This arc concludes in that flashforward I mentioned earlier. They find Sasuke, he leaves, and we are back to square one. Pointless.
Next arc shifts focus back to Akatsuki on the hunt for the next beast, two different members taking helm. Here we have one of the best fights in Shippuden: Shikamaru vs. Hidan with the scythe. I won’t go into detail here, as I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t seen it and there isn’t much in the way of story to dissect. Any fight with Shikamaru on stage is great for the focus on strategy over flashy abilities.
By contrast, we have the fight against his partner Kakuzu, who is a Frankenstein’s monster-style ninja with the power to stitch himself back to life. Here we see a major crack in the walls caused by one of battle anime’s worst tropes: protagonist power progression. Battle anime need to keep going bigger and more powerful to avoid stagnation with the audience. I don’t think that is necessary, if done right, though the core audience does. The only time you can deescalate is by starting a new series. A power reset each arc, like Bleach, isn’t enough. The audience still wants something bigger.
Dragon Ball Z is the classic example of why this is such a problem. Remember how when they were fighting Frieza the story impressed upon you his power and importance? Now remember how when the next villain came along, making him look like a joke, and the heroes had to grow so much stronger to beat the new guy that they could now kill Frieza with a single flick? And remember how this power was concentrated in a few main characters, making most of the allies useless in the process? Well, Naruto reaches that point. The fight against Kakuzu, which was a struggle for the team fighting him, ends with the arrival of Naruto, fresh off his latest mind-numbing training arc, who takes him out with ease. Because he’s the protagonist, the genre dictates that he must be the one to do this.
It’s not as bad as Dragon Ball Z’s issue, but it doesn’t prevent the groan-worthy ending to a fight, especially off the back of the intelligent fight against Hidan.
Next, we switch to Sasuke’s perspective as he assembles a new team. When I say new, I mean the bad new of Shippuden. He recruits a Jekyll & Hyde sort with no personality, shark boy, and yet another Sasuke fangirl. Sasuke manages to get away from his fangirls back home only for the author to go back to the same overdrawn well and give us another. You want to know the real kick in the nuts? She’s the worst of them all. Her only gimmick is being a fangirl, something the “comedy” reminds us of in every scene with her. She will have a fangirl moment (and another sort of moment, if you catch my drift) any time she sees Sasuke, even in the middle of a dramatic scene. Anyone with her as a groupie would want to shoot themselves.
Everything with these three characters is just a waste of time in the lead up to an event we’ve all been waiting for: the reuniting of Sasuke and Itachi. We can’t have this happen right away, er…125 episodes in, of course. We need another arc first.
Regardless, once it does come to a head, what can I say – it’s fantastic. Built up from the early episodes of the original, the conclusion to Itachi’s story is excellent. Surrounded by filler and padding, it is noticeable that this story was likely planned from the beginning. Its emphasis on character and emotion to deliver the final piece of the puzzle is the polar opposite of The Great Ninja War. (We’ll get to that. We’ll get to that.) This is the best of all Shippuden to me.
This great conclusion leads into another strong arc where the heroes must face the leader of Akatsuki, Pain. Similar to other great Naruto villains, Pain and his close companions follow the theme of how harsh ninja life truly is and how it can break even the nicest kid. An accident from the “good guys” created one of the most powerful villains. While a moment of love almost saved him, as it did with Gaara, it wasn’t enough to keep him from the path of pain.
He makes for a great villain. Not as good as Orochimaru or Itachi, in my books, but great nonetheless. His abilities and those of his companions are interesting. We have action, story, character, and emotion rolled into a satisfying package.
This should have been the end of it, barring the resolution of Naruto and Sasuke’s arc as a capstone. However, if you looked away from your screen at this moment and checked the episode count, you would realise we are only halfway through Shippuden.
Welcome to the Great Ninja War.
Where to begin with this one. It could warrant an entire review of its own. You know what? Let’s do it. I’m on a roll, so what’s another 1000 words?
After Pain. comes the revelation that there was another bad guy behind everything all along. (It hurts just writing that sentence. That’s the real pain.) This new villain was mentioned a few times as a backstory, though never as a relevant character to the current day. After a rubbish politicking plot that I won’t bore you with, the great nations decide to set aside their differences to team up and defeat this villain and his army of Power Rangers putty monsters. Toss aside character-focused storytelling and engaging combat in favour of two masses of bodies throwing themselves at each other.
When you think it can’t get any less interesting, the author pulls out the ultimate fan service card and episode count extender. He brings back every known character from the dead using the Reanimation Technique rediscovered by Orochimaru in the original series. A technique that barely managed two reincarnations can now summon a hundred of the best ninja with ease (remember what I said about power escalation earlier).
It was fine the first time to have two Hokage from history return to give us some lore and a bit of the “rule of cool” factor. This time, however, is just ludicrous. Outside of two or three cases, all it does is stage rematches for fan service. Even the Akatsuki members that just died come back. My level of bafflement at this entire arc is difficult to put into words. I can’t believe any self-respecting author would be okay with this.
The Great Ninja War makes up one-third of all Naruto episodes and feels like filler at least 75% of the time. This is canon filler. Even when watching this in the Kai edit, it feels as if there is no end. I get the sense that whoever was making this fan edit was also losing interest, only finishing the project out of obligation. The editing gets sloppier as you go – one episode has a scene repeat in succession (was the end of one episode and the start of the next in the broadcast release). More and more pointless flashbacks make it in. Don’t get me started on how much Shippuden uses flashbacks to pad runtime. Flashbacks should be banned from anime. The fan editor no longer bothered cutting down those slow dragged out scenes most of the time anymore. I don’t blame them. I would have given up long ago.
The Great Ninja War reaches almost Dragon Ball Z levels of terrible. As if in homage to Goku’s idiocy, Naruto also has a “Don’t interfere with my fight!” moment. Never mind that thousands of lives are on the line.
There are some good moments in this abomination. Kakashi has a good episode against a villain relevant to him, Naruto’s emotional moment meeting that character is quite touching, and Itachi is good, as always. Don’t let that give you hope though. It is small consolation for what you have to sit through.
So, despite all indications, the war does eventually come to end. And just when it seems the chute has no crap left to expel, it squeezes out one final turd. The reincarnations are dead, the masses of fights are over – surely, there is nothing left. The plumbing can’t take anymore.
How do I put this? Shippuden starts to become Evangelion – specifically, the End of Evangelion. Character and story is thrown aside for end-of-the-world lore and a ninja origin story. Naruto becomes the Child of Prophecy (barf); the goddess of chakra revives to wipe out the world. At one point, even the moon gets involved. A character you never cared about reveals himself as the true villain behind everything. Yeah, the guy I mentioned earlier? He wasn’t the true true villain.
What the hell does any of this have to do with anything?
Naruto loses focus, going from character driven conflicts to lore vomit with bigger and bigger abilities, constantly escalating, merely dragging it out. The supporting cast, new additions included, are relegated for bad lore.
The reasoning for any of this crap to be a part of the narrative is so flimsy you can see tape barely holding it together. It is utter shite.
Once that’s over, it wraps with the finale of Naruto and Sasuke’s conflict. After the Great Ninja War and the End of Evaruto, it’s a bloody blessing that this doesn’t fail. It’s not great, though it’s not bad either. The finale is of much better quality, particularly in visuals, though it feels weird coming after so much filler and in how it ignores much of what just happened.
Some might say that The Last Naruto Movie is the true end to the series. It isn’t. The movie’s sole purpose is to sell you on the idea of the Naruto and Hinata relationship. Remember when that was a thing they never developed at any point? Naruto goes from ignoring Hinata like always to suddenly confessing undying love after a stint through this extended filler episode they call a movie. There is no foundation to this relationship. I don’t care for it whatsoever.
And that’s it. That’s Naruto concluded with my far too long tirade, a few thousand words over the limit. What do I think of it overall? Well, the parts I like are great, notably the original series. It has some of anime’s greatest fights, most complex villains, and best supporting characters. But there is also a lot of baggage weighing it down. Shippuden should have just been a conclusion to Itachi, Orochimaru, Sasuke, and Akatsuki (as first established, not what it became to justify the Great War). 150 episodes, maximum, to cover the golden content in this 720-episode bloat.
I don’t regret my time with this series. I do wish I could recommend it though, but in its current state, I can’t ignore the problems that come at the end. At most, I would recommend watching from the original series until the conclusion of Pain’s arc, in the Kai edit. No one should have to go beyond that.
The real question is whether finishing Shippuden has motivated me to start on Boruto. No. The answer is no. Naruto is done in my life.
Art – Medium
Like most long-running shounen anime, Naruto: Shippuden is inconsistent in its art. You can have episodes with brilliant, fluid animation and proper cinematography. You can also have episodes filled with static shots and character cutouts sliding across the screen. Character designs have lost detail to make them easier to draw and animate.
Sound – Medium
The music still shines as one of the best collections amongst shounen anime. The dub isn’t much of an improvement over Naruto classic. Those that were great before are still great – Naruto’s English voice is still bad to me. The writing has taken a serious dive, particularly in the new plots.
Story – Medium
Naruto and co. continue their search for Sasuke as they fight foes old and new. The old ongoing threads are good, while new introductions to the story are filler.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For Naruto classic fans only. Even if you watch the Naruto Kai edit, this is still a gargantuan anime that I can’t recommend to anyone not already invested from the original series. There are several satisfying conclusions for fans, however.