Tag Archives: Revenge

The core plot is about a quest for revenge.

Naruto: Shippuden – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Naruto: Shippuden

 

Related: Naruto

Similar: One Piece

Hunter x Hunter

Basilisk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure

Length: 500 episodes (296 without filler)

 

Positives:

  • Conclusions to plot lines established in Naruto classic
  • Several excellent fights

Negatives:

  • Supporting cast is less important in favour of convoluted lore
  • New plot lines feel like filler
  • The Great Ninja War
  • Way, way too long

(Request an anime for review here.)

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.

Wrong!

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.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor PacingWeak End

Terror in Resonance – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Zankyou no Terror

 

Similar: Death Note

Psycho-Pass

Monster

Eden of the East

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Length: 11 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Compelling premise.
  • Love the soundtrack.
  • Tackles some concepts rarely covered.

Negatives:

  • Muddled motivations and actions.
  • Main antagonist is garbage.
  • “Geniuses.”
  • Riddles solved easily.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Why would you do this to me? Why would you set up so well, promise so much and then tear it away? You are tearing me apart, Lisa Terror in Resonance!

A terrorist bombing leaves Tokyo in shock, for the only clue the police have is an internet video of two masked people calling themselves ‘Sphinx,’ presenting a riddle on the whereabouts of the next bomb. Plutonium also went missing from a nuclear facility six months ago. Lisa witnesses two teenage boys, Nine and Twelve, from her school planting toys stuffed with explosives. They give her a choice: become an accomplice or die. Thinking her life unable to get any worse than it already is, she joins them.

So, teenagers as terrorists – that’s interesting. An emo girl roped into the operation – could be good. Shame it isn’t. The worst is that Terror in Resonance seems good as your watching it, but in the latter half when they reveal the secrets and motivations, it retroactively contaminates elements that seemed solid.

Most notably is the motivation behind these edgy teens. I won’t give anything away, but it’s imbecilic. A thousand ways come to mind that are better at changing the world for the better than random bombings. To give an analogy, imagine someone killing puppies. You guess he’s evil. But, ah, yes, it’s because these puppies are being tortured and killing them is mercy. That makes sense. Wait, you think, why not free them? Well, they can’t survive without anyone to care for them, so it’s better they die now than starve in the cold. That makes sen—why not give them to somebody? Surely, there must be other avenues to try before euthanasia. Terror in Resonance doesn’t even ask these questions. It goes straight to the nuclear option, made worse when you’re told these kids are geniuses.

That’s another thing – the “intelligence” of characters and strategies is idiotic. Take the first riddle (‘Sphinx’ motif at play). It’s easy to solve with a quick Google search (or Yahoo, as is popular in Japan) and I’ve heard it before. Yet the detective in charge never thinks of that.

Later, they introduce Five, a “genius” girl working for the FBI, to catch Nine and Twelve. If the quirky naming scheme wasn’t obvious enough, Resonance wants to be Death Note. Nothing wrong with that. But to draw inspiration from another piece, one must understand said piece, particularly what made it succeed. The Resonance writer seems to think that throwing random crazy and nonsensical mental duels at the story was Death Note’s secret.

She has edge and crazy instead of character. Yes, L was an oddball in Death Note, but that’s on top of his depth. Five’s motivations make no sense, as every move she chooses puts her further from the objective of recovering the plutonium. One duel has Five face the boys in a shopping centre. Her team has eyes everywhere, while the boys must navigate the surveillance in a grid like a chessboard. It’s nonsense. Especially once you realise no one needs to play this convoluted game. I assume the writer thought the scene needed some hook, some quirk to draw the audience and forced in the cliché chess angle.

I almost forgot Lisa – as the plot did (ba-dum tss). Each episode, I kept wondering about her purpose to the story, as the camera occasionally cut to her moping in the hideout or around town. She has none. She leapt at Twelve’s invitation, yet is unwilling to partake in the bombings. Resonance’s main theme is cycle of abuse and if one would break the cycle when given power of one’s abuser. She’s a concentrated proxy of this cycle, but with so little personality and impact, her metaphorical role amounts to nothing, like all edgelords. Cut her from the story!

The writer muddled the message by trying to make everything more complicated than necessary. It didn’t need all the Death Note touches – should have been itself. These kids want to change the world through extreme means; however, their actions are confusing. So many better decisions could have had higher efficacy. Terror in Resonance’s art, music, and concepts are better than the story itself.

Art – High

Terror in Resonance has nice clean art and animation, rarely relying on static shots. Colours pop.

Sound – Very High

I love the soundtrack, from the ethereal OP and ED (I hated skipping them twice when pressed for time) to the instrumental background music. With Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain) on the music, her international folio delivers, including Indian Tabla – a rarity in anime – for tension. The dub is better than the original, as the American characters don’t speak Engrish and it matched voices better. Original is still good, overall.

Story – Medium

A terrorist attack on Tokyo leaves little clues outside an internet video with a riddle warning of another bomb. Sadly, a need for edge and desire to be Death Note fails to deliver on the premise.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. I debated extensively on whether to go for a high or medium rating, but the faults dampen the end feeling. I recommend Terror in Resonance on the merits of its visuals, audio, and the concepts it tackles, in spite of its story stumbles.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Great MusicPositive Recommended English Voice Track

Negative:

DissapointingUseless Side CastWeak End

Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku Romantan – Tsuiokuhen

 

Related: Rurouni Kenshin (main series)

Similar: Basilisk

Ninja Scroll

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Samurai Action Drama Romance

Length: 4 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The right type of tragic backstory.
  • Surprising turns.
  • Improved technicals compared to series.

Negatives:

  • Missing a poetic detail from the manga.
  • Tomoe doesn’t have enough of her own story.

I made my disappointment for Rurouni Kenshin clear in my review, finding the ‘neutered for children’ approach to be a ruination of the good manga. The series also removed the best part of Kenshin’s tale, his backstory. Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal is that backstory told over four episodes.

In the lead up to the Japanese revolution, a swordsmaster rescues a slave child from bandits. That child is Kenshin, who, after training under the swordsmaster, would play a pivotal role in the Meiji restoration of Japan. Trust and Betrayal details Kenshin’s bloody legacy and the price it exacts from his soul. One night, he meets Tomoe, a mysterious woman who sees beyond his assassin’s visage. However, his actions have already set in motion a fate that cannot be avoided without a price.

Rurouni Kenshin failed in large part for forgetting who Kenshin was, what atrocities he committed, in the series’ efforts to protect the children. Trust and Betrayal remedies that error by delving deep into Kenshin’s character. It doesn’t hide why he kills as many people as he does; it doesn’t pretend that his actions are pleasant; it doesn’t pretend that he can merely walk away unscathed from it all. An honesty of character is never a bad thing.

Trust and Betrayal does falter in two parts. First, Tomoe doesn’t have enough time for her own story. Not knowing her importance, one would assume that she is a minor character based on her screen time. Where Kenshin is dissected to his core, Tomoe is left unexplored. I understand she is supposed to be mysterious, but even after the conclusion, too little comes to light. Second flaw: they removed a minor detail from the finale that who have compounded the finale’s impact.

Rurouni Kenshin the manga was a seemingly light-hearted samurai story that hid darkness within. The anime was all that darkness removed; Trust and betrayal is the darkest point realised. I wish for a full Rurouni Kenshin adaptation in this style.

Art – High

The mature style suits the narrative better than the childish version from the series ever could. The art reminds me of classical Japanese still-life paints, like the one of the cranes in Kenshin’s house. Good cinematography and animation. Could do without the epilepsy flashing for action, which was all the rage in that era.

Sound – High

Though the cast is the same in Japanese (where common in characters), the acting is much better – not having Kenshin sound like he’s gargling bubble bath helps. The English, too, is better, void of the irritating mannerisms. Music has more impact.

Story – High

The legend of an assassin who would kill hundreds and the consequences of his actions. Kenshin the Manslayer’s origin story. A tragic story soaked in blood. Great, but could have gone deeper.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Even if you have no desire to watch the main series, Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal is worth your time. If only Rurouni Kenshin had this level of quality.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: 

Extensive Character DevelopmentStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Naruto – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Naruto

 

Related: Naruto Shippuden (sequel)

Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow (side story)

Naruto the Movie 2: Legend of the Stone of Gelel (side story)

Naruto the Movie 3: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom (side story)

Similar: One Piece

Hunter x Hunter

Basilisk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Super Power Action Adventure

Length: 220 episodes (~80 filler episodes)

 

Positives:

  • Many awesome fights.
  • Creative abilities and powers.
  • Lasting consequences.
  • Great villains.
  • Episode 101.

Negatives:

  • Takes a few episodes.
  • Naruto isn’t the most interesting protagonist.
  • Explaining the obvious at times.
  • Flashbacks and filler, though most filler comes after the canon episodes.
  • Relies on the inferior sequel, Shippuden, to complete a few arcs.

Audiences have a love-hate relationship with long running battle shounen. The gargantuan episode count can be reason enough not to give them a shot. In my experience, fans of long running anime often got into the series from the ground level when the episodes were still in double digits and not nearing a millennial celebration. Unfortunately, being there year-one and having a series be a part of your life for a decade or more does lead to a skewed perception of the show’s quality. So, when tackling Naruto classic, my year-one battle shounen, I kept in mind the best anime I have seen since – having not seen Naruto in seven years also helped gain distance.

Naruto centres on young ninja Naruto and his quest to become Hokage, the highest rank in ninjadom. Naruto has a demon fox trapped within, desperate to break free and destroy everything, as it did to the village years ago. He is a pariah in society and uses humour for defence. As part of a three-man squad with Sasuke, the last of an elite clan, and Sakura, whose large forehead is her tragic backstory [sarcasm], they carry out dangerous missions under the guidance of Kakashi, their teacher who has no cares to give.

My first issue is the protagonist himself, Naruto, a problem that applies to most shounen protagonists. I hate how the protagonist is always happy-go-lucky, the “goodest” of the good guys, and thus an uninteresting protagonist. Shounen writers choose these protagonists because they are the least likely to alienate a young audience. Imagine if the protagonist were Gaara instead, a Sand ninja with a similar backstory, who turned out a remorseless killer instead of a prankster – many kids would be terrified and leave before they get to see his full arc. That’s not to say a happy protagonist can’t be challenged through conflict, but in Naruto’s case, his conflict is weak and the pariah status lasts a few episodes at most.

This leads onto my next point – backstory. The writer dumps a hero’s entire backstory into our laps at the first possible instant (usually their first major fight). Just one big dollop mid-fight. A writer should hold back details until the audience is at breaking point, and then reveal something amazing. Naruto’s heroes have little such mystery. Even Sasuke, whose backstory is the most interesting among heroes, is more about his brother, a villain.

Look to the villains and we find the opposite. Their backstory is held in reserve until it can no longer be hidden, making us acutely interested in them as characters. Orochimaru, for example, the main villain and major reason to watch this, doesn’t have his life story narrated to us the first time he fights, as seen with most of the young ninja. His power-hungry past builds him up to be a phenomenal villain, one piece at a time. When you think he can’t be anymore evil, another piece is unveiled to make him even more nefarious, and another, and another.

All shounens have a huge cast, often of filler characters; thankfully, however, a memorable support crew supplements Naruto’s weak protagonist. Many seemingly irrelevant side characters have great story arcs. There are too many to detail, so I will focus on the best and my favourite among them, Rock Lee, the mop-topped and bushy-browed ninja in the springtime of youth. He is a ninja without powers; he can’t use any ‘spells,’ so to speak, relying on hand-to-hand combat. Lee should have been the protagonist. He still fits the criteria for a shounen protagonist: A go-getter, hardworking underdog, and with a quirky, fun slant to him. He succeeds where Naruto fails because the writer went all-out with Lee. His hard work is genuine, while the demon fox does most of the work for Naruto. Lee’s underdog status will never vanish because of his no-spells weakness, whereas Naruto is no longer an underdog after a single arc, even if the writers try to say otherwise – again, the demon fox. When battles matter above all, having the weakness be a combat one is the most interesting. Lastly, Lee’s humour is far better; Naruto is simply juvenile, a brat most of the time, but Lee’s quirks come from his passion, his innate mannerisms, which never feels forced.

Lee’s fights are excellent, some of the best in anime. Naruto in general has great fights, varied too (strategic, all in the mind, brute strength, or trump card types), but Lee takes it to a whole new level. Abilities in Naruto have a lot of thought put into them, each character bringing some cool power, but there is something about Lee’s style, distilled down to its essence, matched to his personality, that makes him so engaging. His conflict, his challenges aren’t only more significant, but also more relatable. They made a big mistake not choosing Lee instead of Naruto.

Like all battle anime, Naruto has its share of padding and filler. Naruto’s go to driving sock is the flashback. A handful of flashbacks, most from season one, are repeated, I swear, at least ten times throughout the series. We have a recap in episode 14; they couldn’t even wait a season. Sometimes we flashback to last episode…twice…in one episode. Desk, meet Face. They like to state the obvious when explaining abilities at times as well – do shounen writers think their viewers are retards?

Naruto doesn’t have it as bad as the likes of Bleach and co. Naruto’s filler is mercifully back-loaded after the canon, with only a half-dozen filler episodes during canon, most of them actually good. One must wait until Naruto Shippuden to have one’s mind drilled through their eyeballs in pain, which leads me to my final negative. A few story arcs conclude in the sequel, a shounen padded and dragged out as bad as any other.

We know filler is born from a need to have an episode everyday while giving the manga time to get ahead, but when releasing on disc later, they should trim all the TV fat. Get rid of these flashbacks, burn the filler, and stop opening with the final scene from last episode. A master edit for Naruto would be fantastic.

Naruto is, ultimately, a good anime weighed down by the trapping that burden the battle genre. If Naruto were never intended for morning TV, it could have had a faster pace, a more engaging protagonist, and more respect for the audience. However, as is, Naruto is still worth watching if you want a good battle anime and are willing to skip the padding yourself.

Art – Medium

Good visual design for the most part, particularly in abilities; however, the animation is inconsistent. In Lee’s fights, the animation is excellent, fast, fluid, precise, but where Naruto is involved, expect plenty of static. Naruto’s signature move being a hundred clones means the time and budget for a 1v1 fight is now spread for a 100v1 fight. Most clones are frozen in the background and those that do move, slide rather than run. Also, bright orange for a ninja?

Sound – High

Naruto’s soundtrack goes far beyond the morning cartoon. The hype tracks truly build hype, the perfect instrumental piece accompanies tragedy, and the villains walk to their own sinister church organs. Voice acting in Japanese is another standout. The dub, however…yeah…Naruto’s voice, he sounds like a chain smoker and that “Believe it!” rubbish (they cut it after season one – what mercy!). The dub is hit and miss for such a large cast. Some, like Orochimaru (Steve Blum), the performance I would have guessed as most difficult to match, are perfect.

Story – Medium

Teen ninjas fight for their village. Cool powers, great supporting cast, Lee, nefarious villains, and engaging battles, all bogged down by shounen padding.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Good shounen to start with. The overall high quality is predicated on you skipping the filler (for a simple guide, stop at episode 140). It is a medium quality otherwise.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Great MusicHoly S***Phenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStrong Support Characters

Negative:

Terrible Start

Gungrave – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gungrave

 

Related: Gungrave (video game basis)

Similar: Berserk

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Texhnolyze

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mafia Drama Action Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Deep characters and development.
  • Stylish, fast-paced action.
  • Brutal drama.
  • Top tier acting for the well-characterised dialogue.
  • Less is more.

Negatives:

  • The action focused final third could not live up to the preceding drama.

Before I begin the review, you must know of the two ways to watch Gungrave, depending on what type of story you prefer. If you start at episode one, you will witness a flash-forward before the plot rewinds to the beginning. Or, you can begin at episode two and have no idea of what is yet to come. With the first method, you will be wondering how things went so wrong; with the second method, you won’t know what goes wrong. It is up to your preference. Both are equally great, though I will write this review on the assumption that you skip episode one to avoid spoiling for method two. (All trailers spoil too much, so I settled for the opening above.)

After the murder of their friends by a rival gang, street punks Brandon and Harry join the largest crime syndicate, Millennion. Brandon seeks to get closer to Maria, the Godfather’s ward, while Harry wishes to make something of himself. Brandon is quiet, disciplined – the muscle – and loyal to a fault. He barely talks, but he projects tons of character in his manner, in the tone of his expression. Harry, on the other hand, is a leader, too charismatic for his own good, a smooth talker of great ambition and intellect.

Gungrave is the story of how these two friends climb the mafia ranks, putting character, morals, and love on the line. Gungrave’s roots in gangster films are obvious – the notion of ‘loyalty to the family’ is a recurring theme throughout. It is a blend of Scarface and The Godfather with a touch of science fiction (only anime would take such down-to-earth films and add the fantastical).

Brandon and Harry, supported by a larger cast, are the heart of Gungrave. Their character arcs are something to be studied at length for how well and believably the characters evolve by the end. It’s rare to see a story that doesn’t treat friendship as an all-binding law. I enjoy a ‘power of friendship’ story as much as the next viewer, but it’s always a pleasure to see a story that questions if friendship really is all-powerful. And Gungrave manages to convey all of this without resorting to long conversations. Most stories can only manage such depth by sitting the characters down for long dialogues to explain their motives, which is rather dull, even if insightful. Brandon’s restriction as a silent character forced the writers to express thought without word – that look in his eye, that moment’s hesitation. Gungrave conveys development through actions, choices and consequences, never resorting to extended conversations where characters tell us where they stand.

Despite the serious gangster story and unfettered violence, there are moments of well-timed humour to give the audience time to breathe. If you have seen the famous gangster films, you will know that despite the many guns, action occupies only a small amount of screen time. Guns in mafia films aren’t about delivering action, but as tools to convey character emotions. Gungrave is no different. The syndicate isn’t about killing. It’s about control and family, understating how humans work and what makes them comfortable, makes them unwilling to defy you, or better yet, work for you.

The action, when present, is excellent and doesn’t drag for episodes on end. That said, when the action does dominate the final third (also like most gangster films), it isn’t as good as preceding episodes. An unfortunate side effect of having such powerful drama come first – a real first-world [story] problem.

Gungrave still keeps me glued to the screen after several viewings for its subtlety in character and is my favourite anime. Can you believe this is based on a video game? It’s amazing that a simple action game spawned such an excellent series. If only movies could manage such adaptation quality.

Art – High

Gungrave looks great for a pre-HD anime with a Trigun and Cowboy Bebop-esque art style. The action looks fantastic and cinematography works overtime to amplify characters’ emotion.

Sound – Very High

The cast couldn’t be better for Gungrave’s Japanese track. Even with the European-dominated naming (some Engrish), I recommend sticking with Japanese. Tomokazu Seki, once again, delivers the perfect quiet character. The music consists mostly of slow jazz and solo violin. I like the lyric-less OP.

Story – Very High

A mafia story of power, greed, family and loyalty. Characters and development of excellent depth.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. Gungrave is an exemplar is subtle characterisation and uncensored human nature. Remember to start at episode one or two depending on your preferred story type.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentHoly S***Phenomenal VillainRiveting ActionStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None