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More of the Same
on April 22, 2015
I know it’s been out for a while, but lo and behold, I have done at least some catching up with the Naruto anime lately (and the end of the manga, or at least the end for now). And now that the newer set of movies from the latter half of the series, Naruto Shippuden, are available for streaming, I was finally able to take a look at the first movie of the new series, simply titled Naruto Shippuden: The Movie. After seeing this movie, I don’t think I missed much. In fact, this movie was so full of its own tropes, I may as well have already watched it before.
This is, of course, not to say that the movie is terrible or even bad. It’s quite adequate, actually. The animation, as with all of the movies with their much higher production budget, is absolutely beautiful and fluid, far more so than the typical episode of the anime. The voice acting (I watched the dub because that’s what I prefer) is just fine, and no better or worse than the show. Each of the voices fit the characters well and the actors do just as well. So there are no real problems with the acting, animation, or overall production of this anime film; they’re all just fine. The problems with this film all stem from its clichéd narrative. The plot and new characters take absolutely no risks or deviation from standard action anime films in this genre. In fact, in many respects, these Naruto films have formed tropes unique unto themselves.
The film starts off with a false shocker ending, in-media-res. I could instantly tell it’s a red herring because of the title, so I wasn’t really fazed by it. We are then quickly introduced to our tragic, tsundere, damsel-in-distress heroine for the evening, the priestess Shion. Immediately noticeable is that her character design, if not characterization, is strikingly similar to Hinata Hyuga’s in Shippuden. It’s so obvious and jarring, it’s actually kind of odd that none of the other characters mention it, not even Neji. She’s voiced in the dub by veteran Laura Bailey, who does quite well as portraying her snobbishness as well as her sadness and compassion. She’s not too terribly complex however, as her backstory of fate and sacrifice and all that jazz has not only been done a million times in anime and fiction in the past, but also in just this series. In fact, much of her attitude and eventual character arc strongly echoes that of the heroine from the first Naruto movie, Yukie Fujikaze from Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow. She just seems to be a conglomeration of previous characters and arcs, with not much else to her as a character. Unfortunately, much of the rest of this film plays out in the same fashion.
The plot is so standard, it practically can be called note by note. Shion is the only daughter of the former priestess, and is the only person who can seal the ancient evil known as Sauron Moryo, whom was defeated by her mother at the cost of her own life. A group of evil ninja whose names are inconsequential as they’re just there as cannon fodder for the heroes to curb stomp in the third act revive the spirit of Moryo and his unstoppable army of mindless Orcs Terracotta Warriors. They plan to use Moryo’s power to take over the world. Naruto and his team are assigned to escort Shion to the Land of Mordor Swamps where she can seal Moryo’s body forever. Yukie Shion is at first a spoiled brat and a firm believer in predetermined fate like Neji, and is content to be sacrificed for the good of her people. Naruto eventually wins her over with his ninja way and unflinching determination, and she falls for him. He eventually destroys the evil Moryo, who it turns out is some kind of eternal Cthulu demon without a clear origin, with his Rasengan combined with the special flavor of the day chakra from Shion, and the movie just kind of stops as the credits roll. An after credits scene once again showcases Naruto’s stupidity and naiveté, and we’re done.
As you can see, this film hits not only tons of action and anime clichés, but also tons of tropes from just the Naruto anime and the other theatrical films. The plot flows in such a familiar and predictable fashion, that your predictions for what will happen next will be better than Shion’s. Yes, the story and characters are overused to the point of tiredness, except when it ups the weirdness factor to eleven and comes right the heck out of nowhere. Shion’s ability to predict the future isn’t really explained very well, nor do we come to fully understand its rules or origins. Moryo himself is an enigma, as we don’t where he/it came from or why it wants to destroy the world; he’s just evil I guess. His minions that awaken him are similarly given no backstory or reason for their actions, so they’re just evil bad guys too. Heck, I can’t even remotely remember their names, if they even had any. At some point, there is what I surmise is some sort of Transformation Jutsu that’s permanent, used by one of Shion’s male vassals to impersonate her, which makes it kind of a magic sex-change-no-jutsu. You explain that one. It’s just odd that that’s a thing in this world. The climax with Moryo is ridiculously confusing. Something about Shion sacrificing herself, possibly going back in time to undo Naruto’s death, or something. It all goes by so fast and without enough explanation to make sense of it; in the end, I’m not really sure what happened. Also, Naruto himself seems a touch more annoying that usual, and not in a well-done manner. And one of the voice actors is Wil Wheaton. Yes, THAT Wil Wheaton. He’s not bad, but that’s downright bizarre.
In the end, it’s not outright terrible, but it is overly predictable. The new characters are reused cutouts, and the established characters are underutilized and fail to compensate. Shion is interesting enough of a character that I wish I could see more of her in future projects in the series, which of course won’t happen because she’s one-note filler fodder. Honestly, I wouldn’t say this film is a necessary watch for this series; nothing is lost to the mythos by skipping it. Of course, if you are a fan of the show/manga and know what to expect, it’s a decent way to kill and hour and a half.