“Naruto Uzumaki has returned to the Hidden Leaf Village!”
After a long two and a half years of hard training with Master Jiraiya, Naruto returns to the Hidden Leaf Village older and stronger than when he left. That’s not to say he has become much wiser, because that’s not the Naruto we know; he still has his childish personality. Naruto Shippuden looks to reinvent itself with new and old characters and a more action-packed and mature tone – but does it pull it off?
Before I start going into more depth in this review, I should state that I have a more up-to-date view on the Shippuden series compared to the first series because I’ve read most of the manga that’s been released in the UK so far, so I can be a bit picky when it comes to filler or anything else unrelated. Also I’ve never watched the Shippuden series on the internet, so I’m coming into this not knowing much about the anime.
To my surprise, it all begins with Naruto and Sakura. The two are searching for Sasuke in an underground cavern when they hear an explosion. They go to investigate, and – moments later – find Sasuke himself. Both are awestruck after searching for him for so long but Sasuke is quite the opposite, showing no emotion and even threatening them. This encounter actually takes place further into the series and I thought that it was introduced just to show that Sasuke was all right. This is a bit of a shame because the suspense of finding him could now wear off in future episodes.
After that we come to the proper start with Naruto returning from his long journey to greet an older Sakura and the Fifth Hokage Lady Tsunade, both happy (and annoyed) at his return. Familiar faces start to show up, including fan favourite Kakashi Hatake who decides to test Naruto and Sakura on their new abilities at the training grounds. Flashbacks and various familiar techniques for this arc seem to have been introduced with newcomers to the series in mind, but it’s very entertaining, nonetheless.
Things may appear peaceful in the Hidden Leaf Village but little hints are planted about the looming threat posed by the Akatsuki, a dangerous group of criminal ninja, including Sasuke’s brother Itachi Uchiha. And it’s not long before we get to see two of their members (in their distinctive black coats decorated with crimson clouds) launching a vicious surprise attack on the Sand Village.
As the episodes progress, we find out that Gaara has become the new Fifth Kazekage and the two members of the Akatsuki have been sent to capture the new leader of the Sand Village. Deidara (known for creating clay models and exploding them at will) goes in alone, but is detected by Gaara and they begin to fight. The ensuing battle is greatly inventive and thrilling to watch.
My little gripe is filler which seems to involve Konohamaru and his group, doubtless inserted to provide comedy relief which is uncalled-for and not funny.
The art has been vastly improved in Shippuden, showing clearer character design and good 3D effects, which make Gaara’s sand techniques or Kisame’s water attacks look massive and epic.
Voice actors are largely unchanged from the previous series with Junko Takeuchi and Maile Flanagan reprising their roles as Naruto, which seems strange, as both Japanese and American female performers have to give him a deeper voice.
Another change from the first series is the music; the creators have gone for the choir and orchestral genre to suit certain events, like the Akatsuki theme (created by Takanashi Yasuhara) which sounds suitably grim and sinister. However, I’m not a huge fan of the opening theme “Hero’s Come Back!!” by nobodyknows; the hip-hop tune makes me cringe.
At the end of every episode there is also a quick history of Naruto facts that explains about past events including the Chuunin exams and alliances, or gives interviews with characters. These sequences last about a minute and serve mostly for comedy purposes – but if you’re coming to Naruto for the first time, then some of these facts are useful to know.
The title screen menu has been simplified and I was pretty much happy with everything on the technical side. On Disc 2 there are some extras containing production art of various character designs, trailers for the first Shippuden movie, and a quick trailer for the first Naruto series.
Naruto Shippuden proves a refreshing new chapter in this long running anime series; its new mature self is both enjoyable and exciting. You can’t go wrong if you want to start the series here!