Naruto Shippuden’s UK release continues to move ever forward (I’m running out of unique ways to phrase that, I may have to start repeating them soon…) as the 28th 2-disc “box set” arrives from Manga, containing Episodes 349 to 361. As with any long-running shonen series, you get chunks of episodes that are mostly filler, mostly canon adaptation, and rarely, entirely one or the other. This set is entirely… filler. BUT! It’s filler set in the past and focusing on some characters and events that haven’t had a great deal of attention (well, with the exception of Itachi’s betrayal and what lead up to it, but hey-ho…), rather than featuring the main cast in an irrelevant side story with a paper-thin villain, like so many others.
The bulk of these 13 episodes focuses on Kakashi as a member of the black ops squad known as ANBU. Due to the revelation of more of Kakashi’s background as a side-effect of finding out the masked man is his old partner Obito in the last set, we know that he killed his other close friend Rin at her behest shortly afterwards. This set of stories focuses on Kakashi dealing with the emotional effects of killing his friend Rin and generally losing his two friends shortly after the three graduated together. His mentor Minato, who during the first episode we see accepting the position as Fourth Hokage, soon sends him to ANBU after Kakashi botches a simple mission due to hesitation brought on from the trauma. Seems a bit odd to send someone who is struggling with deep personal issues to a black ops group that specializes in assassination and other tasks with no questions asked, but whatever. Let’s go with it!
The good thing about this story is that it’s not just Kakashi, we see the events leading up to and the immediate after-effects of Obito unleashing the Nine-Tails Demon Fox on the Hidden Leaf Village and Minato’s death, we see ANBU leader Danzo’s schemes early in development as well as Orochimaru’s betrayal of the Hidden Leaf and his dealings with several other characters, including the future Yamato on whom he was still experimenting at the time. While most of these plot points have either been shown or heavily implied, seeing them all tied together in one string of episodes is nicely done, and makes a change from just going back to when Naruto was a kid in the original series like a lot of flashback arcs.
We then eventually get to Itachi’s forced betrayal and the events surrounding the Uchiha Coup d’État. While a lot of this is newly animated and focuses more on Itachi’s time with ANBU and his mission as we now know it was, it does feel like running over old ground and even unnecessary, especially now that Itachi and Sasuke have made peace with each other in the main show. It then ends with a few time jumps showing Kakashi leaving the ANBU, becoming a failed teacher, then finally a successful one with Naruto right back at the start of the series.
“Tsuki no Okisa” (or “Size of the Moon”) by Nogizaka46 is your opening theme for Episodes 349 to 356, when it’s replaced by “Guren” (“Crimson”) by DOES (which I’m glad is in all caps otherwise “by does” would be a grammar nightmare), from Episode 357 to 361. The first ending is “Niji” (“Rainbow”) by Shinkū Hollow, also from 349 to 356, when it switches to “FLAME” by DISH// up to Episode 361 at the end of the set. The extras are the usual trailers and clean opening and endings.
So, Box Set 28 is a hard one to talk about. If you’re really into the manga adaptation and are looking forward to seeing the end, then you’ll be disappointed as this looks back for its entire runtime, rather than forward. If you’re really into the lore of the Naruto series then you’ll enjoy this. It doesn’t really present anything new, but it does tie up some loose threads (like Kakashi and Yamato’s friendship) while nicely joining several flashback scenes from the past into one flowing story. Given it has no episodes from the actual manga story arc at all, it almost feels like a stand-alone OVA series and if you look at it like that, there is a lot to enjoy here.