There were times when I considered dropping Naruto.
There is perhaps no anime I want to love more than Naruto. I’ve been following this story since 2003 and even if it drags on for another decade, I’ll still be camped out all night waiting for its end. I know full well it’s far from perfect, but by now I’m too caught up in these characters to actually care whether or not Naruto is objectively good or bad, that it simply is Naruto is good enough for me. I suppose this is a lot like being a Star Wars fan, you have to be willing to completely invest yourself in the story, kick reason to the curb and accept what you’re seeing. If all you can do is complain about the fucking ewoks, you’re completely missing the point.
The last few episodes of Shippuuden have been good. I’m not sure if it’s simply because the Gaara retrieval arc was a little too long, or if I just wasn’t as engrossed in it as I thought, but only now is it feeling like Naruto is recapturing that exciting and compulsive feeling. All this is connected with the return of Orochimaru and Kabuto and a sense that we’re getting closer to that inevitably awesome first encounter with bad Sasuke.
To be honest, I still don’t completely understand the motivations behind trying to "save" Sasuke. Naruto obviously believes that if only he were stronger when they originally clashed, he could have stopped Sasuke from leaving by force and everything would have been fine, but this is ignoring that Sasuke clearly wanted to leave everyone behind, ally with Orochimaru and chase down Itachi. Fundamentally, we’re yet to see if he is capable of committing evil and, knowing how Naruto will never give up on a friend, it remains to be seen whether or not his heart can be sufficiently moved to change perspective.
All that said, you can’t help but honestly and utterly cheer for Naruto; the depth of his feeling is unquestionable and his complete willingness to sacrifice everything is aptly symbolised during his murky internal dialogues — drowning in helplessness, Naruto, knowing full well he is shortening his life span, does the only thing he can do to try and save his friend; combine with the demon fox and embrace his cursed power. It was disturbing to see that his final transformation literally burns off his skin. Naruto, with his blood red eyes, is fast becoming a monster.
I loved how he so nonchalantly tossed aside an attack from the ever condescending Kabuto, but of course, I can’t wait to see how far he will push Orochimaru too (that is, before Yamato is inevitably forced to seal Naruto’s escalating power). Here’s hoping for another beautifully animated and big budget smack down.
After realizing my disappointment in Naruto Shippuuden, I quit watching and renounced my faith in the old girl; for me, the magic had faded. All at once, it felt too slow, too choppy, too cheap and too predictable; my dreams had been lost – the hero’s comeback never happened. In that time, I enjoyed being one of those cool anime fans. Suddenly I had refined taste, people invited me for interviews and guest collaborations as I mingled with high society, yet my true colours, my dirty secret, never faded, and this weekend, the inevitable happened; I relapsed like a hungry junkie and gobbled up the last dozen episodes of Shippuuden"¦ Why does it feel so wrong, yet taste so good? Time to admit the truth, my name is bateszi and I’m a narutard!
The massive clash of Gaara’s sand vs. Akatsuki’s blonde bombshell Deidara rages ever on while Naruto and Sakura celebrate with a bowl of ramen having again teamed up with their perverted old sensei; anti-social bastard that he is, Kakashi declines their company, no doubt to finish off the latest volume of his favourite romantic yarn “Make Out Paradise”. In between the action, we glimpse a sun drenched flashback to a pre-Kazekage Gaara and Kankuro, striding atop a cliff that majestically looks over their endless desert, reaffirming their new found desire to work hard, protect the innocent and earn friendship the good old fashioned way – just like Naruto. The episode ends with a devastating explosion when what appears to be a clay-based nuke is dropped in the middle of down-town sand village by Deidara. Civilian casualties are expected.
I can see why people are already starting to complain about Naruto Shippuuden. It’s true that the story is slow going, just as it’s true that the animation has been mediocre since the superlative first two episodes. I’m still enjoying it though. As is the case with Death Note, it seems that reading the manga is key to our ultimate enjoyment of Naruto; I’ve steered clear of the manga for that very reason, I’d rather not spoil the story. I enjoy anime more than I enjoy manga.
Sometimes I wonder why I’m so compelled by Shonen Jump’s “fighting” anime; characters like Gaara are the answer. Over two hundred episodes plus and we’ve seen him dragged through hell; abused and isolated as a kid, lost in life and consumed by hatred, yet he finds salvation through friendship. That he changes so much through out the series and finally discovers a meaning to his existence, only a heart of stone would not feel a pang of attachment to him.
Next week’s episode is an hour long special. Here’s hoping something big and flashy happens!
I forgot how damn awesome Naruto is when it gets serious. These first two episodes are brilliant, the new soundtrack is wonderful too; dramatic, epic and even a little nostalgic. It just looks and sounds all grown up. After this and Mushishi, composer Toshio Masuda is fast becoming my favourite anime soundtrack-er.
There is an overwhelming sense of mythology and fate sweeping through the show now, for better or worse, the characters are growing up and fulfilling their potential – suddenly realizing Gaara had become the Kazekage of the Sand Village set against him striding a-top that building looking over his village was a great moment. The Sasuke meeting/Kyuubi scene was particularly good too, approaching theatrical levels of animation; you could cut the tension with a knife, while Naruto returning to Konoha and meeting with all his old buddies provided a massive injection of feel-good nostalgia and inane cuteness (Sakura is still borderline psychopathic).
Then there is the Akatsuki couple – especially the fat one, dragging himself across the sand, slowly walking through the desert, approaching the Sand Village; just two of them against an entire army – you know they are good; combined with the gigantic Star Wars influenced soundtrack building, swooning and chanting in the background, this scene was distilled, liquid awesome.
All in all, a more than welcome return to form. Riveting from start to finish. A big time pay off episode. And I just let off a lot of steam.
Standing on the brink of a new era for Naruto, I’ve turned back the clock to look at my favourite moments from the series; fair warning – hyperbolic fanboyisms ahead. I started watching the show in 2003 with a cheap 15″ CRT monitor and two tinny sound blasters, at the time I wasn’t interested in anime and hated bloody subtitles. 4 years on and I find myself hooked up with a 24″ LCD flat-screen, 6.1 Dolby Surround Sound system and I’m writing on my own anime blog. What the hell happened?! Honestly, I blame Naruto.