With the half-decent Three Tails filler arc over the time has come for Naruto Shippuden to return to its main storyline, and it does so at a pretty pivotal juncture.
The time of Orochimaru's body transfer has arrived, he's reached the limit of
his current lifespan and now needs to take over Sasuke's body in order to live
on. With his body failing and Kabuto's medication having little effect
Orochimaru is at his most vulnerable, and for Sasuke the opportunity has come to
strike at his mentor and escape his clutches. His true goal has always
been revenge against his brother Itachi and to him Orochimaru was just a means
to an end, however, if he is to track down and kill Itachi he will need some
help. Members of Akatsuki always travel in pairs, so he needs powerful
allies in order to keep Itachi's partner Kisame occupied and also a sensor-type
ninja to help him track them down. To this end he sets his sights on
Orochimaru's prisons, in particular the uniquely-powered prisoners Suigetsu and
Jugo and the ruthless warden Karin, but things aren't going to be
straightforward. News of Sasuke's actions have spread quickly, and
Akatsuki have added him to their list of targets. Deidara wants to get one
over on Itachi so sets out with the aim of either killing Sasuke or capturing
Itachi's target Naruto, whilst Konoha have decided to act as well. With
Akatsuki weakened and Sasuke out in the open the perfect chance to capture him
or Itachi has arisen, and Tsunade isn't going to let it pass them by.
However, they know it's not going to be easy, Sasuke is now powerful enough to
escape from Orochimaru whilst Itachi is one of the most dangerous ninja in the
world and they don't know where either of them are, so Konoha dispatches a team
of ninja to hunt them which combines the power of Kakashi, Naruto, Sakura and
Yamato with the tracking ability of Kiba and Hinata. With Akatsuki hunting Sasuke and Naruto, Sasuke hunting
Itachi and Konoha hunting them both the scene is set for a truly epic
After the last storyline somewhat fizzled out after a promising start, it's great to see the series make some massive strides forward this time round. After much waiting and side stories Sasuke is finally on the move once more, enabling Konoha to resume their attempts to recover him and in turn reopening Naruto to attack from Akatsuki. Akatsuki are severely weakened after the defeat of Sasori, Hidan and Kakuzu but are also very close to achieving their goal, needing only the 9 tails and 8 tails jinchuuriki to finally put their plan
into motion. Sasuke is gathering new companions for a strike at Itachi so is seen as a threat by Akatsuki, who send out their agents to find him and Naruto, and Konoha assemble their own strike force to capture both. Phew! As you can tell there's a hell of a lot going on this time round, and this volume features some quite pivotal moments which are set to have major impacts on the story going forward.
The first major change sees the position of series villain
shift away from Orochimaru and on to the Akatsuki, which becomes a more focused
threat with the final revelation of its remaining members. Although their
powers remain unknown, just being able to see Akatsuki's leader and his partner
gives the shadowy organisation some substance and an unexpected twist at the
volume's end only makes them more interesting. Meanwhile Konoha are
finally able to go on the offensive, and both Naruto and Sakura are given new
determination by the reappearance of Sasuke. Sasuke finally outgrows his
master and heads out to challenge his brother, aiming to realise the desire for
revenge that has defined his character throughout the series, whilst Kabuto has
to deal with the aftermath of his actions. We get to see the childhood
events that made Kakashi the man he is in the two-part 'Kakashi Gaiden'
storyline, whilst Jiraiya embarks on a dangerous mission that could expose the
heart of Akatsuki's operation. As you can see there's a huge amount going
on this time round, and whilst there's a danger of it all becoming overwhelming
or confusing the series actually paces itself very well, carefully winding the
separate story strands together and mixing some major action scenes with drama,
a smattering of comedy - frequently revolving around Sasuke's short-tempered
ally Karin - and plenty of twists to the story you don't see coming.
There's a real feel that the series has shifted into a new phase, and this volume leaves far more questions than it answers. Whilst it is interesting to see Kakashi's backstory it's unclear what bearing this has on the plot, apart from allowing the series to pause for breath, and it must be said that this volume is very Sasuke-centric, with Naruto and Sakura largely reduced to supporting roles. However, the concentration on Sasuke does allow the series to explore some little seen parts of Orochimaru's empire, as well as devote time to
fleshing out his new companions. The new characters are interesting, whilst Karin may initially seem like a bit of a Sakura clone considering her short temper and one-sided crush on Sasuke, she ruled Orochimaru's prison with an iron fist and ruthlessly killed anyone who spoke out against him. Jugo is a gentle soul prone to fits of uncontrollable rage, who came to Orochimaru voluntarily to try and keep himself from hurting anyone else, whilst Suigetsu is a deadly former Hidden Mist ninja looking for the lost swords of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, a goal that links the story back to its earliest episodes when a young Sasuke fought Zabuza and Haku alongside Kakashi, Naruto and Sakura. As you can guess this means that there are flashbacks, but for once most of them are actually relevant to the story and not just replays of stuff that happened two episodes ago.
Naruto Shippuden Part 10 finally provides what many have been waiting for, moving the story forward in a big way and bringing Sasuke back to the fore. All the main protagonists are on the move, and there's a couple of major confrontations in this volume which have major impacts plot-wise as well as providing some impressive action scenes. The new characters introduced are interesting, and it's great to finally see the remaining members of Akatsuki, but best of all it looks like the story arc that has defined the series so far is reaching some kind of conclusion. This does mean that there's a lot of exposition and setup this time round, and although it's balanced perfectly with the action and drama there is a sense that there could be better to come next time, especially with Itachi and Sasuke's actions in this volume and several twists and turns to the story you don't see coming. It will be interesting to see what Jiraiya's mission uncovers and whether Kakashi's backstory has any bearing beyond showing how he got his sharingan eye (it seems a bit of an odd time to insert it, in the manga it formed a buffer between the original Naruto story and Shippuden). Time will tell on that one, but if you are a fan of the series and were disillusioned by the filler arcs then take heart, as this volume shows Naruto at its best and shouldn't be missed.
You know the drill, trailers, galleries and occasional comedy extra segments at the end of the episodes. Same as always.