Over 50 episodes into the series and we've finally gone full circle. Naruto Shippuden started with a flash forward showing Naruto and Sakura facing an unemotional and awesomely powerful Sasuke, and it's taken five volumes for the story to reach the point we were shown a glimpse of at the start.
It seems that Sasuke has pulled even further away from Naruto
and Sakura, both emotionally and physically. His power eclipses that of
his former colleagues and having failed to bring him back once more Naruto is
both depressed and desperate to step up his training. With Kakashi nearing
full recovery he is ready to oversee a new training regime in which Naruto will
learn to master his chakra nature. Every ninja's chakra has a different
natural elemental force, and mastering this element and learning new ones is the
key to creating unique and powerful new techniques. Naruto begins his
training in earnest, using his shadow clones to speed up the process and taking
tips from fellow wind chakra user - and Shikamaru's teacher - Asuma.
However, even using these tricks it's going to take some time to pick it up, and
there's a more pressing issue at hand. A mysterious enemy is plundering
the tombs of former land of fire ninja, and Team Kakashi is dispatched to
investigate. However, there is more to the tomb robbing than just looting,
the tombs contain the former guardians of the fire kingdom and it seems that
someone wants to harvest the residual chakra signatures and techniques their
bodies retain. Joining up with warrior monks from the Fire Temple, Team
Kakashi need to stop their mysterious opponents as quickly as possible, but
their enemies are ready for a fight. Naruto is having trouble with one of
the monks too, the arrogant and withdrawn Sora is rebuffing every attempt at
friendship, but when they get caught in an enemy trap they may have to put aside
their differences. From their actions it looks like their enemies may have
another target alongside the tombs, and that could put former guardians like the
monk Chiriku and Asuma in the firing line. Can Naruto and co discover what
the enemy is planning before it's too late?
If you think that the latter half of the above synopsis sounds like filler... then you'd be right. After sticking largely to the manga plotline through the previous 50 episodes or so this volume deviates away in order to cover the story of the Guardians of the Country of Fire. As well as filling in a bit of background info on the guardians - who aren't really explained in too much detail in the manga - this story arc aims to give a bit more background information on Asuma and also bring in another wind Chakra user to interact with Naruto. The
first few episodes on the disc stick to the original story, with Naruto coming back from his unsuccessful mission to recover Sasuke and starting his new training which is quite interesting and goes someway to explaining some of the bizarre ninja techniques in the series. After so many episodes of relentless action and politics it's nice to go back to some good old fashioned bonding and simple training that serves to explain lots of the things the series has so far expected you to take for granted, I actually quite enjoyed this part of the volume, but I enjoyed the story arc that followed less so.
I've always found that one of the big problems with
Naruto is the filler always feels like filler. You can tell
when a story arc isn't part of the original manga, there's a difference
in pacing and the characters seem a little bland. There's also an
over-reliance in the filler arcs and in the movies to concentrate solely
on Naruto and have him meet with a character who he clashes with
initially but eventually understands and befriends. This arc is no
different, Chiriku is a bog-standard monk stereotype, and Sora is a
re-tread of every single non-manga youth the series has introduced -
warped by a past tragedy and unable to interact properly with normal
people until Naruto befriends them and teaches them the error of their
ways. There's been a couple who have broken the mould, but not
many, and signs aren't promising that Sora will be one of them.
The story is the same by-the-numbers, 'mysterious ninja no-one's ever
heard of doing something no-one really cares about in a place that's not
even been mentioned in the previous 270-odd episodes of Naruto'
story we usually get in the filler, and at the moment it's just average.
So what's the redeeming features? Well, it's action-packed enough, and some of the ninja powers are inventive. The storyline aims to fill in some gaps in Asuma's backstory, presumably so that he can feature prominently later, which it does relatively well. We learn that he is the son of the third Hokage (something that isn't revealed until later in the manga) and that he is having a relationship with fellow team leader Kurenai, and we learn a few secrets from his part as a member of the Guardians. Sora is a wind chakra user like
Naruto, so that should enable him to learn more about wind chakra as the arc progresses. In a way the arc fills a gap in the story in a similar way to the Tea Country story arc did in the original anime series - it exists to add some more background and give more reason for some of the things that happen later, but in reality it isn't really necessary. There's nothing particularly wrong with the story, the characters or the action, but it's bland and pretty average.
Naruto Shippuden Part 5 heralds a return of the filler that blighted much of the end of the original series. Whilst it's not as bad as much of the filler was back then the Guardian arc adds nothing to the series and serves only to tell you background information you didn't really need to know. The series remains entertaining but the quicker it returns to the main Akatsuki and Sasuke story arcs the better. The animation and music this time is decent enough but with much of the action taking place at night or underground there's a distinct lack of vibrancy, although the volume does end on a more promising note with the action switching back to Konoha and the reintroduction of Asuma setting up some interesting potential conflicts with Sora. Hopefully it will stay there and the story will wrap up next time so we can get back to the main plot. This volume was average and not up to the standards we've come to expect from Naruto Shippuden.
Trailers and a gallery, pretty basic stuff. There's also short comedy asides at the end of the credits after each episode where characters explain some background or series concepts for the benefit of the viewer. A nice addition, but nothing special.