I sometimes wonder how long
Naruto is going to go on for.
Another long running anime series Ė Bleach
Ė has recently been cancelled in Japan, but Naruto is going strong both
in Japan and in the UK. That it has maintained an audience despite more
than a years worth of filler episodes in its original run and frequent side
stories in its Shippuden incarnation is a testament to the loyalty of its
fanbase and the fact that it remains watchable.
Once again a main story arc has come to an end with the defeat of Hidan and Kakuzu, so itís back to filler territory we go! If you donít know what I mean by filler, itís those additional storylines which arenít in the original manga which are added to a weekly anime to pad it out and stop it from catching up with the source material. These filler stories are not written by the original creator and often play it safe by focusing on comedy or expanding on canonical events to avoid potential contradictions with future story development.
If this fills you with the same level of dread as it does me, hold your horses, because apart from the excruciating training scenes with the unnerving transvestite frog Mr Gamariki the Guren storyline isnít half bad. Much of the filler this time round focuses on Guren and her relationship with Orochimaru. Her unique crystal techniques were coveted by Orochimaru and she was originally supposed to be a vessel for his soul, but missed her chance and has been sidelined by the arrival of Sasuke. Guren sees her mission as a chance of redemption and is desperate to succeed, but itís clear that Orochimaru sees her as just another tool at his disposal.
The Guren storyline may tread familiar ground (her
being cast aside by Orochimaru in favour of Sasuke is similar to
Kimimaroís story from the original Naruto series), itís well
delivered and thereís plenty of action and drama too. Gurenís
powers are unusual, but believable within the Naruto universe and
the game of cat and mouse between her subordinates and Kakashiís team is
intriguing. The best aspect of it though is how Gurenís character
develops over the story, taking her from an embittered and ruthless
rent-a-villain to a more conflicted individual whose growing bond with
Yuukimaru is starting to test her loyalties. Yuukimaru is a
emotionally damaged child who brings out Gurenís protective instincts,
and Orochimaruís plan poses a considerable risk to him. His plan
could also have a wider implication in the ninja world too, it puts him
into direct opposition to Akatsuki and could lead to a major shift of
power if successful. This obviously puts Guren and Yuukimaru at
the centre of a potentially massive conflict, and with Kakashiís team
around too things could get even more dangerous for them. Kakashi
is accompanied by some of the best tracking ninja Konoha has in its
ranks Ė Kiba, Hinata and Shino Ė and they are closing in on both Guren
and her followers. Thereís plenty of action to back up the drama, and
when it hits its stride towards the end of the volume things have gotten
However, filler is filler, and even the best filler canít stand up to comparison with the normal storyline. In this case the interesting storyline about Guren and Orochimaruís plan to harness a huge power is preceded by several episodes of Ďcomedyí training between Naruto and Mr Gamariki, who is then replaced with Gamatatsu and Gamakichi. Much attempted hilarity falls flat as the series trots out tired jokes about Gamakichiís obsession with food, Narutoís pratfalling stupidity and Gamatatsu pretending to know more than he does. Itís all been
done before and is no better now than it was then, I always have a problem with how the filler episodes have a habit of making Naruto into a clown, ignoring all of the character development which has occurred throughout the series. These episodes are exceedingly guilty of this, but the Guren storyline that follows is actually pretty good, even if the fighters accompanying her are quite flat and underdeveloped.
As filler volumes go this one is actually pretty good, and apart from the lame training with the frogs the story is relatively gripping and quite interesting. The main problem it has is that it comes hot on the heels of the excellent battles against Hidan and Kakuzu, and considering the major plot events that occurred during that story anything that followed it was always going to feel a little flat by comparison. This said the story is still streets ahead of most of the past Naruto filler, and for once introduces an original character you can actually care about. Gurenís story may not be that original but itís a well delivered tale of loyalty and betrayal, and as it takes up the majority of this volume it goes a long way to glossing over the cringeworthy training episodes. In fact the only good thing that comes out of these early episodes is some bonding between Naruto and Jiraiya, which is a nice aside after the action and intense drama of the last couple of volumes. For once the series manages to do filler and stay watchable, and this upturn could be indicative of why it is still running in Japan. Naruto Shippuden Part 8 is another good chapter in an enduring series, long may it continue.
The usual trailers and galleries, plus the comedy extra segments at the end of each episode. Standard stuff.