After the last volume of Naruto Shippuden I had quite
high hopes for this one. The Guren storyline had proven that the writers
were getting the hang of doing filler that was actually entertaining to watch,
and the main storyline was on the verge of taking a major step forward.
As usual the last volume of Naruto Shippuden left us in the midst of a storyline, with a mixed team of ninja trying to foil the machinations of Orochimaru and his henchwoman Guren. Yes, it was a filler plot but as I commented in my last review the storyline wasn’t too bad. There were some interesting characters and a decent story that actually worked in the context of the main Naruto storyline (which is a rarity for filler), and I was actually looking forward to the final couple of episodes that would round this side story off in this volume.
Unfortunately – as fans of Naruto will know from painful experience – the writers rarely quit while they're ahead. I was fully expecting the story to wrap up in two or three episodes and for the rest of the volume to focus on the real storyline of Orochimaru rapidly approaching the time of his body transfer with Sasuke. Instead the Guren story took up all twelve episodes on this disc, going well past the point where it could - and should - have ended.
To start with things seemed pretty good. Konoha's force
is boosted by the arrival of Shizune, Ino, Rock Lee and Ten Ten and their larger
force enables them to mount an offensive mission whilst simultaneously
attempting to seal the Three Tails and intercepting Guren's henchmen.
Kabuto continues to scheme and Guren becomes increasingly protective of
Yuukimaru, putting her in direct opposition to Naruto even though they both want
to save him. The appearance of the Akatsuki ninja Tobi adds an extra level
of spice to proceedings as his powers have yet to be revealed and neither side
are aware of his presence. Guren's follower Rinji also appears to have his
own agenda, and Guren herself is becoming increasingly conflicted and uncertain
over Orochimaru's orders and reconciling the dark deeds of her past with her
relationship with Yuukimaru. It's all finely poised and perfectly set up
for a couple of rip-roaring episodes of excitement and drama, and whilst we do
get a lot of action and drama over the remaining episodes on this disc, there
are some strange inconsistencies and plot twists that serve little purpose other
than the extend the story.
The point of this whole plot is that Naruto sees parallels between Yuukimaru and Sasuke, and wants to save him both in order to prevent him from being used by Orochimaru and to prove that he can save someone from darkness. In the last volume Naruto tries to save Yuukimaru from his loneliness by saying he needs to establish a 'home' - a place he can return to where people think of him. Yuukimaru takes this to heart and latches onto Guren, and the 'place you can return to' line is repeated about 25 times per episode for the rest of the story. It drove me up the wall after just a couple of
episodes and that was before the other niggly annoyances kicked in. There are a few odd things in this volume that don't seem to make sense, not least that Kakashi doesn't use his Sharingan at any point - not even when trying to protect the team who are attempting to seal the Three Tails. There's also the strange fact that Naruto easily beats back Kabuto when trying to protect Yuukimaru, even though he has proven himself to be more than a match for Konoha's elite Anbu ninja on several occasions. Tobi plays the fool throughout, making it extremely difficult to understand why he's in Akatsuki, and some of the enemy ninja get increasingly bizarre powers which are out of kilter with the series as a whole.
It's a shame really, as the storyline was quite promising and during the last volume held up well. In this one though it loses its way very quickly, becoming increasingly repetitive and needlessly drawn out. Guren's backstory is depressingly derivative and makes her a less interesting character than she promised to be, whilst her fellow ninja are barely one-dimensional and have very little character to speak of. The only exception is Rinji, who for a while has a bit more going for him as we schemes in the background, but even he falls flat in the end. On the plus side some of the battles are good and there are some decent heart-searching scenes for both Naruto and Guren, but there's nothing the series hasn't done before and better. It fails to explain why several characters don't use their powers in situations where they would be useful, or why some characters even have certain powers (Yuukimaru in particular). All in all Naruto Shippuden Part 9 is a sub-par entry in what has been a good series so far, and with the next volume promising a return to the main Orochimaru and Sasuke storyline I'll consider it a blip rather than a downward trend. Disappointing.
Same as last time - trailers, galleries and comedy extra segments at the end of each episode. Average.