Naruto has been training for nearly three years now, but when he returns to his village, he finds that his friends have attained higher ranks while getting to go on missions. But, on his first mission with his friends, Naruto must protect Shion, a seemingly arrogant shrine maiden who is the only one who can remove the demon who has been awakened by a chaotic man named Yomi and his four ninjas and intends to destroy the world. Shion also has the ability to predict the deaths of those around her. While hot-tempered Naruto is finding it difficult even to be around Shion – much less protect her and escort her to where she must go – the challenge increases when Shion predicts Naruto’s death. The only way Naruto can live is if he leaves Shion, but if he leaves Shion, the planet will be destroyed by demons. As determined and headstrong as ever, Naruto must find a way to prove this death prediction wrong, help rescue Shion, and save the world.
This is the first Naruto movie that is set after the three-year time jump where Sasuke leaves Konoha to go with Orochimaru. This is hinted at quickly in the earlier part of the movie, where Tsunade assigns Rock Lee to the vacant third space in Team Seven. But mentioning Sasuke and his absence sends both Naruto and Sakura into gloomy despair, so Shizune advises the Hokage to steer clear of that particular subject and send the team to guard Priestess Shion of the Ogre Kingdom as she makes a pilgrimage to a landmark shrine to prevent the demon inside Yomi recreating a “Thousand Year Kingdom” and taking over the world with his impervious terracotta army.
By now, I have noticed that the Naruto films follow a similar pattern. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you’re a big fan and love to see your favourite characters interacting in new parts of the world and working together in a situation complete separated from the main anime storyline. Sasuke’s not getting in the way, a big chunk of the cast are taken out and things usually focus on Naruto, a small handful of his fellow Konoha ninjas and a couple of new characters that have been given the difficult task of making a lasting impression in this film and integrating as much as possible into a concentrated cast of established and well-loved characters. Needless to say, these new characters are never really too successful. The show-stealer is still Naruto, his unwavering belief in himself and his friends and his enormous amount of chakra and what he can do with it.
Another noticeable aspect of the films is the higher quality of animation and special effects, which are particularly noticeable towards the end of the programme as Naruto and Shion do battle with the demon Mōryō and Shion reflects on her duty as a priestess and what that really means. The 3D animation does work throughout but it can be very easy to tell the difference between that and the standard 2D animation at times, breaking the you out of the world and looking at the terracotta army as being entirely otherworldly rather than slumbering evil beings ready to march across the Earth. The regular cast sport their usual looks, while the film-only characters are a little lacklustre in the design department, as if someone’s thought “Well, they’re not going to be around for very long, anyway…”
It is in the later scenes that Shion’s character becomes more than a two-dimensional plot vehicle as we see what she was like as a child and what her mother, the previous priestess, wanted her to grow up like. Unfortunately as the ending comes along rather suddenly, with characters quickly being picked off and pairing up for their one-on-one fights before leaving Naruto to pursue Mōryō. It’s a typical shounen play to keep all characters occupied in battle and switch between them. However, it does work when the characters in question have their own styles and tactics as it gives them more of a focus in a universe of ever-increasing characters. My particular favourite was Rock Lee and I really loved that his Drunken Fist style made an appearance – I was genuinely excited when I saw it happening.
Naruto Shippuden: The Movie is an entertaining watch. I think I prefer the films made after the time skip as the characters become more complicated, more grown and much more has happened in the story. Naruto has developed too, and is no longer the annoyingly loud one that balances out the quiet Sasuke and picks fights with him (well… for the most part!). He’s become his own character and overtaken some of the others – and it’s about time. Naruto fans will really enjoy this film, and there may be something lacking to you if you’re not familiar with the franchise, but nothing takes away from the enjoyment of Naruto’s fantastical ninja world.