In the potential outbreak of a Fourth Great Ninja World War, a few ninjas with Kekkei Genkai abilities had disappeared from the land of Lightning, Earth,Water and Wind. The Land of Fire remains the only village not affected by these events that people start to suspect its role in these incidents, and rumours of a possible rebellion begin to circulate. With the other nations amassing troops on the borders of the Land of Fire and threatening invasion, the Feudal Lord of the Land of Fire orders Tsunade to capture the real culprit and prove Konoha’s innocence, in the event of failure and the Land of Fire decides to destroy the village to preserve world peace.
Hiruko is a missing-nin culprit and former friend of the Legendary Sannin, who left the village long ago after developing the Chimera Technique, a jutsu that allows the user to absorb both the chakra and Kekkei Genkai of other ninja. Based in Mount Shami with his followers, Ichi, Ni and San, Hiruko uses a jutsu to project himself onto the skies above Konoha, announcing that he will obtain the Kekkei Genkai of the Land of Fire and become immortal and invincible, instigating the Fourth Great Ninja World War and conquer the world. With Hiruko intending to use the power of a solar eclipse to carry out his plan, a race to defeat him begins as the moment of the eclipse draws near.
There was a lot of noise about The Will of Fire, and I had high hopes for this one taking to a higher level than the Naruto films before it. In a way, this is true. Fairly early on, the movie plot made reference to two fairly important and character-defining moments in the main story. The first is when Kakashi finally realises the truth behind the famous words “those who break the rules are scum, but those who abandon their friends are worse than scum”, and the second is the first lesson Naruto has with Kakashi, which was when Team 7 were tasked with retrieving a pair of bells from their teacher – a lesson that has hidden criteria about supporting one another, which the team passed. And it’s these rather famous references that give the story the depth it needs and serves well to explain why Naruto would disobey direct orders from the Hokage to rescue his sensei against all the odds.
When it comes to the execution, this is where things fall back into the usual Naruto film pattern. Things move from one place to another in the usual predictable form, with the battles bringing things up a notch when situations start to get samey. By the time that Naruto finally gets to confront Hiruko about his plans and manipulation (which he does so freely because, you know, evil villains like to explain the ins-and-outs of their diabolical plans), the fight and Naruto by himself seems hopelessly overmatched. But then his friends from the Leaf Village appear in the nick of time. Usually the films spare us from being inundated by all the characters that the main story handles, but I guess this time the focus is on relying on your friends and having the Will of Fire (which is referred to so frequently that it’s almost a mini catchphrase) – and who would have this more than Naruto and his ninja friends?
Aside from the main event, the rest of the film isn’t exactly the most complex. There’s a pretty weak sub-plotline involving the Wind Village which is basically an excuse to let fellow jinchuriki Gaara battle Naruto again (which they haven’t done since the chunin exams). But the main gist and message delivered by this story is the concept of inheritance, whether this be from friends, family or bloodline deriving from Hiruko’s intention to collect Kekkei Genkai and Naruto’s links to his friends and Kakashi. The original Japanese title here is translated literally as “Inheritors of the Will of Fire”, which relates to this. And this is what Naruto and the other ninja have thanks to the older generation and their teachings.
Going back to the surface level, there is one thing that a Naruto film wouldn’t be without, and that’s the ninja battles and the showcasing of skills. Whether the supporting characters are targeting Hiruko’s minions or Naruto’s show-stopping rasengan as the piece de resistance. Animation for the Naruto series has always been of a good quality, and things don’t differ here with the fights being fast yet fluid with ninjutsu and taijutsu being large, elaborate and shot from dramatic camera angels accompanied by special effects. Even the backgrounds, just like in Bonds, are very detailed and don’t just settle for the usual masses of forests that the ninjas seem to travel through whilst on a mission in the TV series, which are now replaced with detailed buildings and beautiful landscapes. The soundtrack to this one also deserves a mention, since the sounds and moods created are very emotive and really help set the scene particularly at the beginning, when Kakashi feels like Hiruko may be summoning him and decides to leave the village. Even as Naruto pursues his teacher, the music is rather dark and eerie rather than the usual high-energy fare that adds a fair amount of tension to a film where the ending is actually rather predictable.
Overall I was impressed with The Will of Fire. It’s a stand-alone story that ties in rather nicely to the TV series so that the fans appreciate that little more depth and engagement without isolating those that probably don’t follow the anime so religiously. And its great visuals and fight scenes add something that the series sometimes lacks. I’m hoping in future that the storylines become a little more complex to catch up with the animation, but it’s good to see that the films are evolving and adapting, and getting better all the time.