My standards for Naruto theatrical films really aren’t very high. The previous movies have generally followed the same rough formula: introduce a random youngster for Naruto to introduce to the glories of shounen philosophy (be loyal and brave and help those in front of you with your fists! It will work out in the end because you have a character shield!), defeat a baddie with a little help from your friends, and strike lots of poses and make pat, adorable little speeches. Usually good, forgettable fun, with the added draw of having artwork and animation of a much higher quality than is possible in a weekly series.
Despite being the highest-grossing and possibly most heavily-marketed of the Naruto movies, Bonds is the one I have enjoyed the least, in large part because it simply doesn’t have the eye-candy appeal. It’s not nice to look at, and the animation standard looks barely any better than the average episode of the series, and certainly nowhere close to it at its best, let alone previous movies. Parts of this theatrical, mainstream release quite simply look bad, especially close-ups. The direction is horribly lazy and large parts of the budget have clearly gone on ugly, poorly-integrated CG.
The story is pretty poor, but that’s an allowance I make for Naruto movies – although there have certainly been better ones that this, even taking into account the numerous silly baddies of the other five films. It’s a flimsy plot involving a mysterious clan of airborne ninja out for revenge, an infamous doctor and his young disciple, a sweet young tomboy. To give the film a gimmick, Sasuke has appearances tacked on, which serves more or less only to drive home how separate from canon these stories are, as his interaction with Naruto and Hinata will of course be ignored in the rest of the series, and the poor random-youngster-of-the-film doesn’t even get a scene explaining where she’s going to vanish off to after the end.
On top of that, there’s a rather creepy message here, glorifying the somewhat erotic bond of a pupil hero-worshipping their teacher. The closer to obsession it is, the better, it would seem. Presumably the idea is to hark back to the Zabuza/Haku glory days, when Naruto was actually good, but here it just comes across as unsettling, and trying to shoehorn Naruto into having that attitude towards his mentors didn’t work at all. There’s a line between appreciating, admiring and relying on a teacher and worshipping and loving them…
A Naruto movie isn’t meant to be a great work of art, or clever, or innovative, but it’s at least supposed to present familiar characters in a way that’s nice on the eyes. Just that would be enough for this to pass. As it is…it’s not only careless and silly, but ugly too! Worst Naruto film of them all.
(Originally written 7.7.09)