Naruto franchise, the cavalry arrives to help our loveable hero, evening what were until then impossible odds. Naruto is delighted and relieved, but takes a moment to reflect on the betrayal he felt. So wait, he ought to have said – you had me arrested, made to feel abandoned by those I loved, stripped naked and humiliated, beaten and put into the hands of those you knew were going to kill me, and who many, many times before you arrived could have done so if they got their act together instead of faffing about pretending to be a harsh prison regime, then allowed dozens and dozens of the prison’s inmates to die with no chance of miraculous resurrection – just so you could make a flashy entrance at this point? You had enough intel to send Naruto in blind and were mobilising a small army of ninja from two different villages, which meant any fears over a declaration of war were unavoidable once the invasion force landed anyway, yet you didn’t just dispense with the pointless deception and creeping around and just invade/send in a competent investigation force or inspector? Then stuck on a final scene just to highlight how this didn’t work?
Yes, I respect the Pierrot team for trying to make a Naruto film with a slightly different tone to it than usual, but this one was just poorly thought-through. On the surface it flows like a decent prison drama, but its twists are just poorly thought-through and full of holes. When a Naruto lookalike makes several assassination attempts, he becomes a wanted man – despite Naruto’s very first episode establishing that taking on the appearance of another is an incredibly basic skill. Naruto is locked up in a wooden box and carted off to a prison, where a fire jutsu seals his chakra and subjugates him. He is toldhis only hope of release is a request from his village, but none comes, and his spirit is broken with solitary confinement and strip-searches (not sure if that scene was supposed to be comic, with Japanese attitudes to nudity after all very different from Western ones, but personally I found it rather chilling). It soon becomes clear, however, that there is more to the prison, and a rumour of a box that grants any wish that the Raikage had been talking about in the opening scene just happens to tie in. A mysterious girl helps Naruto, with her flashback mentioning a jutsu that sacrifices her life marking her as deus ex machina material very early on, and he tries his best to escape the blood prison.
But then he is used as a sacrifice to awaken the (giant) box, which grants the bad guy’s wish – not for power, as his Ancient Spirits of Evil From Thundercats masters had expected, but for his dead son back. But the son has changed, and soon transforms into a huge ridiculous mind-reading monster, and it’s up to Naruto and co to stop its rampage.
There are very many questions – why did the actually-not-so-bad-guy wait so long before using Naruto for the purpose he was meant? Is the blame for the son’s new nature based on the evil of the box (in which case why is it shown as justified to kill him when he was finally depowered?), or his own grudges (in which case what was all that about him being corrupted, and why did Naruto’s speeches not fix him, as per usual?)? Were the rescue squad lurking there for days, or did they just happen to arrive when they did, and if so, what if Naruto was already dead, as he was very likely to be?
Of course, it doesn’t really benefit anyone to overthink a Naruto movie, which I have also said of previous films in the series. But I thought this might have been Naruto’s The Hell Verse, darker and more mature than the other films and much better for it – but of course The Hell Verse was made with the input of the mangaka, and that was not the case here (though on the strength of recent chapters that may not be such a bad thing). I think I’ll have to wait for the feature-length tie-in for HunterXHunter with input from Togashi himself for another Jump film that impresses me.
And the fact is that with the manga constantly drawing only cringes from me and the anime now dozens of episodes ahead of where I am, my enthusiasm for Naruto is all but gone. Much as it’s hated, I’m going to stick it out until the end, but it’s certainly a very long way from being a series I enjoy watching very week these days…