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ANIME REVIEW: “Naruto Movies Triple Feature”

ANIME REVIEW: "Naruto Movies Triple Feature"

Based on the manga by Magashi
Kishimoto, the animated series Naruto
scored an instant hit on both sides of the Pacific. Audiences couldn’t get
enough of the adventures of self-proclaimed knucklehead and ninja-in-training
Naruto Uzumaki. The mixture of magical “ninja” techniques, slapstick
comedy, no-holds-barred combat and friendship appealed to audiences of all
ages, genders and nationalities. The broadcast series ran for 220 episodes and
launched a number of spin-offs, including OVA’s, the even longer-running sequel
Naruto Shippuden, and enough license
products to keep a string of factories running overtime.

But adapting this come-from-behind
kid to the big screen proved challenge, as this collection of the three initial
Naruto films demonstrates.

The Naruto manga and TV series take place in a timeless Neverland,
where ninja use supernatural powers to command wind, fire, sand, insects, brush
lines, etc. in battle. Ninja Clash in the
Land of Snow
(2004) takes Naruto to an even more improbable place: a
movie studio. He, Sakura, Sasuke and their instructor Kakashi-sensei
are assigned to protect Yukie Fujikaze the temperamental star of a series of
period melodramas. Yukie is rude to her fans (including Naruto) and  throws tantrums. She doesn’t seem to be in the
sort of danger Naruto and his ninja friends usually fight until the director
decides to shoot a film in the Land of Snow. The ninja bodyguards discover
Yukie is really the long-lost princess of an icebound realm her evil uncle Doto
has usurped. Naruto and his friends use exotic jutsu (ninja techniques) and plain old fisticuffs to defeat Doto’s
minions. But the familiar characters feel distinctly out of place in the contemporary
setting, cracking jokes about filmmaking.

Legend of the Stone of Gelel (2005) begins with what should be an extremely simple
mission: returning a missing ferret to its owner. But no mission is simple when
Naruto gets involved. He, Sakura, and Shikamaru must  battle Temujin, a mysterious warrior in
Western armor who’s after the legendary Stones of Gelel. The ninjas can’t allow
anyone to possess the unimaginable power of the stones. Writer-director
Hirotsugu Kawasaki’s story is sadly underdeveloped. The source of the Stones’
power and the origins of the villains are never revealed. Typically, Naruto triumphs
through a mixture of determination, loyalty and plain mule-headedness. But his
friend and ally, Gaara of the Sand Village, gets the more exciting battle
techniques.


Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom
(2006) feels closer in spirit and tone to the TV series. Under
the Kakashi-sensei’s watchful gaze, Naruto, Sakura and Rock Lee guard Michiru,
the wealthy, ostentatious Prince of the Moon Kingdom, and his spoiled son
Hikaru. A storm at sea and a revolution give Naruto the chance to teach Hikaru important
lessons about friendship. Naruto come across as a kinder, gentler knucklehead
in this film. He doesn’t pull his usual pranks, and emerges as an effective and
surprisingly gentle teacher. Director Toshiyuki Tsuru’s rapid cutting pumps up
the energy in the big, final battle. Guardians
of the Crescent Moon
is by far the most satisfying and entertaining of
early Naruto films. But filmmakers
would explore more interesting stories in the more exciting and emotionally
powerful Naruto Shippuden features,
notably The Will of Fire (2009), The Lost Tower (2010), Blood Prison (2011) and Road to Ninja
(2012).

Hard-core Naruto fans will want this anthology set in their collection, especially
at this bargain price. But less rabid admirers will be content with the Shippuden films. 

Naruto Movies Triple Feature  
Viz: $19.97, 3 discs

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