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First Published on UK Anime Network: Naruto Shippuden Box Set 18.
Whenever UK Anime’s editor-in-chief uploads a “Through the Mailbox” video for something I’m scheduled to review I know that a few days later I’ll be receiving an envelope containing physical media goodness through my letterbox. Sometimes I can’t wait and count the days until the post arrives, at other times I dread the arrival of the post. Naruto Shippuden Box Set 18 falls squarely in the latter category. While I usually enjoy Naruto, and have been following his escapades for some time now, every once in a while the dreaded Naruto filler rears it’s ugly head - and so we come to the main thing you need to know about this set: it is almost entirely filler, and pretty bad filler at that.
We begin with four low-key episodes wrapping up the prior set’s events - these are the only episodes here which are not filler. Karin is taken back to the leaf village for interrogation, the task of tracking down the Akatsuki continues, we learn about Kabuto’s current whereabouts and Naruto hears a prophecy involving him and an "octopus". Nothing much really happens in these opening episodes and, aside from some Hokage-based news, there is no real story progression. Obviously this is just the calm before the storm of the coming war, but just as you are ready to get back into the action and longing to see the fruits of recent events come to fruition, along comes the fifth episode, which sets the tone for the rest of the set.
The rest of the episodes see Naruto sent on a “top secret S-rank mission” involving an "urgent" journey to the Land of Lightening and the Village Hidden in the Clouds. He’s sent there via sea voyage and is escorted by Yamato, Guy and Aoba. Despite this being a top secret mission taking Naruto a long way from home, he still manages to run into old friends at every turn. Though, believe it or not, the fact that Sakura, Tenten, Choji, Ino and co. just so happen to be miles away from home at a time of war on innocuous missions and manage to run into Naruto isn’t even close the most nonsensical thing in this set.
The writing is poor in the vast majority of these episodes, plot holes are frequent and gaping, while jokes are overwrought and overused - This is Naruto filler at its worst. By way of example: every episode covering the voyage makes a joke of Guy’s seasickness. Every. Single. One. It was mildly amusing the first time, but by the end of the set you’ll be rolling your eyes in anticipation of the same tired gag every time Guy appears on-screen. Equally poor are the excuses for other characters making appearances in these episodes, which are tenuous at best. One such episode sees Shikamaru and Tenten head out on a mission to bring supplies to Naruto’s ship - so, we’re expected to believe that the leaf village's top young strategist and weapons specialist are sent out to resupply Naruto at a time of preparing for war, and that some time into Naruto’s "top secret" and "urgent" mission they manage to catch up to and locate the ship. In another episode the day is saved by using a hot spring to catapult the hero’s ship into the enemy pirate’s ship, which magically saves the day. Yeah, you heard that right - A ship full of high-level ninja decide the only way to defeat a ragtag bunch of pirates is risking destruction of their only means of transport by using it as a weapon.
When all is said and done this set is one that is best avoided, even for the most devout Naruto fans. You won’t miss much by skipping the opening four episodes and you will certainly thank yourself for skipping the rest.
4 - Naruto at its filler filled worst.