Box 24 begins one episode into Shippuden season 14 with a continuation of the clash between Gaara and his father, an overall feel for the collection’s strong and weak points crystallised in the conclusion of this standoff. Though the surrounding story’s progression is close to stationery, for the characters this period of stillness holds some seismic shifts and realisations, both in themselves and for their journeys. Ever a figure of pathos and fascination even bereft of the One-Tail, Gaara’s conflicted present self reconnects with his fraught past, new insight unfurling painful truths and moments of enlightenment. But these poignant touches, if a smidge corny, are often diluted by poor character animation, sections of montage filler material or inconsequential flashbacks.
Even when cogitating over times gone by, though, these pauses can be forgiven as highlights to the progression of the characters. Bringing focus to the strengths they’ve developed throughout the years, they’re scattered between scenes of these old friends of ours facing past enemies, and displaying by comparison how they’ve grown in their abilities and emotions. Seeing Naruto tapped into the Nine Tails chakra, yet graciously learning how to channel it to the best of his ability, brings a swell of pride to all who saw that unruly kid earn his headband and set out as a ninja. Some intriguing fights spin out from this theme for his comrades too, tied into the cenotaphic dynamic of the reanimation jutsu and creating moments of bittersweet heartache with a view to this arc’s oncoming closure.
Cousins Neji and Hinata show the full potential of this crossroads, a promise of mutual protection altered by time and warped by circumstance as a metaphor for how they’ve reached their current point, and how they’ll move on. Their flashbacks to training for a clan ritual weave a beautiful and complex familial tapestry, feeding into the regret, grief and courage of the present time. Naruto and Sakura’s description of the fireworks for a sightless Hinata stands as a shrine to a time of mourning, but also as tribute to how she has learned to face down the events that turned her brother into her enemy with the valour he nurtured within her.
With these flashbacks to old and new stories serving as reminders and contrasts for the relationships between the living and the dead, this almost frozen point in time is a patchy, yet often touching period of reflection, while Kabuto Yakushi plots his coup de gras and puppeteers from the shadows. Though it becomes a drag at times (not to mention the collection’s shameless ending), at its best it concentrates all the accomplishments of each character into their present struggles, reconnecting friends, comrades, enemies and fans as one. Anyone who grew up with these characters, after all, understand the characters’ troubles and victories as their own, and revisiting this part of their journey is just like a catch-up session with good buddies before the looming plunge into the zenith of this arc.
Extras: English dub; story boards; production gallery; trailers