It’s time for a new spate of Chunin Exams, and a new generation of Shinobi to prove their worth against legends come before. First step, a written exam. Spending several episodes in a classroom is far from the most riveting way to connect a new chapter of Naruto’s saga, especially when the man himself is nowhere to be seen. He’s off doing his duties as Hokage in the midst of the Fourth Shinobi World War, and it’s a heavy load for this cast of young ninja to carry the story without him for a good half of this collection.
As if in sympathy, the animation takes a significant dip, characters barely able to emote with splodge-and-line faces when you take a step back from the action. Rock Lee of all people becomes the exams’ saving grace, determined as ever to be a true Shinobi despite his lack of ninjutsu or genjutsu. When he gets to meet his hero, fellow taijutsu underdog Shira, their friendly clash catches the essence of what this story meant to many young otaku. These were kids like us, struggling for their means to make a mark on the world, whom we could learn our lessons from.
On the other side of the exams, Shippuden rejoins the old guard of Naruto and Gaara, on their own ongoing quests for self-definition. What an opportune moment for a flashback clip show episode or several. All sarcasm aside, we can let this slide somewhat when it comes to the sand’s cursed son. His reflection on first meeting Naruto, one of the few souls that ever opened to help him, earths the hallucinatory malaise he’s fallen into in coming to terms with the extraction of the Akatsuki that made him all he was – a weapon. So who is he now? He and Naruto are soul brothers, and it’s painful to see Gaara still so lost when his redemption is in that bond, if he could only forgive himself his old fury and apathy.
Destiny can shift; weakness is a choice to be made, not a curse. This thread is tied between Naruto and Gaara, Hinata and the Hyuga clan as this collection revisits each in their younger years. This theme transforms a run of flashbacks into a bridge connecting the old generation to the new, a precious photo album narrating what they are striving towards. Hinata’s younger sister Hanabi becomes the heart of this yearning for the future as elder fans like us begin their own families, defining a legacy for the generation they bring into the world.
As Obito Uchiha lies weakened, the story wishes farewell to relics of the past, and prepares for Naruto and friends to build the world in which they’re becoming the new legends. Madara is still putting up a good fight for the old Shinobi status-quo, but the truth is unavoidable. His time is crumbling, and old evils face a final stand against the kids.
Extras: English dub; storyboards; production gallery; trailers