When plans for Naruto Shippuden were announced, Naruto fans the world over wept with joy. Or at least relief. The last leg of the first Naruto series was perhaps the most infamous stretch of filler ever, a soul-crushing procession of lame ninja missions that could not have been worse had it been designed specifically to kill the ardor of the devoted. The dismay of fans as the filler stretched ever further, first twenty then forty then eighty episodes, was devastating. The onset of ShippÅ«den and its promise of canon goodness acted upon the disapponted as sight of a ship on starving castaways. That the ship turned out to be a chugging freighter rather than a sleek ocean liner hardly mattered.
Of course, once the prospect of spending money on DVDs rears its ugly head, it starts to matter rather more. As well it should. Naruto may have escaped the filler mire, but it did not do so unscathed. It comes out the other side moving in slow motion, as if afraid that a reasonable pace will chew through Masashi Kishimoto's manga too quickly, leaving it no recourse but to re-enter the mire. These four episodes include exactly one important event: the opening gambit in the Akatsuki's newest plan. The rest is an epic waste of a perfect chance for revivication as the series draws out a demonstration of Naruto and Sakura's newfound powers to excruciating lengths, dwells interminably on the pointless reflections of a variety of characters, and fiddles around with equally pointless flashbacks. It's certainly nice to see Gaara back in action and as bad as ever, but even his battle is less a thrill ride than a test of patience (and it's only beginning).
Shippuden also exited the mire with its sense of humor severely impacted, though that is less the fault of the mire than of the deadly serious turn that the series took previous to it. Regardless of ultimate cause though, the result is the same: a series with a neutered fun factor. After a few decent opening gags, the show exudes gloom. Even when it shoots for light, it somehow unerringly hits heavy. Coupled with the creeping pace, the absence of the show's trademark off-color humor renders these four episodes positively dreary. Compared to the mixture of belly-laughing silliness and ninja intensity Naruto sported at its peak, this is a poor showing, particularly for a series that purports to be a return to that peak.
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