- Sun Mar 13, 2016 11:46 pm
Here's your spoiler warning. It was hard to talk about someone's role in this movie without mentioning the death of a certain character from the main series.Naruto Shippuden The Movie: The Will of Fire
Can this be? Did a Jump movie rise above the standard of mediocrity set by so many films before it, actually making a concerted effort to tie into it's parent series in a meaningful way? Yes, yes they did. All of the previous Naruto films (and a good portion of the filler arcs), regardless of quality, were all pretty much the same exact thing. It was always the same story, just with different characters and villages swapped out.
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
Naruto, Sakura and [insert 1 or 2 popular secondary characters here] form a team lead by either Kakashi or Yamato to go on a mission. Along the way, Naruto tears down the walls of a new movie-exclusive character, befriends them, and teaches them to believe in themselves, helping them achieve some degree of personal growth, and inspiring them as he defeats the new movie-exclusive villain (usually with some movie-exclusive, one-time-only, powered-up Rasengan) while making sure everybody knows that his ninja way doesn't involve giving up.
I just described the plot of all 5 of the previous Naruto films. Except maybe Stone of Gelel? That movie was so forgettable I honestly could not tell you 90% of what happened in it. Fortunately, Will of Fire completely bucks the trend. Gone are the made-up villages and one-off movie protagonists. Sure, there's still a movie-original villain with a fairly cliche character arc, but by making him a former Leaf ninja he already feels more closely connected to the goings-on in the Leaf Village. And this movie is all about the Leaf Village, and the ninja that live in it.
As the title implies, the Will of Fire
is at the center of this (to be clear, this is an important, oft-mentioned aspect of the series. It's not something made up for this movie). I would suggest reading the main body of the wiki page
. It's not too long, though there are some spoilers in there. But to summarize, it's an ideal or philosophy representative of the desire to love, serve, and protect the village. It's also emblemic of the hopes and dreams of previous generations passed down to the next generation.
The Will of Fire (the movie, not the philosophy) is the best kind of filler. The kind that draws on the core themes of the main series and crafts a new tale that truly feels like it adds something to the series, both narratively and thematically. Interestingly, much of the character development goes to Kakashi and Shikamaru this time around, who both play integral roles in the film. Shikamaru even becomes the de facto villain to Naruto's hero for a good portion of the movie. Not in a "he turns evil" kinda way, but from a conflict of ideologies regarding what's best for the village and about the hard decisions that need to be made to protect it.
This movie gave many of the secondary Leaf ninja an important (if brief) role to play. The Sand ninja played a role in the story too. The last time the Sand ninja had more than just a cameo in a movie was way back in Stone of Gelel, where they felt very shoe-horned in, and while they no one but Gaara did much this time around, their presence made sense given the context. I was rather impressed they included nearly every secondary character of note, while both giving their presence a purpose and managing to avoid having such a large cast bog the movie down.
The basic story is actually rather simple. Kakashi leaves the village under mysterious circumstances, prompting Naruto, Sakura and Sai to track him down against orders. Meanwhile, the bad guy is kidnapping ninja with kekkei genkai (special powers exclusive to a bloodline) from each nation to rather narrow-minded ends, casting suspicion on the Land of Fire, as they're the only nation who hasn't had anyone kidnapped yet, bringing the ninja world to the brink of war.
That might sound pretty dense, but the main plot itself actually feels a bit thin, and mostly exists to create a situation where Naruto's idealogies clash with those of the other ninja, most notably Shikamaru and Gaara. But it works great for that purpose. As such, the actual villain's role in the movie feels more like a subplot than something truly important, but he does set the whole story in motion, and his character arc, if rather predictable, did at least tie up in a rather satisfying way that again hearkened back to those "core themes" I mentioned earlier. Still, the story offered a lot of opportunities for drama as loyalties and duties were called into question and fingers were pointed by people without a full grasp of the situation. While the plot could've used some more work, taken as a whole this movie feels far more significant than it's predecessors, and still works as a solid piece of entertainment.
To further the ties to the main series narrative, Shikamaru and Kakashi flash back to a number of key scenes from their pasts. Shikamaru thinks back to Asuma's death and his final words, which are very important to the role he ends up playing in this movie. Kakashi thinks back to something important his squad-mate Obito told him back when he was young (a very important line that continues to be brought up again and again throughout the series). He also thinks of the test he gave Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura, where he tested whether they were worthy of continuing their ninja training by having them steal a pair of bells
from him. He still holds onto the bells as a memento (which is also canon, as we see he has the bells in the main series too. It happened in this movie before the anime series, but I suppose the manga may have been beyond that point already).
On another note, the villain Hiruko and his cronies seem to be quite fond of the leather-and-straps look. I quite liked Hiruko's design
. He looks pretty cool. The others, for better or worse, wore a lot more leather, and really played up the bondage look.
Also, here's something interesting I was made aware of. We don't know if Kishimoto provided the designs himself or if he actually pulled them from the movie, but the four kekkei genkai-posessing ninja Hiruko kidnapped (and killed) would much, much, later have look-alikes with small appearances in the manga in flashbacks of ninja from their respective villages and, if I'm not mistaken, these look-alikes were eventually brought back to life by a villain using a resurrection jutsu and played a bit-part in the present. The anime goes a step further and actually has some of these resurrected ninja star as the villains of a filler arc. It's hard to say definitively if they're meant be the same people or not. Even though they look the same, their abilities don't match up perfectly with those featured in the movie, but canonically their manga back-stories stories do match up quite well with the circumstances surrounding their disappearances in the movie. It would be pretty cool if they actually gave some forethought to including these characters in a movie to have some built-in backstory for their eventual manga appearances, even if a few details didn't quite match up years later. Hooray for pseudo-canonism! This movie definitely gets brownie points for feeling relevant to the main series narrative in ways none of the other films did.
After the animators dropped the ball in the previous movie, this one was quite a sight to behold. Everything stayed on-model and had consistently fluid animation. I didn't notice any obvious CGI either. The movie also featured some really solid tracks during most of the fight scenes. The ED was a decent pop song by PUFFY (whom I almost entirely forgot stills exists in Japan, as they haven't been relevant in the US for a good decade now).
Can Studio Pierrot keep this up? From what I've heard about the next film, The Lost Tower, that will probably be a "no." I will, of course, reserve judgement until after I see it, but it's looking like the movies will have to go back downhill before I can hit the fan-favorites like Blood Prison and Road to Ninja.
I might have a new favorite Naruto movie. I rated it higher than Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow, but I can't quite decide which one I simply enjoyed watching more. Either way, I hope I'm not overselling it too much, but I really liked the direction they took this movie in comparison to the older ones.Score: 8/10* Given the relevance of Asuma's death to Shikamaru's role and the presence of another character who isn't going to last much longer, this movie would most likely be set right after the end of the Akatsuki Suppression Mission arc, which concludes in episode 89.* However, the mini-arc where we learn of Kakashi's past and hear the line from Obito isn't adapted in the anime until episodes 119 and 120, which was the week right before the movie came out. In the manga, this Kakashi flashback was right in-between the final chapter of OG Naruto and the first chapter of the Shippuden era. So if you've read the manga, it should be fine to watch it in it's "chronological" spot, whereas anime watchers should only watch it after episode 120.
This isn't relevant to the review, but Hiruko seems ripe for gender-ambiguous fanart. So I'm rather surprised I only came across this one picture
while searching for the image of him I used in the review. I guess filler/movie characters just don't attract the same amount of attention as canon characters. He just feels like the kind of character that would be quite popular if he was featured in the series proper.