Such is the mark of long-running anime shows and their snowballing success, that when more money is thrown their way, there comes an inevitable mark-up in quality. It’s been a source of satisfaction watching the evolution of Naruto’s animation, morphing as it did into the quintessential Shippūden style. And Road to Ninja boasts high production values in spades, using CG for some breath-taking sequences that take the viewer utterly by surprise.
The animation itself is prone to fluctuate between scenes, but it’s an immersive and attractive experience. The opening fight with the Hidden Leaf ninjas mucking in is a glorious testament to these characters and the journey that the viewer has accompanied them on until now. The twin tenets of friendship and hard work are grafted onto events, which feel both erstwhile and renewed.
Driving off the Akatsuki, the ninjas win plaudits from their parents and sensei alike. Sakura throws a strop at her mum and dad for being embarrassing and overbearing, while Naruto throws up a fuss at the lack of his own. With raging hormones and emotions running amok, both of their stances are perfectly understandable, and pairing the duo together, with their many differences, strikes a tender commonality.
After ditching her folks, Sakura grabs the first friend she can find, which just happens to be Naruto – forever a child of circumstance. Encountering Tobi of the Akatsuki, the duo is transported to an alternative world. It’s an old faithful trope that, at first glance, seems to play it safe. But flipping everyone’s character binaries is a cunning means to see them acting in ways that only fan fiction could previously offer, something the voice actors took delight in playing up to. The much hinted at twist is also nothing short of predictable, but unfurls into a terrific fight sequence. Likewise, Yuka Miyata’s snappy script does a lot to do away with any disappointment, with well-observed character interaction and plenty of laughs.
Less action-orientated than previous entries, Road to Ninja is a fable in the fullest sense of the word, and there’s a real lesson to be learned, whether you’re a ninja or a sales assistant. Shedding the typical episodic format that dogs lesser entries in the movie franchise, it bears the significance of the kids’ relationships with their parents, which has always been one of the show’s strengths, for an end result that feels well and truly separate and yet connected. What’s more surprising is just how poignant the movie is throughout, but particularly in its closing moments. This writer can’t be alone in mopping up a tear or two.
Special Features: Japanese commercial videos / Promotional videos / Art gallery / Trailers
ROAD TO NINJA: THE NARUTO THE MOVIE / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: HAYATO DATE / SCREENPLAY: YUKA MIYATA / VARIOUS: EMI SHINOHARA, JUNKO TAKEUCHI, TOSHIYUKI MORIKAWA, CHIE NAKAMURA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW