Mackenzie’s Naruto: Shippuden Primer
With January 4th almost upon us, I decided to take the time to prime readers for the other anime series premiering on this date, Naruto: Shippuden. Replacing the original Naruto series in the lineup (which is moving to 3:00 a.m. and starting over), this sequel series perhaps represents Toonami’s future even more than Space Dandy. Why? In this mock Q&A format, I will answer that question and others. Please read on for all of the information you need about this loooooooooong-running series.
Q1. Shippuden is the sequel series, right? Should I watch the original Naruto as a refresher?
A1. It certainly wouldn’t hurt, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Shippuden liberally inserts flashbacks into the first 53 episodes to bring viewers up to speed and explain the current situation. However, viewing the “Sasuke Retrieval Arc” (Naruto episodes 107-135) that sets up Shippuden may be a good idea.
Q2. What about all those episodes after Naruto episode 135?
A2. Hoo boy. Naruto episodes 136-220 are exclusively filler episodes, with a canon bit in the final minutes of episode 220. They mean nothing in terms of the wider plot or consistent character development. Sometimes they flesh out a secondary character’s background (one whose background isn’t likely to come up in the canon), but other than that…yeah. Some of them are pretty entertaining, though! Cherry-pick to find your favorites.
Q3. Did heads roll for that insanely long filler stretch?
A3. No. Hayato Date, the series director for the original Naruto, remains at his post for Shippuden. And, believe it or not, his staff has always consisted of either freelancers or Pierrot animators who are constantly shuffled from project to project inside Pierrot. The only true “casualty” is in music composition, where Toshio Masuda was replaced by Yasuharu Takanashi – who oddly enough was one of Masuda’s hired musicians for the original series.
What did happen is that the ratings in Japan fell so low that reeling lost viewers back in necessitated a rebranding. Considering Shippuden is still running in Japan to this day (and has more episodes than the original!) I’d say the rebranding succeeded.
Q4. Anything else regarding filler that I should know about?
A4. The first filler arc in Shippuden is called the “Twelve Guardian Ninja Arc“, which greatly fleshes out the backstory for Asuma Sarutobi – one of the top ninja in Naruto’s village. It begins at episode 54 and continues into episode 71. The thing about Shippuden‘s early filler arcs is that it’s not randomized filler like the original series. Any and all filler in the first 175 episodes serves to expand and flesh out the world of the series and also the canon. Overall, the filler integrates very well and enriches the experience of the canon episodes. After episode 175, though, the filler gets more “ehh” in quality. But we have a long way to go before we get to that point.
Q5: Is the animation any better than the first series?
A5. It’s more consistent than the original. The first 53 episodes have their fair share of bad-looking episodes (and a few good ones too!), but after that things settle into a consistent and uniform rhythm. Outside of the episodes helmed by what Naruto fans call “Team God” (led by a famous-in-Japan animator named Toshiyuki Tsuru, who goes by the pen name “Yasuaki Kurotsu” when he works on Naruto), Shippuden doesn’t have the best animation. That said, it holds up better visually during a typical episode than Bleach, Fairy Tail, One Piece, or Toriko. That’s not bad at all. And when we get to those “Team God” episodes (episodes 82, 85, 123, 166, and 290-295), it’s like Production I.G. handled the animation. Impressive praise.
Q6: How does the dub stack up?
A6. It’s generally very good, although it likes overusing Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, and Vic Mignogna in secondary roles. A few of the actors changed their voices to match the characters’ maturity (a dramatic example is Liam O’Brien’s Gaara). Maile Flaningan continues as Naruto’s dub voice, but she does a great job of dropping her pitch early on. Overall, the dub is about as good as you can ask for, and definitely a match for the original Japanese version.
Q7: Are any of the movies coming?
A7. No clue. And Toonami’s crew won’t answer if you ask them. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Q8: Is Shippuden going to move up to replace Bleach when that show ends?
A8. It’s likely. Naruto is a big name and it will be counted on to do the heavy lifting ratings-wise once Bleach is gone, but it remains to be seen when and how that will take place. Bleach isn’t going to end for a while yet, and many things will change in the future. That’s been made clear about current Toonami.
Q9: Didn’t Shippuden run on Disney XD a couple years ago? What happened to it there?
A9. We don’t know, and it’s likely we never will – just like the original Naruto series on Cartoon Network, which was cancelled despite bringing the highest ratings of any show on Cartoon Network. All that can be offered is conjecture. But what I can say is the timing of the cancellation does hint towards one possibility: in one episode, a character is beheaded…and his severed head begins talking. There was no way for Viz to disguise this or cut the scene out. A couple of weeks later, Shippuden was moved to a late, borderline-unwatchable timeslot called a “deathslot”. It was quietly pulled from the schedule after that. It’s likely that this graphic instance had something to do with Shippuden getting pulled, but I doubt it was the only reason why.
Q10: Is Disney XD why Toonami hasn’t run Shippuden until now?
A10. Yes, though it didn’t really matter until recently. Shippuden was contracted to run until October 2013, if the timing of Shippuden‘s premiere on Disney XD means anything (October 2009). Third-party acquisitions typically operate on two-year deals, so Disney XD picked Shippuden up for one two-year deal, renewed it for another in 2011, and then let it expire. But that wasn’t the only reason why: Shippuden was too expensive for Toonami to acquire, even if the rights weren’t tied up. It wasn’t until recently when Adult Swim hiked Toonami’s budget enough to make buying Shippuden a possibility.
Q11: How will Toonami present Shippuden as opposed to Disney XD?
It’s looking like a very bare-bones presentation, to be honest. The opening theme songs are going to be cut completely (though we are going to get a classic-style 30-second Toonami intro in its place). It’s likely the preview and skit sequences will be excised, and honestly we’ll be lucky if we get 30-second snippets of the ending themes like in Bleach. Be prepared for a lot of commercials, because Shippuden‘s runtime will be less than 20 minutes long, barring something unforeseen being kept in. On the plus side, the content itself will be completely unedited. While Disney XD allowed Viz to retain the opening themes, Disney XD’s Standards and Practices department ordered Viz to edit the content with a butcher knife. Much of the violence and death got edited out (verbally and visually) in the Disney XD broadcast, but everything will be in the Toonami version.
Q12: What time is Shippuden airing?
Saving the most important question for last! It’s airing at 12:30 A.M. EST, after Bleach and before One Piece, in the same slot the original Naruto had.
Hopefully that answers your questions regarding Shippuden and its debut on the 4th. I shied away from major story details purposefully because you need to watch the show to get the most enjoyment out of the story! Hopefully, you’ll find it entertaining. After all, this show is finally on the network – and block – where it belongs.
Naruto: Shippuden. Only Toonami.
Sleep is for the weak.