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Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow
If you're into anime then you know who Naruto is. That impeccably boisterous kid from the Hidden Leaf Ninja Village has wormed his way into the hearts of otaku everywhere. You can't go to a convention without seeing various goers walking around in full cosplay gear and it's hard to look at an anime publication without seeing Naruto talked about in some fashion. Many would consider the series to be a modern day Dragon Ball Z and for the most part they'd be correct.
If you have been following the show through VIZ's DVD release then you'd already be able to point out similarities in the structure. This is one of those long-running series and due to the action-oriented nature of the content it's not surprising to see storylines and fight scenes stretched out to a ridiculous degree. Recently we had the chance to check out the fourth installment of the TV series and just about every episode focused on one fight or another and moved the story forward very slowly. Despite this stretched method of story telling Naruto is a great show and it's one that I have been enjoying immensely. When the first Naruto movie, Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow landed in my lap I was naturally excited.
When it comes to dissecting the film, I suppose the first thing I want to say is that it felt like an extended episode. The moral of the story, the manner with which it doled out the details, and the way everything came together gave me that impression. I suppose if it's not broken then it doesn't have to be fixed so if you look at it that way then Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow is simply another successful cog in the Naruto machine. Fans who approach the film looking for something new will unfortunately be left wanting, though they'll find that the picture is fun enough to add to their collection.
Naruto's first movie begins a little tongue-in-cheek as the main trio of Kakashi's students are sitting; well, standing on the ceiling, of a theater. They are watching some movie about a character named Princess Gale who is fighting an evil magistrate with a band of warriors. Shortly after watching the picture Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto are hanging out beneath a billboard when none other than Princess Gale herself leaps over a nearby fence with a horse. Low and behold a bunch of people dressed as the magistrate's minions are hot on her tail. Naturally Naruto and company spring into action.
After the trio takes down the pursuing minions they quickly discover that Princess Gale isn't exactly real. Well, I mean, she is "real", but this woman is merely the actress (Yukie) who portrayed her and the minions were bodyguards trying to get her back. You see, as a famous person in the land of ninjas she has people after her and these men are purchased to protect her. Funny that they would be taken down so easily by Sasuke and Sakura, though by this stage in the Naruto saga they are further along then we've seen in the DVD releases for the TV show.
At any rate we soon discover that Kakashi and his pupils are hired to protect Yukie as the filmmakers travel to their next location for the Princess Gale sequel. In the Land of Snow they hope to make some movie magic but as bad luck would have it there is something amiss. A group of snow ninjas attack the caravan and go on about how Yukie is actually the princess of the Land of Snow. The whole point behind this particular leg of the journey was to get her back to her homeland and to get their hands around something called the Hex Crystal. Naruto and company have to defend Yukie and naturally there is a lot of fighting in between.
Now, I don't want to spoil the details of the story for any of you Naruto fans that are looking forward to this. I will say that Naruto and Yukie have a surprising amount of personality traits in common and watching them interact was one of the highlights of the film. Their biggest difference that comes through in the plot is Yukie desires nothing more than to fold up and quit while Naruto keeps going on about never giving up. He spends a good deal of time preaching to her about being a lazy quitter and tries to guilt trip her into the correct course of action. You know that typical Naruto shtick. The movie is more about the two of them than anything else. Sasuke, Sakura, and Kakashi are all lightly nudged to the sidelines though we do get to see an interesting glimpse at Kakashi's past. I suppose this was fault in my opinion.
I get that the story centered mostly around Yukie and her quest. I also understand that Naruto and company were hired as bodyguards for this A-Class mission. However, for the franchise's first movie I can't help but be disappointed that the story didn't have more to do with the characters. I wished it expanded upon their history or told a story that opened their personalities up more. The fact that none of those things happened and the story is what it is keeps Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow from being something other than an extended episode.
Don't get me wrong; I liked this film a lot. It embodied just about everything I love about Naruto and we do get some nice action with finer animation thanks to the production. I just can't help but feel disappointed. This movie could have been so much more if the minds behind it took some chances. As it stands this makes a fine addition to any fans collection but it's not a groundbreaking inclusion.
Naruto: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow actually came out way back in 2004 though it is just hitting DVD now. The anamorphic widescreen image receives a fantastic transfer for this release and it looks presumably as good as the producers intended. Colors are bright and natural, contrast is handled appropriately, and all around the design of the show looks familiar, yet better. The animation has been spruced up a tad and the action sequences here are very impressive. As far as the video quality is concerned I noticed minimal amounts of grain and blocking but they were a non-issue. The picture here is crisp and clean with practically nothing that detracts from the presentation.
Like VIZ's presentation of the show on DVD Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow comes with 2.0 English and Japanese tracks. The kicker here is that there is also a 5.1 English track for those of you wanting to get a little more out of the action sequences. The sense of immersion isn't particularly mind-blowing though I do have to admit that the rear channels get a decent amount of attention throughout the mix. The dubbing quality matches that of the show and all around the presentation is crystal clear.
Some trailers for other shows and for Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow are available in the extras menu. An amusing ten minute special video is included here that features a competitive sports festival between different teams from the Hidden Leaf Village. It's kind of like the Ninja Olympics in a way though the running theme throughout it is that Naruto has to poop. His case of explosive diarrhea hits him like a ton of bricks but he has to suffer through one obstacle after another (my personal favorite is the whole liter of milk that he has to drink). Overall it's just a silly little bit but I'm sure the kids will like it more thanks to the potty humor. There was also a Best Buy Exclusive mini mouse pad packed into the DVD case.
Naruto: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow was a lot of fun despite its flaws. The plot was kept light, the action made intense, and the overall story was just touching enough to be entertaining. Given that this was Naruto's first movie I was hoping to see something more that was central to our heroes because as it stands they tend to get pushed aside here. It still feels like an extended episode and there's plenty of intrigue throughout so fans of the show will still enjoy it. VIZ's disc is solidly presented too but diehards may want to hold out for the Collector's Edition on the horizon.