Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow – review
If you haven’t heard of Naruto yet, you’ve either been living in a cave or obsessively avoid all contact with manga; it’s the single bestselling series of comics in the US today, regularly placing multiple volumes on bestseller lists. (The animated version is also a decent-sized TV hit, especially among teenage boys.) In case you have been managing to avoid Naruto so far, Viz is making it really difficult to continue: they’re releasing the new volumes of the series three at a time every month this fall, and also threw in a direct-to-video movie, Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow, to boot.
It’s the movie we’ll be looking at today. I watched it twice over this past weekend, once alone and once in the company of my older son (my resident Naruto expert). The production values are clearly better than the animated show, which I’ve only seen intermittently – even the colors seem brighter and more vibrant. It may be direct-to-video in the US, but it’s a top-notch animated movie, with CGI effects blending very nicely with mostly hand-drawn 2D animation. It’s not quite up to the level of the very best theatrical animation, but the characters are fluid, the backgrounds are stunning, and the action is gripping and well choreographed.
Naruto takes place in a world which I used to think was vaguely based on medieval Japan. I’m not as sure of that now, since there’s a modern film crew wandering through most of this movie. Still, people seem to live mostly in “villages” with quaint names, are defended by their local ninja squads, and normal technology tops off at the level of a blimp or thereabouts. (No guns, no airplanes, not even a steamship.) On the other hand, there is super-magical ninja tech to gather and enhance “chakra,” so we might have to just call this an alternate world and be done with it.
Naruto Uzumaki is the hero of the story – of course, his name is in the title! – a young ninja-in-training from the Leaf village who has the spirit of a demon fox contained inside him. He’s a fairly typical young-hero type: brash, impetuous, ferociously loyal to his friends, unyielding in battle, and with hidden reserves of power and courage beyond normal men. Along with two other young ninja, Sakura and Sasuke, and his sensei Kakashi, he goes on various missions and training programs – the series has run for several dozen volumes already, and shows no sign of stopping any time soon. Naruto regularly announces that he intends to become the chief ninja, or Hokage, of his home village, so presumably the very end of the series, whenever that comes, will see him reach his goal.
Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow was originally released in 2004 in Japan (thank you, Wikipedia!), and I believe it fits into the chronology of the animated series either right before or right after the 101st episode. After some scene-setting and reversals, Kakashi’s team is hired to protect a popular actress, Yukie Fujikaze, during the filming of her latest “Princess Gale” movie in the Land of Snow. (Naruto’s world doesn’t seem to have real names for countries…and there are clearly only a very few countries to begin with.) Naruto has something of a crush on the actress at first, but he sours on her when she doesn’t want to go to the Land of Snow.
That reluctance is understandable (to me if not to Naruto); she’s secretly the true heir of the leadership of the Land of Snow; a nasty ninja named Doto overthrew her clan and killed her father many years ago. She was spirited out of the country as a young child and has never been back.
Of course Doto finds out Yukie is coming back, and he wants a special necklace she has which will unlock a hidden treasure. Doto also has three hench-ninja in powerful “chakra suits,” so there are a couple of battles between Naruo and his friends and the Land of Snow ninjas.
I won’t give away the ending, but I think you can figure it out – this is a sidebar movie which takes place pretty far back in current continuity. I will say that I enjoyed Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow much more than I’d expected. When I’ve seen the TV show, it seems to be just like what I’ve seen of Yu-Gi-Oh: interminable battles stretched over many episodes, in which characters stare at each other, talking about their motivation and yelling out their next moves, for minutes on end. This movie had a real plot, characters I could care about and identify with, great battles, and a real sense of visual style and color. I might have to give the TV show a second chance…if I ever let my sons watch it.
Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow
Viz Media, 2004 (in Japan), 2007 (in the US), $24.98