The grueling battle to rescue Gaara comes to a close in Box Set 3 of Naruto Shippuden. Grueling in the challenge for our ninja heroes, but also grueling for the viewer as they put up with poor art, stiff animation and terrible pacing, minus the one or two special episodes. Box Set Three begins a new arc, and it seems to bring new hope to the series.
The first disc covers the rest of the Rescue Gaara arc, and the bad pacing largely continues. We see stare downs between characters, poor fighting filler and lots of flashbacks. It is pretty poor that the six episodes worth of content could have been done in three, and the poor effort put into them doesn’t help. Team Gai versus themselves is an abomination to watch, and it seems to have been over ten episodes we’ve had to endure Kakashi and Naruto hopping on trees to catch evil clay user Deidara. The content pulled directly from the manga is still great once it pops up, but these great moments are separated by bad directing and cheap budgets. It seems to be time to write off Shippuden as a solid adaption, but then something happens. A miracle, perhaps.
As the action dies down, the quality of the show suddenly sky rockets. The art and animation improves dramatically and while it still goes at a sluggish pace, the padding becomes interesting and rather well thought. As the second opening kicks in, an incredibly cheesy pop song, it seems the people behind the show have suddenly started caring about the quality. Seeing the farewell to one of the characters at the end of the rescue arc manages to pack a punch with the good direction, and the next arc starts off with some of the best art, animation and padding in the whole series.
The second arc moves straight on from the last. Sakura received information from puppet master Sasori about one of his spies going to meet him. This spy happens to be doing his spying in Orochimaru, the evil scientist creep who convinced their buddy Sasuke to the dark side. With this information Naruto and Sakura set off to capture the spy for intel, but new characters introduced make this a bumpy ride. We have the emotionless prat Sai, a Sasuke look-alike who uses ink style abilities, and the mysterious Yamato, a rather plain guy with a scary face and the power to use wood. The conflict between the characters makes up a rather entertaining journey. Nothing much happens, but the character interactions and little information slips make for an intriguing ride. Finally meeting the spy at the end of the box set brings back the action and the desire to jump straight to the next box set.
Despite everything, Shippuden is still a series worth watching. The team have picked up the problems and fixed them up, and the story is moving into Sasuke centric territory. Good to see the ninjas fight to be better than yesterday.