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'Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie' review: How to be a mundane ninja

Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie

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"Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie" will be playing at the Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park location here in Houston this Tuesday at 7:30pm.

Naruto in "Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie."
Naruto in "Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie."Photo courtesy of Eleven Arts, used with permission.
The official Japanese poster for "Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie."
The official Japanese poster for "Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie."Photo courtesy of Eleven Arts, used with permission.

In the village of Konohagakure (Hidden Leaf Village), Naruto has developed the reputation of being the son of two heroes since his parents, his father and Fourth Hokage Minato Namikaze and mother Kushina Uzumaki who was the second jinchuriki of the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox Kurama, gave their lives to seal part of the Nine-Tails into a newborn Naruto.

After a battle with the Akatsuki in the present day, most of the Uzumaki Clan is having their parents recommend them for a jonin (high ninja) application. Naruto begins to feel more alone than ever because of it while Sakura feels absolutely smothered by her nagging parents.

Madara uses an experimental jutsu that throws Naruto and Sakura into a mirror world where Naruto's parents are still alive and Sakura's were the ones that gave their lives to stop the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox. As Naruto and Sakura attempt to figure out a way to return home, Madara slowly makes preparations to take the jinchuriki from Naruto.

"Naruto" is an anime I've purposely avoided for many years. Not only is Naruto irritating in both the English dub and the original Japanese version, but the series has an overwhelming 595 episodes (220 in "Naruto", 375 and counting in "Naruto: Shippuden") with no signs of ever slowing down. Catching up now would be like dedicating a fraction of your life to scientific research for a few months.

Most anime films that are related to anime television series are one-shot adventures that don't require full-blown knowledge of everything that has occurred in the actual series; "Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie" is actually the ninth "Naruto" film and the sixth "Naruto: Shippuden" film. Thankfully it isn't too difficult to follow and anyone with basic knowledge of "Naruto" can jump in and not be confused, but the film is lacking in ways that drag it down and restrain it from being an enjoyable animated experience.

Like the anime series, "Road to Ninja" has really unbearable humor. The anime film feels like it's trying too hard to make things silly or lighthearted when you can only spin Naruto's loneliness so many ways before it gets depressing. The ridiculous music doesn't help matters as it only seems to damper whatever amusing qualities the film may have.

Films like this aren't usually held back by a tight budget. Films are a way for the animators to really let loose and have more freedom since they have more money to play with and don't have to worry about stretching out a story or battle sequence over a multi-episode arc. "Road to Ninja" is very poorly animated. Most of the film is miserably drawn and lazily colored. Everything just has this rushed feel to it, which is very unfortunate.

The animation improves during the final battle, which makes it seem like the entire film was saving up for the big finale since it's so flashy. The anime film also attempts to pack all of this heart and an overload of emotion into the last 20 minutes, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but leaves the viewer feeling gobsmacked since it comes out of nowhere.

The story thrives on Sakura finally understanding what it's like to walk in Naruto's shoes. The film builds on her actually sympathizing with him, but that big moment where she acknowledges how tough it must be for him to his face never comes and it leaves a big hole in your desires for where "Road to Ninja" should have gone.

"Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie" is an under par anime film that seems to ride the wave of reputation instead of actually delivering a fantastic animated film. The story is familiar and feels like it borrowed directly from Neil Gaiman's "Coraline" while the animation is weak and fails to ever really wow its audience. "Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie" is lackluster during its best moments and its overwhelming length makes it difficult to endure.