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Naruto The Movie: Road To Ninja (2012)

Naruto, Sakura and their friends find themselves under attack by the fearsome Akatsuki, who have apparently somehow managed to come back from the dead. Their victory sees them showered with praise from their families.. all that is except the orphaned Naruto. Sakura, meanwhile has a falling out with her parents, so the pair sneak off to escape for a little while. Their 'date' is interrupted by the sudden appearance of the Akatsuki's leader Madara, who traps them in an alternate reality.

This alternate version of the Hidden Leaf is a world where everything is slightly different. Their friend's personalties have changed- Hinata is confident, Kiba is a cat person and Lee's a peeping tom. More significantly, in this world it was Sakura's parents who sacrificed themselves to defend the village.. meaning Naruto's parents are still around.

Naruto The Movie: Road To Ninja is the ninth movie in the Naruto franchise (the sixth in the Naruto Shippuden continuity). It takes place between the Kage Summit and the Fourth Great Ninja War story arcs in the Shippuden series, and is based on a story by creator Masashi Kishimoto.

Shonen Jump movies (or indeed the movie spin-off of any long running series) often find themselves criticised. The argument goes that because they are unable to feature events that effect the larger continuity of the TV series, they are unable to be anything more than filler. Or that they can never feature anything of any consequence. While there may be some truth in this, it's actually a pretty daft criticism when you think about it.

Sure, it might mean that we know that a major character isn't about to buy the farm, but isn't that normally true in most TV and film anyway? It's as true in any given episode of a TV series as it is here, but does that really have to be a barrier to your enjoyment. Does the fact that you know James Bond isn't going to die twenty minutes into his latest adventure take away the thrill of an expertly executed action sequence? Of course not.

In this case, though, the use of an alternate reality is actually an inspired move. Not only does it give fans the fun of seeing members of the cast act out of character but it allows for genuine surprises. As this is essentially in a bubble outside the timeline of the series, characters fate are different, so dead characters can be alive in this reality- and vice versa.

The fact that Naruto's parents still exist in this reality is the real big deal here though. The fact that he finally gets a chance to spend time with his long-dead mother and father and bond with them gives the film an unexpected emotional kick.

Of course, it soon transpires that all is not well in this reality and a mysterious masked man is attacking shinobi. Which leads to plenty of the usual ass-kicking ninja action for which the series is justly famed. The action set-pieces are probably Naruto's biggest strength, and here they are as good as ever. There may not be any particular stand-outs here, but all the battles are consistently exciting and well animated.

Outside the action, the film looks pretty much on a par with the series as a whole. It doesn't really seem to have much of an upgrade for the big screen- aside from a few CGI flourishes- but visually it's perfectly decent.

Overall, Road To Ninja is a highly enjoyable watch for any Naruto fan. The set-up gives it a novel spin, but this ultimately provides plenty of the action, comedy, and drama that viewers have come to expect from the Orange-clad ninja. Nothing essential maybe, but this road is no dead-end.


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