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Last: Naruto The Movie The (2014)

It is two years after the conclusion of the last Great Ninja War and the world is at peace. Naruto Uzamaki finally has the happiness he craved and is respected and revered as a hero by all, including the young student shinobi he teaches at the Academy. The peace is shattered, however, when the moon mysteriously starts to go on a collision course with the earth, and Hinata's younger sister is abducted by a mysterious stranger. It's time for Naruto to step up once again- but this time the fate of the whole world is at stake.

Naruto: The Last is the tenth Naruto movie (the seventh in the Shippuden continuity), but it somewhat stands out among the franchise's theatrical outings. It formed part of the Naruto Project- launched to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the manga- and also as hinted at by the title, relates to the conclusion of the series. The events in this film take place between the climax of the manga series and the time-skip epilogue of the final chapter. Confusingly, the animated version is still ongoing as of 2016, so this is in effect a sequel to the manga rather than the anime.

The Last is also the first movie spin-off considered to be part of the official storyline. It features new character designs and a story devised by original author Masashi Kishimoto, so the usual criticism levelled at Shonen Jump spin-offs (that they are mere filler) does not apply. In fact, it is the most impactful Naruto movie to date, with real and lasting consequences for the characters.

The film may work best for those who have read the manga's ending, but it is perfectly watchable for those who are only familiar with the anime continuity. The slightly muddy timeline won't stop you enjoying it, nor do you need to know the events of the conclusion. If you're ultra sensitive about such things and incredibly concerned about spoilers you might want to give it a miss for now, but for most fans they seem to have got the balance about right.

Visually the movie is very solid and consistent with the series (with maybe a slight upgrade and a touch more CG). Kishimoto's new character designs are very appealing and he does a wonderful job of creating slightly older looking characters. There's a subtle believable extra layer of maturity added to the characters as they become adults that works brilliantly well. The film also offers some nicely designed new locations, with the villain's castle lair being among the standouts. The opening of the film is also particularly strong, employing a beautiful inky Japanese calligraphy-inspired animation style that draws you into the film from the off.

With the stakes raised considerably, and some satisfyingly big set-pieces this feels suitably cinematic at times.  Yet, as Naruto has consistently provided increasingly spectacular action throughout the whole series the battles here are not always quite up there with the best. The final battle particularly does come off as feeling just a tad anti-climactic.

Despite any such qualms though, The Last more than makes up for it with satisfying character moments and plot developments. The young cast's development into adulthood is deftly handled, with their physical growth reflecting their personalities too. Audiences who have been following Naruto since the start should find this acts as a fitting next step on the character's paths through life. The story is engaging too, with the plot having interesting parallels with the same Japanese folk tale that inspired Princess Kaguya.

Another area this film is different from the rest of the series is in its focus on s romantic relationship. A love story is at the very heart of the movie- although it doesn't get in the way of kick-ass ninja action too much. Certain areas of the fandom reacted negatively to Kishimoto's choices in this area. Nonetheless, though, the romance is surprisingly well handled and really rather sweet.

As it would turn out, The Last is rather inaccurately titled- and would be followed by Boruto The Movie just a year later. Had this proved to be the last hurrah of Naruto and co, this movie would have worked as a brilliant send-off. As is is, this stands out as a brilliantly entertaining untold chapter of Naruto's world's history, whether you're up to date on the manga or not.  Could it be the best Naruto big screen outing to date?  You'd better believe it.

THE LAST: NARUTO THE MOVIE is available now on DVD and BLU-RAY in the UK from MANGA ENTERTAINMENT and in DVD, BLU-RAY and DIGITAL the US from VIZ