Thursday, October 20, 2011

Top 5 Naruto Episodes

While I was compiling my list of the best Naruto openings last week, it got me thinking about the best overall episodes in the series as well. Unlike the openings, Part 1 probably has the better overall quality, in the anime at least (the manga is debatable). But Part 1 had the advantage of being able to completely get through its entire story with little to no filler (about a year or two of non-stop filler was placed on the tail end of the series, but is easily skippable), while Shippuden has been forced to include filler almost every other canon arc. But even when you get right down to specific individual episodes, Part 1's got Shippuden beat for the most part, though Shippuden's certainly had its fair share of surprises as well.

Before getting started on my list, I'd like to give an honorable mention to Naruto 62, the episode that got me completely hooked onto this series. In this episode, Naruto defeated Neji in front of the entire village using his brilliantly unpredictable tactics. This was the episode where Naruto officially ceased to be the underdog, and the villagers finally started to acknowledge him as a person. And just like the characters in the show, it grabbed my attention as well. This episode was great, though not quite up to the same quality as the top five on my list.

#5 - Naruto 101: Gotta See! Gotta Know! Kakashi Sensei's True Face!

This episode is just hilarious. This one is mostly just really silly filler, though it's based on a canon special. Team 7 decides that they're tired of not knowing what their sensei's face looks like, so they come up with a series of plans to try and unmask Kakashi. What really makes this episode especially wonderful to watch is Sasuke's reactions. This is the first time in the series we get to see Sasuke acting as silly as his teammates, something we wouldn't see again for about 300 episodes. This is a one-off episode, so it's not a part of any big story arc, but it's just a nice, fun little diversion before Part 1 jumps into its big finale.

#4 - Naruto Shippuden 211: Danzo Shimura

Danzo's always had the right intentions, he's just always gone about doing things in vile, oftentimes despicable manners. But in his final moments, he's determined to go out doing the right thing, protecting his village from the threat of Madara and the now full blown villain Sasuke. This is also the same episode where Sasuke's descent to evil is finalized, sacrificing his loyal comrade Karin with a psychotic grin on his face, just for the chance to see Danzo's demise. The anime team managed to take the death of one of the most easily hateable characters in the series and turn it into a beautiful, emotionally heart wrenching event.

#3 - Naruto 133: A Plea From A Friend

The big encounter we've been waiting for is underway, as Naruto clashes with Sasuke in his fight to prevent his friend from succumbing to darkness. In this episode, these rivals finally admit their true feelings of friendship to one another, which is why, for both of them, this fight means everything. The fluid animation is especially gorgeous in this episode, and the water effects during this fight is a spectacle to behold. This is one of the first major times where the anime has taken some creative liberties to add to the fight and change things around, and they worked wonders with their creativity. This is one of the flagship episodes in the whole series, and would go on to be a huge inspiration for my top pick in this list.

#2 - Naruto 78: Naruto's Ninja Handbook

This episode is outstanding. It features one of the best fights, and includes what is still my favorite moment in the whole series when Naruto summons Gamabunta. In order to protect his friends, Naruto faces off against Gaara, the Sand's cold blooded killer who has up to this point instilled nothing but undying fear in our hero. But Naruto overcomes his fear to prove that true strength doesn't lie in solitude, but in protecting what's important to you. Up to this point, Naruto has proven himself to his peers by besting Kiba, and he's proven himself to his village by besting Neji. But this time, it's Sasuke who finally sees just how far Naruto's come, as Naruto puts all his training and hard work to use in order to give Gaara the fight of his life. Seeing him in action here still gives me chills to watch.

#1 - Naruto Shippuden 167: Planetary Devestation

Probably the most controversial episode in the series is also, hands down, the very best. It's become so notorious that, by simply mentioning the number 167, Naruto fans everywhere know exactly what you're talking about. A lot of fans hate the overly artistic style in this episode, but I'm among those who absolutely love it. Up to this point, the anime adaptation of the Pain arc had been pretty disappointing, especially the actual fight between Naruto and Pain. The anime took one of the greatest arcs, and probably the greatest fight, and littered it with poor animation, shoddy editing, and a complete lack of focus on important events. The Pain arc was like watching a train wreck, but then they went and gave us a classic.

Naruto Shippuden 167 is unlike any other episode in the series. There's parts that are reminiscent of a Looney Tunes cartoon, and several scenes with deliberate deformed and mutated animation for a unique, stylistic effect. Quite frankly, the animation has never been better than it is in this episode. And I'd say that they take some major creative liberties with this episode, but that would be a huge, huge understatement. They flat out rewrite the book with the way they handle the source material here, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

This is the episode where Naruto, after witnessing Pain take out Hinata, transforms into his six-tailed Kyuubi state. In the manga, the fight was exciting, though admittedly bare bones. It wasn't so obvious at the time, but after seeing what they did here, it's amazing just how little happened in the manga. Here, Pain starts things off by punching a hole in the earth that floods the entire battle ground, giving way to more pretty water effects similar to the episode mentioned above. The first part of this episode is the fight between the two, and is done in a zany, cartoony style. But the second half calms things down a bit as Pain traps Naruto within his Chibaku Tensei. The art style changes to reflect the more serious tonal shift, and the accompanying music gives these scenes an epic feeling, as Naruto reaches out to release the seal on the Kyuubi, only to be stopped at the last minute by the Fourth Hokage.

167 alone almost makes the butchering of the rest of the Pain arc worth it. This is a fun, wild ride, and is completely mesmerizing. It's unlike anything we've seen before in the series, and stands alone as the very best this show has to offer. Say what you will about the rest of the series, but this one is a work of art.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Surprisingly good week at the movies

I saw two new movies this week and, well, I honestly didn't expect that much from either of them. Well, one I thought was going to be so bad it's good, but the other I had no expectations for at all. However, both of them managed to surprise me with how legitimately good they really are, and so I'd like to talk about them now.

Real Steel

I had been anticipating this one for a while, and I knew full well going in that this had all the potential in the world to be a total disaster. I also knew that, no matter what, this was almost certainly going to be a fun movie to watch, and that it was. The fact that it's honestly a really good movie to boot is just a real treat. So it's exactly what it looks like, Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots: The Movie. It's essentially a traditional underdog sports movie, like Rocky, but with robots. And it's totally awesome!

Hugh Jackman plays Charlie, a retired boxer who's moved onto the game of robot boxing. He has a habit of making really bad bets, and getting into lots of trouble. He's also a complete and total asshole. His attitude was sort of off-putting at first, until he got stuck having to take care of his son, Max. He's been an absentee father his whole life, so the two don't know each other at all. And this is particularly why it's just so wonderful to see just how much Max takes after his dad.

Yes, that's right, the kid's a stubborn ass as well, and falls for a lot of the same traps as his dad. The only difference is Max just happens to have a bit of luck on his side. The kid who plays Max actually does a decent job. There was really only one scene where I felt they went a little overboard with him, which did leave me cringing, but it wasn't anything too objectionable.

So Max finds the robot named Atom, and he and Charlie get to work fixing him up and training him to fight. The fight scenes are filmed very well. You're able to clearly see all of the action on screen (unlike certain other movies with fighting robots), and it's all done in a way that's exciting throughout, and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

And with some of the damage dealt in the ring, you almost forget you're watching robots get beat up, as you actually begin to feel for them. The robots themselves look fantastic. I know a lot of it is CGI, but I swear there's scenes where there's definitely something physical on screen. One scene in particular, where Hugh Jackman is shadow boxing with Atom, it almost looks like a guy in costume is fighting him back. For all I know it actually is.

There's also definitely some points where this movie could have taken some obnoxious turns, but it took the higher road and avoided diluting the movie with potentially awful film tropes. So for that I was grateful, and in the end, I was left completely satisfied with the way things turned out.

Real Steel is the real deal. The story was fun, the movie was well acted, and the fights were exciting. There's also tons of wrestling references throughout the movie, but I guess our boxing robots weren't quite advanced enough for that just yet. Maybe in a sequel, perhaps?

Kevin Hart: Laugh At My Pain

I just happened to catch this by chance. A buddy invited me to tag along, and I had nothing else going on, so I figured, eh, why not. I did have some reservations going in, seeing as I'm not exactly a Kevin Hart fan. I've seen one of his standups on TV, which I was less than impressed with. But I've gotta say, this movie totally surprised me.

It's basically split up into three parts. The first part is a documentary, as we follow Kevin around in his hometown, showing us where he grew up and how he got his start. We meet some of his family, and some of the people who helped him get his career off the ground. This section is pretty inoffensive overall. There's a few mild chuckles to be had here, but it's mainly just passable. The main thing that stands out is when Kevin and some other people are talking about his standup routine, and they mention how, while it's funny, it's not really him. It's not personal to him, and so we leave his standup knowing nothing about him.

This segues us into the second part, the actual standup, which is the bulk of the movie. His entire act really is based on actual life experiences, and mainly focuses on various members of his family. So he took that advice about making his act personal, and it really shows in his delivery. I mentioned before how his television standup didn't impress me, but this was a complete turn around from what I had originally seen of him. I was actually blown away by how genuinely hilarious this standup is. It's one of the freshest acts I've seen in quite some time.

He tells jokes in a very natural way, oftentimes repeating himself in a way that only makes the jokes even funnier every time. And his routine involving his drug addicted father is some of the funniest material I've heard in years. This is the kind of stuff that sticks with you well after the show is over, which is a welcome change of pace from today's popular ADD style of comedy that's forgotten the second the joke's over.

After the standup, it feels like we're done and ready to go, but nope! They've got a third part in store for us. This portion is completely scripted, and is filmed in the style of some cheesy show you'd see on Comedy Central or something. It spoofs several bank robbery movies, most notably Reservoir Dogs, Dead Presidents, and Heat.

Now, I'd say that the movie would be better off if they had cut this portion out, yet in a strange way it fits, if only to serve as a prime example of how, while certain acts can work wonders on the stage in front of a live audience, that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll work in a scripted format. And while there's a few decent laughs in this part, that mostly rings true here. But it's because of this blatant contrast and the example it sets that this part is actually the most fascinating portion of the movie.

So overall, while I was expecting a whole lotta nothing, I was completely surprised by this movie. It's hard to rate it as an actual movie, since it's mainly a standup routine, but I'd say that this is by far the funniest movie going experience I've had all year. Definitely worth checking out, even if you're not a fan of Kevin Hart. Because I sure wasn't, yet I had a blast!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Top 5 Naruto Openings

Last week's debut of the latest Naruto opening got me thinking about some of the best Naruto openings we've had thus far. With the exception of the very first Naruto opening, there hasn't actually been a single bad one in the whole series. But I'd say that overall, Naruto Shippuden has produced better openings than the original series.

Part 1 openings mainly consist of character showcases and still images with music playing over it, with little in the way of action for the most part. They get the job done in telling the story and previewing the events of that particular arc, but they're not nearly as exciting as their Part 2 counterparts. With Shippuden they began showcasing a lot more action and actual fight scenes.

I love the openings because they're almost like little trailers, or short music videos that tell the story for what we can expect from the current arc, only with a lot more style and flare than you'd normally see in the regular show. The music is almost always super catchy, and the visuals are usually awesome. But awesome as they all are, I've picked out the five that have stuck out the most as the absolute best this series has delivered yet.

#5 - Naruto Opening 2: Haruka Kanata (Chunin Exams opening)

This is around the point where the series was really beginning to pick up, and served as the first big introduction to our new larger cast of secondary characters. And though the visuals are basic, this one's all about the song. Haruka Kanata is one of the very best songs they've used in an opening yet, and was so good that Cartoon Network even used it in their own exclusively made opening they used throughout the series' entire run on that station. The song just pumps you up and lets you know you're in for a fun ride. It certainly played a big part in originally drawing my attention towards this series, and still holds up as one of the best to this day.

#4 - Naruto Opening 5: Seishun Kyousoukyoku (Sasuke Retrieval opening)

This is the first opening to really begin incorporating a lot of action into the animation. This opening covers a lot, and was one of the first to have significant changes applied to it as the arc progressed. This was also around the time when the series started to get a lot darker, which I believe is reflected in both the music and animation. This was their last canon opening for Part 1, and they went out with a bang before filler hell could drag them down.

#3 - Naruto Shippuden Opening 2: Distance (Sasuke Reunion opening)

This is a personal favorite of mine, but not a popular one by any means. A lot of Naruto fans hate the song, which changed things up with more of a lively ska mix this time around. I love it, though, and it's probably my favorite song out of any of the Naruto openings. The fact that the visuals are top notch is just icing on the cake. But my favorite part about this opening is both the beginning and end. I love how we start with the younger Naruto and Sasuke walking towards each other, both with little smirks on their faces as if they're merely meeting as friends. Then how it ends with them in their older stages, both with serious looks this time and ready to battle one another. But despite the odds, the upbeat music really emphasizes Naruto's drive to succeed in bringing his friend back to their side.

#2 - Naruto Shippuden Opening 10: Newsong (Prelude to War opening)

I talked about this one last week, and have placed it right near the top of my list in accordance. This is another highly split choice, as a lot of Naruto fans hate how goofy it is, and have complained that it's not serious or emo enough. I explained why I love it, however, as it really shows how Naruto has finally put aside his emo feelings and has returned to form. And where a lot of the other picks are really about the song, this one's all about the over the top animation, though the song's not bad by any means. And besides, there's dancing ninjas! It's a great opening, and one of the best. However, if I'd have to pick one better it'd be...

#1 - Naruto Shippuden Opening 6: Sign (Hunt for Itachi opening)

This one really is the full package. Kick ass song, kick ass animation. This is, without a doubt, the ultimate Naruto opening. Instead of focusing on minor characters, this one sticks right with what's most important. And for this particular arc, that's the encounters between Sasuke and Itachi, and Jiraiya and Pain. Sure, Naruto takes a bit of a backseat for this opening, but then again, this was during the time where the spotlight really wasn't shining on him anyways, so that's fine. This was really Sasuke's arc, and that's where the focus should be. The series is probably at its darkest during this arc, and that's definitely shown with the super dark lighting, and that almost hauntingly mellow beginning portion, just before the song really kicks in. And the fight animation is off the charts, and is among the best the series has ever produced.

Well, those are my top five Naruto openings. I hope this was interesting, and if nothing else you should be able to enjoy some of the music provided in these videos. And if they've sparked your interest enough to dig a little deeper into the Naruto series, like some of them did for me, then even better!

Edited November 20th: Looks like Youtube pulled all the videos I originally posted. That kinda sucks, but I still encourage you to look them up and check them out if you can.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dancing Ninjas!

As Naruto Shippuden gradually heads into the upcoming war arc, today's episode debuted the latest new opening for the show, "Newsong" by Tacica. And I've gotta say that I'm quite impressed. It starts off with the standard showcasing of characters, nothing unusual. But then we see Killer Bee movin' and groovin' with a boombox to his ear, and it's right around here that we know we're in for something quite different.

It features scenes with the likes of Kakashi, Raikage, and the Konoha grown-ups prancing around like ballerinas, the newly revived Akatsuki dancing to the side like puppets while their caskets topple over behind them, and several fight scenes where Naruto, Sakura, and Sai are flying (yes, FLYING) towards Madara and Kisame. Add in choreographed dancing scenes with most of the Konoha 11 and the Sand siblings, with just enough spoilers in there to satisfy, and we've got ourselves one refreshingly unique Naruto opening.

And the more I think about it, this may very well be the best opening in the series, and a lot of it comes down to the subtleties about it. Fans of the first Kage Summit opening, "Diver" by Nico Touches the Walls, commented on how subtlety worked in that one's favor, and I believe the same to be the case with this one. Now, as over the top as this opening is, subtle may be an odd word choice to describe it, but hear me out.

For one thing, Naruto is back to being his goofy self, as so many of his peers have commented on ever since his last confrontation with Sasuke. In fact, the lack of Sasuke in this opening also shows off how Naruto has finally gotten over his obsession with him. This opening is pretty much a celebration of Naruto's return to form with its goofy antics.

Plus, we all know how much Naruto tends to rub off on people, so it makes sense for everyone around him to be joining in on the goofiness. Notice that it's only the protagonists who are doing any dancing, with the slight exception of the Akatuski, who are tugged to the side like the group of puppets that they are. And the choreographed dancing also emphasizes the teamwork necessary in the upcoming war.

Even the fighting portions have little details in them that hint at some of the actual upcoming fights. For example, Sakura attacking Madara with paper bombs nods to Madara's actual forthcoming fight with Konan, and Naruto's transformation is just enough to entice without completely spoiling the big reveal (even though the new ending did just that...).

In some prior openings, the inclusion of the Konoha 11 usually feels forced, given how they oftentimes play little to no role at all in the accompanying arc. But here, as we head into war, for once the inclusion of every single side character actually makes sense.

There's other little details that I keep catching, which really just shows how much thought was actually put into this one. But overall, while the song itself isn't great, it's also not bad by any means, and fits the tone and the animation perfectly. I've gotta say this opening is absolutely brilliant, and is one of the most impressive ones that the anime has produced yet.