As part of the 2009 Shounen Jump anime tour – which also brought us the… uhh… “culinary” delights of Toriko – Studio Pierrot released a twenty-seven minute special – Naruto: The Cross Roads. Now, from experience I find that most shounen anime uses the same basic ingredients: one handful of mysterious antagonists, a good dollop of nefarious plotting, a pinch of teamwork and a generous sprinkling of fighting. Where these series differ is in their method of execution; get it right and you end up with a lip-smacking treat, but take a few wrong turns and you end up with a garbled stew complete with fish heads and purple wavy lines of DOOM. On the spectrum the gloopy grey gruel that is The Cross Roads falls somewhere in the middle; but unlike Oliver Twist, I’m not asking for more.
This particular anime tells a previously untold story set immediately after the Land of Waves arc from the main series. Hot on the heels of their previous mission, Team Seven has a new assignment: to locate Mr Genmai and return him to Konoha. However, since this is Naruto and nothing is ever simple, things quickly go awry when Kakashi splits off from his students only to become trapped within a spell. Meanwhile, an unknown trio of ninja attack the three genin and kidnap Sakura; now Naruto and Sasuke must put aside their sexual tensio- I mean, deep loathing for each other and combine their strengths to rescue their teammate.
Most of the twenty-odd minutes consists of various fights with little explanation of anything in between, which is all well and good when paired with a high-octane plot or dynamic narrative; sadly this isn’t the case. Though plenty of kunais whizz about the screen, the occasional exploding tag is about as exhilarating as it gets – and that’s hardly going to make anyone wet their pants with excitement. While not horrifically awful, the anime’s story feels thin, somewhat pointless and never really seems to get off the ground.
Luckily, not all is lost. For seasoned fans, the special ignites a sense of nostalgia and a reasonable dose of comedy bolsters the limp plot. Seeing Naruto break out his ‘Sexy Harem Jutsu’ and the ‘One Thousand Years of Death’ allows for an occasional smile – or in the latter’s case, wince. Unfortunately, while this rather crude humour may amuse many, non-Naruto fans will find little entertainment here.
As a first in the Naruto series, this special utilises a cel-shaded CG approach similar to that in Penguin no Mondai and Gokujou Mecha Mote Iinchou. I generally despise this style of animation when it comes to anime due to its hit and miss nature, and The Cross Roads does nothing to change my mind on this.
On the plus side, realistic movements such as Kakshi squatting down seem almost like live action footage, while details such as the zip on Naruto’s tracksuit swinging and the jiggly bounce action displayed during the ‘Sexy Justu’ brings an added believability to the visuals. Likewise, the higher number of frames per second gives the action scenes a more vivacious nature as each ninja speeds across the screen and every exploding tag detonates. Sadly wherever there’s a positive, a bloody great lumpy negative is never too far away. In this case, there are times where characters flop around the screen like unloved rag dolls, but the award for most horrendous aspect of this anime’s visuals goes to the dreadful lip-synching. Though not consistently out of time, often characters have a level of lip movement that a Thunderbird puppet would be ashamed of – that is if they don’t simply leave their mouths open as words fall out, while occasionally making an ‘ooo’ shape that looks like they’re performing fellatio on some invisible phantom. Against such smooth body motion, this clunky attempt to make the cast speak drags the overall effect of the animation down.
With Toshio Masuda’s score from the main series carrying over into this special, along with the same cast of voice actors, The Cross Road’s soundtrack remains at the usual standard expected from any incarnation of the Naruto franchise.
On a particular plus, the main series’ second opening theme, “Haruka Kanata” by Asian Kung Fu Generation, makes a welcome come back as the special’s ending. Not only does this add to the nostalgia of it all, but also provides ample opportunity for a bit of headbanging.
Since this special takes place early in the main series’ timeline, its cast’s personalities stay relatively simple; Naruto’s crude nature shines through as he continues to use his ‘silly’ techniques to abnormally great effect; Sakura remains as useless as ever – but since she spends most of the anime off screen or unconscious we don’t have to put up with her yelling ‘SASUKE!’ every five minutes; and as for the egotistical Uchiha boy, well he’s just as annoyingly emo as ever. The Cross Roads doesn’t attempt anything particularly ingenious to develop its central protagonists, so if looking for a deep insight into their souls then go read some SasuNaru fanfiction instead because you won’t find it here.
The supporting cast introduced in this special leaves no impression at all and are just as dull as Sakura’s desperate crush on her emo teammate. This trio of stock bad guys start out as “mysterious”, and remain just as much of an enigma twenty minutes later when the credits roll. Not only do these unknown shinobi encourage little curiosity about their identities and motives, but two of them in particular are such a waste of pixels that they don’t even receive names.
I’ve done worse things with half an hour of my life than watching The Cross Roads, for example enduring Mars of Destruction, or printing out images of anime girls with their breasts out to taunt my gay friend with. Naruto fans with a bit of time of their hands may as well give it a watch, but in the end this special merely fades away into the same bucket of inane gunk as the main series’ various filler arcs.
Fresh from completing the mission in the Land of Waves, Naruto and the gang are heading out on a new task to locate a man named Mr. Genmai. Sensing something amiss, Kakashi splits away from his team and locates the object of his quest, but as he reaches out his hand, he becomes trapped within a spell and is unable to free himself. Meanwhile, the others become a target of an attack by three unknown ninjas who promptly kidnap Sakura. Now, while Kakashi attempts to find a way out of his situation and aid Mr Genmai, Naruto and Sasuke must put aside their differences and work together to rescue their teammate.
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While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.