Viz Media has a treat for the manga-loving youngster on your Christmas list: Naruto the Movie: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom was released on DVD for the North American market on November 11, 2008. This entry is the third movie based on the Naruto television series by Masashi Kishimoto. The target audience is children and for that age group, this film is a solid entry with good animation, strong action sequences, and excellent voice work from the English-speaking cast. Adults will most likely find the story too driven by its rather simplistic morality tale of the value of friendship to be satisfying.
Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom premiered in Japan in 2006 and made its English-language debut on the Cartoon Network on November 8, 2008. The movie follows the style and spirit of the television series, while being able to raise the bar with the intricate and spectacular fight scenes. The story follows young ninja Naruto and his friends Rock Lee and Sakura, along with Sensei Kakashi, as they provide protection for spoiled Prince Michiru and his young son Hikaru on their journey back to the Crescent Moon Kingdom after a very long shopping trip—er, visit to foreign locales.
The movie explores the central Naruto theme of friendship, as Naruto clashes with Hikaru, who has learned from his father to try and buy everything he wants, including friends. As Hikaru slowly learns that he has it inside himself to gain friendship and respect, Naruto realises that he can be the mentor the young boy needs. The beginning of the story introducing the characters and plot is a little slow, but everything picks up when a circus enters the picture.
The circus adds a lot of zip and panache to the tale, with the ringmaster being a delight. The action speeds up as the group faces a storm at sea to land in the Crescent Moon Kingdom, only to find that the storm was the least of their troubles. Ninja trouble is afoot, with nefarious plans to take over the kingdom and thwart Prince Michiru’s claim to the throne after the murder of his father.
The battle scenes that ensue are well executed and help to lift the movie out of seeming more like an extended television episode than a theatrical release. The transformation of Prince Michiru into a leader is well done, with some stunning visuals of the prince and his son in their climactic scene. Fans of Rock Lee will be happy to see him in action, though it must be said he doesn’t have a great deal of dialogue. And Naruto reveals both his berserker self and a kinder teaching side he doesn’t always have on display. The story is simple but holds together. However, the overt moralizing gets a little heavy handed.
The DVD is a two-disk set, with the main feature being available in English and Japanese with subtitles. The run time is 135 minutes. The special features are extensive and include a 28-page English translation of the original Japanese-release booklet, a trivia game, original Japanese theatrical trailers, production art gallery, and three featurettes. The first is the story of Naruto and includes interviews with the English speaking production crew and cast as they discuss the evolution of the character. The second is "Teamwork: The Art of Group Recording" and I found it to be the most interesting of the bunch. North American animation seldom brings actors in to record voice work together, but the English speaking cast had that opportunity for this movie, and we get to see some of that recording. The voice actors are all very good and it’s a treat to see them in action. The final feature is an interview with Japanese producers Kazuteru Oshikiri and Noriko Kobayashi which doesn’t offer a lot of new insight.
Overall, Guardians of the Crescent Moon is a somewhat slow paced but still action packed entry in the saga, with good animation and excellent voice acting, which will help most viewers overlook the rather simplistic moralizing driving the story.
Artwork copyright: Naruto The Movie: Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom (Ani Manga) NARUTO GEKIJOBAN ANIME COMICS – DAIKOFUN! MIKAZUKIJIMA NO ANIMAL PANIC DATTEBAYO – © 2002 MASASHI KISHIMOTO © NMP 2006