Naruto Shippuden follows the adventures of the much loved manga character Naruto, and the Shippuden series sees his return, this time as a teenager. Naruto’s still impatient and irascible as always but has matured some. The series is darker than the original cartoon, especially with Sasuke having left the Leaf village to become a rogue ninja.
At the moment there are 16 seasons and a total of 368 episodes. Still airing in Japan at the time of this writing the 368th and final episode is expected to air in July.
The series continues two and a half years after the first Naruto series, the ending of which saw Sasuke Uchiha leave the Konohagakure village, also known as the Hidden Leaf Village, in order to be mentored by Lord Orochimaru, one of the lead antagonists of the Naruto universe, and enemy of the Leaf.
In Shippuden we catch up with Team Kakashi, a small group of 4 shadow ninja of which Naruto and Sasuke were once teammates. The other 2 in Team Kakashi are Sakura, who has a mad crush on Sasuke, and it’s leader Kakashi Hatake (who is replaced temporarily by Captain Yamato after a grueling battle with a member of the Akatsuki terrorist organisation). Naruto is still obsessed with finding his best friend Sasuke and bringing him back to the Leaf while Sakura continues to have a crush on him despite hearing horrendous rumours of Sasuke’s activities under Orochimaru’s charge.
Team Kakashi are committed to rescuing Sasuke from Orochimaru and set out to find him – this time with a new team member named Sai who replaces Sasuke. Unknown to the team, however, Sai is on another mission, one that’s quite different from theirs, for while the team want to save their friend Sai has been sent to assassinate him.
Sai, a special-ops ninja is part of the secretive group known as the Foundation, and takes his orders from Danzo, a fundamentalist and extremist at heart who is at odds with the Leaf’s governance for their lax attitude towards Sasuke’s crimes.
Team Kakashi, led by Yamato, eventually locate Orochimaru’s hideout and confront Sasuke. Sai, originally intending to murder Sasuke on Danzo’s orders now has a change of heart after getting to know his comrades on Team Kakashi, even though this is after a series of altercations with both Naruto and Sakura.
It turns out that Sasuke’s been training hard under Orochimaru and is now on a whole different level from his friends. Naruto and Sakura barely escape with their lives, but still don’t give up on their friend though it’s now obvious to them that he’s changed and turned evil.
Sasuke, though, will not be distracted by love or fondness for his friends – all his training has all been for one purpose: to confront the man who killed all of his tribesmen, his own brother Itachi. Sasuke is blinded by the lust for revenge and this lust leads him to kill Orochimaru, his mentor, to gain even more power.
Meanwhile the Akatsuki are hunting tailed beasts – highly powerful weapons (and probably a metaphor for nuclear bombs) that the different nations in the Naruto universe use as a deterrent to war. Tailed beast take the form of monsters of immense power. They’re seen as natural disasters, and will usually be contained in a host called a Jinchuriki (of which Naruto is one), to prevent them from running wild.
It then follows that the Akatsuki start to hunt Naruto who then has to train even harder in order to gain the power he needs both to avoid capture and to win Sasuke back. Then Sasuke defeats his brother Itachi but learns a dark secret about the Hidden Leaf Village – that its leaders were involved in the plot to destroy his tribe and gave Itachi his mission in order to prevent a civil war with Sasuke’s Uchiha clan.
Sasuke now vows to destroy the Leaf to avenge his brother and knows he must fight his best friend Naruto to accomplish this. But the Akatsuki prove themselves formidable, and their leader consequently reveals the reason for their capturing the tailed beast weapons. Up to now there have been only 9 tailed beasts, but a combination of all will birth a super weapon the 10 tails and lead to the end of the world as we know it.
The different antagonists are thus forced to put their differences aside in order to face the common threat of the Akatsuki and save the ninja world from extinction.
Why We love Naruto Shippuden
You would think that the most we would enjoy from this franchise is the fact that it’s Japanese manga. True it is one of the better looking anime titles out there, and sometimes the rendering of locations, characters, and shadows is jaw dropping. But for most people Naruto has always been about the characters with a level of characterization rarely seen in this genre.
We get to know the characters, truly know them, so that in the end we care for them, which makes it all the more painful when they die. From Naruto’s love of raimen, to Sakura and Ino’s girly crushes, to Lady Tsunade’s drinking and gambling habits, to Asuma’s smoking, detail seems to be the focus in bringing these characters to life. We engage with them as much for their personal lives as their professional ninja one, which by the way is kick-ass awesome!
The series started on February 15 2007 in Japan, and is produced and broadcast by TV Tokyo. It’s English dub premiered on Disney XD in 2009 and episodes are also available on iTunes, Zune Marketplace, and PlayStation Store.
At the moment you can also get episodes on Hulu and Crunchyroll.com. In the UK Crunchyroll is available free on the NOW TV device. The 368th episode will air on July 10 2014.
Sources: List of Naruto Shippuden Episodes