Naruto Unleashed Series 2:1 Review
After an agonizing 5-month wait the third Naruto boxset is finally upon us, complete with the new label of 2:1 to inform buyers that we are now fully into season 2 of the story. In truth, there are no “seasons” in the traditional sense in Naruto, there are simply story arcs within arcs - all of differing length and tone. So, although the box proudly proclaims this is the start of a new season, the set simply continues the Chunin Exam Arc that began around 7 episodes back in the last boxset.
When we last saw Naruto he had just successfully completed the 1st phase of the exam and was waiting patiently for the 2nd stage to begin. This stage is the Forest of Death Test – a gruelling survival competition where the Genin teams are given one of 2 types of scroll: Earth and Heaven, then dumped inside an extremely perilous forest to battle each other and obtain the opposite scroll to the one they own. When a team has captured both scrolls, they have to head to the tower at the forest’s centre to complete the test. Their time limit is 5 days, any team that doesn’t have a pair of scrolls after this time limit are immediately disqualified.
A 5-day Battle Royale inside a forest full of giant predators where each Genin team is out for the blood of the other is just the kind of synopsis we’ve been waiting for to see the rest of Naruto’s Ninja Academy classmates in action - and with 11 of the 13 episodes in this set dedicated to the Forest of Death stage of the exam, this is exactly what is delivered. As soon as Naruto’s team (Team 7) enter the forest they are pounced on by a female Grass Village Ninja who turns out to be far more than your typical Genin Kunoichi (female shinobi), when she starts summoning giant snakes to take care of Naruto while she sets about demolishing Sakura and Sasuke. This seemingly incidental new challenge for the team turns out to be a pivotal moment in the series’ story so far when the fight escalates and escalates until the team discover that their challenger is not a Genin Grass nin afterall, but one of the legendary Sannin: Orochimaru. Oro (as the fans affectionately call him) is basically on of the main antagonists of the Narutoverse, one of the most infamously powerful and evil ninjas in Konoha’s history. He’s the Voldemort of Naruto, whose name translates literally as Snake Man, so it’s no surprise that - like Voldemort - Oro uses a variety of snakes and serpents in his ninja techniques.
His appearance at this stage of the Anime brings with it some bold departures on the part of writer/creator Masashi Kishimoto. For a start, after seeing how powerful Naruto can become when enraged and juiced up on Kyuubi Chakra in the Zabuza Arc, we see Orochimaru basically swat Kyuubi-charged Naruto aside like a fly; making it Sasuke and Sakura’s turn to hog the limelight. This demonstration of antagonistic power drives home a simple message: whatever you’ve seen up until this point was merely kiddie fighting; the Genins have got a long way to come before Naruto’s story is done. The other major departure is in the character of Sasuke, during his battle with Oro we are given brief flashbacks to the massacre of his family and clan, and we learn of the dark side that he keeps bottled up. By the end of the confrontation Oro has quite literally left his mark on the young Uchiha, and it’s a mark that is going to change Sasuke’s life – not to mention each member of Team 7 – forever.
It’s not just Sasuke who’s given some much deeper characterisation though, for when Oro is through with him and Naruto, it’s left up to Sakura to deal with the fallout. Up until now she’s been very much the backseat driver during the physical confrontations, but she admirably steps up to the plate when a team of Sound Ninjas come to take the easy pickings. Even though it’s a challenge she cannot possibly overcome, we are treated to flashbacks and desperation measures from Sakura that reveals much about her steely resolve. Managing to hold off the sound nin temporarily against the odds, she starts to receive support from the unlikeliest of people in a series of unexpected appearances and confrontations that culminates in a superb and shocking moment for Sasuke’s character when he awakes from the ordeal of the cursed mark Oro has placed on him.
With Team 7 safe, the action then switches between each of the various Konoha Genin teams left in the tournament (the first time we get to see so many of these characters in action) in a series of confrontations that are extremely inventive and very well directed by Hayao Date, who as ever proves he has an excellent grasp of the action set pieces that Kishimoto’s Manga outlines. Aside from adding some stylistic flair to the action, Date brings forth a lot of emotion and ambiance from the dramatic flashbacks that are inter-cut into some of the more serious fights. Not everything about his direction is commendable though. With the commencement of the Forest of Death mini-arc, Date starts to include mind-numbingly lengthy flashback sequences at the start of each episode – presumably in an attempt to pad out one “Manga” chapter’s worth of material into 25 minutes of “Anime”. Adding 5-minutes-plus of previous episode flashback is not my idea of entertaining filler, and when it happens at the start of every single episode, it really does become a major chore.
This is the only gripe I have with the episodes on this 3rd Naruto Boxset, for in every other conceivable way, the Chunin Exams Arc represent a marked improvement over the Wave Country Arc, and the next boxset release is going to crank things up even further still with constant one-on-one fights to whet the appetite of action fans. Stay tuned!
PresentationThe 3rd Naruto boxset brings us another 13 episodes which are presented on DVD to the exact same standards of A/V as in the first two boxsets, so to avoid repeating myself I will simply quote my review of the first set for the Video and Audio sections of the review.
One major change Manga have made with this latest boxset release that’s worth highlighting are the English subtitles present on each disc.; as unfortunately they have started to use dubtitles instead of an individual translation. Fortunately the English dub does a decent enough job of translating the original Japanese dialogue (up to a point), but there are frequent times in each volume where English subtitles flash up whilst no one is talking in the Japanese track – obviously they’re dubtitles for some added incidental dialogue in the English track. This happens frequently enough to become annoying.
”Presented in Naruto’s original broadcast ratio of 4:3; the episodes in this set all look great. Naruto is a very bright, colourful anime, which is handled well by a transfer that exhibits bold, vibrant colours that are free from noise and any bleeding. Likewise, brightness and contrast levels are never less than impressive, while detail levels are as high as you can expect from a show that first aired in 2002. Look a little closer at the image though and you can spot the occasional recurring video artefact, things like cross colouration in some of the linework, dot crawl in some of the finer areas, very faint edge enhancement, and some very fine mosquito noise. There’s also the usual NTSC – PAL interlacing foibles as well, but the negatives should be almost unnoticeable on an average home cinema display.”
”Manga U.K have provided a myriad of audio options for Naruto fans, with no less than six audio tracks on each disc in the set. They are: Japanese/English DD2.0, Japanese/English DD5.1, and Japanese/English DTS. Flicking between the Japanese and English tracks of each audio format, it’s clear that they both represent the same auditory experience, so I will simply refer to each audio format as a singular audio track that covers both the original Japanese and English dub. Ok, firstly we have the DD2.0 soundtrack, the format that Naruto was originally recorded in. It’s an excellent track, dialogue is loud, clear and whenever any high screaming kicks in, it’s dealt with crisply with no audible tear. Likewise the sound effects and thumping bass provide a rich and involving companion to the dialogue.
The DD5.1 and DTS tracks have been specially remixed by Manga, so this is the only DVD release of Naruto where you’ll see supposedly discrete 5.1 surround sound. In practice, both tracks are just a much louder reproduction of the DD2.0 tracks; with the ambient sounds that are relegated to the rear channels being boosted up to almost match the dialogue and soundtrack that fills the front soundstage. That isn’t to say these are bad tracks though, indeed just like the DD2.0 tracks they reproduce the soundtrack and action effects with plenty of punch, and the dialogue is always crisp and audible throughout even the busiest of scenes. While the DD5.1 tracks match sound quality of the DD2.0, the DTS manages to improve the bass and make it just a little bit tighter than the other formats.”