Naruto Unleashed Series 4:2 Review
Naruto and Jiraiya located 5th Hokage candidate Tsunade at the end of Season 4:1, but not before Orochimaru beat them to it with a nefarious proposition for the medical specialist to cure his arms in exchange for resurrecting her deceased brother and former lover. So it’s decision time as Season 4:2 kicks off in Episode 92, which is a rather moody opening episode as Tsunade weighs up her sense of loss compared to the responsibility of becoming the next Kage of the hidden leaf. Meanwhile Naruto is still smarting from Tsunade’s goading of his dreams to become hokage and the wager to complete the Rasengan in just 7 days, and as ever he is pushing himself beyond his physical limit in pursuit of a seemingly impossible goal.
This rather downbeat low-profile start to the concluding half of the 4th season essentially just reminds us of the stakes raise so far in the “Find Tsunade” story arc, and starts the transition into a typically all-action final act. Jiraiya finds himself seriously debilitated after Tsunade poisons one of his drinks and we get a rather interesting reminder of Kabuto’s character ambiguity with a welcome return of Oro making provocative statements to him. Alas, this amounts to little more than empty foreshadowing as there are very little surprises to come in this story arc.
With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that Tsunade just can’t bring herself to betray her home village and decides to try and end Oro’s evil scheming once and for all, commencing a battle royale that plays out in Episodes 93 – 96. Immediately Tsunade demonstrates her impressive Taijutsu capabilities with the chakra augmented strength that turns a single move into essentially a one-hit kill. It’s the first time Oro has ever faced off against Tsunade, but because of his handicap it’s actually Kabuto who gets the pleasure of going face-face with Tsunade directly, and the daunting thought that all it takes from her is a single hit to crush him is at the forefront of his thoughts. At the start of this confrontation we get a rare chance to see Oro in tactical mode and engaging in actual teamwork as he and Kabuto evade the initial flurry of Tsunade’s attacks and confers with his subordinate on the best way to deal with the feisty Sannin.
Kabuto fans have had to wait a long time to finally see him go all out in a proper fight. Oro revealed that his strength is on par with Kakashi’s back in the Chuunin arc, but until now we’ve merely had small glimpses of his abilities. It was made apparent from those glimpses that he is also a medical expert like Tsunade, and this fight does a pretty good job of showing how lethal medical nin can be when they put their expertise to violent use. He uses a technique that turns each touch into an ability to sever internal muscles – thus radically reducing Tsunade’s strength with a couple of well placed hits. Tsunade counters with a blow that fries his central nervous system that completely re-wires the electrical signals his brain is sending to his muscles. The effect is that when he tries to lifthis left arm, his right leg moves, and so on.
This confrontation is a healthy reminder of Masashi Kishimoto’s impressive ability to come up with new scenarios and fighting styles, although it’s cut short when Kabuto takes advantage of Tsunade’s fear of blood and the cavalry arrive. Up until now, Naruto was unaware that Kabuto was a spy for the Sound Village, and is reluctant to attack a comrade, but some cruel goading from Kabuto soon rectifies that. Thus the stage is set for Shizune and Naruto to take on Kabuto while Oro and Jiraiya have a Sannin duel. Unfortunately Jiraiya’s struggling with the encompassing effects of Tsunade’s poison more than Oro is with the loss of his arms. But before any fighting commences, Jiraiya in his normal level of tact, but supreme insight lets Naruto know exactly what his chances are fighting someone of Kabuto’s level, and to not even think about attacking Orochimaru. This gives the plucky ninja cause to refrain from rushing in headstrong with a bunch of Kage Bunshin as per his usual tactic.
When the action kicks off in full, we’re treated to a great free-for-all battle with changing action on many fronts and not the one-on-one style that we’ve had before. Hayato Date directs with a real sense of urgency that suits Kishimoto’s style, which as ever is a style that includes a retread of the main themes of Naruto in regard to the “will of fire”. This mostly comes when Oro gloatingly tells Jiraiya that his latest pupil is weak and lacking in talent, and Kabuto has a chance to be the boo – hiss villain as he sadistically beats on Tsunade and tries to crush Naruto’s resolve with similar goading about his lack of ability. We all know the Rasengan is coming - it’s all too predictable – but no less enjoyable when Naruto plants that little blue ball of furious chakra point blank and centre right in Kabuto’s gut, resulting in a satisfyingly over the top blast.
But the victory over Kabuto costs Naruto dearly, as Kabuto’s hit his heart with a muscle shredding punch at the same instant he took the full force of the Rasengan, and as Naruto lays dying it’s up to Tsunade to overcome her fear of blood and snap out of mental shock. And so once again she finds herself desperately trying to revive a fallen comrade, which is the first step on the road to rebirth and redemption for the character. After witnessing Naruto perform the Rasengan, Oro finally takes him seriously as a possible future threat and dives in for the kill, leading to a bloody encounter with Tsunade that seals her fear of blood once and for all.
With the conclusion of Naruto’s fight, the action switches back to the three Sannin in a three-way dance that involves each Sannin’s boss summon. We’ve already Katsuya the Slug boss and Manda the snake boss join old favourite Gamabunta, and while Katsuya’s personality is a little boringly subservient, Manda has more than enough attitude to put Oro in his place, and even Kabuto fears that Manda may turn on his master if he learns of his handicap. Out of the three bosses, it is Manda that puts on the most impressive show of strength in this confrontation. Sadly the fight is over in less than half an episode, and the Tsunade episode concludes with the bad guys beaten, but escaping to fight another day, and the good guys heading back to Konoha for Tsunade to take her place as the 5th Hokage.
The Tsunade arc has certainly been a lot of fun, and introduced some excellent characters in the form of Itachi, Kisame and the new boss summons. It has also considerably developed the overarching storyline and given brief intriguing glimpses into plotlines to come in the future. The action finale wasn’t quite as epic as in the previous Chuunin Exam Arc, but it was very pacy and directed with real gusto, enough to keep the action totally engrossing.
Before the next story arc can kick in however, Episode 97 takes us on an anime-filler diversion as Naruto and company stop off at a Hot Springs town to make a relaxing detour on their long journey back to Konoha and run into a couple of debt collectors who are after Tsunade. Most of this episode is made up of the usual comedic escapades from earlier Naruto fillers, which means it’s inoffensive enough and at least has the one amusing running gag involving Jiraiya making a sit-in at the mixed sex hot spring until nubile young women appear. Diverting, but definitely below the usual standards of the show at this point in the story.
The next proper story arc commences in Episode 98, as Tsunade starts her role as Konoha’s 5th Hokage by first dealing with the fallout from previous encounters by treating Sasuke, Kakashi, and Rock Lee’s ills. Sasuke and Kakashi do not pose a challenge for her, but Lee faces surgery that has a 50% chance of killing him. The main highlight of this episode is in catching up with all the Konoha nin introduced in the Chuunin arc.
Lee weighs up the options of life-threatening surgery or a life away from nindo in Episode 99, while Tsunade settles into the heavy paperwork that accompanies the role of Hokage. Not that she can do so from the comfort of her own office, as Konohamaru barracades himself into the place, desperately trying to delay the official inauguration of the new Hokage. This is another filler episode with yet another flimsy plot in that it mostly deals with Konohamaru moping, but then the role of Konohamaru has always been boosted in the anime over the manga, so it’s perhaps fitting that he be given an episode to deal with the death of his grandfather. What’s more, unlike previous filler episodes this one is dramatic in tone, and they tie up Konohamaru’s feelings pretty well by the end, but there’s a definite sense that the anime staff are just treading water here.
It’s back to manga plotline with Episode 100, and back to Lee’s contemplation as he compares the thought of having no future as a shinobi with the progress he’s made since meeting Guy. The 100th episode is completely Lee-centric and features a number of flashback sequences that explain how Lee started as a ninja and the challenges he faced having absolutely no ability in Ninjutsu or Genjutsu at all. We also see how he met Guy and his first day with teammates Neji and Tenten. This episode really examines the bond between Guy and Lee and combines lots of melodrama with the kind of preposterous logic we’ve come to expect from these two loveable characters. It’s an oddly moving episode with some great comic asides a real treat for Guy and Lee fans.
When is a filler not quite a filler? When it’s adapting one of Kishimoto’s own manga omake sketches. Episode 101 is a rather amusing aside which sees Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke attempting to discover what Kakashi looks like underneath that mask. The original sketch was too short to fill an entire episode of the anime – in fact the first 5 minutes pretty much uses up all the manga material – but the wacky style of the omake matches the general tone of Hayato Date’s comedy filler episodes, so he has no problems padding this one out effectively.
Episode 101 is certainly charming enough, but the major problem is its timing. Mostly because the last time we saw Sasuke he was being revived from a coma that was induced after considerable physical and mental torture at the hands of his brother Itachi, and yet here a couple of episodes later Date has him acting completely unphased and even wacky enough to match Naruto. It would be alright if this was just a one-off filler that could be explained away as an “alternate timeline” deal, but from Episode 102 onwards until the end of Series 4:2, Date starts the anime’s first proper filler story arc.
What this ultimately does is ruin the fine timing of a crucial turning point in the character of Sasuke, forcing the viewer to buy he can simply brush off the Itachi incident and then subsequently forcing the Anime story to come up with a later scenario that will put Sasuke back into hospital with similar physical and emotional damage as before, so the manga plotline can resume again. It’s a completely unnecessary convolution because Kishimoto had already written in a plot-device just a little later on in the storyline that affords the anime staff all the time they needed to throw in years of filler stories without disrupting the main story arc in the slightest.
It’s the first real misstep Hayato Date has made as director, and it’s a shame because Series 4:2 has for the most part been very enjoyable, but the switch to filler content ensures it comes to a rather mediocre close.
PresentationThe episodes in this volume of Naruto: Unleashed are presented on DVD to the exact same standards of A/V as in the previous boxsets, so to avoid repeating myself I will simply quote the Video and Audio sections of my previous reviews:
”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 line work, 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.”
”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.”
Optional English subtitles are provided with no spelling or grammatical errors that I can recall.
ExtrasOnly trailers for Origin, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm, Buso Renkin, Death Note, Bleach, Naruto, Naruto: The Movie, GITS: SAC, and GITS: SSS
OverallThe “Find Tsunade” arc comes to a thrilling conclusion in a series of high profile confrontations that more than fulfils the impressive action quota the series has already established. The storyline doesn’t quite develop so much in comparison to 4:1, but there’s enough progression to ensure the pace doesn’t let up too much in the first half of episodes. Sadly the same cannot be said for the 2nd half of episodes in this set, as the introduction of heavy filler content takes the edge of an otherwise strong set of episodes.
Last updated: 18/04/2018 22:02:38