Naruto Unleashed Series 5:1 Review
It’s filler time at the commencement of Series 5 Part 1 of Naruto, with Hayato Date straying from Masashi Kishimoto’s manga bible to produce the first multi-episode story arc that has been written exclusively for the anime series by TV staff writers. This filler arc heralded a noticeable dip in quality at the end of Series 4, but thankfully it’s quickly concluded in Series 5 and things improve significantly when switching back to Kishimoto’s original storyline when the rivalry between Sasuke and Naruto reaches breaking point, leading to decisions being made that will change the dynamics of the show forever.
First, it’s back to the conclusion of that filler arc in Episodes 105 and 106, which had Team 7 being hired as bodyguards for Idate, a competitor in the Burning Fire Race that will decide who rules his adopted village in the Tea Country. The story culminates in Naruto and Sasuke facing off against evil Rain-nin: Aoi Rokusho, who reveals the truth behind Idate’s self-imposed exile from Konoha, and delivers another crushing defeat to Sasuke.
As far as filler arcs go, this one hasn’t been that bad at all, but it suffers from the most common problem these shows take on when staff writers are brought in: They regurgitate old storylines from the Manga almost ad verbatim. In this case it’s the plotline from the pilot episode that gets plundered, which was a much narrower time for both the main narrative and the themes of the series, and this new filler arc definitely feels rather archaic within the context of the current main plot thread.
Things get back on track with a vengeance in Episode 107, as Sasuke recovers in hospital from the injuries sustained fighting Aoi and takes his inferiority complex and jealousy out on Naruto by challenging him to a fight. Naruto unsurprisingly reacts passionately to Sasuke’s goading, seeing this as a chance to force Sasuke into admitting they are equals in ninja ability. But with both Genin having mastered lethal hand techniques, their feud has the potential to spiral horribly out of control.
What you see in Episode 107 is what should have happened immediately after Tsunade brought Sasuke out of his Genjutsu-induced coma following his vicious beating at the hands of older brother Itachi. Being subjected to 24hours of watching his parents’ slaughter caused severe psychological trauma to Sasuke, but in the anime he apparently recovers from the Itachi encounter without too much fuss, and it’s the later battle with Aoi that proves the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but the Aoi duel was little more than a minor scuffle compared to the Itachi defeat, and Sasuke’s reaction after it feels more than a little over-zealous.
Had Date never bothered with the Tea Country story arc then there would be greater resonance to events in Episode 107, but as it is, it’s still a powerful episode that starts to develop Sasuke’s character into darker territory and offers a great slice of action as he and Naruto face off. There’s also some good rhyming of themes elsewhere in 107, as Naruto and Sasuke’s friendship breaks down Shikamaru finds himself promoted to Chunin, and Chouji starts to feel a little inferior himself, only for Shikamaru’s words of encouragement re-affirms their bond. Of course, they have the luxury of no childhood traumas in their past stoking the dark corners of their psyche.
Naruto and Sasuke’s fight is cut short in Episode 108, but Sasuke can’t let go of his inferiority complex through 108 and Episode 109, and things only get worse for him with the arrival of Orochimaru’s Sound subordinates: Jirobo, Kidomaru, Sakon, and Tayuya, who have been sent to persuade Sasuke to join Oro’s cause. The writing in Episodes 108 and 109 is first class, with Sasuke going through a range of emotions and pulls away from being a hero towards anti-hero or even villainous territory. Kishimoto develops this change subtly, revealing only the selfish, cruel side of Sasuke with small exchanges and inflections.
More impressive is how Kishimoto involves the main cast, demonstrating a an assured grasp of the interpersonal relationships between master and student, friend and rival. In particular Kakashi shines in Episode 108 as he tries to rein Sasuke in and reveals a little snippet of information about his past that suggest he has more in common with Sasuke than just his genius ability. Likewise Jiraiya has a great little scene with Naruto after his fight, where single glance between master and pupil conveys so much understanding of each other’s feelings. Sakura also has a thoroughly believable, childlike reaction to the friction between Sasuke and Naruto, and her desperate feeling that Sasuke is slipping away from Team 7 culminates in a touching scene in Episode 109 which shows how deep her feelings for Sasuke are.
After Sasuke chooses Orochimaru and the path of vengeance, the reverberations of his desertion are felt throughout Konoha, and the newly promoted Shikamaru his given his first mission as team leader when Tsunade orders him to hunt down and bring Sasuke back to Konoha no matter the cost. Following the high emotions of Sasuke’s farewell to Sakura, this episode sets in motion the transition into the “retrieve Sasuke” arc that will be providing all-out action from here on in.
Another nice touch about this episode is that we get to see glimpses of how the other Genin in Konoha view Sasuke. Up until now the story has focussed on their interaction and disdain for Naruto, but now they’re forced to decide whether Sasuke is still their comrade or a potential foe. For Naruto this is the first time he’s had to work closely with his former classmates, rather than against them in a straight fight. With a team swiftly formed consisting of: Naruto, Shikamaru, Chouji, Kiba, and Neji, Kishimoto carves out a great opportunity to explore some exciting new dynamics within the series.
These dynamics are entertainingly mined through Episodes 111 and 112 as Shikamaru’s platoon hunt down the Sound nin and Sasuke makes a risky decision when the power of his curse seal is explained to him and the opportunity to increase its power is dangled in front of him. These two episodes are great fun, with each Konoha Genin playing to their strengths; so you have Shikamaru formulating plans while Kiba and Chouji provides the muscle, and Neji acts as the point guard. Naruto meanwhile just behaves as his usual brash, clumsy self, but it’s still great to see him working within a new team.
Alas, this temaplay is pushed into the background from Episode 13 onwards, when Chouji splits from the group to face off against Jirobo, and later other members fall back to go one-on-one against each of the 4 Sound nin. The result is a sequence of hard-hitting ninja battles that are both fresh and nerve wrangling, with a real sense of sacrifice and mortality from the Konoha nin, because we’ve already watched one major character die in battle by this point in the story.
And by making the journey from darker, more adult themes and character development, then switching into gripping action mode; Naruto Unleashed 5:1 is no doubt one of the strongest volumes yet!
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, Death Note, Bleach, Naruto: The Movie, Mar, Strait Jacket, and Mirror’s Edge
OverallGreat character development, lots of great action. Forget about the 2 filler episodes at the start and this is another excellent batch of episodes. With the DVDs presented to MangaUK’s usual standards this is a much buy for anyone following this series.
Last updated: 18/04/2018 21:24:39