Naruto Unleashed Series 6:1 Review
Naruto has finally caught up to Sasuke as Volume 6:1 kicks off, and the two are locked in an epic battle that will define both their fates and the dynamic of the series forever. It’s an explosive encounter that will bring tears and bloodshed into Naruto’s world. We had a taste of Sasuke Vs. Naruto back in Volume 5:1, but this is the real deal, Sasuke is poised to join the dark side and Naruto wants to bring him back to the light of Konoha.
The fight was already in full swing by the end of Volume 5:2, but most of the action was held back so we could take a peek at Sasuke’s childhood. We’ve had glimpses of this period before, but now they form a cohesive flow that fully illuminates the character. Episode 131 brings the flashbacks to their conclusion: the slaughter of the Uchiha clan. This is grand operatic stuff and goes a long way to making Sasuke a sympathetic character despite his selfish actions.
In these flashbacks Masashi Kishimoto introduces a lot of intrigue as well, with revelations that in order to obtain the mangekyou aspect of the sharingan, the user has to kill their best friend, and even more alluringly we are told that there is a secret modus operandi behind the sharingan’s power itself. This sets things up quite nicely for the end of minor attacks between the two friends and the commencement of much more devastating techniques.
Ultimately this fight is a clash of ideals, one that brings the story’s themes on tragic childhoods, to an interesting confliction. Naruto was an orphan who grew up alone and alienated by the people surrounding him, who thought of him as a horrid reminder of one of the village’s greatest tragedies. Sasuke on the other hand was revered as a genius and a tragic victim, but his personal grief over the death of his friends and family meant he alienated himself. As Sasuke informs Naruto: “You don’t understand my pain because you never had a family to begin with!”, so while Naruto has had to forge recognition for himself and formed a makeshift family from his friends, Sasuke is someone who has always struggled to reconcile his current bonds with those in his past.
With the events in this volume Kishimoto develops an extremely well formed and intelligent dual between Naruto and Sasuke, as mentioned Naruto was someone who started in darkness and was considered a monster and someone who will do anything to protect what’s important to him. Sasuke started in light and is now descending into darkness, and he’s prepared to turn into a monster and destroy that which is important to him in order to obtain the power to exact revenge on Itachi. As such, the big fight that plays out across Episodes 132-134 is filled with dichotomous motifs that really highlight Kishimoto’s skill as a visual story teller.
This is a beautifully realised confrontation that is better than ever in animated form. I remember back when it was being serialised in Shounen Jump and all the flashbacks meant that this one fight took months to play out, and fans were very impatient because they just wanted to see Sasuke and Naruto tearing it up. I’m glad Kishimoto went for a heavily thematic approach as it makes the fight much more affecting.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Kishimoto skimped on the action this is one of the most exciting and dynamic battles yet, one that pushes Hayato Date’s limited animation budget to breaking point, resulting in some very sloppy work in the early stages of the fight. As they duel, Sasuke and Naruto develop their powers to new heights; Sasuke unlocks the 3rd tomoe that awakens the full observational powers of the sharingan, and also draws upon the full power of his newly bolstered curse seal. Naruto is taken over by even more Kyuubi chakra than ever before and starts to fight like a turbo-charged fox. When the first tail emerges from that shroud, Naruto’s powers become very crazy and potentially lethal.
Episode 135 deals with the fallout of the Sasuke retrieval mission, Neji and Chouji’s lives are in the balance and Shikamaru blames himself for the casualties of the mission. Jiraiys also returns to give Naruto some very important information regarding Akatsuki. There’s some extremely cool medical ninjtsu in this episode, an aspect of the Naruto verse that we rarely get to. You will spot lots of foreshadowing of events that will take place 3yrs later in this episode. This is because this was the point in the manga that Kishimoto concluded part 01 of Naruto. Naruto would leave Konoha with Jiraiya in order to train to become strong enough to take on Akatsuki, and the series would then have a 2.5yrs timeskip so that part 02 would commence when a 16-year old Naruto returned to the village.
However, in the anime this timeskip gave Date and his team carte blanche to insert as much filler as they needed to put some healthy time between the anime and manga’s storyline. Unfortunately he couldn’t have Naruto without Naruto himself, so the anime writers had Jiraiya postpone Naruto’s training to go spy on Akatsuki some more. With this, a looooong period of filler episodes commences – about 84 episodes in fact, which was over a year and half of TV broadcast time. Back when this started it was a royal nightmare for fans, as the quality of the show dropped like a lead balloon, with filler arc after arc which had the lamest of plotlines and characterisation that dumbed Naruto down to a jumped up Pokémon style infant cartoon.
In Episode 136 the first of these filler arcs begins; Naruto and Jiraiya go on a mission to the Land of Rice Paddies where they run into the Fuma clan, who where once famous and powerful, but their power waned and where subsequently tricked by Orochimaru who came to their land with promises of reviving their former glory. He recruited some of their strongest members for his own Sound Village, including a young man named Arashi, whose cousing Sasame later runs into Naruto and Jiraiya as she searches for Oro and Arashi’s whereabouts. It’s not long before Naruto is promising to rescue Arashi for her.
Playing out until Episode 141 this filler arc actually isn’t too bad, it’s just got an extremely unfocussed plotline, with Naruto and company facing off against Fuma clan ninjas in a series of rather bizarre encounters. As is usually the case with non-Kishimoto storylines as pretty girl is teamed up with Naruto, who is soon spouting is “way of the ninja rhetoric” to ultimately change her life for the better. So the narrative is quite dull, but the action is reasonably solid, however the rasengan is used far too many times and diminished in power to the extent that it definitely doesn’t come across as the class A super dangerous technique that it is. There’s a moment towards the end of the arc which so blatantly rips off the Naruto-Kabuto during the Sannin dual so badly that it really is quite shameful. Other iconic moments from Kishimoto’s story are similarly cloned, but they fall flat here.
The final scene of this arc and the opening scenes of Episode 142 are actual canonical scenes from the manga that should have been shown in Episode 135, but for some reason Date decided to mix them into his filler episodes. This is particularly vexing as it denies fans the option of skipping the non-filler episodes and coming back to the anime when the manga storyline resumes. It’s particularly painful because Episode 142 is the start of an absolute stinker of a story arc that features two characters called Fujin and Raijin who are ridiculously silly caricatures who are completely overpowered by the anime writing staff – or rather they completely under-power the regular Konoha nin whenever they come into contact with them. It shows no respect for the supporting cast, which is a very sad way to end the volume!
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.”
”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.”
Optional English subtitles are provided with no spelling or grammatical errors that I can recall.