Naruto Unleashed Series 1:2 Review
Although Manga UK have started releasing uncut episodes of Naruto on DVD in generously sized 13 episode batches, sometimes half a typical anime season just isn’t enough. Case in point: The first Naruto boxset cruelly left fans hanging on Team Kakashi’s confrontation with the deadly mercenary ninjas Zabuza and Haku, right at the moment that our plucky young hero had finally entered the fray. As such, the scheduled Boxing Day release feels quite timely for fans as there’s nothing better than putting your feet up and enjoying some mindless escapist fun in Christmas Week. On that count, the 2nd batch of uncut episodes do not disappoint, first we have six episodes to finish off the Wave Country Arc and then another 7 episodes that kickstart my personal favourite story arc so far in Naruto: The Chuunin Exam Arc.
First up our protagonists have the little matter of the deadly duo from the Hidden Village of Mist to deal with, up until now Zabuza has been nothing more than a pantomime villain of little merit and Haku the stereotypical man (or rather: boy) with the ambiguous motives, but once Naruto enters the fray and starts his usual “I’ll never give up” gubbins, it’s time to learn a bit about the backstory of the Mist partners and what skills they possess. Along the way some of the main themes of the Naruto series are explicitly introduced for the first time and we are also treated to some truly iconic moments. Primary of these (and I hope you forgive me these spoilers) is Sasuke developing his Sharingan eyes and Naruto drawing upon Kyuubi power and metamorphosing for the first time, both of which are very exciting events, mostly thanks to Masashi Kishimoto’s deft imagination and writing, but also the way director Hayato Date cranks the tension up before each pay off.
The finale is shockingly violent for a Shounen series, and is no doubt what has earned the boxset its 15 rating, but it’s great to see Zabuza go out with real gusto. Many fans of Naruto across the world still consider the confrontation between Team Kakashi and Zabuza/Haku as the best the anime has ever been and rank the duo among the best antagonists as well. Personally I’ve always felt that they were like a slightly lesser clone of Shishio Makoto and Seta Soujiro from Rurouni Kenshin, mostly because the father/son bond between Nobuhiro Watsuki’s characters was dealt with much more subtly. The conclusion of the fight is powerful stuff though, and the dramatic highpoint of the story so far by a long, long way. If you’re not moved but Zabuza’s last stand then you’ve not got a heart.
When the Wave Country mission is done and dusted it’s time for Team Kakashi to get back to their usual menial missions and for Naruto and Sasuke to restart their mutual hatred. The hilarity of that situation is only fleeting, as it’s not long before the sand trio of Temari, Kankuro and Gaara arrive in town to provide some new antagonists for the young ninjas of the Hidden Leaf to bounce off before the official notice is given that the preliminary exams for young ninjas to attain the rank of Chuunin are about to begin – hence the arrival of ninjas from rival villages. As mentioned earlier I still consider the Chunnin Exam storyline as the high point of Naruto as a series, sure there have been more dramatic arcs (the Wave Country for a start) and later on in the series there will be much more complex and darker storylines, but for me the Chuunin Exams represent everything that Kishimoto does best: It introduces a slew of really great characters and features many action sequences that are pure escapist fantasy at its most fun.
The 7 episodes of the Chuunin Exam arc in this set cover the initial introductions to the rival low-rank ninjas (known as Genin) from the villages of Sand and Sound and more importantly our first proper introduction to the “rookie 9” the nine Genin from the Leaf village. All the leaf genin are wonderfully realised characters in their own right and every fan of Naruto has their own personal favourites, my personal favourite is the rather freakish, irrepressible Rock lee and his tutor “Konoha’s mighty green beast” Gai sensei. Both are wonderfully over-the-top caricatures who treat ninja life as the ultimate expression of the “burning passion of youth”. Fans of Martian Successor Nadesico will no doubt pick up on Gai sensei’s similarity to the larger than life character of Gai Daigoji, he seems to be a fantastic homage and also one of the most kickass characters in Naruto when he gets serious – but for now that’s just something for English viewers to look forward to.
Once we’re introduced to our cast of characters it’s time for the first set of exams to start, this begins in the form of a lengthy written test, which might not sound too riveting, but in the imaginative hands of Masashi Kishimoto even a simple academic test becomes something much more enjoyable when the examinees realise that they’re allowed to cheat – providing they don’t get caught. Naruto is unfortunately too stupid to realise this, so he’s trapped in a personal hell trying to figure out the right answers to the questions. The fun is put on hiatus for the last episode on the disc when Konohamaru and his friends turn to interview all the Genin taking part in the Chuunin Exam, which turns out to be an excuse to insert a rather pointless flashback episode. The one thing that comes from this though is that the start of the second exam: The Survival test is delayed for the next release, so we’re not left dangling on a cliff-hanger. The Chuunin Exam has only just begun; this is a long storyline that simply gets better and better and more epic. The next batch episodes will be something to seriously look forward to.
PresentationThe 2nd Naruto boxset comprises of another 13 episodes which are presented on DVD to the exact same standards of A/V as in the first boxset, so to avoid repeating myself I will simply quote my review of the first set for the Video and Audio sections of the review. It’s worth noting that the 3rd disc in this set did not play correctly in my PC’s DVD-ROM drive; I found myself unable to access the chapter menu, and if I tried to fast forward through the 1st episode the disc would jump to the start of episode 02. I did not have any problems with the disc on my stand alone DVD player.
”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.”
Optional English subtitles are provided. The English subtitles have no spelling or grammatical errors that I can recall.