Naruto Unleashed Series 2:2 Review
At the end of the last 13-episode volume of Naruto there had been too many Genin teams that successfully completed the 2nd round of the Chuunin Exams. In order to dwindle the numbers down the examiners decided to hold a preliminary one-on-one fighting tournament to see which Genins were strong enough to take part in the Chunin Finals. Sasuke found himself up against mysterious Sound Village ninja Yoroi in a closely fought contest that saw the intense young Uchiha the victor, but the Curse Seal wound inflicted upon him by Orochimaru in the Forest of Death resulted in him needing immediate treatment behind the scenes. As we kick off this current 13-episode boxset, Kakashi has just placed a counter-seal on the evil Curse Seal in order to suppress its murderous influence on Sasuke, but Orochimaru has shown up to warn Kakashi that it’s in Sasuke’s nature as an avenger to seek power – regardless of who is willing to provide it, and it’s only a matter of time until this desire overcomes the counter-seal and he actively seeks out Orochimaru himself. With that Oro disappears, but not before putting the fear of god into the usually unflappable Kakashi first.
With nine fights spread across 12 of the episodes in this boxset it’s safe to say that this is easily the most action-packed volume of Naruto yet. Kishimoto uses this elimination tournament not just to springboard the diverse range of fighting styles that his impressive imagination is capable of producing, but also to properly characterise the supporting players in this unique universe. The first match-up on this set (the second in the tournament so far) pitches insect master Shino against Sound ninja Zaku and is actually one of the shortest fights in the tournament, choosing to only moderately flesh out Zaku’s history with Oro and why failure is not an option for him, and briefly introduce Shino’s impressively creepy Insect Jutsu. The conclusion to this fight is particularly brutal and was actually censored down in the Anime from its Manga form (it involved exploding limbs originally). The 3rd round of the tournament features Sand antagonist Kankuro against the rather anonymous Sound nin Tsurugi, which is another quick fight that establishes Kankuro’s Puppet Jutsu, where the Sand sibling uses strings of Chakra to operate various puppets with numerous tricks and traps that can kill instantly. Puppet techniques will be making re-occurring appearances throughout the anime as it progresses and always remain very inventive.
The first real fight that sets up the mixture of action & characterisation that typifies the confrontations in this set is round 4: Sakura vs. Ino. We’ve already been treated to flashbacks that reveal how close these two Konoha kunoichi (female ninja) were before they both developed a crush on Sasuke and became bitter rivals. Here, to ram the point over our heads we’re treated to even more flashbacks. It’s a little excess to requirements but Toshio Masuda’s nicely delicate score really helps sell the drama, and it’s always good to see Sakura in action as she’s rarely given the chance. She has no flashy Jutsus unlike pretty much all of the other Konoha Genin so this fight becomes more one of physical tenacity than anything fantastical, although Ino’s Mind Transfer Jutsu makes a brief appearance near the end. Maintaining the confrontation of the kunoichi, round 5 pits Team Gai’s TenTen against Sand nin Temari in a rather short, one-sided fight. Round 6 is Shikamaru versus Sound kunoichi: Kin, where fan-favourite Shikamaru adopts his usual tactical brains-over-brawn approach, which always makes for a refreshing change of pace. This is another short but fun match up.
By this point the fights have all been relatively breezy; covering five matches in four episodes, but episode five sees the commencement of round 7: Naruto vs. Kiba, where our plucky hero goes up against Konoha’s dog specialist and his reliable pet Akamaru. Switching to around 2-3 episodes per fight allows for much more involved battles, and the Naruto-Kiba fight is the only one of these lengthier duels that features no backstory, instead going for all out action. Having had his Kyuubi chakra supply cut off by Orochimaru, Naruto reverts back to his original crafty style of fighting, incorporating his Shadow Clone technique into uncharacteristically intelligent tactical manoeuvres that outsmart his much stronger opponent. Kiba’s beastly techniques are reminiscent of Naruto when he’s juiced up on Kyuubi chakra, so pitching Naruto against an opponent like this not without its fair share of irony. The result is a really enjoyable confrontation with a highly amusing conclusion that proves you really can never guess the outcome of anything Naruto is involved in.
Round 8 is the battle of the Hyuga: Hinata vs. Neji, which serves as our introduction to the Hyuga clan and their special bloodline limit: The Byakugan. This is a much more intense fight than the previous ones and you can really see Kishimoto’s Kung Fu film influence in the soft fighting style that the Hyuga adopt, where one blow sends a blast of chakra into the opponent’s body that damages their internal organs. It’s Hinata’s chance to shine here, the flashbacks all concentrating on her own struggle to become a strong ninja and how her admiration for Naruto has changed her life. The brief glimpses of the customs of the Hyuga clan reveal it to be a suppressive system where one half of the clan are considered lesser individuals and treated like slaves. Neji belongs to the lower class section and cannot contain is contempt for higher class Hinata, and with his prodigal abilities this becomes a hard-hitting one-sided fight that gives Naruto plenty of motivation to exact revenge on Neji at a later date.
The 9th round sees Rock Lee draw the last of the Sand nin: Gaara as his opponent. This is by far the most epic and exciting fight in this tournament, as taijutsu specialist Lee works to break down the sand shields of ninjutsu freak Gaara. This really is a match of polar opposites, Lee being a comical, wacky character while Gaara is an icy cool maniac. Lee’s fighting style also causes for lots of frenetic movement, but Gaara’s mastery over sand means he barely has to take a single step in any of his matches. As Lee struggles to make leeway in the confrontation we’re treated to flashbacks of his childhood and how Gai adopted him as his favourite pupil. When all conventional paths to defeating Gaara are used up, Lee starts to perform a technique that is so crazily over the top it brought a huge grin to my face throughout the rest of the fight. This match is considered a classic by Naruto fans, and for a good reason. After this intense battle the tournament concludes with Chouji vs. Dosu, which is little more than an amusing interlude.
Chouji’s fight caps a really excellent storyline that gives Kishimoto lots of scope to really let his imagination go wild and develop some really cool, unique ideas. By the end of the boxset we have really gotten to know Konoha’s Genin, and eagerly await the next batch of episodes to see just how this Chuunin exam concludes.
PresentationThe 13 episodes on this 4th Naruto boxset are presented on DVD to the exact same standards of A/V as in the previous three 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. I’m unhappy to report that dubtitles are still being used and particularly in the opening episode of this set crop up quite annoyingly when no one is actually saying anything in the Japanese script. It even causes the English subs to run out of synch with the actual Japanese dialogue on occasion. As the episode progress this becomes less of a nuisance and there’s even a nice adoption of the original Japanese terms in the English script – although sadly the English translation still generally remains only a vague representation of the Japanese dialogue.
The most annoying omission of these subtitles though is that no signs or text is translated, and signs appear quite frequently throughout the episodes on these discs. In the last episode we’re even shown a tournament ranking chart to reveal who will be fighting who in the Chuunin Finals, and unless you can read hiragana you’re going to have to wait until the next boxset to see who will be fighting who!
”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.”