Naruto Unleashed Series 3:1 Review
As season two drew to a close Naruto had begun his intense training during the one-month interim period before the final elimination tournament of the Chuunin exams. After Kakashi had left to train Sasuke personally he fobbed Naruto off on Ebisu, the closet pervert who fell for Naruto’s Sexy Clone technique back at the start of the series, but before they could do much training Ebisu ended up being knocked out after stumbling upon a middle aged man peeking on a female bath-house. So at the start of season three we pick up with Naruto lambasting the old man for knocking out his trainer and demanding he train him in Ebisu’s place. The old man introduces himself as Jiraiya: The mighty mountain sage whose name is known across the whole world. He claims that his dirty peeping sessions are in fact important research so he can write the latest novel in the Make Out Paradise series – which happens to be Kakashi’s favourite novels – and tells Naruto he has no time or inclination to take on a pupil, so the plucky genin decides to hound Jiraiya across Konoha until he relents.
The introduction of Jiraiya in Naruto is a pretty big deal for me because I believe that hands down he is the greatest character Masashi Kishimoto has ever created in this series. Besides the fact that he fills the comical pervert archetype he’s one of the strongest characters in the series and just about everything about him is rough and unpredictable, and he is one of the least sentimental heroes in Naruto. Episode 53 provides plenty of typical Jiraiya humour as Naruto starts using his Sexy Clone technique to get the old pervert interested in teaching him. Episode 54 sets some exciting precedents when Jiraiya teaches Naruto about the summoning technique, which is a space-time jutsu where the summoner signs a contract with a particular species of animal and can then summon any member of said species to their location with the release of a large amount of chakra and a special seal. But Naruto being Naruto means summoning a live animal is not going to come easily to him. This technique will come to play a pivotal role later in the season, and is one of the most fun techniques once certain animals with their own personalities are established. The rest of the episode also announces that the Sand village are in fact allied to the Sound, and are plotting to crush Konoha. In episode 55 Naruto continues to struggle to summon anything bigger than a tadpole, much to Jiraiya’s amusement and dismay. Meanwhile Sakura makes preparations to visit Sasuke and Lee in hospital. This episode basically provides a run through of how the other genin left in the chunin exam are preparing for the final round.
Episode 56 is a little slow as it essentially just follows Naruto as he continues to struggle with his toad summoning, but it builds up to a really neat twist that shows just how reckless a teacher Jiraiya can be, when he decides to push Naruto off a cliff in order to get him to access the Kyuubi chakra when his life is in peril. This leads to the first of two iconic moments when Naruto is drawn into his inner consciousness and comes face to face with the Kyuubi for the first time, which is a very cool scene with the Kyuubi proving to be suitably evil and menacing. By the end of this episode we reach the second iconic meeting when Naruto successfully performs a summon and ends up drawing the biggest toad of all to his location: Gamabunta. Episode 57 kicks off with Gamabunta’s arrival and his shock and disdain that a brat like Naruto was capable of summoning him. He ten agrees to accept Naruto as his summoner only if he can ride on his back for 24hours without falling off. This proves to be a challenge that will push even Naruto’s massive stamina to breaking point. This is a really enjoyable episode thanks to Gamabunta’s introduction, as he’s another personal favourite of mine. He might be a giant toad, but his appearance and personality is like that of an oyabun (Yakuza boss) and he never gives an inch to Naruto or Jiraiya easily. He is the perfect foil for our rambunctious lead to bounce off. The ending to the episode is quite endearing when the sun sets and Jiraiya comes out of hiding to talk to Gamabunta briefly about Naruto.
In episode 58 Naruto wakes up in hospital and discovers he has a visitor waiting for him in Shikamaru, but Shika is not the only Genin visitor in the hospital, as Gaara is stalking the corridors looking for Rock Lee, so he can finish what he started at the conclusion of their devastating battle. We learn in this episode that like Naruto, Gaara too has a tailed demon sealed inside of him – this time it is the sand wraith Shukaku. Gaara is in fact Naruto’s dark flipside, giving the Konoha genin a crushing look at how he could have turned out if he had never found friends in the shape of Iruka and team Kakashi. The revelation that there are other ninjas out there with monsters sealed in them is yet another big plot development in the episodes of this season three box set. Episode 59 doesn’t contain any big revelations, but it does provide a cool roll-call of the characters due to take part in the elimination tournament as we follow Naruto and his rivals in the morning before the commencement of the tournament. There’s a nice scene where Hinata bumps into Naruto alone and imparts some advice on his upcoming fight with Neji. It’s a shame we don’t see Naruto and Hinata alone that often. The concluding chunin exam elimination tournament begins in episode 60 with the opening fight: Naruto vs. Neji, an exciting 3-episode confrontation that’s about on par with the Lee vs. Gaara battle of the previous tournament because it is essentially the first major fight that boils down to a clash of ideology, with Neji’s “you can’t change fate” philosophy pitted against Naruto’s “will of fire” approach.
In many ways this confrontation is the quintessential Naruto battle, with Kishimoto fully exploring his favourite themes and motifs in the fight itself and the token flashback sequence that fleshes out Neji’s back story and reveals the clan politics that saw Neji grow up as a servant for the head branch of the Hyuuga. In this flashback you can really see the influence of seminal ninja novel author Futaro Yamada on Kishimoto’s work. The conclusion to the fight is also well worth the wait. Episode 63 deals with the aftermath of the Neji fight and we see Kankuro abstain from his match with Shino, so the boxset concludes with a double episode confrontation between Shikamaru and Temari, which provides a good distraction while we wait for the big showdown between Gaara and Sasuke. The Shikamaru fight embodies the complexity and unpredictability of Kishimoto’s approach to his confrontations, where a less powerful ninja can match and in some cases defeat a ninja who is clearly more powerful, providing they use the right tactics. Shikamaru has little to offer in terms of offence, but he is a tactical genius who always provides inventive action sequences, and his lackadaisical personality provides plenty of comic material, particularly in his fight with Temari, where he spends half his time pondering the freedom of clouds and whining about the audience getting irate about this confrontation delaying the fight between Gaara and Sasuke. This confrontation lacks the excitement of the Naruto/Neji clash, but it is constantly inventive and really shows off Kishimoto’s talent for planning many steps ahead when he designs a fight sequence, even going so far as to implement things that occur in previous battles.
There’s only been around half the amount of action in this volume compared to the previous release, with half the episodes of this set dealing with Naruto and friend’s training in the run up to the elimination tournament, but Kishimoto has maintained the excitement by introducing some fantastic characters and producing a few truly iconic moments in the story. The build up to the chunin exam couldn’t have been any more entertaining, and when the battles do arrive we are treated to two excellent confrontations in Naruto vs. Neji and Shikamaru vs. Temari, thus ensuring that the commencement of season three more than matches the standards set by season two.
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.”
There is one big change in this volume that is sure to upset fans of 5.1 soundtracks, and it’s that MangaUK have decided to drop the DD5.1 and DTS tracks from this release, leaving just Japanese and English DD2.0 surround options. So, to quite what I previously wrote about the DD2.0 tracks:
”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.