Naruto Unleashed Series 3:2 Review
If the episodes in series 3:1 slowed down the pace of the action to concentrate on lengthy one-on-one battles strewn with character flashbacks, then series 3:2 speeds things up with a vengeance! Right off the bat in Episode 66 we have the highly anticipated confrontation between Sasuke and Gaara, watched by an anxious Sakura who wonders if the curse seal placed by Orochimaru on Sasuke is going to be a problem, but the Curse Seal is the least of Sasuke’s troubles, as Gaara begins to exhibit some monstrous abilities. This fight starts out much more excitingly than the confrontations in the previous round, with Sasuke reproducing Rock Lee’s ultra-fast taijutsu move-by-move and completely matches the speed of Konoha’s “Might Green Beast”. Hayao Date directs this initial flurry (which is essentially a rehash of the Gaara – Lee fight in series 2) with verve, and series composer Toshio Masuda reciprocates with adrenaline-fuelled rock-synth music that fits the tone perfectly, but when Gaara recedes into a spherical shell of dense sand, the pace slows right down and the mood becomes much more ominous.
The fight continues into Episode 67 with the impasse posed by Gaara’s withdrawal into the sand shell while he forebodingly starts muttering seals. It’s time for Sasuke to reveal the culmination of his training: Chidori – Kakashi’s lightning stab assassination technique that can cut through anything – even dense sand. Meanwhile Sand and Sound forces appear on the outskirts of town and Kabuto takes out the spectators in the massive arena with a Genjutsu technique. There’s a really cool moment in this episode right as the Genjutsu hits the crowd and the Kazekage and Hokage turn to stare at each other in slow motion, both now realising they’re going to have to draw arms on each other – then in a hail of an explosion all hell reigns down on Konoha. If there’s one criticism of the Sasuke/Gaara fight I have it’s in the amount of flashbacks Date interjects into the action, but if he missteps a little there, he more than makes up for it in his handling of the attack on Konoha. In Episode 68 the attack continues in full, with Sarutobi held at Kunai-point by the Kazekage as four weird emo-looking Sound nin erect a large force field around their immediate area. Outside of town three gigantic snakes are summoned by the Sound and advance on the village, and the Sasuke/Gaara fight is brought to a premature end, but Gaara is injured from Sasuke’s Chidori attack and completely drained by his attempt to reach “Perfect Possession” (as his siblings put it). It seems Gaara was to play a vital role in the attack on Konoha, so Temari and Kankuro flee into the woods to buy their little brother time to recover his lost chakra – with Sasuke in pursuit. The big moment in this episode though is when Orochimaru reveals himself as the Kazekage in disguise, and imparts his motivation for attacking Konoha to Sarutobi. With everything kicking off, this is a very fast moving episode with lots of group action and the setting up of the big battles ahead.
Kakashi gets Sakura to dispel the Genjitsu on Naruto in Episode 69 and gives them their first A-ranked mission since the Wave Country Arc when they’re ordered to chase after Sasuke and stop him before he engages Gaara and his siblings. Shikamaru is dragged in reluctantly as the 3rd man and Kakashi summons a talking dog called Pakkun to track Sasuke’s scent. Shikamaru and Pakkun form a very amusing comedy duo, as the dog doesn’t take too kindly to Shika’s lazy attitude. Shino also follows the team after Sasuke, albeit covertly. Orochimaru and Sarutobi, unencumbered by the barrirer from the fighting in the arena below begin their duel, and this is really a landmark fight in Naruto – The first Kage level battle and one that does not disappoint! What’s more it’s the ultimate battle of student versus teacher, with Oro constantly mocking Sarutobi’s advanced age and sentimentality. Jutsus on a level we haven’t seen before are exchanged and Oro conducts what is still considered by many Naruto fanatics to be the coolest technique in the story: Edo Tensei, a forbidden jutsu where you sacrifice a person to summon a dead soul into their deceased body. In this case Oro summons the 1st and 2nd Hokage to fight their former pupil! Suddenly we go from having never seen a Kage in action to watching three face off at the same time. Just like buses!
In Episode 70 the focus shifts to Naruto’s team as they pursue Sasuke, whilst being pursued themselves by a platoon of Sound nin that have been despatched by Kabuto. As ever Shikamaru formulates a plan to ambush their rapidly gaining pursuers, but it means one of them has to stay behind and act as a distraction to buy time for the rest of the team. The one who will stay behind will almost certainly be killed, and to everyone’s surprise Shikamaru decides he will be the one to do it! This is another episode that gives Shikamaru a chance to shine, and while it does switch the action away from the much more epic Sarutobi fight, you can never complain about more Shikamaru. His lackadaisical attitude towards distracting the Sound nin provides some much needed comic relief. Episodes 71 – 73 feature some action from Sasuke as he catches up to Gaara and company and has a brief tussle with Temari, but almost all the attention is placed on the fight between Oro and Sarutobi, as Oro reveals his Immortality Jutsu which allows him to transfer his soul into other people’s body and consume them from within. We flashback to the time when Sarutobi discovered Oro was kidnapping and experimenting on fellow Konoha nin over 15years prior, which was the reason Oro fled from the village. Sarutobi couldn’t bring himself to kill his most revered pupil then, but now he doesn’t intend to make the same mistake twice. On a scale of 1 to 10, this fight registers at 11! It’s by far the greatest battle seen so far, eclipsing everything in seasons 1- 2 and the first half of season 3. We see Sarutobi summon Enma: The Monkey King who can transform into a resizable staff that augments Sarutobi’s already impressive taijutsu ability. The real highlight of these episodes though comes when Sarutobi performs the Shiki Fuujin sealing jutsu that was created by the 4th Hokage. Managing to eclipse Edo Tensei in morbidity, this technique demonstrates Masashi Kishimoto’s unique talent for creating abilities that are really dark and twisted in the most entertaining of ways. The basic idea is that you summon the death god to capture the soul of whoever you choose, in exchange for allowing it to consume your own soul in the process, sealing both you and your enemy’s soul in eternal battle inside the belly of the demon god. The Death God’s character design is excellent and very imposing, and it’s good to see that Hayao Date does not tone down the technique for a TV audience. Sarutobi’s last stand is also suitably epic in its exploration of the “will of fire” themes that drive the story and his exposition on what it means to be Hokage and inherit the will of the leaf village is a particularly moving moment – certainly the dramatic high point of the series so far - and one that is nicely directed.
Episode 74 sees Sasuke catching up to Gaara again, but this time Kankuro decides to stay behind as Temari flees with their sibling, but it’s Shino who bursts onto the scene to confront Kankuro and make up for their cancelled duel in the Chuunin Exam. The Shino-Kankuro fight provides a solid distraction and a switch back to the tactic-orientated match up, but it’s the fight between Sasuke and Gaara, when Gaara finally wakes up that appeals the most. Which is exactly what we get in Episodes 75 and 76, as part of Gaara’s body transforms into the monster sealed away inside of him and his increase in strength and speed proves too much for the young Uchiha. It is at this point in the story that we get the obligatory flashback to Gaara’s childhood to explain how he became the deranged killing machine he is today. The parallels to Naruto’s childhood are drawn and Gaara becomes the most developed villain in the series to date. Now, given the awesomeness of the Oro and Sarutobi fight, by the end of this volume you might be wondering how the hell Kishimoto can top that when Naruto arrives on the scene to bail Sasuke out. Well, the answer is to basically play it large and have an all out war between a giant Sand Demon and the almighty boss toad: Gamabunta. In this reviewer’s humble opinion, the fight between Naruto and Gaara is the highest point in Kishimoto’s story when it comes down to massive, childlike, fun! How can you not enjoy the sight of 12 year old kids riding atop huge beasts as they go at it with massive offensive techniques. It’s just the best way you can imagine to round off the end of the third series, and the cherry on the top of an extremely frantic, fast paced batch of 13 episodes where the action is turned all the way up to 11, and we are treated to exactly what makes Shounen anime so deliriously special. Luckily we won’t have to wait too long for the next 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.”
”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.