Naruto Unleashed Series 7:2 Review
We’re still languishing within a lengthy period of filler episodes in Season 07 Part 02, but at least this volume starts out with a filler arc that is much more bold in its plotting than your usual staff-written fare. They’ve branched out by attempting to fill the blanks in the past teacher-pupil relationship between Orochimaru and Anko Mitarashi. We know that Orochimaru has always been a seriously twisted individual who fled the village when his true nature - and illegal human experiments - where found out. We also know Anko was the only Konoha pupil he took whilst still living in the village, and in spite of the evil nature of her master she turned out alright – albeit with one or two skeletons in her closet that appear to have been wiped from her memory by Orochimaru.
In last volume’s Episode 169 we learnt that tiny fragmented glimpses of these skeletons have begun invading Anko’s dreams and keeping her up at night, and that these memories were linked to a trip she made with Oro to the Land of the Sea back when she was just a child. Coincidentally it’s the same Land of Sea that reaches out to Konoha for help in dealing with a monster known as The Demon of the Ocean that has been terrorising waters in their country, attacking and robbing the Sea tradesman that the land’s economy so desperately depends on. Tsunade, fully aware of these blanks in Anko’s past, reams Anko up with Naruto, Ino, and Shino and assigns them the mission of protecting the Land of Sea tradesmen and destroying the so-called Demon.
When the Konoha-nin arrive in the land Anko starts having more intense flashbacks than ever before and separates from the team. As she struggles to piece together these new memories, Naruto, Ino, and Shino run into a mystery girl wrapped in bandages named Isaribi. She’s a female diver who was shunned by her people after being spirited away alongside a number of fellow islanders, but she was the only one to return. When Anko returned, the team headed out to a nearby Island where Demon incidents had been reported but were ambushed by the two Sound nin who survived the Chuunin Exam, leaving Naruto drowning at the bottom of the sea, only to be rescued by Isaribi.
Episodes 170–173 continue this story arc with Isaribi being established as another Naruto/Gaara figure as someone who has been turned into a monster (the aforementioned Demon of the Ocean) by the actions of past ninjas, this time being one of Orochimaru’s subordinates: an evil scientist named Amachi who seeks to create a race of aquatic super ninjas. Naturally this is later ties into Anko’s past flashbacks as well, which is the more intriguing element as Isaribi’s storyline has been done to death in this series already. When this arc first aired I was quite excited by the potential to create something worthwhile story-wise with Anko’s past, as she’s quite a fun character with a unique relationship to the main antagonist that to date has been completely ignored by Masashi Kishimoto.
Unfortunately the storyline the writers explore fails to live up to this potential, partly because they focus on the completely routine theme of Naruto coming to the aid of an exploited kindred spirit, but also because the arc lacks any real antagonistic presence – Sure Oro and Sasuke turn up for a present-day cameo appearance but they don’t actually do anything noteworthy, although Oro’s integration into the flashbacks is better handled. The primary villain Amachi is just a bland cardboard cut-out with even more generic character design, which means the moody build up regarding Anko ends up being a giant anti-climax. Also critically, the big action finale just throws all logic out the window and features some pretty hilarious “monster” designs – and I do use the term monster very lightly here. It does however introduced a healthy infusion of fun right at the end when one of the best minor supporting characters makes an appearance in order to aid Naruto in battle, it’s just a shame that his cameo is kept quite short.
It’s back to one-off comedy episodes in Episode 174. In this “wacky” adventure Naruto is hired by Kunihisa: the heir to a successful jewellery business who is obsessed with ninjas enough to pay for Naruto to play ninja for the day with him. This episode has one joke and repeats it over and over: Kunihisa is a spoilt brat who throws fat bundles of cash around so that his servants will replicate famous ninja techniques in a series of “money ninjutsu” gags. Needless to say, Naruto soon teaches him the error of his money-obsessed ways in a pretty disposable episode.
Naruto, Hinata and Kiba team up for a treasure hunting mission in Episodes 175-176, with Tsunade threatening to send them back to the Ninja Academy if they fail the treasure for their client: Agari Kaisen. Naturally the treasure turns out to be a ruse so Kaisen and his goons can capture the genin and steal their identities so that they can infiltrate Konoha and “mess things up” - and yes, that’s really the technical term for their plan! At first when Kaisen’s plans are revealed it’s done so with all seriousness despite the ludicrous idea that anyone pretending to be genin could become privy to anything in Konoha that could seriously do damage to the place. However, once the saboteurs make it into Konoha the story descends into to complete chaotic farce that sort of redeems the plotline a little, but doesn’t completely gloss over the fact that the first half is a total stinker.
The world of ninja that Kishimoto created takes another absurd kicking from the Studio Perrot staff writers in Episode 177 when they introduce the concept of a “Delivery Ninja”. That’s right: ninja postmen! On the way back from a mission, Naruto crosses path with one of these postman who is actually named 596-03, so obviously the writers were in a particularly creative mood for the five minutes it must have taken them to write this rubbish. Long story short, Naruto botches up then posts the latest volume of Jiraiya’s Icha Icha novel series and then has to catch up with the Delivery Ninja before it reaches Jiraiya’s publishers. So a comedic race against time it is then, oh joy! This episode isn’t funny, but it is inoffensive enough.
Another filler arc commences in Episode 178 and this one is long enough to see us to Episode 182 at the end of this volume - and beyond! This time around Naruto, Neji, Rock Lee and Tenten called upon to help the Village Hidden by Stars who need bodyguards to protect their fallen star, which is actually a meteorite that fell from the sky and created the village. The star has mysterious powers that can considerably boost the chakra power of any ninja who comes into contact with it and it is a treasure that is coveted throughout the world, which Naruto discovers when his team arrive to discover a masked robber escaping with the freshly stolen star. It is then up to Naruto’s team and a young star-nin named Sumaru to uncover the thief’s identity and recover the star. The previous arc in the Land of Sea teamed Naruto up with a kindred spirit in the character of Isaribi, this time round he’s butting heads with Sumaru who is very much a Sasuke clone, so once again were dealing with very familiar themes and dynamics.
With its magical fallen stars and a newly introduced village that we see little of beyond two small buildings inside a massive impact crater, the setting of this arc doesn’t really gel with Kishimoto’s established world, but at least the writers cut loose a little more creatively in designing an entirely new style of fighting using chakra that can be formed into solid beasts (ok so the concept is just an amalgam of elements Kishimoto has introduced before), and there’s also no sign of Orochimaru and human-beast hybrid experiments in sight!
Sadly, the new form of fighting is ultimately compromised by the fact that all the star-nin use it in exactly the same way, so it quickly becomes repeated ad nauseum in a series of boring like-for-like duels. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if any of the Konoha-nin sprung into action, but mostly the writers dream up some form of contrivance to keep them on the sidelines observing and acting all conflicted. If the star-nin were actually interested then maybe the story would be more involving, but once again we have a story arc that is let down by completely insipid villains and a complete lack of interesting character designs, which makes for an extremely mediocre end to the volume.
PresentationThose of you who find the lack of chapter stops around the opening and closing credit sequences will be annoyed to here that Naruto 7:2 continues Manga’s recent trend of only inserting chapter stops at the start, midpoint, and end of the episodes. As for the presentation, the 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.