Naruto Box Set 15 (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, August 21, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Simple stories sometimes expanded too far, populate another filler set alongside with a “best battles” recap episode.

What They Say

Ino faces an unusual exercise in royal etiquette when she is asked by an overweight princess to take her place and attend the first meeting with the young prince she adores. Then the Hidden Leaf Village comes under serious threat when important blueprints of the village are stolen! Naruto, Shikamaru and the others have their hands full finding and removing the massive numbers of paper bombs placed throughout the village. Can they save the Hidden Leaf Village from utter demolition?

Contains episodes 192-205

The Review!
Audio:
The bilingual presentation for Naruto continues to be a solid affair as the two stereo tracks are encoded at 256kbps. The series is fairly standard television fare but it handles itself well and there’s a bit of an extra oomph to it at times with the generally full sounding mix. There are moments of good directionality but by and large it’s nothing all that exceptional. The best moments continue to really be the opening and closing sequences with the music but that’s also somewhat normal. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of the Japanese track or from spot checking the English track.

Video:

Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for these TV episodes is presented in their original full frame aspect ratio. The production values for the series continue to be quite good and the authoring side of the release brings a lot of that to light.  Naruto has a lot of movement at times and it maintains a very strong look with no motion artifacts or break-up in general. Throughout the fifteen episodes on this set, broken down into a 4/5/5 format, there aren’t any real issues to be found at all. There are a few moments of some mild aliasing during a panning sequence and a bit of noise in some of the darker scenes here and there, but by and large this is a very solid looking release that covers a good range of settings without any discernable issues. Colors are nicely solid, bitrates are healthy with a number of good peaks and everything just feels very appealing. Fans of the show are likely to love how this looks.

Packaging:
This installment is done up in a shade of purple, which is much brighter with the slipcover because of the kind of material used unlike the interior digipak. The character artwork is solid here with Orochimaru making his move with his tongue extended and his snake skin visible that looks nice and threatening. The back of the slipcover has a basic rundown of what’s going on with some of these episodes and has a clean listing of what the extras are to be found and the very basic technical specs. Unlike some earlier releases, this one does list the episodes included within the set which is really great to see. Within the slipcover we have the storyboard production book which mirrors past ones as well as the digipak. The digipak is cleanly designed and similar to the slipcover in its colors and artwork but it brings in a bit more artwork as the back of it features some of the secondary characters in action poses. The interior features full color panels of a nice design that has Iruka and Neji on either side as thy flit about each other. Opening the digipak up once more, you get a purple filtered layout which has the three discs with full color character artwork. No insert is included here but they have provided for a small packet of Naruto playing cards.

Menu:
The menu design for Naruto is straightforward in that what we get for each disc is the same as the artwork used on the disc itself for that particular volume. Bright colors, clean looking character designs and some associated music gives it all a very consistent and pleasing feel, even if it is somewhat minimal. The first two discs are simple with just the language, scene selection and starting point to be had while the third volume brings in a bit more with the extras section. Everything is quick to access but there is a bit of interstitial animation between when you start the show itself which is annoying. The discs strangely enough didn’t read our players’ presets though and defaulted to English with no subtitles at all.

Extras:
The extras for this release, which are on the third volume, are decent enough but lacking in some ways. The production art section is the same as the past and we get a new “sketch to screen” done up for episode 193. Add in the sneak preview of the next set and the English language credits and you have some mildly interesting pieces for a minute or two. I continue to be disappointed that the clean opening and closing sequences aren’t included, especially as they do change within this set once again.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The second to last set of the filler episodes of Naruto is essentially a lot like the past couple of sets in that they’re fairly pointless in their own way as nobody really grows. The usual parade of secondary characters appear for single episodes or something slightly larger before it moves on to the next piece. This set features two larger stories, though they do come across as too long in both instances, and a few smaller single episode pieces that keep the Naruto brand fully in focus. Even scarier is that there is a “Battle recap” episode that highlights five of the best fights of the series, most of which occurred at the end of the manga adapted episodes no less.

Naruto does kick off in an amusing way as Ino and Naruto are sent off to deal with a princess who has a prince coming to court her and she has a problem. She’s madly in love with him but has never met him. She got so nervous in waiting for the appointed time that she ate and ate and ate and now she’s quite big. Ino looks close to how she used to look and takes on the role of her double to help smooth things over and to let the princess know what she’s getting into. The visiting courter is rather amusing as he’s basically a low-rent Elvis and neither Naruto nor Ino can believe she’s head over heels for this guy. What makes it priceless – especially I’m sure for certain American sensibilities, is that Naruto actually gets into the role of playing the double once and goes full on with the hair, make-up and clothes. Naruto is truly a progressive anime character.

When it comes to the main story arcs, there are two on this set and they’re not bad, they just seem to go on for a bit too long. The first one delves into the way the Hidden Leaf Village continues to be really in trouble because it’s so overworked as all of its ninjas are out on missions. There’s few solid ones left in town (though the Anbu Black Ops group always seems to be around) and the village is always on edge because of this. Even worse is that because of all the property damage that’s been going on for awhile, standards have fallen and a lot of temporary workers have arrived to help in the reconstruction. One of the workers is an older man that Naruto has befriended over time as they share some noodles together whenever they see each other. Of course, the man has been slyly sneaking information off of Naruto and he never knew about it.

Over the years, the man has been setting up numerous paper bombs all over the village and is close to executing his plan, a plan that was based on events from some thirty years earlier that went awry. Over the course of about five episodes, there’s a series of discoveries and close calls as those who are left try to figure out what’s going on and deal with the real plan behind the plan. There aren’t a lot of layers to it, and it does drag out more towards the end when the final real revelations come along, but it’s a fairly fun little story arc overall. It does push believability quite a bit with all the bombs planted around and the links to them all that it’s gone undetected all this time and that it’s only the new guys who suddenly see it with their Byakugan. But that’s really just a part of what the Naruto series is all about in a way.

The second story arc, which runs for only three episodes towards the end of the set, is a bit more personal and interesting. The story focuses around Kurenai who has suddenly stepped down from her position in squad eight which has really thrown that group into disarray. Her reasons aren’t given to them, though Sakura gets a mild clue about it as she accidentally eavesdrops about it. Her leaving revolves around a young woman named Yakumo who is attempting to get away from the Anbu Black Ops group as she’s being sought after by others because she is the last of a family who is gifted with incredible potential. Potential that Kurenai was assigned to train and deal with over a year ago but has failed horribly to do so, which is why she’s now moved on. Of course, Naruto gets caught up in it when he discovers Yakumo using her special ability and he learns the connections to Kurenai and what’s happening with her. Kurenai really doesn’t come across well here, not that I’ve cared for her from what I’ve seen so far anyway, but this doesn’t help in the slightest. It’s the kind of story where she comes across poorly and Yakumo is presented as far too gifted a young woman who could really change quite a lot in the balance of power in the world.

In Summary:
With a cross-dressing Naruto and then an episode focusing on Rock dealing with wanting to take on dojo challengers, the single episode stories are definitely weak ones. But that’s not a surprise nor is it a surprise that the multi episode stories feel like they’re dragging on too much. I really feel like I’m kicking a bad section of the show too much but after getting into the series at one of its high points, following it up with several sets of uninteresting material has been very difficult to deal with at times. It’s not a challenge to get through exactly, but it’s just uninspiring and dull. It almost has a very US cartoon style about it with how it treats everything by going stranger and weirder with the various ninja accents at times. This set is a bit weaker on that aspect this time around, but it’s still present and accounted for. Fans of these episodes will be happy, but the majority of Naruto fans are still likely avoiding these sets like the plague.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Production Art, Sketch to Screen

Review Equipment

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 49.98
Running time: 350
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Naruto