The scope of the Akatsuki starts to come into the picture which causes Tsunade to send reinforcements to the Village of Sand.
What They Say
Gaara of the Sand has been kidnapped, and Team Kakashi are on their way! Sakura uses her skills as a medic ninja to treat the wounded Kankuro, impressing everyone with her sure and steady hands. Granny Chiyo of the Sand decides to accompany Team Kakashi, but before they can get to Gaara and the Akatsuki lair, the team is confronted by a familiar enemy - Itachi Uchiha.
Contains episodes 9-13.
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.
Originally airing in 2007, 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 four episodes that are on this disc, 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.
Compared to the singles release for the first series, these are really going to be quite striking if they keep up with it. The cover artwork features a black and white piece of Kakashi looking intense in an action pose as he moves along with his usually covered eye uncovered. The black and white nature of it really does change the appearance of it all in comparison to the previous kind of singles which were mostly shots from the show with vibrant colors. There’s a lot of color here, with a red original logo on the right side and the US logo along the top brings in reds, oranges, blues and even some pink. It’s an eye-catching and busy cover that stands out because of the disparity. The back cover is kept to white with some gray background circles to give it a bit more accent. A few shots from the show are included that are decent and the summary covers a fair amount of ground with what’s going on here. The episodes are listed clearly by name and number while the rest is given over to production credits. As is usual, Viz wants nothing to do with a technical grid that would make it easy to break down what’s here, so you have to find the basic stats within the various areas of text. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reverse side cover.
The menu for this release is pretty decent and stands out more than most other companies at this point in time. There’s a black cloud like border around the screen with a static image of a couple of the Akatsuki while the background has animation from the film playing through it as various weapons fly by. It’s really nicely creative to fit in with the show overall and it does highlight some care and creativity. The music is spot on for something uplifting and energetic. Menu navigation is straightforward with a strip along the bottom and episode navigation isn’t bad as you can access the parts of each episode from one submenu. Everything loads quickly but the disc doesn’t read our players’ language presets as it defaults to English with no subtitles.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Naruto: Shippuden ups the episode count slightly with this volume by bringing us to five instead of the usual four and that’s all so that we get to see the first bit of the fight between the Leaf shinobi and the couple of Akatsuki that have come out to play now that their hideout has been found. It does feel like we get a bit more meat to the release this way and with the episode count of this series in general, I wish each volume was made up of five episodes so that it’d move along just a touch faster. That said, this volume covers a decent bit of ground with events and personalities that involved and gives the viewer some good fun along the way as well.
The five episodes cover primarily three different storylines that are weaving throughout each other. The driving arc of all of this is the Akatsuki and what they’re up to. So much of the first eight episodes revolved around what Deidara and Sasori were doing in the Village of Sand that it’s caused quite a lot of problems for just about everyone. But with their prize in hand, they’re now back at their secret hideout which is actually quite fascinating. Buried underground, it contains a massive statue with two hands outstretched upon which various other members of the group, totaling nine apparently, all stand and discuss their plans and what needs to be done since they don’t have Orochimaru among their number anymore. That their plan seems to deal with capturing those who posses various Tailed Demons gives a lot of ideas as to how they could control all the lands if they’re able to cultivate those powers, and apparently Gaara is their first step as his inner beast is about to be tamed.
The second main arc revolves around the fallout from the attack on the Village of Sand with Kankuro now out of commission and poisoned heavily by Sasori where he’s about to die. The interesting angle is that the woman brought in, along with her younger brother, is Gaara’s grandmother, an elderly woman named Chiyo. She’s quite adept at dealing with poisons though she’s been retired for some time but even she’s unable to figure out a real cure. The only hope is someone like Tsunade, but Chiyo lives in the past and hates the way the Village of Sand is cooperating with other villages and that they’re not bringing themselves up by their own bootstraps. When Naruto and the others do arrive, she practically lunges to killed Kakashi thinking that he’s someone else from the Village of Leaf she did battle with ages ago. There’s a lot of really good history here that is far more fascinating than anything else and the tension that’s brought because of it feels great. It makes you wish this was a bigger part of the storyline.
Where a lot of things lead to is going after the Akatsuki because of what they’re intending to do as well as retrieving Gaara. Tsunade isn’t quite up to speed on what’s happening but she knows bad things are coming so she’s sent off Guy and his team to support Kakashi and his group, which will help a lot as they all make their way towards the newly discovered hideout. As is the case with any major arc within the Naruto franchise, there’s a lot of build up towards it, but the build up here is extra special as the Akatsuki member sent out to handle Kakashi and his team is none other than Sasuke’s older brother Itachi. This goes a long way towards explaining some of his past and the reasons behind Sasuke’s quest for power so he can deal with his brother with what has happened.
Itachi’s apparent prominence in this arc is a very good thing as it is one of the key defining elements of the series. With what he did in the past, for reasons still yet unclear as of these episodes, pushed Sasuke to become who he is. And after several years of running around in the background and having his story told only from Sasuke’s point of view as a child, Itachi is now able to be front and center and have an impact. My only disappointment with the character is that I expected him to be a bit older looking – not too much – but enough so that he had a bit more of an imposing look about him. The designs sometimes reflect this but more often than not he looks younger than expected and less weary as well.
Bringing us up through episode thirteen, Naruto: Shippuden is moving right along with its story. After all the filler and banality that was the last half dozen sets or so before this in the previous series, Shippuden is a lot of fun and a huge breath of fresh air. The characters are growing and changing, they are working together in a better way and they are actively dealing with the big story arcs of the original series with new information coming out and other characters like Itachi taking a more central role in events. The promise of Shippuden still has a ways to go in giving us the big epic moments that will define the characters, but what we have so far is firmly stepping forward on that road and saying that it’s all here and ready to be told.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
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.