While we get some of the larger context included here, by and large this volume is all about the ninja versus ninja action.
What They Say
Team Guy and Team Kakashi finally reach the Akatsuki hideout, only to encounter a tricky five-seal barrier that triggers an even stranger trap. While Team Guy faces some pretty tough opponents - themselves! - Kakashi and Naruto must take off after Deidara who has absconded with Gaara.
Sakura and Granny Chiyo are left behind to confront Sasori of the Red Sand. Granny Chiyo may be the only one with the ability to see through his many complex traps and skilled puppetry, but even one scratch from his poisoned weapons could mean instant death!
Contains episodes 18-21:
Charge Tactic! Button Hook Entry!!
Traps Activate! Team Guy's Enemy
Hiruko VS. Two Kunoichi!
Sasori's Real Face
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.
Similar to previous installments, the cover artwork features a black and white piece of character art featuring Sakura posing all serious as she’s getting ready to use her new powerful fist. 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)
As Shippuden moves right along, another four episodes brings us a fair amount of action this time around. There’s been a slow growth to this series since it kicked off as it’s started laying down the pieces of the larger game involving the Akatsuki by utilizing its connection to Orochimaru to make it compelling, but it has mostly been fairly slow overall. There have been good moments, especially in seeing some of the characters a few years older now and having grown in different ways, but the opening salvo by the Akatsuki with Gaara has been painfully slow at times.
This volume doesn’t really change that, but it does provide the action needed to make it start feeling like Naruto and the gang are actively doing something to get him back rather than just chase across the countryside for him. With the two groups now together and having discovered where the Akatsuki are hiding out, it’s time for them to just rumble in and rescue Gaara. There’s always a hitch in the plan though and this one is that there’s a five seal barrier around the underground location. Amazingly, they actually have to explain what a five seal barrier is before they send off four members to find the other four seals so they can be removed at the same time, thereby allowing Sakura to go nuts on the rock wall and break on through to the other side.
That sets the stage for two very different fights to occur. While four of the group head off to deal with the seals, that leaves Sakura, Naruto, Kakashi and Chiyo to deal with the Akatsuki. The rest find themselves dealing with mirror images of themselves that appear after they tear off the seals and there’s nobody tougher to beat than yourself. And yet you wonder if you’ve seen this act before, but if not, you wonder why you haven’t seen it occur considering how many episodes the first series ran. The mirror image fights aren’t all that engaging so far because it’s nothing but pure stalemate as move for move is matched, though the mirror images do seem to be wearing down the real things a bit. There isn’t any real threat here though because of that standstill and you find yourself just waiting for the inevitable realization to hit on how to defeat them.
The real fun material comes with those who have remained behind and yet even that gets splintered off in half as well. When they bust through, Chiyo and Sakura find themselves having to deal with Sasori while Kakashi and Naruto go off chasing the other one that has taken Gaara’s limp and seemingly dead body in an effort to toy with the new Junchiriki that has wandered into their midst. Thankfully, the bulk of the time is spent with Chiyo and Sakura as they deal with Sasori as Sasori actually has a fairly interesting past that comes out here as Chiyo tries to settle things with her grandson. Only that when she does start down this path, she learns things about her grandson that trouble her greatly in regards to two of the previous Kazekage’s who ended up dead or missing years ago. It’s easy to see her heart getting even heavier in this and she’s become quite the good character to watch as she wants to set things right and realizes she needs the help of the Leaf Village shinobi.
Naruto: Shippuden keeps things to the action side here and that’s pretty welcome at this point, though some of it does not work well. There are slow moments when it comes to the battle with Sasori, but they give it a really valid reason that works. And in reality, the entire Sasori arc is what’s holding my attention right now because it’s rife with possibilities and potential. There’s fun to be had here overall, but I’m most annoyed that Naruto is acting like his old self even if he has reason to act like that. It doesn’t help the character at all and really just shows that even though he’s older, and seemed like he changed and grew some, he really didn’t. I’m still enjoying the Shippuden material overall, but it needs to hit its next serious hook soon before interest starts to falter.
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.