Naruto: Shippuden Box Set 04 (also w/LE) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The battle intensifies with Orochimaru and Sasuke makes his return with a vengeance.

What They Say
Team Kakashi's spying mission brings them face to face with the Leaf's most deadly enemy, Orochimaru. Naruto's rage brings forth the Nine-Tailed Fox, but at great risk to both himself and those he cares for the most. With Naruto's rampage quelled, the team continues on to Orochimaru's lair to find Sasuke, but the mysterious Sai has disappeared. Could one of their own be planning the ultimate betrayal? Contains episodes 40-53.

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 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 discernible 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:
The box set editions of Naruto: Shippuden are a mixed bag overall but there's certainly appeal to it. The set of three black thinpak cases are inside a very thin cardboard sleeve that has a more papery feel than a glossy one. This feel does work out for the artwork though as it has a dark image of Sasuke offset by the skin tones. It's a good upper body shot of Sasuke with a very confident yet aloof look to his expression that really sets the tone for the set. The logo is done sideways along the top left with part of it wrapping around to the spine. The fully classic logo is included as well, in a gray scale, along the bottom right which gives it a little more definition. The back cover uses the same gray scale overall with a lot of text as it gives us the summary and a breakdown of the discs features and extras in the middle. With as much open space as there is, the production information along the bottom is very small and the white on gray makes it a bit hard to read. With no technical grid, you have to go through the disc information bullet list to see what you get with the release.

 While I've really liked the covers to the single disc editions, I'm really liking the thinpak editions in this set. They keep to the simple feel with a lot of white space to them but the character art included here has a great illustration design to it. Done as pairings, each of the covers offers a lot in its mixture of simplicity with the overall design and the detail of the actual character artwork. The back covers are all laid out the same with a large print listing of what volume it is and a tagline for it while in between it showcases the episode numbers and titles for that particular volume. The cover of the third volume unfortunately doesn't list which extras are on it, so the only place to see them is on the back of the slipcover.

Menu:
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 Yamato and Naruto almost in an action pose next to each other 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.

Extras:
Viz runs with some of the standard extras they do across many of their series as we get a new voice actor piece that has fun with the English cast as well as a little interactive chart that lets us see the relationships of some of the characters from the Hidden Sound village. Those characters have nothing to really do with anything what's in this set. Add in some fairly standard production credits and the main focus here is the fun for the English language voice actor fans.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
It's not exactly a criticism that I'm saying it, but this set of episodes definitely has a very Dragon Ball Z flavor to it. There have been some dragged out moments so far in the first forty episodes of the series as we've seen a few fights go on a bit, or a chase run a bit too long, but that hasn't been exactly the same thing. What gives this one a different feeling is that the first four episodes are all about the face off between Naruto and Orochimaru. It's a slow build to be sure but it has a certain intensity to it that allows it to work, though I can imagine it would be infuriating to watch it on a weekly basis.
 
These four episodes really do whittle down the cast a fair bit, though we do get a few mild moments of flashbacks that help to expand it a touch for a minute or two. With the meeting at Tenchi Bridge now having gone horribly wrong as Orochimaru has seen through Yamato's disguise since he pulled out a kunai knife to defend himself, the focus has shifted to a mild verbal sparring sequence between Naruto and Orochimaru. Naruto's really very singled minded when it comes to what he wants and it's all about getting Sasuke back when he's got Orochimaru in his sights. Orochimaru can certainly egg him on easily enough just by saying that Sasuke is a much tougher opponent than he is, but what gets Naruto is that Orochimaru refers to Sasuke as “His Sasuke,” and Naruto just can't take that.
 
Outside of a few minutes spent where Kobato talks to Yamato about how he saw through his disguise, there's really only one significant moment that doesn't revolve around Naruto and Orochimaru. That is when Kobato explains how he knows that this group is definitely important, though it's a misguided statement, because he figures that Sasori wouldn't have told them anything unless he wanted to, and that means he wanted these people to go there to meet him. Of course, just because Yamato and the others are here doesn't mean that they're the ones Sasori imparted the information to, and they all aren't since we have Sai and Yamato here. Sai does has the start of his subplot in this volume but it's a miniscule moment toward the end that hasn't quite revealed all that much just yet outside of Danzo of the Foundation really being quite the ass.
 
When it comes to the overall main thrust of these episodes, I'll easily admit that it does come across as long. But it's a good long as we see Naruto being slowly taken over by the Nine Tailed Fox within him as the first three tails are out as Orochimaru goads him into attacking him. The power build up in him is definitely impressive to watch and the visual change in him as he goes over the edge, losing control of his sanity, puts him in a very creepy state. Full of reds and blacks, grinning wildly and loving the battle he enters into, the two of them cause a great deal of destruction as everyone else just watches along from a relatively safe distance. I've seen some of Naruto when it comes to his power in my haphazard way of watching this franchise, but so far this is turning out to be my favorite because it has a certain intensity and power to it, wild in fact, that lets the build up to it feel like there's a good bit of payoff. And having it happen against Orochimaru is the icing on the cake.
 
The aftermath of events from that encounter has left the area where the battle occurred in quite the state with so much devastation. Two arcs play out from this that eventually come back together in a rather fun way though so it works out pretty well. Sai has managed to slide the information he’s been trying to get to Orochimaru into his hands and it’s something that Orochimaru ends up deciding to play along with. It’s not a surprise to see that Lord Danzo and the Foundation are trying to set up an alliance of some sort with him in order to change the way the Village of Hidden Leaf works and even going to the point where they’ll sacrifice most of the village to do it. Danzo looks fairly evil through and through, though there’s always that possibility that he’s playing a higher game.
 
While it’s understandable that Orochimaru would take Sai as his go-between and pawn for all of this, you also get the sense that it’s all just part of a larger game that he’s playing with the world in general. You can feel that Orochimaru has no real intent on believing everything about what’s offered and it’s fairly obvious that both he and Danzo will be playing a dance of their own to determine who really has the upper hand as they attempt to outflank each other in the long run, should Orochimaru actually take him up on it to any serious level. There’s a certain fun in watching that angle play out as Orochimaru and Kabuto take him back to one of their lairs, especially since you know that Kabuto will get to play with him in some way as time goes on.
 
While this plays out, the fallout from Naruto’s unleashing of his fourth tail against Orochimaru hits home as he’s being healed by Sakura after being subdued by Yamato. Naruto’s completely oblivious to the reality of the situation and believes that all the damage came from Orochimaru after he blacked out and Sakura can’t do anything but lie to him about it. In particular, she lies plainly about the attack on her by the Nine Tailed Fox that has hurt her pretty significantly. There’s an undercurrent of tension here about all of it but Yamato takes the opportunity to change direction and explain what he thinks is really going on with Sai. Such things only serve to infuriate Naruto and he’s ready to go wild against him when they catch up to him. Luckily for them, Yamato has a neat little trick that allows them to track him right into Orochimaru’s lair.
 
What's most surprising about this set is that it does close up this particular part of the larger arc and it does it really well. The capture of Sai has them ferreting out information they need and Naruto is ready to roll into the underground compound again to try and rescue Sasuke. His attempts are an issue that comes up repeatedly in the series as people can’t seem to understand why he’s still trying to do this. It’s confusing to Sai in particular but he’s starting to understand the whole concept of bonds and agrees to work with them to deal with the larger issue at hand. Unfortunately for everyone else on the team, they haven’t realized yet that his true double secret mission is to assassinate Sasuke for Danzo as he carries a Bingo Book that breaks down quite a few people that have been killed and need to be killed.
 
Because of the small cast size of this particular arc, when everyone eventually gets together after Sai misfires in his attempt to take down Sasuke, or rather does things in a way that speaks to the bonds he sees between Sasuke and Naruto, it all plays out in a loud explosion. One of the best moments is when Sakura arrives on the scene and finally sees him again in full after all this time. And Sasuke has definitely grown up in those few years as he has a hard look about it, something a bit more chiseled and powerful, yet there’s still that glimmer of the angry youth in there even as he puts on a show of being calm and in complete control.
 
The other truly fascinating scene is the internal debate that Naruto has with the Nine-Tails about his decision not to bring him out. Through the flashbacks we see between Sasuke and Naruto, there’s the reinforcement that Naruto must bring Sasuke back on his own using his own power, and not that of the Nine-Tails. His life has been on that focus for some time, but Nine-Tails won’t exactly skulk off into the darkness and leave him alone. Where it takes the fascinating turn is that through the Sharingan that Sasuke possesses, he’s able to insert himself into this debate and actually push back against the Nine-Tails as the beast reveals a history with such power that hints at much more. The relationship between these two young men is made stronger by this action, especially as the Nine-Tails whispers to Sasuke that it would not be in his best interest to kill Naruto.
 
In Summary:
With this set bringing us up here past the fiftieth episode, Shippuden has covered a whole lot of ground. I rather enjoyed large parts of the previous arc with the Akatsuki but when everything here started focusing on just a few characters and even the introduction of Sai, it all came together very well. While it took a bit to get Sasuke back in, the payoff is substantial and Orochimaru manages to play things near perfectly. With the internal dialogue with Nine-Tails and the kind of double agent material involved, there's a ton to enjoy about this set. It does slow down at times with a lot of running around corridors that all look like, the majority of it really does work very well. Taking it all in like this just reinforces it and this set leaves you wanting more of this good stuff as soon as possible. This is definitely one of the good payoff and setup arcs of the franchise in general.
 
Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Voice Actor Behind The Scenes, Relationship Chart, Production Art

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: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 16 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 49.95/69.9
Running time: 350
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Naruto