Naruto Unleashed Set 1.1 (Mania.com)

By:Dani Moure
Review Date: Friday, September 01, 2006
Release Date: Monday, August 21, 2006



What They Say
Uzumaki Naruto is a lonesome young boy from the Hidden Leaf Village, a town with several young ninjas-in-training who aspire to reach the village's one-of-a-kind highest ninja rank, the Hokage. Naruto is treated as an outcast by the rest of the village ever since a deadly fox-demon was sealed inside him when he was a baby. He now has a penchant for mischief but all Naruto really wants is some attention and respect. Accompanied by his secret crush Sakura, his skilled rival Sasuke, and his mentor Kakashi, Naruto will have to overcome many challenges as he comes of age and pursues his dream of becoming the Hokage.

The Naruto anime is adapted from the extremely popular Naruto manga series, created by Masashi Kishimoto, which has sold in excess of 59 million copies in its native Japan.

Featuring episodes 1 to 13!

The Review!
The biggest phenomenon in anime since Pokemon comes to the UK with a blast.

Audio:
I watched the first two discs with the Japanese stereo track, and the last disc with the English 5.1 track. I noticed no dropouts or distortions on either track during regular playback. I listened to the stereo track for the Japanese as this is the original version, with the 5.1 and DTS tracks being Manga's own up-mixes from the stereo track. The English tracks are much the same, and the only real difference with the 5.1 track seemed to be the addition of a bit of volume and base.

The dub, produced for TV but not really toned down a great deal (thus far) is actually thoroughly enjoyable. Some of the performances are really good, with the voice actors for the main kids all coming across very well. The actor that plays Kakashi does sound a little camp at times, especially compared to the nonchalant sound of the Japanese actor, but overall I enjoyed both tracks very much.

Video:
The video is presented full-screen and looks really nice. Colours are vibrant and well reproduced, and I didn't notice any aliasing or other artifacting. Ghosting was also unnoticeable during playback on my television.

For this release the openings and endings are presented in their original, untouched Japanese kanji form. It's nice to get this for a TV show aimed at a young audience, but even better is there is a fully translated credit scroll after each episode (there are actually two, one with basic credits and then one with full credits that seem to be produced by Manga).

Like most Manga releases, this one comes with standard white subtitles with a black border. For the most part they're very good, although there are a few inconsistencies at times between episodes in how they translate certain terms. Also, a rather ridiculous error is the constant mis-spelling of the word sensei as "Sensi" over several episodes. Given the term is well known in this country even though it is foreign, I find it hard to believe this slipped through the cracks.

Packaging:
Again, much like other Manga releases, this one features a slipcover over a standard sized keepcase. The slipcover is black with a colour image of Naruto on the left, and an embossed outline of him on the right along with the show's logo and some promotional text. The back cover is your standard screenshot, summary and technical info mix, presented quite clearly. The keepcase itself also features Naruto on the cover with a more colourful background, and the case itself is a stacked kind, in that all three discs stack one on top of the other (but don't actually touch). This is actually a fantastic idea because it really helps save space for such a long show.

Also in the case is a storyboard booklet that is full colour and features plot summaries of all 13 episodes as well as a few pages of storyboards. It would have been nice to get a bit more of them, but this is still nice.

Menu:
The menus are really well done and fit the style of the show perfectly. The main menu loops through the characters as they move across the screen before coming up in a group shot, while the selections are static at the bottom of the screen and the opening theme of the edited version plays over the menu. Sub-menus are all in a similar style, some with a bit of movement and music and others static, but they're all in the same theme and easy to access. I was really impressed with the menus here, especially given a couple of recent Manga series haven't been the best.

Extras:
This set is pretty bare on extras, with only a textless opening and ending, and one of the most strange "Manga to anime" comparison features I've seen, mostly because it doesn't actually feature manga shots but just seems to go to still backgrounds. It's a nice inclusion, even if I don't have any clue what the point of it is.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Really, what anime fan hasn't heard of Naruto? It's the biggest phenomenon in anime this century by a long way, and is the first series since Pokemon to gain such heavy mainstream support. Its growth started underground and, by the time it was licensed by Viz Media in the US, it had already become a license to print money and since airing on TV there and elsewhere it has been a worldwide smash, and its easy to see why. The mainstream appeal of the series makes it extremely accessible, and it's something that will appeal to the younger audience as well as the older, because it has a bit of backbone and depth that some series of a similar pedigree don't have.

Here in the UK there was always a question of what would happen to the series and if it'd be licensed due to costs and all the rest, but sure enough here it is, in its original, uncut form with both the uncut dub and the original Japanese soundtrack. It also coincides nicely with the TV airing on Jetix that started just in time for the school holidays, and it will surely be lapped up by fans who have enjoyed the airing but would like to see the original form of what has become a bit of a hack job (understandably though, because the channel is aimed at a younger audience).

The premise of Naruto is quite simple, but that's why it's a series that could effectively go on forever with an open-ended quest until the time comes when the original author or animators decide to draw it to a close. The story focuses on a young boy called Uzumaki Naruto. He's renowned throughout his village as a complete rebel with few friends, and he is sometimes picked on by the other children (not that he stands for any of it, mind you). The adults of the village all know about Naruto's past though; he was once a legendary nine-tailed fox but was sealed up by the Hokage (the village leader and uber-ninja) several years ago in the body of a young boy, something that is forbidden to be spoke about within the village.

Despite being a rebel in part because he has no family or anything, Naruto is quite ambitious and one day wants to become the ultimate ninja " the Hokage " himself. He's got quite a way to go though, since at school while he has potential he rarely makes use of it the right way, instead opting to get into trouble with his teacher Iruka. Naruto and Iruka have an interesting relationship, with Iruka acting almost as an older brother/father type role, someone who Naruto can rely on even if he doesn't realise it. The first episode shows this plain as day when a ninja steals some sacred scrolls from the village that Naruto had been looking at, and forces a showdown with both Naruto and Iruka, with the latter putting his life on the line to protect the young one.

After the first episode, the episodes presented in this box set can be pretty much split into two arcs. The next four episodes or so deal with the rest of the main cast introductions as Naruto and his classmates embark on the ninja training entrance exam. Naruto is paired in a group of three with a girl called Sakura, who he's long had a crush on but isn't to keen on him, and Sasuke, another rebellious and brooding type of character and also the unwanting object of Sakura's affection. Their trainer for the exam is a somewhat legendary ninja called Kakashi, who has never once passed a student. He tries to get the group of kids to work together in order to pass their exams, which is the inevitable outcome given that the series goes on for some time, but it's by no means easy for the cast.

With the exams out the way, we follow the kids on their biggest mission so far, as they are asked to protect a man who is building a bridge in a nearby village, but what begins as a straightforward guarding mission soon turns a lot more sinister when the group are attacked by a renowned ninja from the village of the hidden mist. This leads to a lengthy battle that sees both Kakashi and the ninja, Zabuza, injured, but it's not too long after some downtime in which Naruto and crew get to know the locals and embark on more training that they face off against Zabuza again and feel the wrath of the man behind him.

Sounds like your typical action series aimed at younger boys, right? Well, that's exactly what it is but what makes Naruto stand out amongst the crowd is the style and execution. It's a very slick production, which is noticeable in most aspects of series from the animation (which is good at this stage) to the character designs, right through to the music and general look and feel. Likewise, while the story isn't too original in the grand scheme of things, it is executed very well and author Masashi Kishimoto knows exactly how to play to its strengths, mixing both comedy and drama extremely well.

As with a lot of shows, the characters are what stand out in Naruto and really make it shine above a lot of similar series. Although he can be a brat at times, Naruto is an excellent lead who is easy to relate to and get behind, given that we know his past and the troubles he's had growing up, and we are always shown enough honourable intentions in him to know that he's a good guy at heart. Sasuke is a typical rival, but instead of them always being at odds no matter what, often the pair are forced to work together and do so extremely well, as we see in the first fight with Zabuza. The banter between the two will always be funny because of their competitiveness, but it's good to see the group come together when they need to.

Sakura is an interesting character to throw into the mix, but aside from just helping keep the genders a bit more balanced she is shown at times to be more intelligent and useful than both the boys, like during the tree training, which is a good thing to see. Kakashi completes the core cast that populates most of the episodes, and is a hilarious character in that sometimes he doesn't seem all that bothered about things and yet is so masterful of his craft. He also knows exactly how to play up to all the kids to get the best out of them and his presence in the series is much needed, even just for the experience he brings to the table. The supporting cast like Iruka and the Hokage all work really well especially given their interactions with Naruto, and the story arc-specific characters introduced through these episodes work really well.

There's some great action throughout these first thirteen episodes, but naturally given the series is so long and still ongoing (at over 200 episodes in Japan now) we are just scratching the surface here, and one of my few complaints I could possibly levy at this set is that it's over just as it's really getting started and the story is kicking in. Nevertheless, it's a great ride so far and I really enjoyed just kicking back and watching this set. You might not have to think too hard for the most part but the series is really engaging and entertaining all the way.

In Summary:
Like most shows of a similar nature, Naruto is something you will most likely either love or hate, and it shouldn't take you more than a few episodes to figure out which side you'll fall in to. The series is set up to continue for a long time and sure enough that's exactly what has happened, and though the length may be hard to get past for some people, it's difficult to find fault with the release as it stands, as you couldn't ask for much more than a series of boxsets to give us chunks of the show at a time. If you hate this sort of boys' action show then Naruto probably isn't going to change your opinion, even if it is one of the best examples around, but if you do like it or aren't sure, you'd do well to pick up this box set which represents very good value and then you can see what you're missing out on. I'm a bit partial to a good series like this every now and then, so I give Naruto a heartfelt recommendation.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Subtitles,Textless Opening and Ending,Naruto " From Manga to Anime,Storyboard Booklet

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: C+
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: Manga UK
MSRP: £24.99
Running time: 325
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Naruto