Naruto Unleashed Set 1.2 (Mania.com)

By:Dani Moure
Review Date: Friday, January 05, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, December 26, 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 14 to 26!

The Review!
Naruto continues to prove why it's so popular with a set of episodes that concludes one story and starts another.

Audio:
I watched all three discs here primarily with the Japanese DTS track, while sampling the English DTS track. I noticed no dropouts or distortions on either track during regular playback. With the DTS (and 5.1) tracks being Manga's in-house upmixes, there's not a great deal to differentiate between it and the stereo track. It's a fair bit louder but the dialogue all comes across the front channels with little activity from the rear channels. Nevertheless, it's nice to have options and if you have the capability then the DTS track does probably offer the best experience.

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.

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 translated credit scroll after each episode. Unfortunately, the Manga-produced full credit scrolls from the ends of each episode are gone, meaning we don't get any translated voice actor credits or anything.

Like most Manga releases, this one comes with standard white subtitles with a black border. Thankfully this time I didn't notice any glaring spelling or grammatical errors.

Packaging:
Again, much like other Manga releases, this one features a slipcover over a standard sized keepcase. The slipcover is orange with a colour image of Naruto leaping into the air 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 black and grey background, and the case itself this time has a page inside so none of the discs are stacked but you still get all three discs in a standard width case.

The packaging loses points though for listing extras (Textless opening and ending and an "Anime to Manga transition") that aren't actually on the discs.

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:
None (despite what the packaging says).

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Manga did great things with the release of the first volume of Naruto in the Summer, and now they're hoping the success continues with the second set of episodes that concludes the storyline held over from the first volume and sets the series off on another major story-arc. In many ways, without having to worry about establishing the main characters and their personalities, this volume exceeds the first, as the conclusion to the Wave Country saga bring some real intensity to the story before things slow down and start to build as the Chunin exams begin.

It's the first six episodes on this volume that cover the end of the Wave Country story featuring the highly skilled Zabuza and Haku as they try to takedown Kakashi and his young protégés. Sasuke remains trapped in Haku's ice mirror trap that he was caught in at the end of volume one, and at the start of this volume Naruto decides to enter the fight. Naturally, he too gets trapped inside the ice mirrors and then it's down to the team pairing to work together to get out, while trying to avoid Haku's deadly attacks at the same time. While Naruto takes his rather standard "let's just do the first thing that comes into my head" approach, Sasuke tries to figure out the workings behind Haku's technique, and as the enemy starts to slow down he begins to see more and more, and awakens some new techniques of his own (including his own interpretation of the Sharingan technique).

Meanwhile, with the group divided in two, it's left to Kakashi and Sakura to protect Tazuna. Kakashi tells Sakura just to stay with Tazuna while he attempts to fend off Zabuza by himself, which proves difficult as Zabuza throws literally everything he has in techniques at his opponent. While the outcome is never truly in doubt (after all, this is a shonen show, it will run for a long time and our heroes are never really going to lose their first battle), it's nevertheless intense stuff as everyone faces off, and pulls all their tricks out of the bag to try and gain the upper hand.

The six episodes that conclude this story really do show why Naruto is popular, and also show the series doing what it does best. The characters are really given the opportunity to shine as their relationships grow and change and they evolve in reaction to what takes place around them. Naruto and Sasuke are the perfect example; generally always at loggerheads, but they have learnt a lot about teamwork and come along way in working together even in the small number of episodes we've seen so far. Watching them develop is a lot of fun as it helps you really feel a part of what is going on, willing the pair to work together to figure out how to defeat Haku.

Story-wise, things just get more and more intense, with some pretty shocking events along the way and a pretty bloodthirsty end to the saga. While Haku and Zabuza's fates are not entirely unpredictable, they are surprising in some ways because of what happens. There's plenty to see of Kakashi as well, as we get a display of considerable quality as he fights Zabuza, and it gives us a feeling of his true capabilities. The only characters that get a bit side-lined are Sakura, who's relegated to looking after Tazuna, and Tazuna himself who ends up being little more than the reason for the fight breaking out rather than being involved in it. My only complaint from a story stand-point with these episodes is the fake death, a device that's used far too often to try and play on our feelings. Outside of that, this story is the high point in the series thus far and showcases the great characters and heart the show has to offer.

With a bit of a breather in between, the next story arc begins and shows plenty of potential to surpass the Wave Country story if it plays out well. This time the focus is on the Chunin exams, something all junior ninja have to pass to become middle-rank ninjas. Kakashi naturally enters his team into the exams, but so do two other rookie trainers, and thus we're introduced to six other rookie ninja and the so called "rookie nine" are here. The six other ninja all have very different personalities, and all are introduced in a unique way. While some we don't get to see much of (but will surely see more of in the next volume), others we get plenty of time to gauge, none more so than the amusingly named Rock Lee.

He takes the focus for a couple of episodes, as he decides he wants to square off against Sasuke, much to Naruto's chagrin, since all the other rookies seem to ignore him and go after Sasuke. Rock is a hilarious character, his design making him look almost like a toy, although it's easy to see where he gets his style from when we see his master.

After several showdowns with the other rookies, and even some of the other ninja (in particular a group from the Hidden Village of Sound), the first Chunin exam begins. Unfortunately for Naruto's group, the rules are that you pass and fail as a team and this is a written test! If you don't answer any questions, you receive an automatic fail and so does your team. It gets even worse when penalties are announced for those who are caught cheating, and the exams are nearly impossible. As you'd expect, it's not all what it seems and there are certain ways around things that can help not just Naruto's group, but the other rookies too.

The volume concludes just as the second exam is about to begin, and gives us a recap episode done up as an interview with some of the students (mainly Naruto) done by Konohamaru and his band of young trainees. Because we've barely scratched the surface of this story, only reaching the start of the second exam, it's hard to see how things will lay out at this stage. But the Chunin exam definitely holds a lot of potential story wise, with a lot being set up from the animosity between the rookie nine and their natural instincts to stick together to the words of the ninja from the Village of Sound. I am really looking forward to seeing how this story plays out as we've already seen a few hints of character growth before and during the exams.

There are only two things that bother me slightly with this volume, the first being quite irritating in that there are a lot of recaps at the start of the first few episodes of this volume, with one running several minutes long. I actually welcome a bit of recap to remind me where we're at but when the recaps get too long they start to get in the way, and I couldn't help but feel a bit short-changed that several minutes of potentially new footage was being squandered. My other problem with the show is really just a small nit-pick, in that sometimes the show falls into the typical trappings of shonen shows of a similar nature, like when we're quite beaten over the head with the relationship between Zabuza and Haku, even if there's barely anything new that other shows haven't done a hundred times over. These are really minor issues in the grand scheme of things though, and barely detract from the fun that is to be had.

In Summary:
With this volume, Naruto really hits its stride with some great characterisation and fun, exciting and involving stories. Though the series is long and represents a huge commitment if it ends up released in its entirety, Manga certainly make it enticing with great value collections. Some people will hate it just because it's an action show, but for anyone with an open mind or, particularly, those that love this sort of show, you should go out and buy it right now. There's some great stuff here and you're guaranteed 13 very entertaining episodes.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Philips DVP 5100 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, Pioneer HTP-GS1 5.1 Surround Sound System.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: N/A
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