Naruto Unleashed Set 2.2 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, April 10, 2008
Release Date: Monday, September 03, 2007
What They Say
Naruto Uzumaki is a lonesome young boy from the Hidden Leaf Village, a town with several young ninja-in-training who aspires to reach the village's one-of-a-kind highest ninja rank, the Hokage.
Featuring episodes 27 to 39!
The chuunin exams continue for Naruto and friends, but the story starts to slow down a little as its fights galore.
I watched all three discs here primarily with the English DTS track, while sampling the Japanese 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.
The video is presented full-screen and looks pretty good for the most part. Colours are vibrant and well reproduced, but there is quite a lot of banding and colour bleeding going on, and during high motion scenes things tend to become quite blocky. This is more noticeable on a bigger screen, but it is a bit unfortunate.
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, there are no credit scrolls in English at all, 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. Unfortunately, like the last volume, this one is plagued with dubtitles. Since this release, Manga have stopped putting dubtitles on their new releases and future volumes of Naruto will have proper subtitles, but it's annoying for this disc anyway.
No packaging was included as this was a check disc.
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.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This latest release of Naruto takes us deeper into the chuunin exams, and brings us all the way up to episode 52. Unfortunately it's this volume that really starts falling into the trappings that a lot of the Shonen Jump style anime series do. With such a long-running manga behind it, to prolong the series the authors almost always fall back on some sort of tournament setup. Even if it's not fighting, it's something similar that presents a series of trials or challenges that can keep the series going. As I said in my review of the last volume, the chuunin exam is that story-padder at this stage of Naruto.
Of course, it doesn't have to be a bad thing, and thus far, Naruto's take is pretty interesting, with the series of fights giving the main characters some serious thoughts to chew on. Sasuke's fight concludes in the first episode of the volume, and leaves him out of action literally for its remainder (he has a scant few appearances in the rest of the episodes, unfortunately), but Sakura gets paired with Ino and that fight provides a lot of entertainment and a great deal of backstory detailing their friendship. We find out why they are friends, the respect the pair have for each other, and why Sakura feels that it's time for her to step out of Ino's shadow.
Naturally, Naruto gets a piece of the action as well, and in this round he is forced to face Kiba. Having his dog, Akamaru, at his side seems to give Kiba an advantage, but there's so much at stake and Naruto is never one to give in lightly. He is forced to pull every possible trick out of his hat to succeed, and succeed he does, after dealing a devastating blow with a new finishing move. But the fight was hardly a stroll in the park, and the next key face-off sees Hinata squaring up to one of the tournament's fiercest competitors; Neji. Their battle is brutal, but a lot about Hinata's feelings for Naruto are revealed, and there are glimpses of how much she's grown, despite her eventual defeat.
The final key battle of this round of the exams sees Rock Lee face Gaara in one of the most hard-fought contests of them all. Lee's tenacity and audaciousness shine through, but Gaara's strength and skill prove too much in the end, with potentially earth-shattering consequences for Lee. And with this round complete, we get to find out how the rest of the chuunin exam will take shape.
With this volume being all about the fights, you'd think there's not too much time for character development. Despite the fighting though, some of the stories run quite deep with some important ramifications for the characters. Sakura's fight with Ino sees her step out of the shadow of her team-mates, and although it ends in a draw, through the flashbacks to her past we see how hard it's been for Sakura to blossom and how much her relationship with Ino does actually mean to her. Likewise there's plenty of growth for Hinata, who literally in the space of her fight, after seeing Naruto's, goes from being so quiet and reserved to persevering right until the end and she has nothing left to give. I was quite floored by her performance here, and thought it was a great tribute to her character.
Naruto obviously gets some time to shine as well, showing his own never say die attitude as he takes on Kiba, who is a formidable opponent. Even when everything is against him he's able to keep coming back no matter what. Rock Lee's story ends in a bit of sadness, but his guile shines through and again, with a great use of some flashbacks, we see what makes him tick and the fights mean so much more as a result.
But the main problem with this part of Naruto is the same thing that plagues several other, similar series that came before it; many of the fights involving the least important supporting characters just aren't particularly interesting. Now granted, they get the least screen time, often less than half an episode, while the main cast generally get an episode or even two dedicated to their piece of action. But sometimes they're over so quickly that you wonder what the point of even showing it was. A perfect example here is Shikamaru taking on Kin. Although it's fairly interesting, it's a fight that's over way too soon with a very obvious outcome, not to mention there's so much needless exposition on how people win that it becomes a bit monotonous.
If you're used to this kind of thing in anime (and if you're a fan of the likes of Dragon Ball or Yu Yu Hakusho, you certainly will be) then it probably won't bother you as you know it comes with the territory. On the other hand, if you don't watch many shows like this and are in it for a whole heap of character development, you might find it quite off-putting. It's definitely not as bad in Naruto as other shows I've seen that drag out even the pointless fights over multiple episodes, but it's probably the series' weakest point nonetheless.
Despite some fluff fights in this volume, the four major ones that span a couple of episodes work really well and delve into the characters more than a lot of other series do. Hinata, Sakura, Naruto and Rock Lee get plenty of time to grow and develop, even if only one of them remains a part of the chuunin exam when it all comes to a head. If you can put up with a few more tedious moments, there's plenty to like here and even 52 episodes in, Naruto is still going strong. It's annoying that this volume is still plagued by dubtitles, but thankfully this is the last we have to worry about it for. At the cheap price for the content, I still give the show my recommendation.
Japanese Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Language (2.0; 5.1; DTS),English Subtitles
Samsung LE40M86 1080p HDTV, Philips DVP 5980 region free DVD player upscaling to 1080p via HDMI, Pioneer HTP-GS1 5.1 Surround Sound System.
Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: C+
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: Manga UK
Running time: 325
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2