Naruto Unleashed Set 3:1 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, April 21, 2008
Release Date: Monday, April 07, 2008
What They Say
Naruto is the story of Uzumaki Naruto, 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.
There's a bit of downtime as some of the group try and figure each other out, before the second round of the chuunin exams begin.
I watched all three discs here primarily with the English stereo track, while sampling the Japanese track. With this volume starting a new wave of Naruto releases from Manga, the 5.1 and DTS upmixes are dropped and it's only the stereo tracks provided from here onwards. I noticed no dropouts or distortions on either track during regular playback, and both tracks are fairly standard fair.
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, and is an improvement on the last volume. Colours are vibrant and well reproduced, but there is still a fair bit 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's not as bad as it was at times in the last set.
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, and it pleases me to say that they're a literal translation of the Japanese track.
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)
As a long series like Naruto goes on (and on, and on...), it becomes harder and harder to review, especially when it slips into bouts of repetitiveness to ensure it keeps going, because it becomes more difficult to find new things to say. This latest set from Manga begins their next batch of 52 episodes, taking us up through episode 65. In truth, the first couple of discs in this set represent the major downtime between the rounds of the chuunin exams, and although some of the episodes have their fun moments, it's not hard to see why some people might be quite bored by it all and waiting for the action to happen.
While I'd definitely advocate using this downtime for some solid character development and quieter moments, that's not what these are really used for here and that comes as something of a disappointment. To start with, Naruto meets a new character he calls the "pervy mountain sage", who has an interesting ability to summon toads and also happens to have some vested interest in Naruto himself. Taking him under his wing the man, who is actually Master Jiraiya, eventually trains with him enough to teach Naruto how to tap into the hidden chakra inside of him - that of the nine-tailed fox demon.
This special chakra eventually gives Naruto the ability to summon the Chief Toad (seriously), who soon recognises Naruto's potential and agrees to help him. Meanwhile, the other entrants in the chuunin exams go about some of their business. Gaara gets away from his group, who are supposed to be watching over him, long enough to kill Dosu and eliminate him from the tournament before it begins, and he tries to follow his own agenda. Sakura and Ino visit Sasuke and Rock Lee in hospital, but Sasuke's actually off training with Kakashi.
Eventually, the second round of the chuunin exams begins, though Sasuke is notable by his absence. Naruto opens the fighting by facing Neji. The battle is quite long and drawn out, as you'd expect, with plenty of action and attempts by both to outwit each other. Although Neji is perhaps more powerful, Naruto's grit and determination win out in the end. With Sasuke still absent, his match is unusually shuffled to later in the line up after Lord Kazekage of the Wind Village requests it of the Hokage. Shino ends up getting through to the next round by default when Kankuro withdraws, leaving Temari to face Shikamaru. This match is quite interesting with all the back and forth, and despite some quite tedious exposition over how Shikamaru "wins", Temari ends up ultimately going through. Only one match remains, and though he leaves it late, Sasuke arrives in style to face off against Gaara.
Of all the fights in this round, the Naruto vs Neji round has some really good backstory for Neji that helps understand exactly what he's about, even down to his treatment of Hinata in the last round. The one withdrawal is a bit odd as it removes a fight and is a bit of a cop-out in terms of the competition, though the Temari-Shikamaru round is one of the better fights involving the supporting players. There's a nice but of history for Shikamaru, and the battle itself plays out quite well, almost like a chess game. Unfortunately the ultimate ending to this fight is also a cop-out with Shikamaru giving up, and there's some needless in-depth exposition on exactly the things he did during the fight.
With the volume ending as Sasuke and Gaara are about to square-off, it's a nasty cliffhanger as it's the most eagerly anticipated fight and promises a lot, especially with Sasuke having been mostly out of action for the best part of the last two sets of the series. His entrance was a bit dragged out, as it was never really in question whether he'd turn up, but Lord Kazekage's interest, as well as the repercussions of this one fight's outcome make it really interesting. Given what we've seen from Gaara in this volume, in terms of his brute killings, it looks like Sasuke's up for a challenge.
Since the fights that do take place are quite good, even with a bit of character building thrown in, it's a shame that more advantage wasn't taken of all the downtime leading up to the start of this round. There are a few good teases; everything involving a mere mention of Orochimaru, the inter-village politics, the backstories for Gaara and a few other characters, and the showdowns in the hospital, but they're quite interspersed in amongst several quite throwaway moments that are dragging out things that could be done with far, far quicker. Naruto's whole training in this volume drags on a bit too long, even if it is meant to symbolise a decent journey, and that is the biggest disappointment of this volume.
At times Naruto breaks from its genre's mould to provide some great character development, even getting the likes of Gaara, Shikamaru and the other members of the supporting cast in on the act, but for large parts in this set it is pretty standard fare. At times, before the second round of the chuunin exams begins, it can become monotonous and it's just a good thing we get a large number of episodes at once, as that helps cover up the cracks that can be largely throwaway episodes. Of course this is to be expected, the show is so long and still ongoing, but it can still be frustrating. Despite its problems though, I still get quite a kick out of watching this show and at its most entertaining, it can be very, very good. For the price, if you're a fan of the genre, you can't really go wrong.
Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (2.0),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: B-
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