Naruto the Movie 2: Legend of the Stone of Gelel (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, August 15, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ancient powers surface that threaten the stability of the world as Naruto discovers while trying to rescue… a ferret?

What They Say
Naruto, Shikamaru and Sakura are in the middle of returning a lost ferret to its owner - the easiest mission ever. Or so they think! When a young knight, Temujin, attacks them out of nowhere, they are drawn into a fierce struggle over a treasure harboring legendary power - the Stone of Gelel.

Temujin's master wants to use the stone's power to create a utopia, while the last of the clan who once controlled the stone wants to keep it sealed away forever. Naruto and the others, along with help from Gaara and Kankuro, must protect the stone from those who want to misuse its power. When the dream of utopia becomes a nightmare, it'll take a ninja to set things right!

The Review!
Audio:
Viz Media has a pretty good selection of audio tracks on here though it’s overkill in some ways considering technology. Each of the main languages is done in two tracks, a stereo mix encoded at 192kbps and a 5.1 mix encoded at 384kbps. We listened primarily to the 5.1 mix in Japanese and it comes across quite well, especially in the amount of bass that you’ll find in the big action sequences. This is the kind of mix that carries through on what you wish the TV series would sound like more when it comes to these scenes. There’s a fair bit of good directionality throughout the feature as well when it comes to dialogue and ambient sound effects as well which gives it a very strong full feel in general. It’s certainly a leap over what the TV series offers and it serves as good movie material in and of itself.

Video:
Originally in theaters back in 2005, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The TV series in general manages to impress me pretty well considering how long it’s going on, but they manage to up it rather nicely here with this theatrical feature. The film doesn’t really divert from the kinds of backgrounds and character designs we’re familiar with, though new things are certainly introduced, and it all has a much stronger sense of fluidity and vibrancy to it. You can sense that they took the budget and really put it into the show instead of just utilizing the same things they do with the TV series itself. The characters flow beautifully across the screen during the big moments and even during the quieter ones and it’s captured well here. Beyond a bit of noise once in awhile and the occasional gradient, it’s a very slick looking piece that’s very appealing which will make Naruto fans very happy.

Packaging:
If there’s an aspect to the release that I didn’t care for, it’s the packaging. This double disc set is done up in a heavy chipboard book format and it’s big and unwieldy, taking up far too much space for what it is. The front cover artwork is pretty decent though as it has an image of Temujin and Naruto going at it while other characters are arrayed around them along with some of the darker background piece from the feature. The logo doesn’t take up too much space which is a surprise considering how much wording there is to all of it. It’s a somewhat dark movie overall and the cover art fits with it, but it’s not one that really stands out and grabs you either. The back cover is a touch lighter in color but not by much as it runs through the basics. We get a decent summary of the premise which doesn’t reveal too awful much as well as a good collage of shots from the show with some brighter animation. The discs features and technical specs are kind of rough, especially in that we don’t get a good breakdown of the extras beyond a total runtime for it. It’s also completely unclear that it’s a bilingual release as they only talk about the English 5.1 mix which isn’t a good move.

Inside the case, which does thankfully retain a bit of closure though I suspect it won’t last past repeated openings, is the pair of discs and  a surprisingly strong mini book. The book starts off with something of an “animanga” retelling of parts of the story in a somewhat humorous way. From there it provides a brief look at the new characters introduced in the film and some words from the Japanese voice actors for a few of them. There’s a small section of really fun comments from the creative staff as well as the manga creator and then a fun and engaging roundtable section among several of the voice actors. Rounding all of it out are the song lyrics, the full breakdown of the credits for the film and the chapter stops for the feature itself and a listing of the extras on the second disc.

Menu:
The menus for this movie are pretty decent though they continue to have bits of transitional animations to them like many Viz menus do, which is somewhat annoying. The main layout is a nicely framed piece that uses some of the classic designs used within the new material of the movie. Inside of that is a widescreen portion of the feature playing various clips with big action moments. It’s quite nice that the menus were done in widescreen along with the feature, something that a lot of studios tend not to do. Navigation along the bottom is straightforward and the submenus load relatively quickly all things considered. The downside is that making selections in the menus simply don’t seem to work most of the time. In language selection, none of our settings for language or subtitles actually carried over into the show playing from the main menu. This was also true from the few extras offered in this volume as the commentary track did not stay selected nor did the pop-up subtitle track when selected.

Extras:
The main feature disc only contains a pair of extras but they’re pretty good ones aimed at the English language fans or the casual Naruto fan. The first is a feature length commentary track by the ADR director and the script writer as well as a few other staff members as they talk about their experiences on working with the feature and the voice actors. Depending on your familiarity with the cast and/or the director, you’ll get more out of it than some others will, but they do a pretty decent job in covering the basics and getting their points across. On the downside, the audio mix for it felt pretty low for most of it, especially in comparison to the main feature, and we had to raise our volume level significantly.

A potentially really good feature included is the pop-up subtitle track with all kinds of trivia about the show. This makes it easy for new and casual fans to jump on and catch up on things easily, which should be doable with this film since it was designed to not be aimed at the hardcore audience. Unfortunately, the problems with it are two-fold. The first is that you can’t have it playing with the actual subtitle track at the same time, so if you want to play the feature in Japanese and have the pop-ups working, you don’t get to understand what’s actually going on in the show. You either get the full subtitle track or the pop-up track, not a combination of the two. The second issue is that while the pop-ups are visually designed very well, they’re not used too terribly often. Unless I blinked and missed it, they went on twice within the first ten minutes and they missed a ton of opportunities to provide basic info or amusing factoids. I can imagine some die-hard Naruto fans being able to really provide fascinating trivia bits about this movie if they were given the chance to write the track.

The second disc is where the bulk of the non-direct feature related extras are located. The menu for this is kind of basic with just a static shot from one of the finale moments of the feature which has a straightforward text listing of the selections without even any music or looping. The first extra is a fifteen minute original piece in which they talk about the feature itself with the various voice actors and production staff of the English version. Viz has generally done a good job with these over the years and this one is no exception as it plays out much like a lot of the good Japanese ones when the actors talk about the feature and their roles. Another lengthy feature, clocking in at twenty-two minutes, is the “Write and Adapt Like a Ninja” in which many of the same people discuss the challenges of taking a Japanese film and bringing it into English. A lot of this will be familiar to hardcore fans, but there’s always some good nuggets in there depending on the person talking and how they view things. This is also another good feature for those that are newer to the entire process as they get some good exposure to what’s really involved.

The “Words from Japan” section is pretty amusing even if it does cover a lot of the same basics. This one is an eight minute video interview piece with the director and the character designer as they sit down over a couple of beers. There are many casual conversations like this done over the years for many series, but  it’s kind of amusing to see it done for what’s considered a kids show as they go over how they all got together and the approach they wanted to use for bringing the movie to life. Following this up, there’s a production artwork gallery you can step through as well as a thirty minute video gallery for the storyboards. One area I was really looking forward to was the trailers section in which we get nearly eight minutes of various trailers for the feature. Unfortunately, they’re not translated at all, though it is still fascinating to see how they promoted the feature in general. Also included is a new trailer for the third movie which runs about two minutes and showcases the English language side only.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The second movie based on the sprawling series, coming into this I was uncertain as to how well it would play considering it apparently takes place after episode 160 of the series and I’d just finished the most recent set which places me at about episode 114. Thankfully, based on the events of that particular box set, getting into this is fairly easy as it’s really just missing one character and the focus doesn’t require much further backstory other than to know that he’s not here. This movie is pretty much self contained which is a plus, though Sasuke fans of course will not be happy that he has barely a few frames in it.

Legend of the Stone of Gelel focuses on three of the characters from the Hidden Leaf Village with Naruto, Sakura and Shikamaru. The growth of Shikamaru in the box set released around this time makes his appearance here feel all the smoother as the trio are working on a mission that they were hired for. A most important mission in finding a ferret that had gone missing according to the client that put out for the job. It’s a simple hunt and find mission but it comes at a time when the world is quite possibly changing as a force from overseas with some fairly advanced technologies has arrived. The massive ship is seen right from the start as it takes a stab at a group from the Village of Sand that’s making their way along the Oceanside and we get to see just how powerful and dominating this new force is.

Naturally, the two events end up tied together when Naruto and the others are returning the ferret to the village that offered the job and they come across this mysterious new force. It’s apparent field leader is a blonde haired young man named Temujin who is leading the charge to find information on the whereabouts of certain stones that they’re leader is looking for. Naruto and Temujin end up being taken in by a caravan where they learn of the past of the area a bit more and about how there used to be a huge empire here quite some time ago before everything collapsed. The remnants of that civilization split with one half becoming the caravan/nomadic type that they are today while the royal family went off overseas. It’s all quite easily projected so you know exactly how it will play out.

The actual leader of the overseas group, Haido, is interesting when introduced since he’s affable and friendly but you know there’s something more to him. His nature is one that gives rise to distrust, especially since he talks about bringing a utopia about for the world. Not that Naruto actually understands that word. Haido’s actions don’t exactly mesh with his words however and it becomes quickly apparent that he’s simply interested in the power of the stones that were used in the old civilization in order to create a new empire, one which he will rule. Temujin of course keeps to Haido’s side and defends him, but the more time he spends either with Naruto or fighting with him, the more he begins to realize that he may be on the wrong side. His past comes to light and his positions are understandable, but in the end it is all pretty predictable.

In a way, this is both a positive and a negative for the feature. For younger filmgoers, it’s easy to see that much of what’s here is fresh and new and they can get into it easily, especially if they’re not hugely into Naruto. The pacing is nicely done and the formula is well used, a tried and true one to be sure. The negative is that one of the things I’ve enjoyed in watching the Naruto TV series is that the characters do actively go through changes. This one is really a going through the motions storyline where nothing is very different at the end. The scope of events is massive however as we get a lot of new history to the region which may or may not jive with what’s come before. So it’s kind of a mixed bag as to how it all really feels, but it depends on what kind of expectations you were going in with. While I’ve been enjoying the TV series more than I expected, I kind of had a feeling that the movies would be completely dumbed down pieces to appeal to an even wider audience.

With the TV series, Naruto has some pretty good animation to it and the big action scenes are definitely some of the better money moments. To my surprise, the visual design for this feature takes it up a notch while staying true to the series itself. The character designs are a bit more extended in a way, they tend to go out of form a touch more than I would have expected but it gives them a very striking look when engaged in the fight sequences. The fluidity of it all is fantastic as they don’t skimp at all when it comes to movement. The backgrounds are lushly designed at times and the mechanical aspect of it all is intriguing, whether it fits in with the world or not. What wowed me in particular was some of the scenes involved in the Sand Village ninjas who utilize that particular power as they’re all over the place and dominate the scenes. The sword fighting scenes between Naruto and Temujin are quite good as well and the big end game fight certainly sets things up to expectations. This isn’t an over the top fantastic feature in terms of visuals, but with so many franchises that shift to features, it could have looked like an extended TV episode instead of a true theatrical feature, so they get massive kudos for going the distance on that alone.

In Summary:
I’m still trying to fight against this growing interest in the world of Naruto, but with features like this and the strength of the series as it stands where I am now, it’s easy to still see why it’s so darn popular. Nothing is radically changed here, or even in a minor way to be honest, but it’s all done on a solid technical level both in animation and storytelling. There are no surprises here and nobody from the core cast is different at the end of it, but they all keep to what they’ve been in the past and held their own against a rather potentially impressive foe. My only distaste is the way it brings in such an epic piece of background for this region of the world and that it’s likely to not be referenced ever again in the core series. Beyond that though, this is good Naruto fun that will likely please most fans on a number of levels.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,On Screen Guide,Audio Commentary, Behind the Scenes, Write and Adapt Like a Ninja, Words from Japan, Production Artwork Video Gallery, Original Trailers

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: B+
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A+
Age Rating: 13+
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Naruto