Sasuke finally comes out of the barrel and sets off to find Orochimaru so he can gain more power, but not before he and Naruto have a few words about friendship.
What They Say
Naruto's pursuit of Sasuke is halted by the most fearsome of the Sound ninja--Kimimaro, a ninja with an uncompromising loyalty to Orochimaru and a hair-raising Kekkei Genkai! But the Leaf Village has sent another able-bodied ninja to assist in the fight, the newly recovered Rock Lee! While the Leaf genin continue their battles against the Sound, Naruto finally catches up to Sasuke at the Final Valley, the legendary site at the border of the Land of Fire. There, Sasuke and Naruto must face each other in their most devastating battle yet, and Sasuke must make a terrible choice in his quest for power that could decide both their destinies!
The bilingual presentation for Naruto continues to be a solid affair as the two stereo tracks are encoded at 256kbps. The series is fairly standard television fare but it handles itself well and there’s a bit of an extra oomph to it at times with the generally full sounding mix. There are moments of good directionality but by and large it’s nothing all that exceptional. The best moments continue to really be the opening and closing sequences with the music but that’s also somewhat normal. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of the Japanese track or from spot checking the English track.
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for these TV episodes is presented in their original full frame aspect ratio. The production values for the series continue to be quite good and the authoring side of the release brings a lot of that to light. Naruto has a lot of movement at times and it maintains a very strong look with no motion artifacts or break-up in general. Throughout the fifteen episodes on this set, broken down into a 5/5/5 format, there aren’t any real issues to be found at all. There are a few moments of some mild aliasing during a panning sequence and a bit of noise in some of the darker scenes here and there, but by and large this is a very solid looking release that covers a good range of settings without any discernable issues. Colors are nicely solid, bitrates are healthy with a number of good peaks and everything just feels very appealing. Fans of the show are likely to love how this looks.
Released in both a regular and limited edition, the main difference between the two is that the limited edition contains a statue with it. That’s simply a box that has a flap that slides into the existing digipak box and slipcover. This installment is done up in all a great shade of light and dark blue with Sasuke as the principle character. The character artwork is solid here with him now covered partially by the Curse Marks as he prepares a Jutsu. The raised logos are a nice touch which gives it a bit more of a special feeling. The back of the slipcover has a basic rundown of what’s going on with some of these episodes and has a clean listing of what the extras are to be found and the very basic technical specs. It unfortunately doesn’t list the episode numbers included in the set which I find to be quite annoying. Within the slipcover we have the storyboard production book which mirrors past ones as well as the digipak. The digipak is cleanly designed and similar to the slipcover in its colors and artwork but it brings in a bit more artwork as the back of it features one of the Sand ninjas along with rock Lee going to town. The interior features full color panels of a nice design that has Sasuke and Naruto on either side as they go into overpowered mode against each other. Opening the digipak up once more, you get a blue filtered layout which has the three discs with full color character artwork and a green filtered insert. The insert is the only place that lists the episode numbers and titles of the set and is certainly good to have somewhere in the set.
The limited edition set is done in the manner that Viz has been doing a lot of their limited edition releases in for awhile now and it works well. The additional blue colored box holds the tiny snail summoning creature Katsuyu. Like earlier ones, this feels like a huge waste of space. But still, it’s very securely packaged and it looks cute to see it when you finally do take it out of the box and adorn it on your shelf with the rest. There’s not much to the box otherwise but if you’ve bought any of the previous limited edition releases you know what to expect here.
The menu design for Naruto is straightforward in that what we get for each disc is the same as the artwork used on the disc itself for that particular volume. Bright colors, clean looking character designs and some associated music gives it all a very consistent and pleasing feel, even if it is somewhat minimal. The first two discs are simple with just the language, scene selection and starting point to be had while the third volume brings in a bit more with the extras section. Everything is quick to access but there is a bit of interstitial animation between when you start the show itself which is annoying. The discs strangely enough didn’t read our players’ presets though and defaulted to English with no subtitles at all.
The extras for this release, which are on the third volume, are decent enough but lacking in some ways. The production art section is the same as the past and we get a new “sketch to screen” done up for episode 128. Add in the sneak preview of the next set and the English language credits and you have some mildly interesting pieces for a minute or two. I continue to be disappointed that the clean opening and closing sequences aren’t included, especially as they do change within this set once again.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The tenth installment of Naruto plugs right along at what it does best and that’s ratcheting up the action sequences as the stakes get higher and higher. It’s definitely easy to view Naruto as this generations Dragon Ball Z series with its extended fights and some of the rather corny things that happen for transformations, but it has managed to keep a better straight face about it and the fights really aren’t all that long in reality. Against my better judgment, I continue to enjoy this series more than I thought I would have based on the first set.
This set is a little different from most of the previous sets in that it runs for fifteen episodes and really brings to a close the last main arc of this particular season before going into what’s considered the “weaker” material that served as a prelude to the second season. Everything that occurs here is really stage dressing for what comes across as the next big epic piece. So much so in fact that it’s one of those rare moments where you feel the characters are really and truly changing, growing into something different than what they started as during the beginning of this arc some time ago. These changes are what has made the show so much fun, enough so that I actually like watching Naruto himself on screen as opposed to the secondary characters.
Across the fifteen episodes of this set there are three different story arcs that are very key to how it all plays out. The first one that we come across is the continuance from the previous set that involves the group of Genin that went to hunt down Sasuke and bring him back. Their encounter with the group of Curse Marked servants from Orochimaru took up a great deal of time before and all of it comes to a climax here. The fights between the various pairings that had occurred really play out nicely here, especially with Shikimaru who stands out as a first time group leader who has seen his group decimated while trying to achieve the goal. How this will affect him going forward after this encounter is an interesting area that I hope gets explored. This series of fights has been fun as I’ve rather enjoyed seeing these secondary characters get some solid field experience on their own, but I also really appreciated that none of them really seemed to win their fights either. Try as they might, they won’t always win.
Having missed a good chunk of the series, starting only with the eighth set after seeing part of the first, I was really interested in the central storyline that was brought into this volume. From the start of the series, Sasuke has had a chip on his shoulder that was only mildly poked and prodded at from the manga section I had read. Sasuke’s being freed from his barrel as one of the Curse Marked starts him down a path of remembering what’s led him to this place. The story that involves his older brother, the way his father treated him and the murder of essentially everyone but him in the clan is all very powerful material. Whether much of this was covered before or not, it’s very appropriate here even if it does take over a couple of episodes worth of time. Watching the younger Sasuke being shaped by these events and tying it to why he’s gone to gain the power that Orochimaru offers now all clicks perfectly well.
All of this leads into the third chapter of this set which focuses on Naruto finally catching up to Sasuke and doing his best to convince him to come back to the Hidden Leaf Village. The two nearly had a full on fight back in the last volume when Sasuke was saved in the hospital, but they weren’t able to take it all the way. But now, with the full back story for Sasuke out there, the match up between the two takes on even more relevance. Seeing their relationship extended further into the past and from both sides of view takes it to a new level, now that we understand why and how Sasuke considers him a precious friend, one that he must kill in order to rise to the next level so he can take on his brother. There’s a real sense of struggle internally with Naruto as he sees what Sasuke has become and he can’t believe that he’d really want to hurt him.
What made this set of episodes even better was that the budget was clearly visible on the screen. Naruto, from what I’ve seen since set eight, is that the visual quality of it is pretty strong which helps separate it from its spiritual predecessor of Dragon Ball Z. The first two arcs are pretty solid and maintain much of what we’ve seen for awhile now. When the last arc comes into play with the fight between Naruto and Sasuke, it goes up rather well with some extremely fluid animation and some really strong choreography that elevates the show in general. The intensity of it is solid and the way the character designs become slightly exaggerated gives it a very slick feel. It reminded me of Noein at times when it went into its big actions sequences where it comes across as something out of the ordinary. Visually, Naruto really is at its strongest and near its theatrical offerings with much of this final arc of this set.
I’m still rather surprised that I’m enjoying this series as much as I am. It’s got a lot more polish than I expected and the series has some strong character connections that are quite accessible but also rather deep considering the length of the show at this stage. Everything within this round really comes across as massive cliffhanger material but it’s done in a way that really works well. The tenth installment of Naruto feels like the end of a strong book in a large series of novels where it’s practically making you wish the next one would be out right away but you have to wait awhile. This is good stuff and it even had some Tsunade moments which was rather enjoyable. Add in all the build-up and future potential of epic levels put into play with Sasuke and it’s all a winning combination.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Storyboards Booklet, Storyboard to Animation Comparison (ep 128), Production Art, Volume 11 Sneak Preview.
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.