The inconsequential material continues as we get a pair of lengthy stories and a few quirky and mildly amusing standalone episodes to fill it out.
What They Say
The ninja of the Hidden Leaf Village are summoned on a mission to the Land of Stars, where a meteorite with incredible powers has been stolen! Naruto and the others begin to suspect it was an inside job when they learn that the ninja who stole the star used a special ninjutsu known only to the Star Village.
Then, Choji, Hinata, and Naruto set out for the Land of Greens to protect a group of merchants, one of whom turns out to be a princess! When Hinata is threatened by an evil ninja to reveal the princess's whereabouts or Naruto will be hurt, will she choose to save a princess or the boy she loves?!
Contains episodes 178-191.
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 2006, 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 4/5/5 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.
This installment is done up in a shade of gold, which is much brighter with the slipcover because of the kind of material used unlike the interior digipak. The character artwork is solid here with Shinosuke in an action pose looking mildly dangerous. 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. Unlike some earlier releases, this one does list the episodes included within the set which is really great to see. 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 some of the secondary characters in action poses. The interior features full color panels of a nice design that has Iruka and Sakura on either side as thy flit about each other. Opening the digipak up once more, you get a tan filtered layout which has the three discs with full color character artwork. No insert is included here but they have provided for a small packet of Naruto playing cards.
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 182. 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)
When it comes to Naruto, I know that I got into it at something of an awkward time. I really didn’t like the show at the start which was because I had a hard time reading past the first couple volumes of the manga. But when the reviewer who was working on the series disappeared, I decided to drop into the series around the eighth set I believe and found that I enjoyed it since it was past a lot of the initial material. Something about those early episodes just rubbed me the wrong way. And after getting into it, I got a couple of sets with solid fights and creative characters as well as a fair bit of drama.
Then the filler hit. And I knew it was coming. I always felt that if I could handle the Rurouni Kenshin filler episodes, which made up what, nearly a quarter of that series, then I could handle this since I knew there was good material ahead. Thankfully, the Naruto material doesn’t feel as bad as some of the Kenshin shows, but it’s not for a lack of trying. One episode revolves around a funeral that Naruto and Shino are sent to deal with as the man who has to oversee it has a stipulation in the proceedings where he cannot laugh. If he does, he loses everything in the inheritance and it goes to his sister. Obviously she’s intent on making him laugh as she wanst everything. Shino makes the perfect person to go to it since he’s never cracked a smile, but he’s hit with a laughing drug that pushes him over the edge, which means its Naruto that has to be the stand-in for it. There’s some weird and wacky back story to all of this with the family involved and it takes some twists that left me looking at the timer on the disc. It’s meant to be silly, which the series has certainly had, but it didn’t leave me laughing.
One filler episode that was predictable but good involved Kiba and Akamaru. The pair have been something of a favorite of mine since there’s such a fun and honest relationship between the two. The standalone story involving them has Akamaru taking ill to the point where he becomes very out of character in his violence and starts attacking others randomly. There is one hilarious moment where he’s got Naruto bent over on all fours and he’s just chewing his butt out hard. It looks badly animated and it’s choreography and position really makes it look like it’s asking for a bestiality parody to be done. Beyond that though, it’s a nice little episode as it shows the bond that Kiba and Akamaru share since there’s the potential for Akamaru being put down if they can’t discover what’s wrong with him. Of course, you know nothing drastic will happen, and it is predictable, but I liked the interplay between the two.
While I can understand the smaller standalone stories being somewhat bad to say the least, I usually hope that the multi-episode stories are better since they have more time to actually develop something. Then I remember that they can’t really change anything and more often than not they introduce concepts and ideas that push the boundaries of what fits within the show. The opening arc which runs several episodes focuses on a small isolated ninja village that has a secret power to it that revolves around a fallen star. The rock is something that when used in training helps to boost the abilities of those who train with it, giving them skills that go beyond the norm which even includes flying. Use of the star has been forbidden for a bit but a power play is in motion that has people using it again and it’s causing all sorts of problems. Naturally, Naruto and others are brought in to help manage things a bit at the request of some in the village, but they can do only so much because each village must determine its own destiny.
The other main story arc that runs several episodes is on the back end of the release that starts off by giving you the horrid idea of a ninja moving company. The Land of Green is undergoing a coup itself within its power structure as more ninjas from across the ocean have arrived (there must be some sort of easy crossing point as this happens in the movies too) and they’re going to take over everything. Naruto, Choji and Hinata are sent to guard a merchant train working its way through the mountains and they get caught up in everything while discovering that one of the members of the wagon train is actually a princess that’s somewhat held hostage by her position. There’s a good bit of fighting back and forth, but unlike the star storyline, no ninjas use their chi in order to give themselves psychic wings on which they can fly. But it’s hard to get into it because of the entire idea that they give off in the title about a ninja moving company. It’s story ideas like that, more often seen in the standalone episodes, that continue to demean the series overall. I’m sure there are quite a few of these in the main canon material as well though.
Knowing what to expect does help to minimize the pain a little bit much to my surprise. It doesn’t deaden me completely to what I’m watching, but I know there’s an end to this eventually. There are some fun little moments to be had here and there, but much of the stories leave you feeling like there’s not a whole lot to get into. Similar to previous Naruto filler experiences, it really does feel like we’re just we’re just spinning our wheels. The big story arcs here left me less than thrilled as they didn’t utilize the extra time well. The smaller stories were surprisingly more enjoyable, but I know that a big series of those in a row would be beyond draining. The characters and stories I want to see can’t be told right now and Naruto won’t undergo any growth or changes during this. That makes it hard to watch and hard to recommend to anyone but the diehard fan who must own it all.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
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.