Welcome back, Sasuke!
What They Say
Naruto Uzumaki is back! After a long training journey with one of the Legendary Sannin, Jiraiya, Naruto has returned older, a little bit wiser, and a lot stronger! Sakura's been studying under another of the Sannin, Tsunade, and is now an accomplished medic ninja with a few new battle skills of her own.
To show off their new skills, Naruto and Sakura team up to take on their old master, Kakashi. While the three battle it out, the Village Hidden in the Sand is infiltrated by the Akatsuki, who are after Naruto's old rival and the newest Kazekage of the Sand - Gaara!
Contains episodes 1-4:
The Akatsuki Makes Its Move
The Results of Training
The Jinchuriki of the Sand
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 2007, 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 four episodes that are on this disc, 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.
Compared to the singles release for the first series, these are really going to be quite striking if they keep up with it. The cover artwork features a black and white piece of Naruto with his weapon out as he has a serious look on his face. The black and white nature of it really does change the appearance of it all since it looks less silly than he often does in his orange jumpsuit. There’s a lot of color here, with a red original logo on the right side and the US logo along the top brings in reds, oranges, blues and even some pink. It’s an eye-catching and busy cover that stands out because of the disparity. The back cover is kept to white with some gray background circles to give it a bit more accent. A few shots from the show are included that are decent and the summary covers a fair amount of ground with what’s going on here. The episodes are listed clearly by name and number while the rest is given over to production credits. As is usual, Viz wants nothing to do with a technical grid that would make it easy to break down what’s here, so you have to find the basic stats within the various areas of text. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reverse side cover.
The menu for this release is pretty decent and stands out more than most other companies at this point in time. There’s a black cloud like border around the screen with a static image of a stern older Naruto while the background has animation from the film playing through it as various weapons fly by. It’s really nicely creative to fit in with the show overall and it does highlight some care and creativity. The music is spot on for something uplifting and energetic. Menu navigation is straightforward with a strip along the bottom and episode navigation isn’t bad as you can access the parts of each episode from one submenu. Everything loads quickly but the disc doesn’t read our players’ language presets as it defaults to English with no subtitles.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After far too many episodes that are considered filler as they didn’t come from the original source material of the manga, Naruto gets underway again with the Shippuden series. Following from volume twenty-eight of the manga, it does something I really find surprising in some ways but also very welcome. It advances the characters ahead by about two years or so in age. Naruto and Jiraiya have been off training and everyone else has been doing their stuff at the village and elsewhere. While Sasuke has been off with Orochimaru, life goes on and people grow up and change. And this series starts where it should, with Naruto returning to the village after all this time, confident and different in many ways.
Over these first four episodes, there are two main themes that are played out to different effect. The one that I found more interesting is of course the return of Naruto to the village. The two years have been good for him as he’s gained some new skills, or at least he says so, and he’s matured a little bit. He’s taller, leaner and looks a bit more serious about things. The small changes to his costume are welcome as well, as the orange is dulled down a bit and there’s more black in it than the blue from before. When you combine this with his new height and almost lanky look, he comes across as a bit more dangerous than before. The confidence level has always been there, but now it feels like it’s backed up with something.
With his return, Tsunade is ready to get him back into action but only after a bit of testing. Naruto finds himself paired up with Sakura, who is looking at him in a new light, and the pair have to work together to take down Kakashi. This is a mirror of the past in some ways as it’s just like the early days when Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura had the same thing happen. There are flashbacks to this throughout it, which highlights the changes in these two characters even more as we see them not only through their physical description but also how they handle themselves in the fight and their mental processes for dealing with it. Over the course of the four episodes, the story between the three as they fight, with Naruto and Sakura trying to retrieve the bell from Kakashi, it summarizes the growth just right and sets the stage for them to really move forward.
The other main storyline in this opening volume is one that also sets the stage, though it has far less for us to work on. This one revolves around Gaara who has become the kazekage and ascended to some power. In organizing with others, there’s word that a group is out there that’s causing trouble here and there. All they have to go on is that they wear black outfits which have some red clouds on them. This is a very slow moving setup piece that is rather laid back, partially because Gaara is so quiet and observant about things. He’s taking it all in and figuring out what may be at play. When a few members of that organization do arrive at the summit that Gaara is at, it leads to a really good action sequence as there are some creative abilities to be had here, especially Gaara’s use of sand, but it’s all a mystery at this point. One that they certainly lace well as apparently this group, the Akatsuki, is a place that Orochimaru may have once called home.
As of this writing, there are about a hundred and thirty plus episodes of this show so there’s a lot of material to come. Having enjoyed what I saw of Naruto before the filler material, I’m actually quite looking forward to Shippuden to see where it will go. The changes introduced here are quite good and they show some real progress for the characters with their potential. Something as simple as moving ahead two years can radically change characters of this age. I don’t expect changes from Tsunade or Kakashi, but Naruto and Sakura and the rest? Most definitely. Hopefully the show will carry through with that promise as more episodes roll out here.
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.