Action is the order of the day, at least in the Village of Sand, while Kakashi continues to read his smut.
What They Say
Naruto and Sakura have succeeded in bringing down Kakashi in the survival challenge using an unconventional technique! Tsunade then assigns them to a three-man squad led by Kakashi, who tells them that they are now his equals.
Meanwhile, Gaara is facing his greatest challenge as Kazekage - to save the Sand Village from Deidara of the Akatsuki. Gaara has the power to protect his village, but will he have enough left over to save himself? With the Kazekage in danger, the Sand call upon their allies from the Leaf, and the reunited Team Kakashi get ready to spring into action!
Contains episodes 5-8.
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 Gaara looking all imposing with his arms crossed as he has a serious look on his face. The black and white nature of it really does change the appearance of it all in comparison to the previous kind of singles which were mostly shots from the show with vibrant colors. 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 Deidara of the Akatsuki 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)
Getting into Naruto in the single disc form is certainly quite a change after the number of box sets watched from the previous series. When you would do thirteen to fifteen episodes at a time, the show flows very differently than it does with the four episode chunks, never mind how it would be on a weekly basis. That’s something I still don’t want to subject myself to, as much as I do enjoy the show as a true guilty pleasure. With the series getting back on track with the previous volume, this second volume follows through more of the initial setup material and gets the pawns into place so the story can really start moving forward. Not a lot really happens here overall, but there are some good moments that help to showcase again the changes everyone has gone through in recent memory.
The four episodes for this volume continue to move through the same two storylines that were running through the first volume. For Naruto and Sakura, their training has paid off and their ability to grab the bells from Kakashi has earned them the right to move forward. After all that they’ve done, it’s only fitting that the three of them are now grouped together as a team of equals, and not a teacher with students. This is really something that strikes deep in Naruto as you can see the sense of pride and accomplishment he has over it. The group will get its first mission not long afterwards, so that means it’s mostly rest and relaxation for them until their mission is decided by the Fifth Hokage. Poor Naruto though, as nobody has tended to his apartment since he left and it’s covered in dust, cobwebs and memories.
On the other side of the story, Gaara’s battle against Deidara at the Village of Sand continues to be pretty intense, though you can’t tell much from Gaara’s expressions. His cold and emotionless expressions make him a bit difficult to connect with because of this, but it’s his actions that speak loudly here as he does everything he can to defend the village and its people from the attack, even at the cost of his own health and safety. Just about everyone watches on, not getting involved in the attack that continues from the previous volume, until it takes a turn for the worse for Gaara as Deidara knows exactly how to overextend the young Kazekage. The fight between the two is pretty good, though Deidara really comes up with some awful looking creatures to use, and the chase given by Kankuro provides an intriguing revelation about Sasori that will resonate much stronger in future episodes to be sure.
Naturally, both of these tales do eventually come together when Team Kakashi head to see Lady Tsunade for their first mission. There is amusement to be had in the selection process of this, from a job finding a lost dog to being a body guard, but in the end the problems in the Village of Sand take priority because of the change in the relationship between the two villages. This becomes quickly personal to Naruto because of Gaara and there’s plenty of enthusiasm for getting out there. Under the surface though, there are other things boiling up among those that are watching from the sidelines when it comes to what powers Naruto within him that may play a role in this storyline. The quiet threat of his real nature isn’t tackled often, but it’s good to see it get a nod here.
Naruto is still in the stage setting section of this story arc and viewing it in four episode increments instead of the box sets were got used to really highlights a change in how the show flows. The material here is good, but it certainly is taking awhile to get where we need to go as a lot of other shows would do this in half the time or even less depending on the smartness of the script. There are things to like here as a Naruto fan as it touches on the past, present and future and puts Naruto on the road again with his latest mission. I’d still love to see more of what went on during his two year journey with Jiraiya, but I’m just glad to see him moving forward again with Kakashi and Sakura in their new storyline. Hopefully the pace will pick up as it progresses.
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.