We're back with Naruto and his Leaf Village comrades, and while there's the small matter of Gaara's rescue to finish off, there are also a few other plotlines for this volume to deal with - all of which are more interesting. Thank the Maker for that..
What They Say
After fierce battles with the Akatsuki, Sakura, Granny Chiyo, Kakashi, and Naruto have finally retrieved Gaara from Deidara's clutches. But is it all too late? Back in the Leaf Village, Kakashi's on bed rest for overusing his Mangekyo Sharingan, and Naruto's preparing to recruit some of his friends for Team Kakashi. But the village elders have beat him to it, and their choice of the unfeeling Sai has Naruto spitting mad!
Audio is provided in English and Japanese 2.0 versions - I listened to the Japanese track for this review. The audio is serviceable rather than impressive - there's decent use made of directionality but nothing that has an wow value, even during the fight scenes. Dialogue is clear, though, and there are no obvious encoding defects.
Video is presented in its original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect, and looks pretty damn good - although given the profile of the show that's hardly surprising. There's some good detail in the backgrounds, while the animation is smooth, colours are bright and animation smooth. There are no obvious problems with the encode.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
The main menu for both discs is a static affair, with Sakura in an action pose against a dark background with the opening theme playing. Options are provided for Play All, Setup, and Episodes for scene selection. An option for Extras is added to disc two. There are no transition animations - a pet hate of mine - so it's all quick and easy to use.
You get a gallery of production artwork, and that's your lot.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
When we last left Naruto and friends, they were deep in a series of battles against the Akatsuki members Sasori and Deidara (and the side-effects of their jutsus), and to be honest it was beginning to drag a bit. That set of battle is resolved, in more-or-less predictable fashion, over the first half of this set, during which we have more puppet trickery from Sasori, more clay bomb thingies from Deidara, and a bout of "I must get stronger!" from Team Gai that allows them to overcome the dopplegangers who have been pinning them down for quite some time now. There's also an appearance by Naruto's inner fox-demon, but that turns out to be so anti-climactic that there's really not much else to say about it.
The idea of the "rescue Gaara" arc was a good one, but in typical Naruto fashion the idea was taken and drawn out to such proportions that keeping the interest up for the entire run (the arc ended up covering a whopping 31 episodes) was a real challenge, with the Sakura v Sasori battle in particular quickly reaching the point where I simply didn't care any longer. The arc also ends on a note of decidedly forced sentiment, surrounding the actions necessary to bring Gaara back from the dead, that felt more jarring than genuine. End result: I was ever so glad when the Sand Village was left behind in favour of a new story arc, especially when that arc turned out to be far more interesting - so far, at least.
Before Sasori died, he told Sakura of a planned meeting with a spy he controlled who had infiltrated Orochimaru's organisation. Get to a particular location on a given day, and the Leaf Village would have a chance to capture someone who could provide invaluable information on Orochimaru, his plans - and Sasuke, Naruto's pet obsession. Sasori's revelation could well be a trap, of course, but Tsunade's prepared to take that chance and orders a capture mission. Unfortunately, she's also got other problems to deal with, mostly in the form of Lord Danzo - leader of a warlike faction within the Leaf Village. He and his supporters seem to be using Tsunade's tolerance for Naruto as a way to undermine her position, and when the time comes to choose a replacement for Sasuke on Team Kakashi, it's one of Danzo's men, Sai, who's foisted on them. Kakashi himself is also off the mission, replaced by a member of the Anbu Special Ops hand-chosen by Tsunade, setting the stage for the mission to become something of a battle of the factions, depending on how things play out.
Sai's a strange one. The product of the Foundation, a shady training wing of the Anbu Special Ops, he's completely emotionless and decidedly lacking in interpersonal skills - leaving him with a knack of winding Naruto and Sakura up the wrong way. Danzo and his faction are clearly up to something; Sai is clearly part of their plans; but as to what those plans are, we're so far in the dark - and with the capture mission turning out to feature a few old "friends" there are other issues to be dealt with before we can get that far.
It's early days for the arc yet, but I'm liking how it's going so far - between dissension in the ranks, a stand-in team leader who takes no sh*t, a healthy dose of conspiracy and the eventual revelation of two well-known enemies who I'm glad to see back, there's not a lot to criticise - it's certainly a hell of an improvement over the Gaara arc.
A new volume of Naruto is always going to be hit-or-miss with me - some arcs flick all the right switches with me, others just turn me of completely. That Gaara arc was the latter, and I spent a lot of time posting nitpicks to Twitter while I was watching that one. The current arc, though, is shaping up to be something far more interesting - I just hope that all the potential that it's showing now isn't tossed off the bridge as its story develops. This volume may be a mix of good and bad, but the good makes the set worth picking up, even if only for the second disc.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Production Art
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.