Oh dear. Die-hard Naruto fans can often be heard complaining that filler episodes suck, and arc episodes are great. I tend to be the other way around - filler's far more fun for me. This volume of Shippuden is 13 episodes of pure arc action, and on paper it should be one-hundred percent awesome. Guess what...
What They Say
n the village Hidden in the Leaves, ninja reign supreme, and school is literally a battlefield. Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura are teenage classmates and ninja in training, working together -sort of! - under the instruction of their teacher, Kakashi. Sasuke is training to win revenge... Sakura is training to win Sasuke... And Naruto, the class clown, insists that he'll become the greatest ninja in the land!
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 Gaara in a serious 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)
The Leaf team of Yamato, Naruto, Sakura and Sai have come face-to-face with Orochimaru and his sidekick Kabuto, and the results are almost inevitable - gloating about how Sasuke has switched sides and is now "his", Orochimaru pushes Naruto over the edge and the Nine-Tailed Fox begins to take over, quickly reaching what Jiraiya believed to be Naruto's point of no return. Conveniently, Yamato was placed in charge of the team for just such an emergency: he has special powers that, if he can get close enough, will allow him to seal the fox demon's chakra away again - but before then, the creature that was Naruto is going to make a damned good effort to kill Orochimaru. Sai, meanwhile, has orders of his own from Lord Danzo to follow, and abandons the others to carry them out, while Kabuto reveals that Orochimaru is now as keen to get rid of his Akatsuki "allies" as the Leaf Village is. Later, the gang finally come face-to-face with Sasuke - who really isn't interested in being "rescued", thank you...
It's Naruto himself, the Nine-Tailed-Fox in highly powered-up mode, Orochimaru (also giving it all he's got), and more besides. At first glance, you'd ask yourself how this could be anything other than awesome. The answer is: by completely screwing up the pacing, and turning what could have been a high-paced, frantic battle into a complete snoozefest. There are essentially two segments in this set: the opening Naruto v Orochimaru battle, and then the pursuit of Orochimaru and Kabuto to their hideout and the reunion there between the gang and Sasuke. We'll take the battle first, and here be spoilers.
It's already been established that Naruto reaching the stage where his inner demon sprouts four tails is a Very Bad Thing. This little detail has been so heavily flagged in the preceding episodes that it's no surprise at all when Naruto quickly reaches that point in his confrontation with Orochimaru. So far, so good - crank up the power and watch the fireworks. Except that once Naruto reaches his "point of no return", it all slows down to a crawl - he stands there, growls a lot, makes maybe 2 attacks per episode, while everyone else stands at a safe distance and agonises over how to get him back to his usual self. Oh, the drama. This leads to the series committing one of my most hated crimes: a battle that could have been done in one or two episodes takes three times as long, and I get antsy and / or bored waiting for things to simply get to the point.
The later infiltration of Orochimaru's lair has similar problems. It's underground, dark, with many featureless corridors all looking the same, and the gang spend a lot of time running down those corridors on their "search". Uh, just get on with it, please, and get to the point.
My other big issue with this volume is one that many fans have picked up on as well: Naruto's obsession with Sasuke. In short, I don't get it. Even before their reunion, it's made very, very clear that there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that Sasuke will return to the Leaf Village. He doesn't want rescued, and he certainly doesn't want to see his former teammates - but Naruto and Sakura, out of some misplaced sense of loyalty, are going to rescue him anyway. I understand loyalty, but I also know that there's a point past which it's not worth trying to save people from themselves, and that point was passed a long time ago: saving Sasuke is a waste of time, and everyone knows it bar Naruto (who's told as much, several times, over the course of these episodes). And yet the time is wasted trying, and I just don't care. Aaargh.
I could go on. Sai's "secret orders" end up turning into a trail of misleading threads of what you think he's up to; Yamato's secret past is revealed; and there's a string of expository flashback scenes that stretch an already over-stretched storyline out even further. It's downright painful to watch - and after a few volumes, at the end of Naruto "classic" and the first few Shippuden releases, where I was really beginning to enjoy the series, it all goes to pieces.
Bah. I just can't see the appeal of this volume, but I have to counter that with the knowledge that I'm not the target audience. What happens in these episode, however badly I think it's presented, is important to the overall storyline - it's a key arc - and fans who've been lapping this up since the early days are most likely going to love seeing Naruto vs Orochimaru and Naruto vs Sasuke again. Their mileage will most certainly vary from mine. Personally, though, and bearing in mind that recent instalments of the series have been growing on me: a waste of time.
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.