Sasuke's growth, physically and in power, is in plain evidence as he faces down the upstart Naruto.
What They Say
The search for Sasuke is nearing its end as Team Kakashi infiltrates Orochimaru's hideout. When Sai witnesses Naruto's strong sense of loyalty for Sasuke, he's reminded of the feelings he once had for his own brother. The moment finally comes when Naruto and Sakura face Sasuke once more, but everything may be spoiled when Sai's true mission is revealed!
Contains episodes 49-53.
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 five 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.
After the tenth volume changed things up with Naruto going all fiery red with his inner beast coming out of him, the series returns to its normal (and appealing) cover design for this installment. This time we're given a look at Orochimaru in all his snake-like glory as his tongue is in full color slithering out of him while the rest is in a creepy black and white that works to good effect for the disturbing individual. 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. 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 Orochimaru and Kabuto almost in an action pose next to each other 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)
Unlike the previous arc with the Akatsuki in which Naruto had lots of other people from the Village there helping him out, this one doesn't drag on because of so many characters and battles happening. The most frustrating part of that opening arc's big finale was that you wanted to see what Naruto and Sakura (with Chiyo) would have to do to deal with their particular fights. As much as I do like Rock and Guy, their subplot just dragged the show on even more and detoured into an undesired place. Here, with just the core group of characters and only three real opponents, the story moves along at a good clip and we get some fascinating insights and tidbits into the larger picture of what may be going on.
The five episodes here close up this particular part of the larger arc and it does it really well. The capture of Sai in the previous volume has them ferreting out information they need and Naruto is ready to roll into the underground compound again to try and rescue Sasuke. His attempts are an issue that comes up repeatedly in the series as people can't seem to understand why he's still trying to do this. It's confusing to Sai in particular but he's starting to understand the whole concept of bonds and agrees to work with them to deal with the larger issue at hand. Unfortunately for everyone else on the team, they haven't realized yet that his true double secret mission is to assassinate Sasuke for Danzo as he carries a Bingo Book that breaks down quite a few people that have been killed and need to be killed.
Because of the small cast size of this particular arc, when everyone eventually gets together after Sai misfires in his attempt to take down Sasuke, or rather does things in a way that speaks to the bonds he sees between Sasuke and Naruto, it all plays out in a loud explosion. One of the best moments is when Sakura arrives on the scene and finally sees him again in full after all this time. And Sasuke has definitely grown up in those few years as he has a hard look about it, something a bit more chiseled and powerful, yet there's still that glimmer of the angry youth in there even as he puts on a show of being calm and in complete control.
The other truly fascinating scene is the internal debate that Naruto has with the Nine-Tails about his decision not to bring him out. Through the flashbacks we see between Sasuke and Naruto, there's the reinforcement that Naruto must bring Sasuke back on his own using his own power, and not that of the Nine-Tails. His life has been on that focus for some time, but Nine-Tails won't exactly skulk off into the darkness and leave him alone. Where it takes the fascinating turn is that through the Sharingan that Sasuke possesses, he's able to insert himself into this debate and actually push back against the Nine-Tails as the beast reveals a history with such power that hints at much more. The relationship between these two young men is made stronger by this action, especially as the Nine-Tails whispers to Sasuke that it would not be in his best interest to kill Naruto.
While the arc ends in what you could call a stalemate since nothing was resolved, it was a key arc because it brought the two young men back into contact with each other after several years apart. Both have trained and worked hard to achieve their goals and Sasuke's goals are now laid out clearly in front of Naruto. It may be hard for him to truly grasp the why of it, but the reality is there and the extra motivation he needs to become stronger himself is now available. There's a really nice bit of recap for the arc included here at the end, a recap done right and brief, while setting up where the show will go from here. There's a lot to like with this arc and even if it seemed a touch long at times, it helped that it was kept small in the size of the cast and that it got Sasuke's position in this series cemented for some time to come. Definitely a good bit of closure for things while leaving more than enough open for the future.
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.