With Sasuke now a goal for Naruto and Sakura, their focus shifts a little bit as the series redirects itself.
What They Say:
Sasuke has gone to Orochimaru, and Sakura and Naruto are determined to get him back! Jiraiya, concerned they'll act recklessly, persuades Tsunade to send them on an official mission to the Land of Rice Paddies, hoping to discover Orochimaru's hideout. With Jiraiya at their side, can they fail to bring Sasuke back?
Then, an escape from a maximum security prison brings Naruto a blast from the past! Mizuki, the teacher who long ago betrayed the Leaf, is on the loose, and Iruka once again joins Naruto in pursuit of the renegade ninja!
Contains episodes 136-149.
What We Say:
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 2005, 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 fifteen episodes on this set, broken down into a 4/5/4 format, 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.
Released in both a regular and limited edition, the main difference between the two is that the limited edition contains a statue with it. That’s simply a box that has a flap that slides into the existing digipak box and slipcover. This installment is done up in all a scary shade of pink that naturally fits with Sakura being the main character for it on the front of the box. The character artwork is solid here with her in an action pose with a bit a smile to her expression. The raised logos are a nice touch which gives it a bit more of a special feeling. The back of the slipcover has a basic rundown of what’s going on with some of these episodes and has a clean listing of what the extras are to be found and the very basic technical specs. It unfortunately doesn’t list the episode numbers included in the set which I find to be quite annoying. Within the slipcover we have the storyboard production book which mirrors past ones as well as the digipak. The digipak is cleanly designed and similar to the slipcover in its colors and artwork but it brings in a bit more artwork as the back of it features one of Hinata and Naruto in action poses. The interior features full color panels of a nice design that has Iruka and Sakura on either side as thy flit about each other. Opening the digipak up once more, you get a pink filtered layout which has the three discs with full color character artwork and a green filtered insert. No insert is included here but they have provided for a small packet of Naruto playing cards and a tiny box to hold them which is cute.
The menu design for Naruto is straightforward in that what we get for each disc is the same as the artwork used on the disc itself for that particular volume. Bright colors, clean looking character designs and some associated music gives it all a very consistent and pleasing feel, even if it is somewhat minimal. The first two discs are simple with just the language, scene selection and starting point to be had while the third volume brings in a bit more with the extras section. Everything is quick to access but there is a bit of interstitial animation between when you start the show itself which is annoying. The discs strangely enough didn’t read our players’ presets though and defaulted to English with no subtitles at all.
The extras for this release, which are on the third volume, are decent enough but lacking in some ways. The production art section is the same as the past and we get a new “sketch to screen” done up for episode 138. Add in the sneak preview of the next set and the English language credits and you have some mildly interesting pieces for a minute or two. I continue to be disappointed that the clean opening and closing sequences aren’t included, especially as they do change within this set once again.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
It had to happen sooner or later, and it’s finally arrived. The dreaded filler episode which are here through the remaining sets of the series before the new series kicked in with material adapted from the manga. Whether it’s by knowledge or the actual visual presentation, there’s something that definitely does feel different with these episodes in comparison to what came before. Naruto is in an unusual position where they were intending to make more based off the manga considering how massive the show has become, but they couldn’t just let it idle until then. Hence the filler episodes, which have the unenviable task of filling time for about eighty episodes.
Admittedly, the series is at the right point to do something like this and the manga author hopefully had a little bit of input with the editorial side in how to best portray this filler period. With Sasuke now out of the picture essentially for nearly three years before Orochimaru can do his nasty deed with him, Naruto and company have plenty of options in front of them. There’s a whole lot of training to be done, there’s attempts to find and defeat Orochimaru and then there’s simply dealing with the pressing day to day issues of life as a shinobi of the Hidden Leaf Village. With the image of Sasuke in his mind as a background problem, it gives him motivation while allowing the show to find stories to tell that complement it.
This set of thirteen episodes gets underway with two main stories to it before it starts into the third one at the end, which is by far the weakest of them all. We only get two episodes of it on the last disc, but when it’s a literal bug hunt it really felt like they were reaching pretty hard this early on into the filler which is scary. Thankfully, the first two story arcs are a bit better in what they have to deal with, but they come with the problem of execution. It’s admittedly hard to tell if it’s the idea that these are filler episodes are coloring my opinion of it, since filler material typically doesn’t fly well with a lot of people. Is the animation really feeling weaker? Does the scripting and pacing feel as off as I think it does, or am I just believing it because I know these aren’t manga adapted stories.
The opening story arc covers some material that does at least hook back to the storyline we just left with Sasuke. With Sakura imploring Naruto to bring Sasuke back and Naruto smarting from his last encounter with Sasuke, he’s certainly eager to take up a mission that’s been assigned to him along with Jiraiya and Sakura where they have to investigate the Village Hidden in Sound where there’s bound to be more information or Orochimaru. The story concept is good, but with Jiraiya along for the ride it has him in a lead position that grates against Naruto. It also has him searching out wine, women and song pretty easily which frustrates both Sakura and Naruto. Amusingly, Sakura is starting to get an education about such things from her time spent with Jiraiya and looks to blush quite a few times when she realizes what he’s really up to.
The story revolves around finding the village, which is difficult enough as these places tend to hide themselves well, and then figuring out how to find what they want in there. The outlying public village that they end up dealing with is one that’s coping with the arrival of Orochimaru not that long ago. His arrival caused a split amongst the various ninja factions that operated there and the balance between them collapsed under the weight of those who wanted to be more. Little surprise that a number of them have turned to being thugs and thieves while others have tried to work from the inside of Orochimaru’s operation and that causes them to have to fight each other on occasion.
The storyline works in how it brings about the way Orochimaru’s presence has created rifts within the area as well as showing again how little he cares for anything but himself and his power. Where the storyline comes across poorly is in the way it feels as though it goes on for too long and it revolves around characters that aren’t all that interesting. Considering the challenges that not only Naruto but Sakura and Jiraiya have faced, what they come across here should be a walk in the park, even if they are trying to lay low. The constant raising of the bar is problematic in series like this, particularly in the movies we’ve seen, but here it doesn’t feel like anything is going to progress anywhere. What it comes down to is that the stories are designed to bring more of the world into play and give Naruto more time to grow up.
The second arc for this set keeps things a bit closer to home after the dealings in the first arc are concluded. Recovering from the battles, Naruto is getting back into gear and Sakura is exploring some actual character growth by deciding that she wants to start pursuing the medical avenue as an apprentice to Tsunade. This is a positive since the more Tsunade is in the show, the more I like it. This direction is a strong positive for Sakura who has had to grapple with feeling ineffectual for awhile and starting to see that the pairings for teams that are in the works have her feeling redundant as well. For Naruto, his is more along the lines of his training in general but also psychologically dealing with all that’s happened and figuring out in his basic way how he’s going to handle Sasuke someday.
He doesn’t get too long to deal with it though as there’s always something new going on in this village. Surprisingly, or not in a way I guess, is that there’s a basic prison of sorts where all the nasties are kept from various missions and criminals over the years. The danger to this, which is quickly apparent, is that when there’s a jailbreak, that’s a whole lot of bad that gets out into the streets. One of the criminals in there, Mizuki, has managed to work things in order to escape by using the brothers Fujin and Raijin. The two are incredibly strong and have a whole lot of power to them, but they’re dense and childish in a lot of ways. They provide the brute strength he needs to get out and his escape sets off all sorts of alarms for Tsunade when she finds out they’re working together.
Mizuki’s past is something that plays a part in this, particularly with Naruto, but it’s by and large a big action piece as Mizuki is under the thrall of Orochimaru. There’s the desire for power that’s going on here with a deep seated motivation that Orochimaru has been able to take advantage of some time in the past. Everything is being used to this end by Mizuki and he wants to become something powerful so he can put everyone in their place. He’s even brutal in a way towards his fiancé who has fallen from her standing because of the issues surrounding him. It’s a drawn out storyline because of all the fighting going on and the supposed underlying threat that Tsunade wants to stop, but with it focusing on events near the village while giving Sakura some really decent growth, it works out pretty well and doesn’t feel out of place in the larger context of things.
The start of the filler section of Naruto doesn’t exactly get underway with a rock solid start. It feels weak in several areas, from story execution, pacing, animation and scripting itself. With Sasuke out of the picture now beyond an occasional shadow, and likely Orochimaru himself for awhile as well, this is the chance for the show to forge some good new ground with the expansive cast that it does have at its disposal. Unfortunately, I suspect that we’re going to be treated to a lot of low-impact storylines over the long run if the last one on here about bugs is any indication. Naruto is going to be somewhat of a challenge for quite a few sets going forward now.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Production Artwork, Sketch to Screen, Storyboard Comparison for Episode 138
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.