Lengthier stories populate this set but it does sidetrack once in awhile to deliver unto the view Ninja Chefs and Ninja Delivery Service. Is anyone really watching this anymore?
What They Say
Naruto summons a couple of old amphibious pals - Gamakichi and Gamatatsu - to help him solve a mystery surrounding a mysterious Cursed Warrior. Back at home, there's nothing more motivating for Choji and Naruto than a bowl of steaming hot Ichiraku ramen, and they're really going to have to sing for their supper when the owner's daughter is kidnapped! Can they get her back and save the restaurant's secret recipes in time for dinner?
Then, Anko must face the darkness in her past when she's called to lead a mission to a place she once visited with her former sensei, Orochimaru! Will facing the truth save the mission - or break her forever?
Contains episodes 164-177.
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.
This installment is done up in all a pleasant shade of blue/green which looks good and fits nicely with Kakashi being the only character on the front of the slipcover. The character artwork is solid here with him in an action pose looking mildly dangerous. 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. Unlike previous releases, this one does list the episodes included within the set which is really great to see. 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 some of the secondary characters 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.
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 173. 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)
Naruto barrels through another big chunk of filler episodes here and it’s painting one very obvious picture. How in the world did the series survive this run of filler? Fourteen episodes populate this set and we get a couple of longer stories, including one carried over from the previous set, as well as some standalone tales. These stories are really mediocre at best and are all entirely forgettable for the most part outside of the campy factor that’s kicked up for the standalone episodes that go for the laughs. But did they go for the laughs intentionally or did they end up degrading the show from its serious aspects that made up the really good material before the filler?
The first comedy story is admittedly amusing in a way as it introduces the concept of ninja chefs. These chefs were originally created in order to provide better sustenance options for ninjas on missions instead of the tasteless pills that help them out. What they found out in the past though was that ninjas have no sense of moderation and would overeat on what they had and become plump and unable to perform their duties. The desire to cook well is still there though and the episode introduces one of those chefs whose daughter has been kidnapped. Naruto and friends have to help him out by cooking for the bad guy in order to free the young woman. Cook with ninja skills. It’s pretty bad but there’s a kind of camp factor here that kept me laughing at times when I knew I shouldn’t.
The other standalone comedy episode doesn’t fare so well as it involves postal ninja. Or as they prefer to be called, Delivery Ninja. This group of skilled ninja serve to deliver packages between destinations with nothing getting in their way and they treat it with the utmost honor. Jiraiya figures heavily into this story as Naruto decides to spend time with him to get some training but Jiraiya is too busy writing his manuscript. Naruto ends up writing his own to send in Jiraiya’s place so they can start the training, but it ends up causing a whole lot of trouble and could actually cause a war between two places. So they have to go up against the Delivery Ninja to try and retrieve the manuscript first and then stop the war. Unfortunately, even as weak as this story is, it’s still one of the better parts of the show because it is memorable.
The larger storylines in the set aren’t all that memorable overall, largely because anything that happens in Naruto during this phase won’t matter since it’s not part of the original manga storyline. They’re basically spinning their wheels and trying to do something a little bit fun. The downside is that nothing here really has as strong a feel as the non-filler episodes do. The stories may even be contradicting at times as they introduce things that don’t make sense or feel out of place. The standalone stories have that feeling as well, but it’s the multi-part episodes that give it off more because they’re trying to do something with Naruto that’s done with some amount of seriousness. And that has a feeling of being hamstrung by the inability to really change anything.
This set does finish out the storyline that started in the previous set with the Cursed Warrior that was causing trouble in the land that Naruto and the others were sent to deal with. While the mission did end properly, something about the situation didn’t sit well with Kakashi and Naruto and each of them went off in their own way to try and deal with it. The power play aspect of it introduces a Wandering Ninja group which adds more to the overall world at large but runs into the problem again of having ninjas with big abilities that Naruto has a hard time overcoming. Except that they don’t seem like particularly big abilities and Naruto and Kakashi in particular should be able to handle with ease.
Another storyline has Naruto and a few others heading off on a mission that puts them up against some remnants of Orochimaru’s who are involved in genetic manipulation. The creation of man-fish ninja figure heavily into this as does Anko’s past as she’s chosen to head up the mission and was involved in the creation of one of the prototypes years earlier. Another storyline has Naruto being sent to work with Kiba and Hinata on a treasure hunt mission that’s really about them figuring out how to work together as they’ll be sent back to the Academy otherwise. Each of these runs for several episodes and has a lot of the same kind of elements, where each group pushes up against each other but have to find a way to work together to solve the larger problem. The real problem is that there is nothing terribly engaging about what they’re doing. The Naruto storylines are so focused on smaller stories that don’t have any real impact that they’re self defeating. Even though I rail against similar issues with the Naruto movies, those at least bring in some real sense of danger to them and they introduce things that expand the Naruto worldview for the better. Here, it simply feels weak. And it’s quite a disappointment considering I resistantly got into Naruto in the first place only to be won over for a few volumes before this material.
A lot of Naruto fans know what to expect with this segment of the series and it’s hard to believe that they’re letting just this out there for now. I’m still surprised they aren’t pushing Shippuden sets alongside these sets for alternating months or on a quarterly basis at least. The die-hard fans are likely passing this by and the newer fans may get turned off by what’s here in general. There is definitely an audience for it, and I can’t imagine Viz would be surprised by any kind of drop-off in sales here, but it seems counterproductive to not push Shippuden out faster to keep the strong fans really interested. These kinds of sets are mediocre and forgettable and if it wasn’t for the need to review them, I’d easily pass on the remainder until the new stuff starts coming out.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Production Artwork, Sketch to Screen
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.