With Sasuke now a goal for Naruto and Sakura, their focus shifts a little bit as the series redirects itself.
What They Say
Naruto has an irrepressible spirit, and even though his friend and teammate Sasuke has gone over to the evil Orochimaru, he's determined to carry out his shinobi duties. His missions include searching for Orochimaru's hideout, tracking an escaped prisoner, and saving a gold-mining town from a group of thugs. Then his leadership skills are put to the test when he takes Konohamaru and his pals on a training exercise to Mt. Takurami, where he gets them lost! Does Naruto have the chops to find his way out of a raging storm with a pack of eager young ninja in tow?
Contains episodes 136-163.
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 episodes on this set, broken down into a four or five episode per disc format as seen from their previous edition, 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 discernible issues. Colors are nicely solid, bit rates 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.
done up in a double keepcase thickness, this set contains six discs as seen from the original digipak releases. The set lets the orange shine strong here as Naruto is show on the front, dominating it, as he uses is rasengan with an angry look on his face. There's simply a whole lot of orange here, so much so that it's rather strong and not all that appealing. They do some nice pushes on the content side, stating it has eleven hours of action and that it's a six disc set, making it a pretty good deal on the surface. The back cover uses a lot more orange as well while adding the character artwork for Sakura and Lee together doing an action pose that really makes them look young and child-like. The summary doesn't exactly add all that much but it highlights the basic idea of the set with a couple of the stories dealt with. The sets features are all very clearly listed in a positive way and there's a small and slightly difficult to read block of production credits as well for both sides. The technical grid is pretty weak with most of it filled with logos and distribution information with only the running time and region coding really being useful here. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
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 and sixth volumes, 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)
This set, the second half of the third season, is where a lot of Naruto fans jumped ship and rightly so from the perspective of having watched it now. The dreaded filler episode 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 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 filler section of Naruto doesn't have a lot of good material to highlight it and it was a struggle to watch all of this the first time around, especially after coming through the really good material of the third season. This set puts us on the filler path with nothing but mediocre at best material that has no long term impact. That itself is what becomes the really hard part about watching this as there's no growth, and that growth that does eventually occur is all of screen instead of being used here. There are some decent moments to be had, it's not a complete disaster, but it's a section of the series that proved to be too much for many fans and watching it a second time was even harder than watching it the first time since it was much more painfully obvious how it would go. This set is definitely the way to go if you passed on the original releases and you want to get them though, since it's two collections in one for half the price overall. It lacks some of the polish of the digipak sets, but it's much more economical and probably the best way to own these filler sets for a good price.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Production Art, Storyboards to Animation Segments
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.