What They Say:
Asuma and Shikamaru have to think on their feet as they face the mind-boggling jutsu of the Akatsuki pair Hidan and Kakuzu. At the last minute, the Akatsuki are called away, but not before dealing a fatal blow to a revered shinobi of the Leaf. The devastated ninja left behind can think only of revenge, but Tsunade is opposed to the scheme until an offer of help arrives from an unexpected source.
Contains episodes 78-88.
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 aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. 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 four 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 discernible 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.
While I had liked the slipcover with the thinpak cases inside of it, I do admit to liking the slimmed down package that we get here with the single sized keepcase that holds the three discs inside of it. Of course, packaging continuity has gone out the window for years now so it’s not something that I can get all that frustrated about anymore. The look of the release is pretty good as it features Shikamaru as the main character here against a green background with some shadowed trees behind him. With his serious expression and the additional bit of color through the use of a lighter, it has a very distinct feeling to it. The fully classic logo is included as well, in a gray scale, along the upper left which gives it a little more definition. The back cover uses the shades of green overall with a large shot of Asuma from behind which is pretty appropriate here while the summary and a breakdown of the discs features and extras are below it. With no technical grid, you have to go through the disc information bullet list to see what you get with the release. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menus for this release are fairly basic as it has the basic and minimal menu navigation along one side while different pieces of character artwork populates the other side for each of the volumes. With the extras only on the third disc, there’s not much to the menus overall but they are quick and easy to navigate.. 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.
Viz runs with some of the standard extras they do across many of their series as we get a new voice actor omake pieces that lets some of the flubs see the light of day that are cute and essentially inoffensive. Additionally, there’s a new section of storyboards included here and some production art that helps to flesh it out nicely along with the English language credits..
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While the series is named Naruto, this set keeps him out of the picture for most of it and that works to its advantage. One of the strengths of the show that’s not employed well enough is that there is a pretty diverse cast here and they’re good characters with a lot of room to grow. What this set does is largely focus on the relationship between Shikamaru and Asuma as they deal with the attack that began in the last set by a couple of the Akatsuki, Hidan and Kakazu, as they looked for some bounties to cash in on. While we do get a mild nod about what they’re up to overall as a group as the three stages of their plan are top leveled, the focus on money is paramount right now and that’s the extent of it. What it wants to do otherwise is to just focus on this pairing of Akatsuki and their overconfidence in taking down their prey.
The previous set put the gang in a pretty tight pinch as Hidan and Kakazu definitely have some power behind them and a certain callousness as well. While I dislike the way they deal with the ease through which they can fix things when it comes to stitching Hidan back together after a wrong move, it does point to one of the reasons why Hidan in particular is just kind of crazy in a way. His power certainly drives him in that direction with how he has to lick the blood of someone, make the pattern on the ground and then attack himself in order to take them down. It’s a brutal piece that doesn’t seem like something most normal people would want to have as an ability. Add in that he’s not exactly a smart cookie and you get a dangerous combination. Of course, there’s also that overconfidence that hits him, which is only assuaged by the fact that Kakazu is the smarter of the two and generally can see what’s coming.
As a team, they’re definitely the types of Akatsuki that can give anyone a run for their money with ease and then some. What makes them even easier to appreciate is that they do allow them to make a significant strike in this set, where the attacks start to go so badly for the Hidden Leaf shinobi that they end up losing Captain Asuma to Hidan and his abilities. It’s a particularly painful piece of the puzzle as we get some back story time that tightens up Shikamaru’s relationship with him and explains why Shikamaru was so frustrated by being kept to the background because of his ability to generate strategy when he wanted to get involved in the fighting more than anything else. The thought of being protected and coddled did not sit well with him in the slightest. But because of his very engaged relationship with Asuma, losing him is very painful to have happen and it drives him towards the dark side a bit after he gets to spend some time coping with it due to a break in the fight that separates both sides for a few days. It’s a great episode that puts the focus just on Shikamaru and really lets it unfold at a wonderful pace and without much in the way of distractions by Naruto and other top tier characters.
The return match does admittedly play out as you’d expect with Shikamaru taking the lead and getting the addition of Kakashi to the team. With his ability to strategize, coming up with a plan to deal with everything is expected and is played out pretty well with some long term moves. Considering his ability, it makes the most sense and doesn’t feel forced. And while his “dark side” isn’t really dark, he does ensure that things are properly settled between him and Hidan as it should be. That the show plays in these gray areas at times is definitely welcome. The main problem with the arc, and it’s not really a problem but more just an annoyance, is that while those two play, the shows focus on Kakazu and the rest falls flat. Kakazu’s powers are pretty big in the end with what he can do and it’s just the kind of thing that feels like too much in a show like this. What does work with it is watching how Kakashi works hard at it, finding him to be a challenge as well, and how Naruto eventually gets involved and polishes it all off.
Naruto’s story throughout this is pretty weak until the end as it focuses mostly on him attempting to master a particular jutsu and utilize his Shadow Clones in a new and creative way that pushes his abilities. With the kinds of people he has to face off against now, improving his skills are a must. It’s not given a lot of time and there’s only a small flashback moment to explore it a bit, but we do get to see him making progress and using just that to try and do some damage. It’s a bit of a “Naruto saves the day” moment as he arrives in the nick of time to help out Kakashi, but it’s reinforced more as a “Naruto is growing in power and strategy” moment instead, showing Kakashi that he is changing and isn’t what he was before as he takes this new fight very seriously and intends to get Sasuke back.
While I continue to be frustrated with the episode counts of the Naruto: Shippuden sets, this set works very well for covering a particular battle without drawing it out so much that you feel like it runs the full eleven episodes. The break in the middle that deals with Shikamaru’s pain and the goings on of the Akatsuki breaks it up and there’s a different energy when the battle is joined again in the second half. The small moments help, but the real focus that makes it work here is that of Shikamaru. He really comes off well in this set, achieving that moment of clarity and growth that puts him ahead of his companions as he’s forced to grow up even more in an emotional way now. Fans of his character will definitely like this set even if he does go a bit dark in efforts to make things right. Definitely a fun set and one that has me looking forward to the next to see where they go from here.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Omake, Production Credits, Storyboards
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: July 12th, 2011
Running Time: 275
Video Encoding: 480p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
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.