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Naruto: Shippuden The Movie: Bonds Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

Naruto’s caught up in the revival of a lost land that sidetracks into a bit of an awkward romance.

What They Say:
A group of mysterious flying ninja have arrived from overseas to launch a sudden attack against the Hidden Leaf Village, leaving behind a wake of destruction. The group is revealed to be the “Sky Ninja” from the Land of Sky, a nation thought to have been destroyed by the Hidden Leaf Village long ago. To save their village, Naruto and his friends set out to stop this new threat. During the course of the mission, Naruto crosses paths with Sasuke, his friend who has parted ways from the Leaf Village.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty solid as we get a pair of DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks for the English and Japanese mixes. While it’s a soft start, it throws you into things hard briefly and then sets the stage well as it progresses. With the Naruto movies, it’s always a mix of largely quiet and simple scenes and then a few choice big action scenes and the mix here captures both very well. With the quieter scenes, I particularly liked the way the score came across, very warm and rich with the detail and nuance to it, while the sound effects blended well with it as neither really overwhelmed the other. When it shifts to the action, it does just as solid of a job by buildign things up just right and making it feel like its important and full of impact. The design of the sound mix itself is definitely good and the lossless audio really spends the bits to give us a really engaging presentation. Unsurprisingly, you can’t change audio or subtitles on the fly, but it’s all designed so that you can’t watch it in Japanese without subtitles in order to prevent reverse importation. You can watch in English, English with subtitles and Japanese with subtitles.

Originally released in 2008, the transfer for this movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The feature is like previous ones in that it has a really good look to it with bold, vibrant and solid colors throughout. The film spends a good part of its bitrate at the higher end but is generally all over the map as it deals with each scene individually rather than a near constant rate. There’s a good amount of detail in the film, mostly in the backgrounds, but the fluid animation shines very well here in addition. Some of the mid-range shots are very good in how much detail they maintain when it gets busy, such as the fight between Naruto and Shinnou in the underground section, as those often turn into a small blur of lines. The transfer is essentially free of problems and even background noise is at a real minimum, leaving it to be a very clean and pristine looking release that definitely showcases some very strong animation, both in stills and in motion.

Released in a standard Blu-ray case, the cover artwork for the first Naruto movie to hit Blu-ray is decent but unexceptional. With a soft and muted background, the focus is on the split design of Naruto along the top with the whiter background while Sasuke is below him with more shadows covering him. With the logo splitting them up and giving it a bit of definition, it’s the piece that really provides the vibrant color to it. The back cover is rather busy with a strip of shots from the show along the left while the right has a pairing shot with ominous overtones with Naruto and Sasuke together. The summary is brief but covers the basics and also breaks down the basic technical specs but misses out on some of the key things, like 5.1 language for both tracks. The bottom grid has the rest of the basics but they’re pretty minimal overall without a lot of useful detail. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for the release is very simple as it uses the cover artwork of Sasuke and Naruto on opposite sides as they blend together, but it’s well done because of the shading overall to give it a decent feel, though it is just a few steps above an amateur presentation overall. The logo in the middle top has some really good colors to it and the menu navigation along the lower left is bright, easy to access and very clear about what’s selected and highlighted. The language selection is simple but it unfortunately doesn’t have a highlight or widget showing what’s actually selected, but it does default to English language with no subtitles. Menus load very quickly and smoothly and while there’s no music here, it does set things fairly well and is definitely not a bad first effort at a Blu-ray menu.

The extras section has a decent bit of content but unsurprisingly the bulk of it is in standard definition material. The movie trailers segment kicks it off with nearly seven minuets worth of trailers and commercials for the feature. The special opening theme sequence is a nice inclusion, in high definition, as it’s essentially a clean opening that shows off the quality of the presentation pretty well. The production art gallery is also in high definition as a series of seventeen stills that you get to move through. There’s not a lot here but they look good and I like the inclusion of them. The only other inclusion is a high definition trailer for the 3rd Bleach movie.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The second movie in the Shippuden incarnation of the property, Naruto: Shippuden – Bonds had a good deal of work ahead of itself with me. While I’ve enjoyed the various Naruto movies on some level, they all have the same problem in the end that they’re side stories with no real direct impact on the main show itself. They’re gravy, and rightly so, in that we get to see the characters on the big screen dealing with areas of the lands that may not have been explored at all before or just been a minor reference. I admire that they do go big with them, and they’ve been technically well done, but that lack of connection to the core storyline in most ways is what’s really hampered my enjoyment of them. There’s a lot they could do with them, but in the end they’re treated as big picture side stories so fans can see their favorites on the big screen and generate a little additional revenue. It may seem like I’m pessimistic towards them, but it’s just an acceptance of it and a mindset to get into when watching any of them. It’s simply a bit of self contained fun that’s generally leagues ahead of any of the filler material we get in the TV run.

The Bonds movie brings in a few new things to it as one would expect. The film opens big after a short sequence showing us what Sasuke is up to as ninjas from the Landy of Sky arrive in the Hidden Leaf Village and cause quite a lot of destruction upon the citizenry before they flee, not giving clue as to what their larger goal is. In the midst of this, we also get to meet Doctor Shinnou, an older man who excels at the medical field that Naruto runs into and ends up helping. Even Sakura is surprised by the field treatments that Shinnou has done with others as they arrive at the hospital, which has them trying to figure out who he is. He does have a bit of a reputation as other medical members have heard of him, and it turns into a new mission for Naruto that he’s not exactly keen on.

Unsurprisingly, the film works a few different tangents at the same time. While Naruto and the team he’s on are sent with Shinnou and a young boy to help a village, others lead by Kakashi take the fight to the ships where the attacking ninja are working from. And Orochimaru himself is involved a bit as well as we see that he’s quite familiar with the good doctor Shinnou as he was the one who taught him the particular kind of regeneration jutsu that he uses. Splitting the cast up early isn’t a big deal, but it does happen kind of awkwardly when you get down to it as Naruto’s team seems like it happens quickly and without a clear intent at first considering the village was just bombed from the sky by ninjas we’d never heard about before. The mission he’s on my be important, but it lacks the kind of urgency or definition that you’d expect.

It doesn’t take things long to go all topsy turvy. In the midst of some drama with the young boy/girl that takes them to the village, Shinno dies, comes back in a more powerful form and begins the resurrection of the Land of Sky. Things go big and epic just before the halfway mark of the film in such a strange way that once again I can’t help but feel that the pacing and execution of the film is simply poorly done. It has some interesting set pieces, but it fails to tie things together well enough before it goes big, resulting in a lack of really caring what happens. The focus on Shinno and Amaru, whom was rescued by Shinnou when she was a little girl, is the main emotional focus of the film. We’ve seen this in past films as well, and with films from other franchise, and it rings hollow here as well simply because there is no real, constructive connection built around her and Shinnou. We get the trappings of it, but not the depth. If it had dealt with characters that we know from the series in some substantive way, it’d be a far different experience.

When you step back from the actual content itself, there’s plenty to like. The feature knows how to work the Naruto magic here in making it look big, giving it that sense of epic with the designs involved and all the ruins that become a key part of things. And like most of the movies, they don’t skimp on the budget here as it has a pretty detailed look and the hefty amount of action in it is very fluid and appealing. While the TV series gets a little artsy as it cuts a few corners when it wants to go big (and I like how it turns out), the movies tend to go bigger in a different and better way that works really well. Bonds is no exception as it delivers completely on the visual Naruto experience, especially here in high definition.

In Summary:
If there’s one thing the Naruto movies know how to do, it’s to go big. And it does that in a very big way here as the two main storylines do eventually converge, even if there is a hugely awkward forcing of an alliance between Naruto and Sasuke to take down the big bad. Like past movies though, the main focus is on that of the newly introduced characters that we’re supposed to connect with but never really do, leaving us to just enjoy the animation and action itself. Bonds delivers that pretty well overall, with some big pieces that lets it run wild while also focusing on some smaller action scenes as well, including some more personal ones. The middle act of the film is kind of strange though in that it deals with just three characters for the majority of it, leaving the rest of the Hidden Leaf Village action to wait on the sidelines for the third act. It works well in the second act, but it still has the main problem of the new characters being shallow to say the least. In the end, I basically enjoyed this movie about as much as any of the other ones, at least after the original Naruto movie, since I know what to expect and they didn’t surprise me here. Fans of previous movies will get a kick out of this and the release itself is spot on overall outside of the mildly annoying language locks. It’s a great looking film with a solid soundtrack with a whole lot of detail to both that drives home an otherwise average story.

Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Trailers, Special Opening Sequence, Production Sketches

Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: October 25th, 2011
MSRP: $24.95
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.

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