In the village Hidden in the Leaves, ninja reign supreme, and school is literally a battlefield. Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura are teenage classmates and ninja in training, working together -sort of! – under the instruction of their teacher, Kakashi. Sasuke is training to win revenge…Sakura is training to win Sasuke…And Naruto, the class clown, insists that he ll become the greatest ninja in the land!
Audio is provided in English and Japanese 2.0 versions – I listened to the Japanese track for this review. The audio is serviceable rather than impressive – there’s decent use made of directionality but nothing that has an wow value, even during the fight scenes. Dialogue is clear, though, and there are no obvious encoding defects.
Video is presented in its original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect, and looks pretty damn good – although given the profile of the show that’s hardly surprising. There’s some good detail in the backgrounds, while the animation is smooth, colours are bright and animation smooth. There are no obvious problems with the encode.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
The Boy Wonder himself takes pride of place on the main menus for this set, smiling in his usual cocky fashion and set against a black background. Options are provided for Play All, Setup, Episodes and on Disc 2 only Extras. All very familiar from previous volumes, and all quick and easy to use.
The usual production art gallery, and that’s your lot.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With Asuma’s death suitably avenged and the Akatsuki down two members as a result, the Leaf teams return to the village, where it’s discovered that Naruto’s new powered-up Rasengan’s lethal power is more than even he can handle, with the backwash from its use doing severe damage to his arm. As a result, he’s forbidden from using it further. but fortunately, Jiraiya’s on hand to help him work on some other techniques while his arm heals. Meanwhile, Orochimaru is on the move again, using the power of young boy Yukimaru to help draw out another of the Tailed Beasts, which sees the Leaf teams mobilised again to deal with him – but despite Tsunade’s efforts to stop Naruto hearing about the missions, she can’t stop him from tagging along…
So we’ve got Orochimaru, a large group of his followers (some old, mostly new ones – which make me think they’re cannon fodder for this part of the arc, but we’re not done yet so who knows), an appearance by Sasuke, some daft training montages, and a few more things besides. This is a big arc battle, but whereas in most storyline like this Naruto goes for one big setpiece that stretches over several episodes, here we’ve got several smaller, distinct groups, fighting several, distinct skirmishes over the course of the volume. And when shounen fighting is done that way, I like it – changing the focus keeps things from getting boring and lets you see more people in action. It’s a damn shame the series can’t follow that approach all the time.
Some of the new characters on Orochimaru’s side a particularly interesting, with Yukimaru and his keeper Guren really catching the eye. Yukimaru is a young boy – although he looks and sounds decidedly female, so trap fans may appreciate him – who we know through flashbacks has had a difficult life, and who has found himself in Orochimaru’s “care” thanks to his unique abilities. It’s Yuikmaru who’ll be able to summon up the Two-Tailed Beast, you see, and Orochimaru would quite like his hands on that power. Guren is the woman assigned to look after him – an experienced fighter, with a particularly powerful special jutsu of her own, she’s not normally the sort of person to show compassion to anyone – but Yukimaru, it seems, is able to work his way under her hard exterior. He also has several chance meetings with Naruto, before his connection to Orochimaru is known, that are best described as “curious”, and while the pair don’t meet in battle through these episodes, I’m quite looking forward to seeing what happens when they do.
The fragmented nature of the battles here also means that you get to see a few of the Leaf crew that haven’t had much time in the spotlight lately, and that the different battles each have a different character reflecting the abilities on display – always a good thing. My pet hate with this series has always been the set-piece, Naruto-versus-whoever battle that goes on forever without ever giving you a break, ramping up the “special powers” to ridiculous levels until a winner or stalemate has been declared. I’ve come to both expect and dread that sort of “story” sequence. This time around, though, the series takes a different tack that works a whole lot better, and far from dreading each new episode I was genuinely enjoying myself working through this volume – and it’s been a long time since I was last able to say that about Naruto. There are some eye-roll-inducing slips along the way (for example – after much forensic investigation, the Leaf determines that Guren, who can encase her victims in crystal, is using a Crystal-Style technique – no kidding? What tipped you off!?), but they’re few and far between, and there’s nothing serious enough for me to really hold against the volume.
All good things come to an end, and I’ve no doubt the series will slip back to its usual ways before too long. For now, though, I’m happy to go with the flow and enjoy one of the best volumes of Naruto Shippuden that I think I’ve seen. Recommended.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Production Art.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: 27 February 2012
Running Time: 292 minutes
Video Encoding: MPEG2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37” widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-22 5.1 speaker system.