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Naruto: Shippuden Set 18 Anime DVD Review

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Naruto Shippuden Box Set 18Wherein Naruto gets on a boat for a long, long, long time.

What They Say:
Naruto declares to his friends his intention to take on Sasuke by himself, while the Elders of the Leaf make a serious decision about who will fill the vacant seat of Hokage: Kakashi! In Mount Myoboku, Gerotora, Fukasaku and the Great Lord Elder debate whether or not to give Naruto the key to the Tetragram Seal that Gerotora holds, an act that could potentially unleash Nine Tails.

Meanwhile, Tsunade recovers from her coma and, having grasped the situation, issues orders to prepare for war!

Contains episodes 219-231.

The Review:
Audio:
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.

Video:
Originally airing in 2010, 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 episodes that are in this set, 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.

Packaging:
The package that we get here with the single sized keepcase that holds the two discs inside of it. The look of the release is decent if kind of amateurish in some ways as we get a close-up of Naruto doing one of his jutsu moves with teeth exposed and a flatter face that really doesn’t work all that well. With it paired up against a purple background, that and the orange of the episode just doesn’t work well. The fully classic logo is included as well, in a gray scale, along the upper right which gives it a little more definition. The back cover uses the shades of purple shot of Madara 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.

Menu:
The menus for this release are fairly basic as it has the basic and minimal menu navigation along the bottom where it’s part of the faux wood themed letterboxing that ties it together nicely. The central portion contains the animation clips from the show that play through nicely and easily as it sets the mood about as you’d expect.. Everything loads quickly but the disc doesn’t read our players’ language presets as it defaults to English with no subtitles.

Extras:
Viz runs with some of the standard extras they do across many of their series as we get a new section of storyboards included here and some production art that helps to flesh it out nicely along with the English language credits and the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Naruto: Shippuden has been on the downward trend that it usually experiences after a major arc and this set is where it starts to bottom out. Starts. With all that we experienced with the Pain arc and Naruto dealing with what it was that was inside him, we got some very big moments and the radical change of the Leaf village being destroyed. Well, it should have been radical, but what we get is that the village is able to be rebuilt fairly quickly with only a few minor changes along the way that are mentioned in passing. This is one of those disappointing things for me as it’s an area where they can do some interesting side stories with the rebuild, the experiences of the average people while touching upon the lead characters and how it all comes together.

With the fallout from that fight, there is some exploration with the village elders about what needs to be done now that Tsunade is down and out and filling them in a bit on what happened with Madara Uchiha. Since everything is slowly coming together for that great alliance, the loss of Tsunade for the moment has them selecting Kakashi as the next one to lead things since he has the most experience and familiarity with events that it can be pretty seamless overall. That certainly makes sense, but it’s kind of amusing in how he deals with it as he and Guy end up doing a race throughout the village as Guy wants to challenge him one more time before he takes on a position of true authority. The two have had a long relationship with each other over the years and it’s pretty nice to see the way they interact with each other overall since it really does humanize each of them.

While this settles out – and turns quickly as Tsunade recovers well enough to maintain her position – the other big part of the fun here involves seeing how Naruto is continuing to be viewed by everyone in the village. With his big push towards dealing with Pain and all that it entailed, there was a big rally towards him and it’s maintained well ever since. It’s comical when you get down to it having seen the way that he was treated for so many years and he has a regular kind of sheepish feeling about him that makes you smile since he’s just so unused to it. It doesn’t get deep, but it shows that changing point in his life that follows the actual start of this season after his return from training with Jiraiya that helped him grow up a bit and to help other soften towards him a bit.

While we get some decent bits at the village, we also get some nods towards the pending war that the alliance is being formed to deal with. With Madara representing such a threat, they’re building up well towards it and certainly solidifying their positions. But there’s a change that they’re unaware of going on as Kabuto has appeared before Madara and is making a play to join forces. Madara’s certainly curious but plays it amusingly cool as he wonders what it is that Kabuto can bring to the table. What he has is obviously intriguing with the reanimation jutsu that he can use to bring back a lot of the Akatsuki in some form to be able to fight the larger battle that he has planned. It makes sense and you can see the reasons for each working together, but there’s also just a lack of a sense of real bond between them towards this, more a matter of opportunity where one can be discarded when the need arises. From both of them.

With the Akatsuki spending so much energy going after Naruto, it’s difficult sending him on a mission since you know there’s a good chance they may make it an opportunity to attack. With Tsunade sending him along with a good group of others on a top secret mission to the Hidden Cloud village, the route she chooses is a pretty circuitous one that will make it difficult for others to follow all that easy and without being noticed. It’s not a bad plan, and in a way you want to get Naruto out of the village for awhile anyway so he doesn’t draw any more attacks. Of course, the whole thing is going to be a difficult route simply because Guy is running the mission overall and he invariably brings us to some awkward story points.

Such things happen quickly and awkwardly. One of the first moments is when Guy ends up out in the water a bit and they have a massive swordfish, that literally has a sword for a snout, and it manages to plink him right in the posterior and sends him flying. It’s expected comedy, but with Guy you don’t mind so much since he reacts to it so amusingly. This proves to be the first big distraction of the new arc as the gang gets caught up in trying to help the fishermen of the area get rid of the beastie, which is a summoned creature that’s really surprising to find in the area. There’s some heartfelt emotion to all of it because of what we get from one of the fishermen, but it’s all just the usual plastic drama and emotion that comes from a one-off character like Yusuke that’s only here to draw things out a bit.

The storylines that follow tend to be a bit more humorous than serious and that can work to some degree after all that has happened. But it can also go in some really bad ways, such as a life sized Naruto lure that is positively amusing to watch because of the absurdity of it as they use it to entice the deadly Marlin, but it’s paired with very serious music as everyone works to take it down since the creature probably doesn’t even want to be here itself. In the end though, it’s just a big fishing episode and feels like an unusual way to handle a situation where they’re trying to keep Naruto out of the way. Of course, when you get down to the fact that the group can’t leave the port and go on their “top secret mission” until they deal with it, it becomes very predictable.

Another episode has the gang caught up in some rough weather and seas as their boat is thrust along the current with hopes that everything will work out right by putting them on the proper course when all is said and done. Where it goes really bad is when they get attacked when passing by a nearby island by a group of pirates who have huge cannons built into it there. What works in their favor though after this awkward encounter is that Yamato converts the boat into a submarine so they can hide out from everything. Of course, it works for only so long before they end up in an underground cavern of dead ruins. Where they make a hot spring to recover their chakra.

Seriously. This all leads to a little bit of a look at the past of the island and how the indigenous people there were crushed by the pirates while we see said pirates causing lots of trouble up above as they wait for Naruto and his group to surface. There’s the usual array of working together motifs that hit as they try to do right for those that were vanquished before and it all follows through in something that makes predictable look uncertain. Naruto’s sense of justice is one of those things that continually motivates him in general so his taking all of this seriously and everyone else getting on board with it is a no brainer that simply is.

While most of the episodes are pretty mundane to borderline dull at best, there are some interesting ones here and there. One of them involves viewing the world through Rock’s eyes and In the opening moments of the episode where we get a very cartoonish and surreal look at some of Rock’s life as he’s the hero of everything, he hits so many different parodies that you can’t help but to laugh boldly and heartily. From Fist of the North Star to the Jackie Chan Drunken Master material, the brief dream sequence of Rock Lee is hugely fascinating and could completely drive its own full episode or special. This is the kind of creativity that I do want to see from these filler runs where they’re able to experiment more and just have fun with it without getting tied down in dull and uninteresting repetitive material.

That said, that opening minute or two is the highlight of the episode. I’ve got an ambivalent relationship with Rock and Guy at best since I can find humor in how they act, their appearance and their personalities overall. Rock has grown on me over the years though Guy is still a bit hard to take. What helps them over time is that they’ve had some really strong episodes that highlights what it is that drives and motivates them, and some key action sequences that have helped to elevate them. But when you get outside of the main storylines, they tend to falter and falter heavily. Guy had a great episode recently with his rivalry with Kakashi that just clicked perfectly while using his outgoing personality. But since the start of this arc, he’s spent most of his time hurling over the side of the boat instead.

Later in this set, we get an episode gives us a flashback within the current filler arc storyline which is rather amusing. It focuses on Guy and Rock some time ago when Rock finally mastered the Hidden Lotus technique that he was working hard on so they decide to make a really grand meal. And that means going out on an adventure to find the right materials. At the same time, Guy is doing his best to prevent Rock from remembering the events of the previous day in which Guy got really drunk and caused problems that Rock had to help ease, but since he was pretty out of it himself he doesn’t seem to remember it. It’s a fairly straightforward piece overall as the main draw is watching how these two keep getting into awkward situations and how Rock always seems to make it worse for Guy without realizing it.

After several hundred episodes of Naruto between the two series, all they can come up with at this point is something even more out of character than we’ve had before. Naruto’s shadow clone skills have been one of his more interesting and highly abused abilities since they can be brought in to do what’s needed whenever they’re in a bind. There have been interesting moments with it over time in how Naruto works with them to do certain attacks and build up power, but a real and actual exploration of what they are and the thought behind it has been kept out of the show since that would simply be, well, probably just too boring or muddy things up to much.

Which is why this episode likely shouldn’t be made. With the idea that the shadow clones are just versions of him, you don’t have to worry about anything as they do what’s needed when they’re called into action. Yet here, they’re starting to feel overworked and underappreciated and that causes them to have a bit of a mutiny against him and are intent on staying out this time even after the jutsu is released. A little trickery works to accomplish this, but that’s not the bad thing. The bad thing is that the handful of shadow clones that stayed out are all distinct versions of his personality rather than identical clones. And that means we get a more humorous one, a strategist/serious one and a rather effeminate one as well.

Unsurprisingly, the episode just goes for what you could consider laughs as we get Guy wearing a bikini brief style swimsuit and just showing off in ways (and positions) that I never, ever wanted to see from him. The rest of the gang has a plan to try and deal with these shadow clones, and it gets resolved in the end, but the methods and the way it plays out is just flat out uninteresting for the most part. The general concept behind it is something that is simply so out of character and established material so far that it actually stops me short because I have to wonder why it bothers me so much when the series already does other outlandish things that are even worse.

In Summary:
With the long rollercoaster ride that can be Naruto: Shippuden, I wasn’t surprised that after all that had happened in the Pain arc and the attack on the village that we would be on the downward trend. This set gives us some decent material towards the start that as it finishes up with the fallout from events and it has potential to be explored well with standalone stories or more personal arcs with the reconstruction of the village. Instead, since we’re going to the anime original stories, they’re going to give us the kind of stuff that I expected back during the original Naruto series. Which is why I fell out of the show for so long because it goes for the childish comedy in the worst of ways. There are amusing moments to be had here, but it’s the start of a long and difficult arc of original episodes that was painful to watch when I went through it in simulcast form.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Omake, Production Credits, Storyboards

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

Released By: Viz Media
Release Date:
Running Time: 325
Video Encoding: 480p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic 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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