Actual reaction: …um, was that actually quite good or have I been doing this way too long?
What They Say:
Welcome to the Hidden Leaf Village. The village where Uzumaki Naruto, star of the TV show ‘Naruto’ makes his home. Every day, countless powerful ninjas carry out missions and train to hone their skills. Our main character is one of these powerful ninjas…but it’s not Naruto! It’s the ninja who can’t use ninjutsu, Rock Lee!
Set up in Stereo 2.0 in both Japanese and English instead of a 5.1 release is still an acceptable quality but a bit of tinkering of the volume was needed to make it of an acceptable quality, though there weren’t any issues in terms of the sound being out of sync with the subtitles or the video.
The video is of a decent quality, with no noticeable issues with lag or video in poor resolution during viewing or when pausing, so no problems with watching the whole release through, and the SD nature of the series is very unique and free flowing, with plenty of colour to go with the comedy.
One episode however for some reason was unwatchable (episode 12) as it kept freezing and found it strange it was just this episode so after 2 loads, went to the next episode and was fine so wasn’t a disc issue, not sure why but obviously very noticeable and hope this has been picked up.
There was no packing for this test release.
The menu is very basic – both screens have the same image on the right with Rock Lee in the centre, Naruto above him, and Tenten, Neji, Sakura, Kakashi and Gai surrounding him with the Hokage Mountain in the background. The episodes and selections are on the left hand side on a black background – no Play All option, so episode 1 is basically Play All, with set up and on Disc 2, opening/closing and trailers as options. Nothing problematic, easily selectable and all on one screen so no slowdown in between selections, it does its job.
The only extras were the clean opening and closing, and trailers to the Naruto Shippuden Movie and the Naruto Shippuden series (basically the same as on the Naruto Shippuden discs, but at least it isn’t advertising its own show so at least this technically works…)
Doing Naruto reviews for so long, I dreaded the inevitable filler arcs every time – chances are with a few exceptions, it would never be interesting or fun, and very rarely would it really have anything plot worthy. So when knowing there was a spin-off, I was wary. Of course, Naruto has since had many movies and other spin-offs (which makes watching some of this hilarious when a) Shippuden hasn’t finished and b) the final ‘movie’ has been released in the UK) – however, this one caught my eye simply because of a known fact that I tend to enjoy Naruto more for the side characters than the main ones bar Naruto himself.
This one focuses on Rock Lee, quite the fan favourite because of his design and enthusiasm, being quite unique even in a world of unique characters. I even said at a panel I did in 2015 that if he, Shikamaru and Hinata were the main cast of Naruto, I would have enjoyed the show a lot more. And whilst this show is nothing plot-worthy in the slightest and just a gag series, I swear this is one of the funniest series in recent knowledge. In fact, it may be one of the best pure comedies in general.
Basically the set up for each episode is usually Rock Lee doing something usually with influence from Gai-sensei, his teammates having to suffer from his idiocy, and a conclusion which resolves around crows shouting out ‘idiot’ at him.
With Tenten as the straight man. And Neji somehow getting roped into his skits.
Whilst cross dressing.
So yes, you can tell this series is going to treat the cast a little differently considering how serious Neji is in the original series (though Tenten fans will love this series because she actually gets way more screen time here than she does in the entirety of the original Naruto series and Shippuden) – this only adds to the hilarity, and of course many of the other cast members also frequent show, usually Lee’s crush on Sakura puts him at odds with Naruto, whilst Tsunade is the butt of many age jokes, and pretty much everyone gets in it at some point.
Just to go through a few episodes, we have a fight between Naruto and Lee trying to get the last cake in a store, Lee’s attempts at ninjitsu usually revolve him moving really fast or spraying everyone with his sweat, various sport events whether be beach volleyball or dodgeball, the fact that Orochimaru is pretty much a comical villain with Kabuto as his bewildered side kick, Hinata’s fainting going to extreme levels around Naruto, Lee/Neji trying to become best friends like Chouji/Shikamaru, the guys at a resort trying to hang out/peep at the girls, the group thinking Gai-sensei doesn’t have much time to live, the group heading to the pool and beach (and Lee wanting to see Sakura in a swimsuit), the episode where Tenten actually seems depressed…to the point she won’t respond to any of the guys with her punch lines, the episode where Orochimaru created explosives that will activate if Lee stops his training, Tenten does a punch line, or if Neji cross dresses, the Rock Lee imposters, the one where the group think Lee has a grudge against Gaara for when he injured him, the horror story episodes, the one where Ino accidentally switches Rock Lee and Naruto’s minds (leading to of course Rock Lee actually using ninjitsu and Naruto moving way faster than usual – which of course comes to a head when they have to do a mission)….
So yeah, this isn’t a series you wish to take seriously.
This isn’t going to be a long review simply because there is no identifiable plot throughout. It is quite literally Team Gai with an episode of the day, something happens, you will laugh. That is pretty much it – it is a pure comedy, plain and simple. A lemony narrator adds to the hilarity, and the characters are pretty much the ones you know and love, except a tad different and quirky.
My favourite character is actually Tenten in this, simply because both in English and Japanese they finally get to shine (especially in Japanese, I could see Yukari Tamura glare at how her fellow Nanoha seiyuu Nana Mizuki upgraded to main character as Hinata whilst she barely had any lines as Tenten, so when this series got announced, she finally gets to unleash full HAM MODE AND IT IS GLORIOUS) – she plays the straight man to Lee’s antics, complete with harisen and epic comebacks/one-liners. A lot of the comedy is because of this duo and her reactions to it – she’s in fact the most prominent female character in this spin-off, a far cry from the original series and you can tell the actresses in both languages had a blast, because it is hilarious.
Neji as well goes through a real change – from him always roped into Lee’s antics (and very often cross dressing) to him being very over protective to Hinata (to the point of dubious suspicions), he is a different type of straight man compared to Tenten as he tends to suffer nearly as much as Lee, if not physically then mentally (Neji: Why am I always in these skits?), which adds three different types of comedy with the three main characters.
And then of course, there is Lee himself. His attempts at ninjitsu, his flashbacks (which he tells in real time in costumes leading usually to the aforementioned cross-dressing, Lee himself even does his own sexy no jutsu…which of course isn’t exactly the same as Naruto’s), his bromance with his sensei Gai (who is utterly hilarious throughout himself, whether as an old man or trying his best motivational speeches, or trying to cool down via ghost stories), his more perverted nature coming through with his attempts to peep on Sakura – with a great set up team in Neji and Tenten, with his own comic timing, Lee seems to come into his own so much that you really wish the series itself would have noticed how lovable the guy is, and give him a break because he tends to be the shows punching bag at times. I get the feeling if they had did a similar series with either Shikamaru’s team or Hinata’s team (I considering them the main characters of their respective teams as Lee is to his), I would like it but for different reasons – here, it is just there to put a smile on your face and it succeeds totally.
And everybody else involved – Sakura is heavily involved but her style works better in a comedy series than in the main, Naruto himself is a constant rival and helper and is of course a good source of comedy, but the real surprise is just how damn funny Orochimaru and Kabuto are – they change from these incredibly scary and competent villains, to basically Naruto’s equivalent of Team Rocket (in Japanese, they even say ‘Looks like we’re blasting off again!’ at one point after a well time Tenten thwack via the fan) – they screw up every plan, make quips and remarks, ultimately defeated but are always back to try and find a way to foil Rock Lee and pals. Of course, in the real series these traits are non-existent, but I like to see it almost like a parallel universe (there is even an episode where they do the Road To Ninja like thing of seeing an alternate look at their characters) and this is what they could have been like under different circumstances.
It isn’t a series to really focus on story or plot – it is very episodic, focusing on something random, and then let nature (and Lee) take control. But sometimes you want an anime like that – in between the Evangelions, Tokyo Ghouls, Attack On Titans and Erased style series, something that is genuinely enjoyable, fun to watch, and can laugh out loud with friends is something you can slap on at a night out (enjoy the drinking games if your rules are whenever Tenten makes a comeback or Neji’s cross-dressing) or at an anime club, and just enjoy.
And the best part is, even if you aren’t familiar with Naruto or not a fan, you can enjoy it (the show does explain characters when they are introduced for the uninitiated) because the comedy is just that good. A real surprise for someone who is always wary of Naruto shows, so when the 2nd half is released, I’ll review something darker before that…so I have the perfect mindset for wanting something fun to watch.
And this is fun to watch.
Rock Lee and Pals is a super deformed take of Naruto, but remove any sense of story, plot, and drama and replace it with wacky hijinks. However, this is definitely not a bad thing – just don’t take it as an actual story and go with the flow, fall in love and curse the show at the fact this is more airtime Tenten is getting than in the actual show, wonder how scarily attractive Neji looks when cross-dressing, and just slap your forehead with a smirk when Lee inevitably is about to put his foot in his mouth. Not a good series for seriousness, but a great one as a comedy. If you are even vaguely knowledgeable about Naruto, give it a shot because the changes and quirks will make you smile more than once.
Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening/Ending, Trailers
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C-
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: September 12th, 2016
Running Time: 650 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.