It's hard to deny Naruto's place in the anime world. It's arguably one of the most popular franchises this side of DBZ and all you need to do is hit an anime convention and see how many cosplay characters you can pick out of the crowd to understand that. The masterpiece created by Masashi Kishimoto has more volumes of manga than you can shake a stick at and an anime with over 200 episodes. You just know going into a DVD release that you need to be vested for the long haul and thankfully VIZ's uncut collections capitalize on that. While you can find DVDs of Naruto edited for the younger American audience the original Japanese version is the better of the two.
I'll spare you the recap on the series and what's happened to this point. If you're reading this review for the thirteenth volume I'm going to assume that you already know something about what's going on. We've had 163 episodes to sit through before this and there are still a few more to go before we skip over to the Shipuuden timeline. You know what that means? Filler. Lots and lots of filler.
With the culmination of the Sasuke storyline a couple of installments back Naruto has really just been meandering about. There hasn't been anything important happening since the confrontation between Sasuke and Naruto, and this is all due to the fact that the show went beyond the roots of the manga at this point. The writers for the series had to take liberties with things and that means nothing is canon. One-shot missions, lame jokes, random fights, and boring storylines are all you're going to find from this point on. If you have enjoyed the show there is still some charm here, but it's definitely nowhere near what it was, and that's a shame really.
This installment picks up with Naruto and company over in the Land of Birds looking for a ghost of sorts. Of course it turns out to be someone portraying the Cursed Warrior (the reveal is too Scooby-Doo-ish for my taste) and naturally things get more difficult for Naruto. Ultimately the storyline is kind of pointless. I mean, with an episode entitled "The Death of Naruto", you just know that absolutely nothing worthwhile is going to happen to him. There're no big changes, no advances in character or story development, and overall the entertainment value of this Cursed Warrior plotline is relatively low. There may be some nice fights and a couple of funny moments, but they hardly make the pill any easier to swallow.
After that storyline comes to a close there's a lighthearted (and downright stupid at times) episode revolving around the owner of the ramen noodle shop that Naruto frequents. I liked it because it improved upon a weaker character whom we've never got to know before. Once that little diversion is over and done with another bigger episode arc comes through, and this one's a little more interesting. The whole point of this one focuses on the remnants of Orochimaru's experiments and how it relates to people Naruto knows. None of it's canon of course, but there are some interesting snippets proposed and some interesting aspects from the world are looked into.
Ultimately there's just far too much blandness in this installment to make it worth recommending. The epic sensations brought about by earlier episodes are truly a thing of the past. There's nothing here that will make you stand up and cheer, and ultimately that's the show's downfall. I'm surprised Naruto wasn't cancelled at this point, but the series slogged on long enough for Shipuuden to be made. Until VIZ starts releasing the sequel series you can expect somewhat painful times ahead. If you've been a fan of the show you may still want to check these episodes out since they do take part in the Naruto universe, but don't expect much in the way of meaningful entertainment.
Naruto is presented with a 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio and features a vibrant transfer. The characters absolutely pop from just about every frame with a bright palette and a pleasing art style. With the recent production date the show doesn't have a lot of visible flaws though it's hard to deny that there are some here and there. A slight amount of grain blankets areas of the feature where colors are shaded or murkier than most. Some bits of compression where identifiable as well. Apart from these minor borderline nitpicky gripes there really was nothing to complain about.
The audio presentation for Naruto comes in the form of two 2.0 stereo tracks. The English dubbing offers up some irritating voices and an experience that one might call overacting. The Japanese language track was much better with easily acceptable vocals and equivalent quality in sound. With the limitations of a stereo track it's no surprise that there is little to no directionality. It wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination but a 5.1 offering would have gone a long way. Still, this collection is problem free; it just doesn't go out of its way to impress.
More Naruto playing cards are packed into the boxed set here. The discs also contain some features, but they are only a production art gallery, a storyboard comparison for episode 173, and some trailers.
Naruto's popularity is well-known and deserved. The show has had so many highlights it's not even funny, and I dare say that it stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the best shows out there. Unfortunately for every two steps forward there is at least one step back. While some of the previous volumes pushed the envelope in terms of my expectations of the series, these chunks of filler material have just left a sour taste in my mouth. It's not even like the producers of the show tried to mask the fact that these were filler. They are blatantly so, and because of that watching these episodes feels like a mundane chore. Still, it's Naruto and completists out there will want to have it in their collection. Personally I'd call it a rental at best.
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