Welcome to filler-ville, population 14 more episodes of Naruto! That's right boys and girls, the Naruto filler train has pulled into the station once again and we have another uncut boxed set that does not move the series forward at all. Granted it's been stalled out for more than 40 episodes now and it shouldn't be much of a surprise, but you can't help but wonder when things are going to get better!
Now that I have that little bit of venting out of the way, let's move on by welcoming you to the world of Naruto. If you're coming to this review then chances are very good you already know what's going on. If not? Well, you're about to read about one of the world's most popular anime shows. In many circles Naruto ranks right up there with Dragon Ball Z and One Piece for having the largest fan-base. Despite the crippling amount of filler that we've been slogging through, Naruto deserves all the praise it gets. It's been one heck of a memorable ride and something about the series keeps me coming back.
I suppose it's also worth mentioning that VIZ has done one heck of a job with the show's release and they have truly done a great service to fans. For a while now, VIZ has been compiling 14 episodes at a time onto three discs and releasing them uncut to the masses. Special Editions aplenty have been put onto the market and there's plenty of service to the fans who gobble up each release. With that in mind let's take a look at the 14th boxed set for the series, shall we?
Like the previous set, and the ones that came before it, this one presents a coupe of multi-episode story arcs and a couple of standalone ones. The first arc we come across involves a village where a fallen star has been stolen by one of its own. Naruto, Lee, Neji, and Tenten head out to see what's up and along the way they meet someone who seems to be tied into everything. There are some interesting moments here and some of the story isn't as bland as one might expect from filler, but ultimately it just feels like another passable mission for Naruto and company. If this were peppered in between the larger story of Naruto then it wouldn't seem so bad, but as it stands, well, it's just kind of dry.
After the star episodes there are three standalone ones. Kiba gets a featured episode where Akimaru gets sick and Naruto has another where some creature latches onto his back and can't be removed. The worst of the trio is an episode where Naruto and Shino get involved with a man who can't laugh. This episode in particular is quite lame and didn't really have anything to offer.
Before this volume comes to a close we get in on the next big storyline which involves Naruto and some of the other Leaf ninjas helping some people move. Yup, you heard that right. It's a ninja moving service. Naturally any Naruto story wouldn't be complete without fighting of some sort so some villains are brought into the mix to spice things up. It turns out that the people they were helping move are actually protecting a princess in their midst so the ante is upped a tad. Ultimately this storyline is no better or worse than the star one, and it doesn't really stand out much.
I think I've made it clear over the course of my reviews of Naruto that I really enjoy this show. It's been a lot of fun and everything from the story to characters has been top of the line. It's just a shame that we've had to slog through so much filler! At this point it's almost been a third of the series later since the real storytelling stopped. It's getting rather uninteresting and downright boring. There is still some entertainment value to eek out of these episodes, but to say the show lost the spark it once had would be an understatement. If you're a diehard Naruto fan you'll probably continue picking these up for the sake of having them, but if the main storyline is where your interests lie then consider this a rental until we get to Shippuden.
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 182, and some trailers. This being the special limited edition release of the set, it comes packed with a Mininja toy figure for Neji.
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 for those of you who have enjoyed the show, but aren't diehards.
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