For some time now we've been slogging through episode after episode of Naruto filler. Sadly it's been just shy of half the series with regards to episodes that don't really count towards the plot as a whole. If you've been doing your episode count correctly then you've realized that out of the 220 episodes of the first series, and 14 episodes being available on this one, that means there's only one volume left. I personally can't wait for Shippuden to get underway, but until that happens there's some more filler to go through.
I must admit that through all of the complaining I've done about Naruto's throwaway episodes, there's still been plenty of good times with the show. Even though meaningful storylines stopped about five volumes (roughly 70 episodes) ago the show still has plenty of charm. There have been lots of fights, ninja missions, and laughs to be had with Naruto and the gang. The only real problem with the series is that it got ahead of where the manga was and anything it did wasn't canon. That means the characters could not add new techniques, move the Sasuke plot forward, or expand upon relationships of the characters in any way. As I'm sure you can imagine (especially if you've been watching the show), that gets a little dry after a while.
Last time around there was some fuller storylines which were presented in the form of arcs of sorts. A village with a fallen star and Naruto becoming part in a ninja moving service were the lengthier tales. The star one was interesting enough, but the other arc and the subsequent standalone episodes just didn't push the envelope enough. How do the episodes in the 15th uncut boxed set stack up?
Well, for starters this set kicks off with some standalone episodes. The first involves Ino who has to portray a chubby princess on a special mission. Due to the nature of that plot alone there are some amusing moments and genuine laughs to be had. Aside from that there's not much else to the episode that's worth getting excited about. Lee gets an episode devoted to the construction of a dojo where he takes on any and all challengers. I must admit that I was particularly fond of this one because, after all, Lee is the man. There are some amusing bits with this story and some nice fights, but again you just know the dojo thing can't last at this point.
As the boxed set continues there is a lame episode about a haunted castle that is pretty pointless overall. Once that's out of the way we get a little more with Lee and Guy as Guy's new trainee, Yagura, is introduced. In good Naruto fashion Yagura isn't who they seem to be and it's up to the student to save the master from a trap. And speaking of traps there's a relatively lengthy story about a trap master named Gennou who gets involved in some interesting activities throughout the Leaf Village. The Anbu is brought in to track him down and Naruto finds himself in the middle of everything as you'd expect. This plot was dramatic enough to liven things up a bit, but once it's over there is a clip show that depicts the top five battles of the show, which is a pointless rehash that offers nothing new. This installment closes with three episodes of a larger plot involving Kurenai, Squad 8, and a secret mission.
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 trudge through so much filler! At this point it's been more than 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 193, 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. This installment does offer a couple of interesting bits, but they are few and far between and lack any real substance anyway. I dare say I want the next volume just to bring this chapter of Naruto to a close so we can start the far more promising Shippuden.
Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!