The long wait is finally over! Naruto Shippuden has arrived! Okay, maybe not everyone is going to be excited about that, but if you're a Naruto fan then you know that's something worth celebrating.
Through sixteen uncut volumes released by VIZ we made it through the 220 episodes of the original series. The show offered many highs and unfortunately several lows. Making it up through to the point where Sasuke left to gain more power was a blast. The adventures were spot on for the most part and the entire show had an "epic" feel to it all. Unfortunately anything beyond that point was strictly filler and inconsequential to the overall plot of the series. Nothing moved forward, there were no character developments, and it just felt like the show hit the breaks. Granted this happened because the series got ahead of where the manga was at the time, but that's where Shippuden comes in. Before we start talking about Shippuden though, let's take a very brief look at the road that got us here.
The whole franchise revolves around the exploits of a young boy named Naruto. When the series begins it's revealed that Naruto is a vessel for a great, dreadful spirit known as the Nine-Tail Fox Demon. This instantly makes Naruto a loner because people in the Hidden Leaf village want absolutely nothing to do with him. That gives him a complex that makes him want to be the center of attention and better than everyone else, so he often states how one day he's going to be the ruler of the village. As the show continues he's partnered up with fellow ninja youths Sasuke and Sakura, who both have their own backgrounds. Under the guidance of their instructor, Kakashi, they grow stronger and learn what it means to be a ninja and work as a team.
To make a long story short Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura become close friends and go through many battles together. Sasuke, however, hungers for power in order to exact revenge upon his brother (he slaughtered the rest of the family). Through this endeavor he's vetted by a devilish guy named Orochimaru and winds up leaving to join him and gain strength. It's at this point that the show's story more or less stopped and everything afterwards was filler with Naruto and Sakura trying to find, and save, their friend. Where does Shippuden pick up? More or less where Naruto left off.
The first series ended with Naruto leaving the Hidden Leaf village to train with Jiraiya. In the first episode here he's back after a few years, and he's a little more grown up. It's quite obvious that he's honed some of his skills, but in all fairness he hasn't completely matured. He still likes perverted jokes and is an all around goofball at times, though he does show glimmers of adulthood. Sakura is more or less the same way. She's become a young woman and quite responsible, though she's every bit as hot-tempered as she was in the first series. Once the two are reunited it's clear that they are still on a quest to find Sasuke. Before they can do that, however, there's still the matter of Naruto being the only one in his class not certified as a Chunin.
Hokage Tsunade desires to see how well Sakura and Naruto have been doing with their training. She pits them up against Kakashi in a test that is similar to their first training session. Basically they just have to get two bells from their sensei in order to pass. This time around things are different though and Kakashi takes them more seriously. After all, Tsunade has been working with Sakura on her strength and Naruto's skills have improved quite a bit as well. It's a fun storyline to watch and there's a certain sense of nostalgia as many moments from the first series are brought up through flasbacks.
While Naruto and Sakura duel with Kakashi, the village of Sand has a problem of their own. It would seem that some of Orochimaru and Itachi Uchiha brethren (the Akatsuki) are on the move and looking to cause some trouble. Two of them are dispatched to confront Gaara, who is now the Kazekage of the Sand village. Naturally there's a big epic fight there and we unfortunately don't get to see the resolution to that battle in this volume.
These two storylines are the only snippets of Shippuden we receive with this first installment. Do you know why? Because VIZ has only included four episodes! Compared to the first series' presentation on boxed sets with three discs each, this is really a disappointment. Just imagine how many DVDs you're going to have to collect to finish Shippuden off, and that's not even mentioning how it's going to look stacked next to the first series on your shelf. Take this into consideration knowing that the rest of the anime industry is shying away from these individual DVD releases for a reason.
Issues with packaging aside, the first installment of Naruto Shippuden is quite entertaining. Its formula is extremely similar to the first series and it's nice to see familiar faces back in a storyline that matters. The four episodes here were over before I knew it and I can't wait to see what's coming down the pike. You should definitely be a fan of the franchise before checking this release out, and if that's you then you should be pleased to know that the wait is over.
Just like the first series Naruto Shippuden hits DVD with its original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio. This isn't necessarily surprising, but I will say that I was kind of disappointed given the show's slightly more recent production date. I guess if it isn't broken you shouldn't fix it, though. For what it's worth the show looks extremely similar to the original. The world looks identical, the colors are just as vibrant, and all around the picture quality is on par with expectations set by the first's DVD release. Overall this is a generally solid release with little to no flaws.
English and Japanese 2.0 stereo are what you're going to find here. Though the show takes place a couple years after the first one it's worth noting that the voice actors are the same. So Naruto from back in the day sounds like the slightly older Naruto found in this one. The dubbing quality for both languages is quite solid, and the technical aspects are decent for a stereo presentation. Again, I'd say the quality is on par with the first show's release.
Some trailers are pretty much all you're going to find on this DVD for bonus features. At least the original series included a storyboard mark-up of an episode and on-screen comparison.
Naruto Shippuden picks up where the show left off (oh, about a 100 episodes or so ago) and dives right back into the continuity of the series. There's a powerful energy at work behind each conversation and battle. The simple fact that this is a familiar world and familiar characters, just a few years ahead of where we left them means there's plenty of new things to discover. I'm excited to see what is in store for the show and can't wait to get the next set of episodes. Hopefully VIZ will revisit its release strategy for this serious though. Four episodes is simply not enough after the treatment the first series got!
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