Naruto Shippuden's first volume came out just a little while ago and I do believe fans of the franchise breathed a collective sigh of relief. The filler from the first season finally came to an end and the story of everyone's favorite ninja was finally able to move into its next phase. Through sixteen uncut volumes we watched all 220 episodes and have been aching for something significant to happen for a while now. Unfortunately, while the first installment was definitely what was hoped for, the fact that VIZ shifted gears and released a four episode disc (instead of a boxed set) was a disappointment. There is a set on the horizon (thankfully) but in the meantime we have a few individual discs to get through before it arrives.
In case you don't know what Naruto is all about, the whole franchise revolves around the exploits of a young boy, who the series is named after. When the show 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 or Konoha 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.
In the previous installment Naruto returned to Konoha a couple years after he left. He seems more mature, has better skills, and all around he's taken steps to becoming the great ninja he's destined to be. In an effort to see what he's learned Hokage Tsunade had him take a test along with Sakura. This was very reminiscent of the first test of their abilities that Kakashi-sensei put them through. Meanwhile Kazakage Gaara had a battle of his own against members of the Akatsuki. Things were left quite literally up in the air when the first volume came to a close, and that's where the second picks up.
This time around the focus shifts primarily to Gaara and what's going on in the Sand Village. He's still locked in battle with the Akatsuki member named Deidara and things are not going so well. As the conflict escalates more sand ninja are brought into the fight, but it proves to be too little, too late. Gaara is captured by the Akatsuki and the sand really hits the fan, if you know what I mean. Kankuro springs into action and chases down Gaara's captors, but he alone can't rescue the Kazakage. That's where the Leaf ninja come into play.
With their successful passing of Kakashi's test, it's clear that Sakura and Naruto are in a new league. They receive a promotion based upon their performance and are essentially equals to Kakashi now. As a new three-man squad they receive a mission to save Gaara and that sets the third volume up to be all kinds of awesome. Here's to hoping the next installment lives up to the promise!
Naruto Shippuden is a great continuation of the original storyline and though it's familiar it's such a bright new world to explore. The series has been great so far, though there are still some issues with recycled material from episode to episode. I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised about that, but the fact remains that what is here is very entertaining. The boxed set release will definitely be the way to go, but if you can't wait and want a bite-sized piece of Naruto then this volume is recommended.
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.
Naruto Shippuden picks up the pieces left by about 100 episodes of filler. It's easy to get back into and feels like a true return to form. The four episodes on this second installment contain a bunch of action, fights, and all sorts of ninja jutsu. I like where the storyline is going so far and am quite eager for the next batch of episodes. Even so, with the boxed set on the horizon it's challenging to recommend the individual installments. More episodes is simply better in the case of anime, and four episodes just don't really cut it these days. Still, the show is good and these episodes are entertaining, so on those merits alone this installment gets recommended.
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