It's hard to deny that Naruto has become one of the world's most popular anime franchises. Heck, all you really have to do is hit an anime convention and see how many cosplay characters you can pick out of the crowd. 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 by far the better of the two. After all, would you want to watch some watered down shadow or one that packs more of a punch? Punch it is!
Up to this point three volumes of Uncut Naruto have been released. During that time we have seen several episodes and many different sections of the story, which closely follows the manga. We followed Kakashi's Team 7 (Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura) through their early adventures and introductory missions. Then the Chunin exams started.
After taking an information gathering test the kids then went into the next phase; the Forest of Death. Their goal was to collect a second scroll and make it to a central point with a pair of the items in order to make it to the next round. We were introduced to many of the other Chunin candidates and some rivalries were made in between. The biggest impact on Naruto's story to come from the Forest of Death arc was the cursing of Sasuke.
A highly skillful and evil ninja known as Orochimaru snuck into the forest with sinister plans that had nothing to do with the examinations. He assaulted Naruto's group and bit Sasuke on the neck with his snake-like abilities. This left a curse mark behind and though the battle seemed to be over the impact of that conflict resonate throughout the rest of the series. Sasuke's grim determination to seek revenge drives him to a quest for power and the curse mark amplifies his pre-existing abilities. He becomes a fearsome warrior once the curse begins to feed on his chakra and unless he learns to control it he'll wind up dying. With the Forest of Death and all it had to offer behind them, Naruto and company head into the third trial; the preliminary combat round.
This volume showcases a ton of fighting with its 14 episodes and really develops some of the secondary characters. If you're a fan of the show and have been watching to this point will not tell you the outcome of the battle (who wins or loses) but will simply jot down some of what happens. The set begins with Sasuke squaring off against one of Orochimaru's spies. The power of the curse mark begins to emerge during the battle and in the end Sasuke needs to be treated for injuries. Kakashi utilizes a seal to stave off the curse mark but if the darkness in Sasuke's heart rages it will shatter the seal.
Other battles from this volume include Sakura squaring off against Ino, which is a treat to be sure. Hinata goes against Neiji who apparently possess abilities similar, yet more powerful, than her own. Shino (the buy guy) battles Zaku from Sound, Temari from the Sand Village fights Tenten, Kankuro goes against Misumi, and Choji fights Dosu. As you'd expect, 50% of those entrants make it to the next round while the other remains behind.
Apart from Sasuke and Sakura's battle the other interesting fight in this volume is between Naruto and Kiba. Up until now Kiba has been a somewhat quiet character who seemingly just walks around with a puppy in his jacket. Once you see him enter combat he becomes a different beast all together. You could even say he transforms himself into a monster. Naruto has his hands full with this entire fight though I hate to say it ends rather predictably.
Ironically one of the biggest fights on this volume is between Rock Lee and Gaara of the Sand Village. If you have been watching the show you know that Rock is formidable with Taijitsu and Gaara possesses a mysterious and seemingly evil power. The two collide with an explosion of strength and each of their secret techniques is revealed. It's sad to say but given the effort put into the show for the rest of the preliminary examinations this fight seems to have gotten the most attention.
Throughout these 14 episodes the action is intense and character development hits some very respectable notes. However, there are a few problems. In every episode there are flashbacks to scenes from prior episodes or even earlier in the current one. That means the run time is drawn out to a frustrating degree and the pacing slows immensely. To be fair Naruto has always consisted of this but for some reason it seems much worse with this particular arc. Even so, there is still more than enough story and action to cover the cost of the collection. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself itching to fast forward through sections.
Originally airing in 2002 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. This is a solid looking show that is presented well on DVD.
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.
Like the previous uncut collections the fourth offers some bonus features to peruse. Again there is a booklet with a storyboard sequence (this one from episode 46: the fight between Hinata and Neji) which is always a nice inclusion. Otherwise all that you'll find on the DVDs are some production art, another storyboard sequence (this one compared to the episode), and some previews.
Naruto is just one of those series that has lasting appeal with all audiences. It's rare that something is as widely accepted, but the action, humor, and heartfelt storytelling are perfect reasons for its success. While the focus in the preliminary arc is more on action than storytelling there are a few interesting developments here. Throughout this is a solid installment that forwards Naruto's tale and gives some insight into the other Chunin hopefuls. A few moments in this volume featured some slower than usual pacing which offset the action but overall it was bearable.