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Naruto, Volume 1
Any otaku worth their salt knows about Naruto. The manga that was originally introduced back in 1999 by Masashi Kishimoto took Japan by storm and has seen over 30 volumes released so far. Here in America it has been nearly as successful with readers scurrying to check out the latest adventures when the translated versions are released by VIZ. As it stands we're currently up to volume ten so obviously we have quite a ways to go before we catch up to Japan.
In the meantime fans of the manga will definitely want to check out the animated version. Granted the show can be seen on TV and it has received a DVD release, but there was a catch to both of those. Up until now the only way you could have seen the show legally in the states was in an edited form that featured some altered portions of the story and deleted violence. Because of that I boycotted it due to my stubbornness when it comes to getting things uncensored. Thankfully VIZ listened to the plight of fans and got a hold of the original version of the show.
Don't misunderstand me, when I say uncensored and original I don't mean to say that there is a gratuitous amount of nudity and violence. On the contrary, despite some jokes and spilt blood I still deem this show to be very childlike in nature. This could have more to do with its characters than the actual content but there's just something about Naruto that appeals to kids of all ages; myself included.
Naruto tells a tale filled with mysticism, ninja jutsu, and the coming of age of a group of young shinobi. Twelve years ago a great nine-tail demon fox tore across the land and devastated the world with its fearsome power. Thanks to the skill of a particular Hokage (ninja village leader) the demon was sealed and the world was safe. Where the demon was sealed; however, was probably not the most ideal of locations.
Naruto Uzumaki was a newly born infant at the time and became the unwitting host to the spirit of the fox demon. He is not fully aware of his true nature but many of the adults living in the Hidden Leaf Village are. The people fear and loathe Naruto because of the dormant monster living inside of him and because of that the boy has become an outcast. He spends his days acting out in school and being loud and obnoxious all in an effort to garner some attention. The sad part is the child isn't a blood-thirsty monster; he just wants to prove himself and become the next Hokage of the village.
There are several bumps in the road ahead for Naruto though. First of all he has to actually graduate in order to attain the next ninja class rank. That seems like an impossible task for the lad until he inadvertently reads a special scroll and learns a powerful jutsu that saves his teacher's life. Because of the growth that Naruto had shown and the honorable way in which he acted he is awarded a graduation and the next phase in his life begins.
The next challenge for Naruto involves becoming a part of a three man team. The beautiful Sakura and the cool as a cucumber Sasuke get the "honor" of being the trouble maker's teammates. They go through various training and have to take some tests in order to prove their worth to their new teacher, Kakashi. Eventually they are passed and allowed to take on some missions. One in particular sees them escorting a bridge maker back to his town, though things aren't quite as they appear.
Gato, the world's richest man, wants the bridge builder dead. That means he has hired some powerful ninja to see the job done so the road ahead for Naruto and the gang is bumpy indeed. In this first uncut volume, which features 13 episodes, this particular mission comprises most of them. Therefore the story is completely sequential and not episodic like the adventures you'd find in other long-running anime series. If you're a reader of the manga and want to know what is here compares to the book, this volume finishes off where chapter 24 (volume 3) of the manga ends.
Most every feature of the manga is intact in the animated version as well. Naruto's brash sense of humor and mischief, Sakura's inner monologue, and Kakashi's bored mannerisms are all captured perfectly. Naruto still does his ninja centerfold gag and the shadow clone technique is still as cool as ever. The animation is fast paced and the art style matches the manga perfectly. My only gripe is that the manner in which the show is featured shows some shortcuts in the animation process. This was probably due to budget concerns thanks to the sheer number of episodes, but at least it's not the guiltiest party that I have seen in that regard.
If you're looking for a new show to get into or want to upgrade from your edited version you must check out Uncut Naruto Volume One. The thirteen episodes here show a great amount of growth in the characters and offer up a wide range of ninja actions and humor. This is one of the most popular concepts on the market today for a reason and no matter your age you'll find something about this anime to love.
Originally airing in 2002 Naruto is presented with a 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio and features a vibrant transfer on this boxed set. The colors set the stage for the atmosphere and the animation picks up any slack. In the process there was no noticeable aliasing or speckle, though there were a few points in time when compression artifacts could be spotted. These were mostly attributed to the darker areas of the image but at a few other points they could be picked out. Overall this is a solid transfer for a great looking show.
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. I didn't encounter any real problems while watching the episodes here though I found the music to be a little overbearing at times.
Much to my delight a smattering of bonus features make their way onto the first uncut box for Naruto though there's nothing too ground breaking here. On the boring side of things there are trailers for Shonen Jump stuff and a preview for the second volume of Naruto. Slightly more interesting is the inclusion of some production art and a storyboard to screen comparison of some scenes. The golden package also offers up a printed 84 page Japanese storyboard for the either episodes of the series.
Naruto is just one of those series that has lasting appeal to all audiences. It's rare that something is as widely accepted, but the action, humor, and heartfelt storytelling are perfect reasons. The uncut collection of the first thirteen episodes offers fans the unaltered version of their beloved show and introduces itself to a new fan-base the way it was meant to be seen. This is a solid show that deserves a spot on your DVD shelf. Hopefully VIZ will find success with this release and consider an uncut edition for One Piece as well.