Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 27th 2012
DVD Box Set 10
Three years ago, Sasuke Uchiha turned against his comrade Naruto and went out in search of greater power. But Orochimaru, the villain who took Sasuke in, had an ulterior motive: he planned to transfer himself into Sasuke's body and gain the power of the all-seeing Sharingan Eye. When their powers collide, however, Sasuke comes out on top—and now he's a near-invincible ninja bent on revenge against his brother Itachi. Sasuke gathers a team of rogue ninjas for his quest, while Naruto and the rest of the Hidden Leaf Village try to track him down after hearing of what happened with Orochimaru. Both parties seek out the Akatsuki, a devious organization where Itachi Uchiha operates. When Sasuke runs into the Akatsuki's explosives expert Deidara, a deadly battle begins.
The tenth box set of Naruto Shippuden is truly a mixed bag, all over the place in terms of quality. A villain that was once the series' ultimate evil (Orochimaru) faces off against Sasuke in a surprisingly anticlimactic battle. Sasuke's recruitment effort for his new ninja team drags on for four barely-interesting episodes, while Naruto and friends spend much of their time strategizing and searching. Sasuke's showdown with Deidara is the action highlight of this arc ... but then sprawls out into multiple episodes with intermittent lectures about ninja physics. And believe it or not, two of the best episodes in this set are fillers. Does that make the overall product good or bad?
The best part, clearly, is the "Kakashi Chronicles" interlude that comes right at the halfway mark. Confined to two episodes rather than a never-ending battle arc, this adventure has it all: intense fight scenes, emotional highs and lows, and a legitimate purpose to the story, explaining how Kakashi got his scar and his Sharingan Eye. The later episodes in this set also excel as Sasuke and Deidara face off—their adrenaline-packed battle becomes a game of wits, with each combatant trying to outdo the other with increasingly complex moves. Sasuke's finisher is the most impressive of all, not because of any great power, but because all of it is so carefully planned ahead.
But that fight, like so many other things in this story arc, also has its flaws. The battle eventually unfolds into an excessive display of "Oh, here's my real best move!" over and over, and both ninjas keep having to stop and explain how their attacks work. But even stop-and-go pacing is better than the insufferable lull when Sasuke seeks out new members for his team. Over four episodes, the formula is the same: he recruits a new character, they get into some kind of conflict, and then the party continues to stroll through the wilderness. Usually there's also a flashback thrown in to eat up extra minutes. Paradoxically, these new sidekicks barely get to participate in the Sasuke-Deidara battle—so why'd they even join up?
Meanwhile, the good guys get a treatment that is muddled at best. The pacing is laughably bad when Naruto, Tsunade, and company are discussing what to do about Sasuke and Orochimaru—their meeting-room discussion is broken up into tiny, couple-of-minute snippets in between all the Sasuke scenes. Fortunately, things get more coherent once they actually plan to hunt down the Akatsuki and Sasuke himself, but again, it's mostly preparation and not a lot of battle. The one truly great scene comes at the end: a contemplative chat between village elders Jiraiya and Tsunade before a mission that sets up the next story arc.
The animation in these episodes is as inconsistent as the storytelling, with moments of greatness in between moments that are downright eyesores. The earlier episodes get the worst of it: Sasuke's battle with Orochimaru and his subsequent search for new teammates are hampered by flat (and sometimes sloppy) character designs, dull backgrounds, and stiff movement. Conversely, the Kakashi filler episodes are examples of how Naruto ought to look: shadows, highlights and textures add life to the characters and their environments, along with fluid fight scenes and vivid colors. As expected, Sasuke's battle with Deidara is also a visual showpiece, especially with Deidara molding monsters out of clay and setting off smoke-spewing explosions. But in between are some less impressive scenes, like flashbacks or minor-character activities, that lack the same level of polish. Whether it's a lack of shading or conspicuously static backgrounds, the animation shortcuts are clearly there.
The serious tone of the first several episodes is reflected in the music, with long, low chords accompanying Sasuke wherever he goes. This persistent gloom probably adds to the dullness of those episodes; fortunately the variety improves later on as ninjas battle it out to the sound of dramatic strings or hard-rock instrumentals. Meanwhile, the theme songs are predictably mid-tempo tracks that don't stand out too much, aside from helping to ease the mood when the story gets too serious.
The English dub on these discs captures the characters' personalities well, from Sasuke's serious tone to the easygoing drawl of sidekick Suigetsu and other voices in between. Still, the performance is a bit rough around the edges compared to the original Japanese: Yuri Lowenthal's Sasuke seems bored of his very existence, there's too much growl in Naruto's voice, and depending on who you ask, there are about five different ways to pronounce "Orochimaru." Still, the dub has enough emotion to get the point across, and the script doesn't stray too far from the original translations. In addition to bilingual audio tracks, this 3-disc set also includes clean credits sequences, production sketches, and some end-of-episode comedy outtakes—fairly standard bonus content.
This mixed bag of hit-or-miss episodes results in a very average story arc: it has its pinnacles of greatness, but those are just as quickly canceled out by disappointing lows. For every great battle or stunning visual display, there's another part of the series that drags its feet aimlessly, or mails in some cheap-looking animation. The best that can be said about this segment of Naruto Shippuden is that it moves the story forward, opening up new scenarios for everyone. But the sheer inconsistency of these episodes makes one wonder about all the wasted potential.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : C
+ Shows its best side with action and drama in the Kakashi side-story, as well as an impressive fight in the later episodes.
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