Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Mar 24th 2006
Dub.DVD 1: Enter naruto
When the Hidden Leaf Village was attacked by a marauding demon fox spirit 12 years ago, the brave and noble fourth Hokage sacrificed himself in order to properly seal the beast inside a baby orphan named Naruto. Now that the kid's coming of age, he wants to be a ninja; or rather, he wants to be Hokage! The road to Hokage isn't an easy one, however, and Naruto's prankster spirit gets him into plenty of trouble along the way.
After years of hoopla and anticipation and nail-biting, Naruto is finally out on DVD. The show has been immensely popular for years now and it's one of those series where the fan reaction to the show has arguably received more attention than the show itself. When the English dubbed version appeared on Cartoon Network last year, fan reaction was mixed, as it always is; so now that Viz has released the first four episodes of the dub on DVD, it's an appropriate time to reflect on how this shonen action juggernaut began.
The episodes included on this DVD comprise the first four edited, English-dubbed installments that ran on Cartoon Network's Toonami block last year, and nothing about them has changed from their initial broadcast; we see Naruto's introduction, his first exam, and his first encounter with the obnoxious Konohamaru, all slightly sanitized for your protection. Depending on the sort of fan you are, however, your mileage may vary; to some, changing even one word is blasphemy that should be punishable by death, and for others, the changes are a necessary evil that help bring the show to a much broader audience, meaning more Naruto for everyone. Odds are, if you're a big Naruto fan, you already know what your reaction to these episodes is and there isn't anything on this DVD that's going to surprise you.
If, by some amazing circumstance, you're an anime fan and somehow don't already have an opinion on this series, here's the scoop: Naruto is yet another in the fine, long-standing tradition of lengthy action-packed shonen series (like Dragon Ball Z and One Piece), and as an action series it succeeds on many levels. Although the episodes on this disc are occasionally paced like a snail race and some of the characters are pretty annoying (like the pint-sized, cape-wearing Konohamaru), there's a whole lot to like here. The storyline, while not the most original thing ever written – spunky kid with superpowers wants to be the best ninja in the world – is surprisingly well-executed, with just enough action, humor, drama and pathos to make the show appeal to a wide variety of people. The training scenes with Naruto and his fellow students Sasuke and Sakura manage to hold your attention, in spite of the fact that there just isn't a whole lot happening. New fans will be excited by the potential these episodes exude, if not their actual content. Plus, there are a handful of cool fight scenes.
Naruto's world is a bright and colorful one, and the animation in these four episodes is expertly handled by Studio Pierrot. They take the usual shortcuts you find in most shonen action series, but mostly they do a fine job. Characters have been somewhat simplified for television, but Masashi Kishimoto's original designs are intact. The opening theme – a simple guitar number with clips from the original Japanese credit sequence and a few shots from the series itself – isn't quite as exciting or cool as the original, but it gets the job done. Fans would do well to pick up the unedited box set, since the Japanese songs will be intact there.
The English dub is very well done for what it is. There are some surprisingly strong performances here, particularly from Naruto's instructor Kakashi and his brooding pal Sasuke. Naruto himself has a somewhat tiresome, gravelly voice, and his catchphrase – “Believe It!” is used more like punctuation than a standard speech pattern, but comparing the voice to the original Japanese (and the original Japanese catchphrase, 'dattebayo!') will reveal that the two are equally as obnoxious. The English dub can't be blamed for simply replicating the original… and the original was fairly annoying itself. Sakura sounds a little older than she actually is, and her voice actress tends to overact a bit, but it's a serviceable performance that gets much better as the show progresses. Frankly, when you compare the Naruto dub to other series aired in its timeslot, it fares very well. It isn't perfect, but it's good enough.
For diehard Naruto fans, the unedited box set that follows this English dubbed release will obviously be the preferred product, but for new (and younger) anime fans, this DVD – reasonably priced, with a handful of extras and a handsome package design – will serve as a perfect gateway drug into the world of Naruto. The English dub here is very accessible and entertaining, and if you have a kid brother or a younger friend who loves action shows, this DVD makes a perfect gift. No, it isn't completely uncut, the characters don't swear like sailors and blood doesn't gush from every wound, but this mildly edited version of Naruto retains the spirit of the series and makes the show available to a whole new audience.
Overall (dub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Fun story, cool concept, servicable dub, lots of potential.
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