Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 4th 2009
DVD - Uncut Box Set 13 (Special Edition)
The mission in the Land of Birds continues as Naruto, Neji, and Tenten (later also joined by Kakashi) work to get to the bottom of the mystery involving the Cursed Warrior, some wandering ninja, and multiple cases of disguised identity. At stake is nothing less than the future leadership of the land. Upon returning, Naruto, Choji, and Sakura must help a friend in a bout with Ninja Chefs. Later, Naruto finds himself teamed up with Ino and Shino under the leadership of Anko-sensei on a mission to the Land of Sea, where they must protect a ship from a supposed “Demon of the Ocean,” but things get more complicated when the mission dredges up some of Anko's lost memories of her time with Orochimaru. Naruto also finds himself on a treasure hunt with Hinata and Kiba, one conducted under threat of all three being sent back to the Academy if they fail. Naruto also goes out on a couple of solo missions, one involving escorting a rich kid for the day and another involving Delivery Ninja.
Box set 13 includes episodes 164-177, which places its content squarely in the midst of the first series' interminable run of filler stories. The stories here are not necessarily all bad – and, in fact, a couple of them are actually entertaining – but there's only so long that a long-running shonen action series can piddle around without some sense of ongoing plot (and without advancing Naruto's training or the storyline concerning Sousuke) without the audience getting fidgety, and Naruto is reaching, if not already past, that limit here. Filling in some important gaps in Anko's established but little-explored past association with Orochimaru is not enough.
Of the three multi-episode mini-arcs partly or completely included here, the Cursed Warrior arc is the weakest. Although it does include one nice plot twist and a couple of decent battles, its trite execution and blatant, oversimplified moralizing weigh it down, while the ghost theme and some of the ridiculous circumstances surrounding it turn the arc into little more than a ninja version of Scooby-Doo. (You can almost imagine the head villain saying at the end, “and I would have gotten away with it if not for those meddling kids!”) The story also has Naruto saving a girl and convincing her that life is worth living in the process, which is not an occurrence unique even to this box set and all too common in the franchise's filler episodes and movies; change “girl” to “boy” and the occurrence is even more frequent. Sure, the setting and exact circumstances are different in each case, but the franchise has beat that particular concept into the ground.
The five-episode Land of the Sea arc is a bit better, although it, too, suffers from tired story mechanics. The girl to be saved in this arc is a more distinctive, interesting, and personally capable character than the one in the Cursed Warrior arc, and the play-out of events is more credible; mixing a local legend in with history involving the Hidden Leaf Village helps. The bigger difference-maker here, though, is the fishnet-clad Anko. Her connection to Orochimaru was never adequately explored when it first came up a hundred episodes earlier, and it is integrated into the regular action rather than the series' more typical process of breaking out an entire episode or two just to exposit about it.
The Treasure Hunt arc, by comparison, is ultimately just an exercise for character interactions and power use, as it allows the series to further show off Naruto's antagonistic relationship with Kiba and Hinata's ongoing crush on Naruto (to which Naruto naturally continues to be clueless). The trio of one-episode stories scattered in between the longer arcs are primarily just excuses for silliness, although such silliness can, at time, be quite amusing.
The artistry through this stretch suffers from occasional minor quality breakdowns, but that has, unfortunately, been par for the course for the series. New character designs rarely generate much interest or excitement, with the bad-guy ninja fading into a handful of generic appearance stand-bys by this point; the one arguable exception to this is Isaribi, the heavily-bandaged girl, especially when she reveals her hybrid form. The Jutsu use through this run likewise lacks the full visual punch it achieved in the earlier stages of the series, though this could be as much a lack of freshness as a technical deficiency. The animation is the shonen action series norm: decent enough to make the action look at least mildly interesting, unimpressive otherwise.
The musical score through this run almost entirely relies on well-established series themes, which still work best in the peak action scenes and comedy bits and otherwise just meander along. The seventh opener “Namikaze Satellite” reigns throughout these episodes, while the closer, which is always the original one rather than the adapted one used for the American TV broadcasts, changes one and a half times. The gentle, warm tenth opener “Soba ni Iru Kara” lasts only two episodes into this set before being replaced by the first version of “Parade,” whose visuals feature various cast members in (sometimes very fetching) dog costumes. That version lasts for only four episodes before changing to dreamy visuals focused entirely on Sakura, which last out the rest of the volume.
The English casting and vocal performances for the series have never been the problem that some diehard fans have made them out to be, and throughout this run the Studiopolis-produced dub remains as solid as ever. Even in minor roles the casting choices fit the characters and, most commonly, are close fits with the original performances, too. The one legitimate complaint that might be made is the overuse of certain English VAs in bit parts; Laura Bailey seems to be the default actress for the little girl roles and Steve Blum can seemingly be heard voicing every other Generic Guy C. The English script sticks very close to the original in places but varies a lot – sometimes a bit too much – in others.
Aside from a wide variety of trailers and advertisements, the on-disk Extras on the third disk include a Production Art feature, a “From Sketchbook to Screen” bit for one of the battle scenes in episode 173, and the sole appearance of the English credits for this set. A partial deck of Naruto-themed cards also comes in the quad-fold case, which is contained inside a slipcover. Unlike some earlier boxed set releases, this one has no complementary booklet.
Despite some amusing moments and one decent story arc, this set represents one of the lowest and least memorable stretches of the first series. Sadly, the filler continues for three more boxed sets after this.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Some very amusing bits, fills in backstory gaps for Anko.
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