Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 29th 2008
DVD - Uncut DVD Box Set 6
Sasuke has returned, and the final battle of the Chunin Exams – Sasuke vs. Gaara – is now at hand. The greater plan of the Sand Village is also at hand, and during a key point in the Sasuke/Gaara battle they strike, commencing various aspects of an all-out attack on the Hidden Leaf Village. While Gai and Kakashi battle enemy forces in the arena, the instructors lead the children to safety, other security forces try to delay/thwart the attackers, and the Third Hokage confronts Orochimaru, the true mastermind of the attack, in a ninja-style rooftop cage match to the death. Meanwhile, Kakashi dispatches Naruto, Sakura, and Shikimaru to pursue Sasuke, who has gone after the wounded Gaara, a key component of the assault who has been carried away until he can recover. As the young ninja soon discover to their horror, there is a reason why Gaara was considered the lynchpin of the operation. In Gaara, Naruto finds his ultimate foe.
After being released irregularly during 2006 and 2007, Viz Media's uncut boxed set releases of Naruto now seem to be settling into a regular 9-10 week release pattern. Sub fans will naturally delight in finally having the broadcast episodes available in official subtitle form with the original openers and closers intact, and getting 13 episodes for less than the price of two normal anime DVDs is a bit of a bargain, but the biggest advantage to this release format is that it helps offset the series' Dragon Ball Z-like tendency to drag things out. Naruto is a series best watched in big chunks, and these releases allow you to do that. The downside to going rigidly with 13-episode blocks is that the releases savagely cut across plot lines; this one, for instance, starts in the midst of the Chunin Exam final rounds and ends in the midst of Naruto's climatic battle with Gaara. (Admittedly, though, the final scene of episode 78 does offer one hell of an incentive to continue watching into the next set.)
Throughout this run, which spans episodes 66-78, the series displays one of its most remarkable traits in full force: its ability to take 3-4 episodes worth of plot and action and somehow turn them into more than a dozen episodes. It extends face-downs under the illusion of creating tension, wastes time on needlessly thorough and detailed flashbacks, has most key characters descend into internal and/or external exposition about motivations, gives full development even to fights not central to the storyline, and drags the Third Hokage/Orochimaru fight on interminably by only showing a couple of repetitive minutes of it in every episode beyond a certain point – in other words, all of the series' standard tricks. Granted, the scope of the attack on the Hidden Leaf Village is so vast, and so many key events are going on in it at the same time, that dealing with all of them inevitably requires spreading things out, which the luxury of a long-running shonen format allows the series to do. Even so, the notions of “going overboard” and “tackling too much” seem foreign concepts to the creators.
As frustrating as Naruto can be to watch, though, it does have its moments, and those are usually enough to make up for the tedium of wading through all its stretched-out crap. Highlights in this block including Sasuke returning to show off his impressive new Chidori technique, the Third Hokage finally showing exactly why he is Hokage, numerous nicely-executed battles, and Gaara finally revealing his true form. (More cynical fans might also add, “and the series finally affirming that it does have a plot beyond the Chunin Exam tournament structure.”)
The biggest highlights belong to Naruto, however. His climatic fight against Gaara begins in typical fashion, but his realization that, in Gaara, he has found the person he could have been had he not found people to befriend and care for him lends a depth and emotion to the situation that most confrontations in the series do not have. That realization, and the following one that a responsible ninja is strongest when working for more than just himself, allows Naruto, for the first time in the series, to truly and fully come into his own. Nowhere in the entire series run does Naruto shine brighter than in the peak period of his battle against Gaara (which begins in episode 78), and nowhere in the series does he produce a bigger jaw-dropper of a move in than in the final scene of that episode. Unfortunately the set ends before finishing it out.
Although the series generally has a solid visual appeal, at times its artistry becomes erratic in style in quality, and those moments most often happen when the series attempts to fully animate complex battle scenes. Such a breakdown can be seen on a couple of occasions in this volume, while in other places the animation uses various common action shortcuts and scene repeats (especially those involving Naruto, Sakura, Shikimaru, and the ninja dog leaping through the trees) to simplify matters. On the plus side, it continues to offer appealing character designs, plenty of flashy displays of ninja power and moves, respectable background art, and involved battle scenes which, at their best, include some extremely intricate maneuvers. Naruto has become a big success primarily because of its active, entertaining action, and this set delivers no shortage of that.
The soundtrack for these episodes relies most on the same core mix of rock numbers, solemn melodies, and themes grounded in classical Japanese traditions that have been staples of the series to date, though it does not shy from infusing in fresher numbers as needed. Whether or not the soundtrack is worth listening to separately may be debatable, but it does its job well in playing up the excitement and mood of the storytelling. The original closers “Alive” (for episodes 65-77) and “Imamade Nandomo” (for episode 78), neither of which ever aired in the Cartoon Network broadcast, are both present in this release. Opener “Kanashimi o Yasashisani” for episodes 65-77 saw its visuals but not its song used in the CN broadcasts, but episode 78 shows that highly suitable new opener “Go!!!” was used faithfully by CN.
Aside from how much it borrows from Dragon Ball Z (and fans who don't think it does need to get a clue), the biggest point of contention over Naruto has often been its English dub. It shouldn't be, though, as complaints that the English dub is off the mark or poorly-performed have little solid foundation. The English performances often lay a bit of extra style and attitude onto the roles, which may be principally responsible for it not setting well with those who originally watched the series subtitled, but on the flip side the original Japanese dub sounds tame to someone who watched the series dubbed first and better distinguishes the innumerable male roles from one another, which is a big problem in the Japanese dub. Besides, some of the key roles in this volume – most notably Yuri Lowenthal as Sasuke (is that really the same actor who voiced Leo in Scrapped Princess?) and Liam O'Brien's superb effort as Gaara – are as close to the original performances as could reasonably be expected. Complaints that certain English VAs get overused in supporting roles also have little standing, as Naruto still has one of the broadest English casts of any anime ever dubbed and the Japanese cast frequently reused seiyuu, too. The English script also generally stays very close to the original, too.
The 13 episodes are spread across three disks in a 4/4/5 pattern, which come in a quad-fold case inside a foil-coated slip cover that also includes a booklet containing an untranslated storyboard breakdown for all of episode 66. On-disk Extras are all found on the third disk, and include production art, a preview of volume 7, and a storyboard/animation comparison for parts of episode 78. The only English translation of the credits available in the entire box set is also found there, as the episodes use the fully original Japanese openers and closers. Notably, the song lyrics do not show unless the subtitles in general are turned on.
It may start typically, but the sixth box set ends with the beginning of a four-episode run that represents the series at its very best. Regrettably, viewers have to wade through lots of drawn-out content to get to the juicy moments, but that is par for the course in Naruto.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Episode 78, effective use of soundtrack.
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