Reviewby Zac Bertschy,
DVD: Uncut DVD Box Set 1
Years ago, while protecting the Hidden Leaf Village, the fourth Hokage sealed a rampaging demon fox spirit inside an orphaned child named Naruto. Now a coming-of-age wannabe ninja striving to be more powerful than any Hokage before him, Naruto is joined by his jovial and enigmatic teacher Kakashi and fellow students Sakura and Sasuke. Together, they go through rigorous training and embark on a perilous mission that will test their skills more than ever before.
Arguably the most wildly popular show of the last 3 years, Viz Media's ninja action-adventure hit Naruto has all the earmarks of an international success story; it is beloved by a large and fiercely protective group of fans and embraced by the casual community thanks a successful TV dub on Cartoon Network. Although the show has already been released on DVD in its dubbed and edited form, this uncut box set includes the first 13 episodes in the series, and it's obvious Viz has gone to great lengths to make the show's dedicated hardcore fanbase happy.
The 13 episodes in this set comprise Naruto's initial training and the fight with Haku and Zabusa, ending just before Naruto reaches the bridge himself. It's a much meatier chunk of the show than on the first dub-only offering and gives you a much better idea of what the show is like, ending just when the first decent battle really starts to heat up. It's kind of an awkward place to conclude the set, but the final episode here marks a major turning point in the storyline and since the fight drags on (in typical Naruto style) for a while afterward, it's as good a spot as any to end on. Even totally uncut (and this box set proves that the English version of the show isn't heavily edited in the first place), there isn't anything drastically different about this show. If you found yourself bored by the show's reliance on shonen action clichés or never liked it to begin with, there isn't anything in this set that's going to change your mind; it's the same Naruto everybody knows and a whole lot of people seem to love. This is, at its very core, the archetype of what a long-running Shonen Jump action series is, and if you're not one of the millions of people who go nuts for that sort of thing, this set won't thrill you. In fact, even though more episodes are included here, this set still comprises the relatively dull early part of the first season. Everyone who's been following the show on television knows that most of the truly exciting parts of this show are yet to come.
Realistically, the fans this box set is aimed at have already seen all of these episodes more than once, so what's really important about this set are the details. Although there were a million things Viz could have done to make this release unpalatable to fans, it's as though they looked at a hardcore fan wishlist during production and simply checked most everything off. The subtitles are extremely accurate to the Japanese, and are presented in a very readable and unobtrusive font. The video quality is superior, and all the original opening and ending themes are included; Viz even subtitled the Japanese rock song that opens the show, which isn't something the company usually does for any release. The closing theme isn't subtitled because it's in English – rather “English” since, despite the beauty of the song itself, the singer sounds as though he has a mouth full of marbles, so maybe subtitles would've been the way to go for that one. They even included the dub for all 13 episodes for fans who don't mind the English voices but would rather not have arbitrary cuts made to the more violent or adult bits. It's the same dub you'll hear on TV, complete with Naruto's “Believe it!” catchphrase (which is, blissfully, not included in the subtitles). In fact, watching the dub with the subtitles on is a great lesson in how scriptwriters for English dubs have to rewrite dialogue so it flows better sounds more natural.
It all comes in a very well-done package, set in a handsome reflective slipcase. There are a handful of extras, including a storyboard book packaged with the box set. The extra features on the final disc are mostly innocuous. There's some production art and a screen-to-storyboard comparison feature that should be of some interest to those fascinated by the process of animation. Also included are the requisite trailers for other Viz Media titles and Shonen Jump merchandise. It's nothing too spectacular; the episodes themselves are obviously the real star of the show here. It's possible Viz could have gone a few steps further when including extras, however, even if they were just interviews with the show's American staff.
That said, it's hard to think of how this release could have been better. Fans are getting exactly what they wanted: a faithful, subtitled, Japanese-language version with the opening and ending themes intact and a few goodies thrown in. Any hardcore Naruto fan will be happy to have this set on their shelf, and it's a great way to introduce people to the series they know and love so well. It's easy to recommend this set over the dubbed DVDs, especially considering you're getting more episodes for a slightly lower cost with more features and vastly more attractive packaging. In short, fans have nothing to fear; the Naruto release they've been praying for has been delivered.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ It's the subtitled Japanese-language version of Naruto; this is basically what everyone's been asking for.
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