DVD
Naruto Unleashed
Volume 1

Starring (voice): Junko Takeuchi
Manga
RRP: 24.99
MANG5029
Certificate: 12
Available 21 August 2006


Konoha, the Hidden Leaf Village is your average ninja hamlet, except for one thing, it contains Naruto Uzumaki. Unbeknownst, to the children, but known to their parents Naruto's body contains the trapped spirit of Kyubi, a demon fox which had been defeated twelve years ago. Because of their parent's behaviour towards Naruto, the children of the village also treat him with deferential fear. All Naruto wants is to become the best ninja that he can and win the respect of the villagers, especially Haruno Sakura who he has a crush on and his mentor Jounin Sensei, Hakate Kakashi. Only time will tell if even his arch rival Uchida Sasuke will play a part on his road to become the village's Hokage...

Soon after its initial transmission in 2002 Naruto soon became a firm fan favourite. This popularity continued when it was broadcast in North America. Based on the original manga created by Masashi Kishimoto, which sold in excess of 59 million copies in Japan and 60 million in the States, this has created a huge fan base and there has been a lot of expectation from anime fans for this show, and a long arduous wait for it to come to our shores. Although, it is now being shown in this country, it is in its cut format. Now for the first time, courtesy of Manga Entertainment, you can see the first thirteen episodes in their full uncut glory giving you a full three hundred and twenty-four minutes of Naruto madness. As with all successful shows Naruto has spawned everything from computer games to collectable cards plus three movies, the last of which should be being released as you read this.

Disc one contains episodes one to five.

Episode one: Uzumaki Naruto Arrives, and we're into the introduction story. It turns out that our Naruto is a bit of a scamp, getting caught defacing a Mount Rushmore type monument. As well as introducing the main character the main thrust of the story is to introduce the back story of the fox demon living in Naruto and the reason for the villagers fear. Of course, to round off this introduction, there is a bit of ninja butt kicking thrown in for good measure.

Episode two: I am Konohamaru and, having graduated as a ninja, Naruto's first task is to get his picture taken. However this is interrupted by the arrival of the young man Konohamaru, the grandson of the third great Hokage. Naruto tries to mentor the boy, using girly mags and sneaking into the girl's bathroom. It's an amusing episode, but not one that pushes the story ahead much.

Episode three: Rivals! Sasuke and Sakura, in which we are introduced to two important reoccurring characters and Naruto gets more than a little bit p*ssed, well I did say these were the uncut episodes.

Episode four: The Trial: Survival Training, and the gang start on their road to becoming real ninjas.

Episode five and the last story on disc one: Failure: Kakashi's Conclusion, and the kids discover that they have royally screwed up. In the middle of their fight training the Sensei stops the fight and tells them that they have all failed as they have not learned to work as a team. If that wasn't bad enough Naruto is hanging upside down from a tree.

So, the first disc does its job, by now the most important characters have been introduced and the various pressures between them set up. The first scenes are well choreographed, though whether this element of the show will become repetitive only time will tell. So far the show has relied heavily on its comedic and fight elements with little in the way of a dramatic story arc developing, but then these are the early episodes.

Disc two contains episodes six to nine and the real story begins...

Episode six: Important Mission! Heading to the Country of the Wave, and Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura are sent off on a number of missions to further their ninja training. Given the level of difficulty baby-sitting and cat retrieving Naruto decides to have a p*ssy fit. On the way to the Country of the Wave the gang meets a drunk who reveals himself as a great bridge builder, before they can get to the village they are attacked by the Demon brothers.

Episode seven: The Assassin of the Mist, and it would appear that the gang has made some powerful enemies. Tazuna the drunk, introduced in the previous episode, is being hunted by the shipping magnate Gatou who is incensed that Tazuna's bridge will destroy his shipping monopoly.

Episode eight: Decision Sworn on Pain, and the show opens with the fight from the previous show. In truth this episode does little to advance the plot, rather it is a lengthy fight scene, though the fight choreography never lets the show get boring.

Episode nine and the last episode on disc two: Sharingan Kakashi and Kakashi, and Naruto's fight with Momouchi continues from the previous episode. The episode wraps up the extended fight which has been going on over episode seven to nine. Where as the initial episodes showed Naruto as a troublesome young man, his experiences in the last few shows is starting to have an affect on him to the extent that his emotional repertoire is extending past purely the juvenile.

We are into the last disc of the box set and episodes ten to thirteen are beckoning us.

Episode ten: The Forest of Chakra, and its time for the gang to take stock of what has happened to them. Kakasi is wasted for the fight but feels the need to train the gang further. He gets them to climb trees in order help them control their chakras, the source of a ninja's power, however unbeknownst to them Zabuza, who they thought they had killed, is really recovering in the home of Gatou.

Episode eleven: The Country that had a Hero. The reality of the world in which Naruto finds himself is gradually dawning on him. He finds it difficult to come to terms with the poverty he sees all around and the corrupt power that Gatou wields on the land. He is told of a hero who Gatou had eliminated which only spurns Naruto to prove that heroes do exist.

Episode twelve: Decisive Battle on the Bridge! Zabuza Returns. The gang continues to further befriend the poverty villagers, whose only hope is Tazunas' bridge, but things are about to get ugly. After oversleeping in the morning, Naruto races to the bridge only to be confronted by a swarm of injured workers and the very alive Zabuza.

And lastly episode thirteen: Hakus Secret Technique: Demonic Mirrors of Ice Crystals. And the final fight is on. Lots of great battles interspersed with some great comedy.

The episodes are spread across three discs and to be honest given a RRP of 24.99 it's pretty good value for money. Audio setup has a pleasant set of options with the show offering Stereo, 5.1 and DTS English or Japanese tracks with English subtitles. Extras are a little thin on the ground. Disc one has nothing; disc two has four trailers including the original TV trailer for the show. Disc three fairs a little better with the textless opening and closing sequences plus something called From Manga to Anime which is a bunch of odd shots which tells you nothing. According to the press blurb you can also look forward to a storyboard booklet and a limited edition slip cover, though I can't comment on these as I only got the plain check disks, boo hoo.

Ok, so it's ultimately a kid's show, but a good one, which although providing a lot of action and comedy is balanced with an engaging coming of age story. It's nice to see that character development has not been ignored in deference to repetitive fight scenes.

So, was it worth the wait, I'm pretty happy to say yes it was.

Charles Packer

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£18.74 (Amazon.co.uk)
   
£17.99 (Blahdvd.com)
   
£15.89 (Thehut.com)

All prices correct at time of going to press.