It’s time for more Naruto. Last time we left the precocious ninja children, Naruto was leaving the village to spend a few years training to prepare to fight the villains everyone knows is coming.
The characters are a little bit older, so does a few years skipped lead to anything good? (For anyone who wants to watch, the first episode subbed is embedded at the very bottom of the review.)
As always, let’s start off with packaging. Unlike the original Naruto series, we are getting DVD singles this time around (I’ll be ignoring that there was ever an edited DVD release for the original series in this review), so it comes in a standard style DVD case. The case for Shippuden is an eco friendly case. It’s becoming standard for Viz to use these cases, so I will go ahead and skip the detailed explanation (if you want to read it, check the recent Bleach Movie 2 review.) The front cover is quite good. The logo is a decent size up in the top right corner, with the volume number on the bottom left, Along with a small amount of Japanese text on the right side. The artwork of Naruto is a very clean and classy black and white shot of Naruto, with some subtle color in his eyes and headband. The back cover is one of the cleanest and well thought out back covers I’ve seen in awhile. A few screenshots, a good description, and a clear list of what is on the disk. Kudos to Viz for the cover of this DVD.
After a good start with the cover, the menu is where some issues start to show. The main menu is very clean, with some nice animation. It’s easy to use, and obvious where everything goes (audio is a bit loud, but that’s more of a personal annoyance.) The problem is if you go into the ‘Episodes’ menu. Having all the episodes on a disk on a single menu screen isn’t something unheard of, but the disk does it in a very cluttered looking way. Beyond being cluttered, the four episodes themselves are split up into 28 chapters, but the menu only gives you the ability to go to 8 of these. The extras menu will be discussed later in the review.
The show itself is a mixed bag thus far. These four episodes act both as a new start, and a continuation of a continuity heavy series, so it attempts to be interesting and relevant to a large group of people. This leaves us with four episodes where very little actually happens. The last series left off with Naruto leaving to train, and rather than actually beginning with his return, actually begins with the characters facing the missing Sasuke. It’s a scene that happens much later, and appears to have been shoehorned in as a teaser to try to grab the audience. The scenes generally rotten in that, after having characters being separated for a number of years and changes in the status quo it would have been nice to wait for the face off to come as it should, when the story calls for it. After the opening credits we then start off with Naruto returning with the village and reuniting with friends. We get to see how characters have changed (and how they haven’t.) Unfortunately this ‘new’ introduction continues for the entire disk. While the beginnings of the new plot build up, and a plot important fight do happen outside of Naruto’s return, it feels far to expanded. Maybe it’s because all the episodes are acting to reintroduce and setup rather than get off to a running start, but I can’t help but feel that it all just felt a bit to long and boring.
Video quality isn’t anywhere near as good as I expected it to be. For a show that started only two and a half years ago, the first disk of Shippuden doesn’t seem nearly as crisp as you’d expect. While the video quality isn’t bad, I expected better. The picture feels fuzzier than such a new show should. Perhaps the masters given to Viz weren’t of the best quality, or perhaps there was an issue somewhere down the line, but it just seems like it should be far better. For those who wish to know, the disk is interlaced.
Audio on the other set is far better. The disk has both an English dub and the original Japanese. Both are Dolby 2.0 tracks at 256k. Both audio tracks are crisp and clean. The only problem I had with the audio, is it seemed like I was playing with the volume quite a bit. It may have just been the shift from more personal scenes of characters talking to louder battle scenes, but it seemed like I had my hand on a volume button every minute or so. I don’t think it hurts the experience much, just be aware of where your audio is at.
I won’t discuss the dub to much because the dub for Shippuden is exactly what you’d expect. People who hate the dub will hate the dub, people who enjoy it will find a lot to like here. The same cast returns as the slightly older characters, with many of them having subtle differences. These differences are mostly noticed when characters flashback to the early days of Naruto. It must be mentioned that once again, no sign/song subtitle track is provided (as is standard for Viz disks.) Naruto isn’t the most text heavy show so it isn’t to much of a problem, but it would be nice if Viz would catch up with the rest of the industry.
As for extras, you may as well move on, because there are none. To be fair, the case itself makes no claims of having extras, but it does include an extras menu, so we may as well take a look. Under the extras menu we have three things. Trailers, which is trailers for Viz licensed anime, and related videogames. Then we have ‘New from Viz Media’, which are static ads for… Viz manga releases. Then we finally have ‘Online Features’… which are static ads telling you where you can legally download or stream Viz anime. So not only does the extras menu have no extras, it actually has created three separate sections for advertising. There are no extras so it won’t hurt the extras score, it just seems rather silly to have an extras menu that only has three separate sections for advertising. You’d figure they could at least toss on a clean opening and/or ending, or even a few basic pieces of lineart. This is their signature property after all. After each episode is a small information segment about different characters and places in the world of Naruto. While they aren’t extras, I felt it was worth a small mention.
Naruto Shippuden has started off slowly, but if you are a Naruto fan it’s easy to be used to the anime dragging at places. Despite this slow start (and some boredom) it’s enjoyable to be reintroduced to the characters and the world, and with the beginnings and hints of what is to come it’s easy to see why Naruto is so popular, and why it’s Shippuden is as loved. The main problem Shippuden on DVD has to fight against is that it is being released in singles, unlike it’s precursor which came in boxes of decent size. With Shippuden being shown streamed online the same day it shows in Japan, having singles almost seems like an odd experiment to attempt to force singles to become relevant again in the American anime industry. With Viz likely to release boxes on a regular schedule (such as they do with Bleach) it makes it very hard to recommend this disk, or future singles.
Show: B- (A slow start to a series that is picking up from where it’s precursor left off.)
Packaging: B (The eco packaging feels cheap, but both sides of the cover are very well done.)
Video Quality: B- (While most definitely watchable, more is expected from such a recent show.)
Audio Quality: B+ (Good 2.0 tracks for both languages, just watch out for the volume.)
English Dub: A (The Naruto dub continues to be a high point for shonen dubs.)
Overall (not an average): C+ (While the episodes are fine, it feels like a lack of value based on knowing that the episodes are online legally, and will likely get boxes at a decent pace.)
Gallery under ads. All caps are lossless PNGs taken in MPC-HC, feel free to request more. (Caps are sized 640×480 so as to display properly on computer monitors, they were modified to this resolution via Photoshop CS4 as MPC-HC takes screen captures at the resolution the video is stored on the disk.)