Judge Adam Arseneau is a card-carrying member of Akatsuki.
The Evil Hand Revealed!
Adapted from the wildly successful Shonen Jump manga in Japan, Naruto has made it to North American shores with great fanfare and success, filling that empty Dragonball Z niche quite nicely for North American kids and teens. The story of young ninja trainee Naruto and his teammates fighting evil is now in its second North American season. Audiences have a long way to go before catching up to those of us who follow fan translations of the manga, but luckily, with Naruto, the show only gets better as it ages.
With Naruto: Volume 15, we're joining Naruto and his companions partway through his adventures here at DVD Verdict, but if you ask me, that's not a bad thing, as earlier episodes of Naruto (especially in the first season), for lack of a better word, sucked. Many judged and dismissed the show out of hand during these early, awkward episodes, full of poop jokes and juvenile humor, before the show had a chance to develop its more complex subplots and story arcs. In Volume 15, we're right in the middle of the Chuunin Exam, which is a good place to be, story-wise.
Naruto: Volume 15 contains four episodes from the second season, listed below:
"Episode 57: He Flies! He Jumps! He Lurks! Chief Toad Appears!"
"Episode 58: Hospital Besieged: The Evil Hand Revealed!"
"Episode 59: The Final Rounds: Rush to the Battle Arena!"
"Episode 60: Byakugan vs. Shadow Clone Jutsu!"
For me, watching fan subtitled episodes of Naruto four or five years ago, the Chuunin exam story arc was when the show finally started to deliver on its promise of awesomeness. I mean, you've got a show about ninjas who fight and pull off some of the most bodacious martial art maneuvers and crazy magic imaginable—the potential for awesome is quite limitless. Once the Chuunin exam started, we began to see the imagination of author Masashi Kishimoto expanding beyond the borders of the Hidden Leaf Village. We got to see other students from other villages (Gaara for the win), got introduced to new villain Orochimaru, and began to sense some tension sprouting in the enigmatic Sasuke that continues to drive story events in current Japanese episodes of Naruto.
Naruto: Volume 15 is the latest installment in a series of barebones releases from Viz, with mediocre transfer, stereo audio only, no extras (save for adverts) and no subtitles. Visually, Naruto looks okay, with vibrant primary colors and solid black levels, but with a fair amount of edge enhancement detectable. The transfer is clean and sharp, but breaks down too easily into jagged edges and mushiness if you look hard at it. For an anime, this is far from the best technical presentation in town, but the vibrant color palate is quite nice on the eyes. In terms of audio, all we get is a simple 2.0 stereo English-dubbed presentation. I pretty much flat-out loathe the English dub of Naruto. The track itself is pretty mediocre, with clear dialogue, but weak and pathetic bass response. The show's theme song should be roaring out of the speaker, but instead struggles in vain to produce any kind of low end. No muscle, you know?
The biggest beef I have with these Naruto sets is that they only encompass the North American version of Naruto, by which I mean the English-dubbed, edited-for-content versions. For some reason, you pay a premium for these stand-alone editions, compared to the less expensive "uncut" box sets from Viz Media, which feature the show unedited and with optional Japanese language. While I appreciate being given the choice, I'm not sure why anyone would actually "choose" this version over the other. For fans to only get a stereo presentation and no subtitles on these single releases reeks of shortchanging.
Any self-respecting anime fan will want to skip these versions and jump on the "uncut" box set bandwagon for the authentic Shonen Jump Naruto experience, and leave these standalone Naruto volumes for parents with younger children concerned about the (gasp!) tiny amounts of edited blood and (double gasp!) original Japanese language. This is not to say that the edits made for North American television are significant in any way, because they're not; only that the tone of the show put through the "English adaptation" machine changes dramatically.
Naruto is a solid anime full of fun and action and adventure; a kid's show at heart, but one with a wide scope of appeal and a complex storyline that only intensifies and matures with its audience. Naruto on North American television, on the other hand, feels gimped, simplified somewhat. The show has been made more juvenile and obnoxious, lowering the bar to encompass younger audiences. The subtitled translations in the original Japanese version resonate with more complex emotions that lose something in translation to the English dub—even in this volume, when we get the backstory to Gaara, the English just doesn't translate as meaningful. Such changes are subtle and difficult to quantify, but anyone who has seen both versions will know what I mean.
For me, any Naruto is good Naruto, but all Naruto: Volume 15 reminds me of is how a better version of the same material exists elsewhere on DVD to be had.
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