R2 DVD Reviews
Tuesday, 16 June 2009 00:00
Ah, another 26 episodes of the boiler-suited one, who this time is on a mission to stop Sasuke from doing the Wrong Thing. We all know what teenagers can be like when life's not going their way, and Sasuke - upset at not being the #1 genin - has just thrown a major strop at Naruto and the Leaf Village. But switching sides to Orochimaru's team may not be the best way to express his disappointment...
The first two episodes here tie up the race arc that began last season, which thankfully turned out to be somewhat shorter than I was expecting it to be. For all the effort that goes into the race (both running and interfering with it), it ends on something of an anti-climax as local politics solves the problem that the race was meant to. No matter, though, as that lets us get away from the filler and back onto things more important.
Which brings us back to Orochimaru, and more specifically the plans he has in mind for Sasuke. If you remember back towards the chuunin exams, when Orichimaru first laid his curse on Sasuke, it was made clear then that Mr Evil had something in mind in doing so - and it's now time to collect on that. One of the prerequisites is working on Sasuke's mental state, to make him feel unneeded or unwanted in the Leaf Village - while Sasuke was the strongest of Team Kakashi, that wasn't a problem, but over recent times Naruto's skills have come on in leaps and bounds to the point where, if someone needs saving, it's usually Naruto that gets to do it. For someone with an inflated image of himself, playing second-fiddle is hard to take, and it's when Sasuke's feelings of inadequacy are on the verge of pushing him towards open warfare with Naruto that Orochimaru makes his move.
That's a set of scenes that has the potential to be powerful and moving - instead it just paints Sasuke as the spoilt, self-indulgent brat that we always knew he was. There's one scene that is moving, though - Sakura's attempts to persuade Sasuke not to leave, and her eventual confession of her love for him - and even then he just comes across as cold and uncaring, a kid in need of a good thump to teach him how to properly behave. If only that were possible.
No Naruto set would be complete without an interminable fight sequence, and that's provided for here, as well, in the shape of the mission to "rescue" Sasuke from the group that Orochimaru sent to retrieve him. And more besides, with the added "fun" of the arrival on the scene of reinforcements for both sides (just when you though that 4 battles would see the arc done) and Sasuke's escape - making the ongoing battles with the Sound Five even more pointless, as the person the Leaf boys are trying to save is no longer there (and they know that). The reinforcements for the good guys are intended to be surprises, which on the one hand makes their identities understandable - but I had a hard time seeing Lee or Gaara really being the best choices. Lee is, after all, just recovering from life threatening surgery - how effective is he going to be? How believable is it to see Gaara ride to the rescue when only a few arcs ago he and his Sand comrades were doing their best to kill the Leaf ninjas? Not very.
Add in a fairly hefty reliance on flashback, especially when dealing with Sasuke's motivations for going his own way (he's a jealous and selfish little brat who can't accept someone else - his brother - being better than him, in case you hadn't guessed), and you have a set of episodes that doesn't really impress. Or entertain, for that matter - unless, of course, you're already a die-hard Naruto fan, in which case you'll be getting thirteen episodes of pretty much what you'd expect.
Which in a way makes scoring this release a bit strange. I score releases for general audiences, not for their 'target niche', and overall this volume really doesn't deserve to rate that highly - and so it gets two stars. It's also fair to say, though, that the general audience who don't "get" Naruto's appeal aren't going to have sat through 130 episodes of it - other than hard-working reviewers who insist on watching everything they're sent, of course - so what they're likely to think isn't all that relevant. If you are a Naruto fan, then the action and backstory that this set serves up is likely to be right up your alley and the rating is going to be more in the four-star bracket. Your Mileage May Vary.
For full episode summaries and screenshots, check out the reviews of the individual releases:
» Volume 1
» Volume 2