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 Naruto Unleashed Volume 1
Serialisation of Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto manga (comic) began in Japan November 1999, and like most popular manga it was eventually adapted into an animated series in 2002. Faithful to the manga storyline and equally popular, it wasn’t long before American fansub groups exposed the increasingly anime-conscious West to Naruto’s adventures and his ninja world.

Eventually comics publisher VIZ Media began releasing the Naruto manga stories in English, and report Naruto has since become their leading manga property. The positive reception of the manga lead VIZ to license the anime also, and Naruto finally made his debut on the English speaking world.

Cartoon Network began the American dubbed broadcast of Naruto late 2005, with the show debuting in the United Kingdom mid 2006. Unfortunately the UK broadcast time had the show subject to edits and cuts, often losing dramatic importance and angering longtime fans, fortunately none of those edits are present on this set.

Packaging/Presentation

Naruto has arrived in a very stylised manner. A sturdy slipcase houses the set itself, emblazoned with the Naruto logo and a picture of our hero in one of his trademark poses. What’s more, the interior case isn’t a simple reprint, it features completely different artwork. Both cases feature a brief synopsis of the show on the reverse and some screenshots.

Artwork chosen is appropriate and attractive, and they have even applied a slightly shiny texture to the slipcase character art which really makes the drawings stand out. However, there are some cutbacks in the packaging department that need mentioning - namely the disc storage.

The three discs merely stack onto each other in a similar manner to the later BBC Red Dwarf sets. Whilst this presents the fear of the discs scratching and inconvenience removing a specific disc, rest assured none of mine have received scratches from storage so far. However, this does feel very cheap in comparison to the rest of the packaging which is superb.

I also suspect the spines of each set will line up to form a picture of sorts.

Plot

One dark night, a Nine-Tailed Fox demon attacked the Hidden Leaf Village of Konoha. Many ninja of the village were killed defending against the terrible beast before finally the fourth appointed village leader called Hokage, rose up and sacrificed his life to defeat the beast, sealing it within the body of a newborn baby.

That baby was called Naruto.

Naruto grows up to be a troublesome young ninja trainee. He is virtually alone throughout his young life - ignored, hated and outcast across Konoha for having the Nine-Tailed Fox within him, this has given birth to his dream of becoming Hokage so everyone will finally notice and acknowledge him.

When Naruto eventually graduates the Ninja Academy he is assigned to Genin (beginner ninja) Team 7 led by the mysterious Kakashi Hatake. Also in the team is the quiet, but skilled Sasuke Uchiha and Naruto’s crush Sakura Haruno. Unfortunately for Naruto Sakura only has eyes for Sasuke, creating an underlying love-triangle between the three.

As Naruto sets out to mark his presence in the ninja world, many trials and adventures await our hero on his quest to become Hokage. It is in Naruto Unleashed that they begin.

Content

The first 13 episodes of the series are presented uncut, unlike their televised counterparts. They serve as a great introduction to the main characters, whilst providing action fans with plenty of their bread and butter. The set is rated a 12, with some blood and light profanity popping up from time to time. Weapons also appear frequently, so parents of particularly impressionable children will want to take a good look at this before handing it over.

Moreso, unlike the television broadcasts, the show’s first Japanese opening and ending themes are present, although I’ve found no way to watch them with subtitles on. Funnily enough, the dubbed intro theme “RISE” plays on the disc menus, despite not appearing anywhere in the actual episodes.

Video

Naruto is presented in a 4:3 format, with some black edge borders due to the transfer from NTSC to PAL. Fortunately most televison sets will crop them off so that’s nothing to worry about. The transfer is remarkably clean, much nicer than the fansub video quality I remember.

I didn’t notice any compression/artifacts whilst watching, although the textless opening and endings found on disc 3’s extras (more on those later) are noticeably lower quality than the episodes themselves.

Audio

I watched the 13 episodes in this set primarily dubbed, but made the switch to Japanese for some. I have always preferred dubbed anime to reading subtitles, and whilst Manga could have copped out and released a dub-only set, it’s surprisingly welcome that they have opted for a duel language release.

This set is presented with a wealth of audio tracks certain to satiate the desires of even the most particular audiophile. DTS and 5.1 tracks are included in both English and Japanese. The music and sound effects come through clear in the background without distortion.

The English dub is definitely more enjoyable than purists give it credit, with appropriate casting choices for each character. Efforts to preserve character voice traits have been made adequately, with Naruto’s trademark “dattebayo” in Japanese being replaced with the sometimes annoying “believe it!” as an example. Ninja techniques are also translated into English, for example “Kage Bunshin no Jutsu” is now known as “Shadow Clone Jutsu”.

Various Japanese words from the original language version have made their way into the dub. I picked up sensei, Hokage and shinobi whilst watching, although I’m sure there are more. The original background music is also intact on the dub.

Subtitles

As I mentioned before, Manga have included the original Japanese audio on this set, and for anyone to watch something in Japanese they’re going to need subtitles. This is where things get a little… weird, for lack of a better word. Cup Noodle in Japanese is subtitled as “Pot Noodle”, and “Kakashi-Sensei” as “Mr. Kakashi”.

Fortunately these choices don’t really distract from the overall experience and are unlikely to bother any but the most anal fan.

Extras

Spread across three discs, the set is host to a fair amount of extra content, especially at such a low price point. There are textless opening and ending sequences to be found, storyboards included in a booklet with a synopsis of each episode as well as a bizarre “anime to manga translation”. Wasn’t Naruto translated into anime from the manga and not the other way around?

Viewers can also expect to find the usual smattering of Manga Entertainment trailers.

Value/Overall

You’re getting a three disc set of 13 uncut Naruto episodes here in both Japanese and English at a regular disc release price. When most anime DVDs are being released with four or less episodes per disc, Naruto arrives with 13 episodes at the same price as other companies are charging for 4.

Okay, so the extras are nothing to write home about, but if Manga can keep the price consistently low across each volume they’re certainly on to a winner with Naruto Unleashed. Fix the disc storage for volume 2 and I might go so far as to say this is one of the best value anime collections to ever be released in the UK.

I’m very excited to be collecting Naruto Unleashed.

Roll on volume 2.

9 out of 10

Buy Naruto Unleashed Volume 1 now at Play.com
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