ANIME & MANGA - Review
13:00 - 27th April 2013, by NEO Staff

Naruto Unleashed, Series 1: Vol 2

It's been years since Naruto first launched himself into the UK, but with One Piece on the horizon, we decided it was high time to revisit one of the UK's most beloved shonen series!

In this second box set from the first series of Unleashed, we're still learning about the major players of the show. In case you weren't up to speed with the show, the most important part of the series - even in its later instalments, is that Naruto is a hotheaded ninja trainee whose ambition is to become the most powerful hokage in his village. In these episodes, on a training mission with fellow students Sakura and Sasuke, the team face their toughest challenge yet as they battle Haku and Zabuza alongside with their teacher, Kakashi. Will they save the village or die trying?
Being a long running television series, viewers should also be aware that Naruto is very similar in set up to Dragon Ball Z, where one battle stretches across multiple episodes, and that expectations should be adjusted accordingly. With Naruto you're in for the long haul, and by the time you reach the end of this boxset, part way through a plot arc about chunin exams, you're still no nearer any kind of conclusion. Those used to watching 26 or even 13 episode shows that wrap everything up at the end might feel intimidated by a series like this, but of course Naruto's charms lie in its boundless universe and seemingly endless plotline. It's very easy to get sucked into a world fuelled by hundreds of episodes and volumes of manga, which is exactly Naruto's appeal. Those of you who prefer their anime to have a clearly defined plotline and a beginning, middle and end should steer clear, as should those who got frustrated with DBZ and the never ending battles that sustained that series for so long.

For the established Naruto fan, though, there's plenty to love here. Sasuke remains, as usual, an enigmatic chap, and in this boxset we learn just enough about his background to become intrigued once more. Turns out he has a very interesting bloodline, and during the first few episodes his hidden talents are revealed. The tension between Sasuke and Naruto deepens as they manage to fight both on the same side and against one another at the same time, using the battle against Haku to score points off each other. It's an interesting way of creating pressure on the characters and definitely adds a much-needed extra dynamic to the show. Unfortunately, not much happens with Sakura in these episodes, and she doesn't redeem herself or prove her ninja skills in the battle on the bridge.

Of course, no ninja battle would be complete without a juicy death, and this boxset definitely delivers with a touching final scene for at least one unlucky character. As Naruto manages to lavish so much time on its supporting cast, this scene is particularly poignant, and it also has its effect on the young ninja students who witness it.

Once the battle with Haku and Zabuza comes to a close, we begin a new story arc that continues beyond these 13 episodes. Ninjas from across the world gather in the Leaf Village for their chunin exams. By the time we reach the final episode of this collection, Sakura, Sasuke and Naruto aren't even halfway through their gruelling challenge, so don't expect a conclusion here. What you will get, however, is a host of new characters as other trainee ninjas from rival villages are introduced. The time and energy spent on character designs really shines through here, as all of the new ninjas, almost without exception, are both interesting visually and as characters, even if there are a good few clichés thrown in here and there. By far the most interesting is the bizarre Rock Lee and his teacher, Guy-sensei, who together make an entertaining comedy duo.

Overall, if you can stand the enormous length of the series and don't mind fights that last for several episodes at a time, Naruto is an incredibly fun and absorbing series to get yourself hooked into. Although it pushes the boundaries of anime physics further than they've perhaps ever been before, with gravity defying leaps and battles in mid-air, the series manages to create a lot of tension in battles with its excellent character development. One to watch this Christmas.

It's not hard to see why so many people fall in love with Naruto - it's so easy to love.
SCORE: 4.5/5
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