With the preliminary rounds of the Chuunin exam over, Naruto and the other qualifiers are given time to prepare for the finals, with a chance to train and learn new techniques before their respective fights.
While training to walk on water with Ebisu, to this end, Naruto comes across the legendary Sannin and toad sage Jiraiya, a powerful old man trying to peek into the women’s baths for ‘research’ on his erotic novels. Challenged by Ebisu for this behavior, Jiraiya manages a victory in no time at all, but eager to grow stronger, Naruto slowly manages to recruit Jiraiya as his new trainer, first learning to walk on water (as he intended with Ebisu), and then to control the chakra of the Nine-tailed Fox.
During this time, other characters like Neiji, Shikimaru and Chouji are seen training for their own battles, while Ino and Sakura make frequent visits to the hospital to check up on Rock Lee. The plans of the Sand and Sound Village are also elaborated on, with a conspiracy to destroy the Leaf Village being momentarily unveiled. It’s at the hospital again, however, that Gaara comes into his own, trying to kill Rock Lee in his sleep, but revealing his past to Naruto when he and Shikimaru manage to foil the attempt.
From there, the volume is rounded off by the majority of the finals for the Chuunin exam, with Naruto fighting the far more accomplished Neiji, still with getting revenge for Hinata in mind, and most significantly, a planned fight between Gaara and Sasuke, which has attracted lords and dignitaries from every village. Delayed again and again, Sasuke only just arrives in time to close this volume with the prospect of the same fight that held the attention of the crowd.
Emotionally, Naruto still manages to have a significant effect on the viewer when it tries, naturally translated into the pathetic fallacy and more figurative aspects of the backgrounds, or, here, into Neiji’s past and future.
The animation can vary, with some beautiful scenes and effects complimenting the generally well-drawn and colourful settings, but inconsistent detail on the characters themselves. The first half of this volume is filler, and this can be marked in the quality of the animation, which is strikingly different from that during the second half, which, for the most part, is the best in the series (up until this point). Sometimes the animation can be a little off-putting, because of the drop in quality, but this only returns at a fairly insignificant point at the end (or at least, a point where the animation is somewhat ancillary).
Overall, this marks the character of these episodes, with those of the first have been enough to tie everything together, but less than those of the second, which are of a higher standard. It’s of note, however, that the rating I’ve given them is always bound to be deceptive, because the thirteen episodes here, and in similar releases, is far greater value than most others, and that has to be considered as well.
The first half deserves either a six or a seven, the second an eight, but taken together, they prove that Naruto is still a modern shounen classic, and this volume is at least better than the last.