Naruto: Naruto Unleashed 4:1

Bringing yet another series of episodes – one arc in the story – to a close, and laying the groundwork for the next, volume 4.1 exhibits the lull between action scenes and storytelling frequently referred to as filler, but has enough action and emotion to be more than bearable, and shouldn’t leave most viewers wanting.

Amidst the wider invasion of the Hidden Leaf Village by Orochimaru’s Sound ninja and the allied Sand Village, Sarutobi continues to hold Orochimaru in place (for a fourth episode in a row) in the sealed prison in which they fight. Monkey King Enma thrusts his sword through both, and the spirit of death looms over Orochimaru, but weakened, and not as strong as his foe, the Hokage can only steal Orochimaru’s ability to cast Juutsu, crippling him in the process and forcing the invaders retreat.

This duel is paralleled by the confrontation between Naruto and Gaara, fighting with the aid of the summoned giants Gamabunta and Shukaku in the wild. Shot side by side to slow their delivery and double-up on the tensions and adrenaline they’re designed to inspire, these scenes mostly achieve their effect and are well-directed, even if the sentiment within them doesn’t quite hit the mark, or didn’t for me at least (whether the overall affect is lost or not, which I suspect it won’t be on most).

As these fights are brought to a close the Leaf Village mourns, but its people are not without hope for the future. Repairing the village and finding a new Hokage become priorities. With Jiraiya reluctant to accept the responsibility, however, the people who would have him fill the position are convinced that Tsunade, another of the three legendary Sannin, is the better choice – if they can find her. During his search for Tsunade Jiraiya trains Naruto, while entrusting the wellbeing of Sasuke to his existing trainer, Kakashi, but from the end of the fights in the Hidden Leaf Village to the rendezvous with Tsunade they are assailed by Itachi Uchiha and Kisame.

Filling in the back-story of the Uchiha Clan and Sasuke’s motivations for fighting, expanding on these individuals and establishing the Akatsuki organisation, their place in the scheme of things and proximity to Orochimaru’s own plans, this volume charts an integral part of the story of the wider series. What was lost on me or disliked during its run on Toonami fell in place here, and reminded me just how intricate the world of ‘Naruto’ really is. The only real failing is that the latter half of the volume consists almost entirely of Naruto’s attempts to employ the Rasengan juutsu, which is drawn out and stunted.

The animation is above average throughout, the dub and the sub are almost the same as ever, the pacing is great in the first half but tiresome in the second, and the former half of the volume is the only one which has any real action , even though it is usually above par for what it is. Taken all in all, this of course means a fairly mixed series of episodes. As has been the case in some earlier volumes, one half is well-worth watching, but can only be said to make up for the other, which is a slower and often slightly more painful duty in keeping up with the story.

It’s here that the DVD format really benefits ‘Naruto’ and similar series. The best episodes can be watched again and again, the worst can be skipped or reviewed at one’s own pace or leisure. With so many, and more good ones than there are on your average DVD – good or bad – it’s also hard to deny the value of the series, or any individual volume. What stands out, however, is the sheer number of reasons to recommend the series, and for that it deserves, at this point and in my opinion, its largely popular and positive reception.

A final note for the animators sake would be that the number of difficult and stylish effects achieved throughout this volume contributes a lot to its visual success, enriching it aesthetically and texturally, which should be appreciated by all.

In Summary

Unleashed 4:1 is a good volume which achieves the things the series attempts, from humour to an immersive fictional world with characters whose emotional problems you can get involved in, but it remains far better in its first seven or so episodes, which are what should work on viewers, and make up for the rest.

8 / 10