It will be four months since the release of the the first volume of Naruto when vol 2 hits the shelves on Boxing Day. Despite the delay being out of Manga Entertainment's hands it has caused a little bit of annoyance in the anime community, which goes to show how eagerly awaited this volume is.
And with good reason too. At the end of volume
1 we were left on tenterhooks with the deadly ninjas Zabuza and Haku taking the
upper hand against our heroes. This volume starts with a recap of the
first 13 episodes (which is welcome after the gap between volumes), before
taking us back to the action, and what action it is! Naruto has recovered
from his exhaustion and rushes to the fray, whilst the rest of his team engage
their enemies on the bridge. The fate of bridge builder Tazuna hangs in
the balance as Kakashi faces the mighty Zabuza and Sasuke tries to find the
secret behind Haku's deadly Ice Mirrors technique. As the battle
intensifies Naruto joins Sasuke's fight against Haku, and hidden powers begin to
stir in both of them. Will they be able to break Haku's technique or will
they fall under a hail of needles? Meanwhile back in Konoha the other
students prepare for the coming of the Chuunin exam, a dangerous and incredibly
tough contest that will see the cream of the crop rise to the next level of
ninja ability. With powerful competitors from neighbouring countries
coming to Konoha the stage is set for a great showdown, but first there's the
Anyone who saw the first volume of Naruto Unleashed will be desperate to see the rest of the battle against Zabuza and Haku in all its uncut glory, and trust me, it's worth the wait. As the battle intensifies so does the tension, and there are some shocks you won't see coming, but it's the sheer quality of the action that really gets you. The fights between Sasuke, Naruto and Haku and between Kakashi and Zabuza are superb, particularly the showstopping special moves all the characters display, and the moment when Naruto truly loses his cool is one of anime's
best moments. The only downside, like in all these fighting based anime, is that there is a hell of a lot of talking and a fair few flashbacks that do break the flow somewhat. However, whilst the talking is a downside from an action point of view, it certainly isn't when it comes to the drama and development of the story.
Yes there are great fights, and yes there are great
special moves, but what really grips you in Naruto is how it
focuses on the characters and how they come to terms with what they are
doing. Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura are still just kids, yet their
role as ninjas may require them to risk their lives or to kill others.
It's this loss of innocence and moral struggle that is at the heart of
the story, and it gives it a hell of an edge that similar shows don't
really have. The story is great, despite some cheesy moments, and
the characters are great too. The story takes a great cast and
forces them to make difficult choices, and that's what makes it so
gripping. Even when things slow down again after the big battle it
still makes for addictive viewing, and the Chuunin Exam introduces a
host of great new characters into the mix too.
As well as the central trio we get to see some very powerful new opponents in the form of fellow Konoha ninjas Neji Hyuuga, Rock Lee and Ten Ten, but they're not all. Rookies Kiba, Hinata, Shino, Ino, Shikamaru and Chouji are also in the mix, but it's the creepy ninjas from the Sand and Sound villages who are the most intriguing, particularly the Sand ninja Gaara. It's a testament to the series that it can add so many new characters within the space of a few episodes without becoming cluttered or confusing. Each character is well rounded and, best of all, interesting, with their own unique
skills and abilities that will no doubt come to the fore in the coming volumes. The arrival of Rock Lee also injects some comedy into proceedings, with his geeky haircut and infatuation with Sakura, and this only increases with the arrival of his lookalike master Guy. But don't let looks and over-the-top emotions fool you, they also demonstrate some impressive skills that really make you want to see what else they will do.
The characters, action, drama and story are all great, mixing real tension and emotion with comedy and breathtaking set piece battles. Even in its slower moments, such as the two episode written test that starts the Chuunin Exam, it never becomes dull. But it does let itself down right at the end of the volume with a cringeworthy recap of the series' characters and concepts, disguised as the annoying Konohamaru coming to interview the examinees for the school paper. It's annoying to end the volume with a second recap episode, particularly as everyone was about to enter the ominously titled Forest of Death, but it at least sets the series up nicely to go on to greater things.
Once again Naruto delivers action and drama by the bucketload, and adds a healthy side order of comedy. There are some stunning moments, some surprises and some shocks in store, and there's very little to fault aside from the flashbacks and recap episode at the end. Some people may find some of the fights a bit dialogue heavy, but the series uses the talking to get under the skin of the characters and takes the story to new heights because of it. Naruto Unleashed Series 1 vol 2 is definitely worth the wait, and with plenty of new characters on show the next volume should be even better. This is what Christmas money was invented for!
Manga's usual slipcase box is joined this time by even less in the way of on-disc extras. All we have, apart from the host of audio options, is trailers on disc 2 for forthcoming titles Noein and Tactics, and a couple for Naruto. Disappointing.