With Bleach hitting UK shores in November, our favourite orange-suited ninja would be forgiven for looking over his shoulder for orange-haired death gods. But at the moment Naruto is still king, and this volume shows that Bleach has a tough act to follow.
With the second part of the Chuunin Exam out of the way the
remaining shinobi cells have been thrown immediately into another deadly
situation. Due to the large number that survived the Forest of Death
further whittling down must be done, so the exhausted ninjas are forced to take
part in a series of randomly selected one-on-one bouts to see who'll go through
to the next stage. With most of the weaker opponents gone the Konoha
rookies are in the unenviable position of either having to face some extremely
dangerous opponents or even each other! Still recovering from their
encounter with the enigmatic Orochimaru, Naruto and his team mates Sasuke and
Sakura are not exactly in the best of shape for such a challenge. It's all
going to come down to what tricks they have left and how much they have improved
during the Exam, it's going to take more than just tenacity this time...
The last volume ended with the start of these qualification matches and this volume is nearly completely taken up with the rest of them. It's solid fighting from the word go, and if you think that may become a little dull then don't, because it's fantastic. The series uses the fights to give background and depth to the characters, developing the plot and fleshing everything out whilst simultaneously treating you to some of the best battles in anime. It manages to just about balance dialogue and action, telling you background information and
explaining what's going on without breaking the flow of the series. All of the characters get to show off their best moves and each fight is increasingly impressive, cumulating with an awesome multi-episode showdown between Sand Village nutcase Gaara and the excellent Rock Lee.
To be honest this fight is the best moment in
Naruto so far, and pretty much worth buying the DVD for on its own.
But there's more on offer than just one showpiece fight. Many of
the other battles are nearly as good, and despite the high octane action
the series still finds time for a little humour. The only real
problems is that the all-action approach may not appeal to all, and once
again the series becomes mired in pointless flashbacks.
I've no real problem with flashbacks when they are used well, but unfortunately Naruto has a habit of using them far too often. After just two flashbacks we know that Lee wants to use hard work to overcome his lack of ninjutsu and genjutsu skills, and we know that Guy will do everything he can to make that a reality. But after the fifth identical flashback you start to cease caring. The sad thing is that flashbacks are used so much that it starts to belabour the point, and you soon find yourself fastforwarding through them. If it wasn't for
the sheer quality of the action and animation in between this could really cripple the series, but as it is it remains just a minor annoyance.
Naruto Series 2 vol 2 is another great value set that will make action fans weep with joy. The fights are superb and extremely well choreographed, and you are often on the edge of your seat as the action unfolds. The only reason I'm not giving it five stars is simply because of the flashbacks. For me they're the single most annoying thing about Naruto, instead of being used to move the story along you sometimes get the impression they're being used to stretch things out. The rest of the volume is hugely entertaining stuff that's a cut above most anime actioners. It has more depth than many of its peers and the fights don't overstay their welcome. The characters are great, the music's superb and the dub is pretty good too. Bleach may be on it's way but it's going to have its work cut out to overshadow Naruto.
Again just a slipcase box and a clutch of trailers on disc 2. Pretty uninspiring.