This volume starts in the midst of the race across the Tea
Country that took up the end of the last volume. Confident of victory, and
knowing his mercenaries are closing in on Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura, Aoi is
taking the race quite leisurely. However, Naruto's new found resilience
and belief following the Chuunin exam is not to be underestimated, and before
things may not go as he expects. Meanwhile, Sasuke's resentment at
Naruto's unbelievable progress is growing, and a meeting with his hated brother
Itachi has brought it to a head. With Sasuke wanting to prove his
superiority and Naruto wanting Sasuke to recognise his skills, the two are on
course for an explosive encounter. Orochimaru is well aware of Sasuke's
seething anger at his own weakness and send his elite minions to bring him to
the Sound Village. Sasuke is torn between his loyalty and his revenge, and
with the 'Sound Four' - Jirobo, Sakon, Kidomaru and Tayuya - closing in, his
decision may be made for him. However, Konoha is not about to let the
Sound Four take him without a fight, and a team of Genin lead by the newly
promoted Shikamaru races to intercept them. Despite including talented
ninja - Naruto, Kiba, Neji and Choji - does Shikamaru's team really stand a
chance against opponents that can challenge elite Jonin ninja?
Anyone who watched the last volume will know that the series took a bit of a dip in quality over the last few episodes. For the first time the anime left the original manga storyline for more than just a couple of episodes, following the Chuunin Exam and Sand/Sound attack on Konaha with a story which sees the three main characters despatched to the Tea Country. The Tea Country story arc is the first time time 'filler' episodes really rear their ugly head, something Naruto became notorious for in Japan in the year or so before the start of Naruto Shippuuden. This side story has been pretty poor, especially considering what came before and, it soon becomes clear, what comes after. The first disc wraps this story up pretty
quickly though, and then returns to the manga storyline with Naruto and Sasuke clashing in a superb fight scene on the roof of Konoha's hospital, This dramatic battle is a hint of things to come, as from here on this volume is brilliant!
Much of the middle of the volume is taken up with
Sasuke's emotional turmoil, but it's after this, when Shikamaru's motley
collection of Genin try to catch the Sound Four, that it gets really
good. The tension really rises as they race to intercept their
deadly foes, and you get the impression that the rest of the action -
when it comes - will be superb. It doesn't disappoint either, when
Shikamaru's team's first attack is repelled things et even more serious
and before long some characters are squaring off against their foes in
deadly one-on-one battles. Choji - before this volume depicted as
the fat pointless comic relief - really gets his chance to shine in one
of the best battles of the series so far, and with Neji in action later
in the volume too you know things are going to be good.
As well as all the action, this story arc focuses even more on the characters, expanding the central cast by bringing more depth to Kiba, Neji, Shikamaru and Choji. In the past these characters have been slightly one-dimensional and have been little more than support characters. However, bringing them to the fore really takes the series to new heights of drama and emotion, and their differing personalities bring a new dimension to an already massively exciting story. This volume hits the heights previously achieved by the superb Rock Lee vs Gaara battle during the Chuunin exam, providing not only breathtaking fight scenes but also really drawing you in and making you care about the characters. From an emotional
impact point of view Choji's fight with Jirobo is the high point of the series, it's not only a coming of age but also a demonstration of how far the characters will go for their friends. In fact during this part of the series you can barely bring yourself to pause the DVD, let alone turn it off!
It's a shame that Naruto Unleashed Series 5 Part 1 includes the conclusion to the dull Tea Country story, because after this it's superb. In fact even with a poor start the sheer quality of the later episodes, in particular those focusing on Choji and Neji, means that I can't mark it down. I was on the edge of my seat during these battles and the ending of the two fights had more of an impact on me than any I've previously seen in these kinds of 'Shonen' series. Just for these episodes I can't recommend this volume highly enough, the animation, voice acting and music is superb, and the story is gripping. You really must see this.
Wait for it.... a slipcase box and trailers! That's not even trying!