The Naruto franchise keeps on trucking with yet another DVD release. The original series already has a couple of editions and for the sequel, Naruto Shippuden, VIZ has opted to release the show with individual volumes and boxed sets. It's the best of both worlds, kind of, but really the best way to experience the show (or any anime for that matter) is via the boxed collections. A little while ago we got our hands on the first original and uncut set, and today we're looking at the second.
Naruto Shippuden takes place a couple years after the storyline of the original series ends. Sasuke has gone off to become stronger, Naruto went training with Jiraiya, and the rest of the main characters lived, grew, and trained in their respective villages. When the sequel opens up we are introduced to a slightly different Naruto who has aged a bit, but still maintains that immature edge. He's still a dangerous ninja with the nine-tailed fox demon within him; however, he's just as goofy as always and is not below stooping to fart gags or sexy jokes.
Early in the first collection Gaara was kidnapped by the Akatsuki and what transpired after that was a collaborative effort between the Leaf and Sand villages to get him back. Several of the main characters got together to pursue the Akatsuki and that plight continues through the 13 episodes included on the three discs in this collection.
The episodes here follow a rather rigid pattern as the chase is what the action focuses on. There's forward momentum in terms of action, but not really with regards to the plot. Nothing is resolved here and all you'll find in the 13 episodes is one string of battles after another. Not that that's a bad thing, mind you, but anyone looking for story or more exploration of what Shippuden's timeline is all about will be left wanting. Even so, the fact that the teams all split up and take care of their own business in this batch of episodes certainly helps.
For instance, Team Guy gets stuck dealing with mirror images of themselves and Sakura and Chiyo have to put up with Sasori, the Puppet Master. In fact the latter conflict takes up the majority of content in this installment. If you've ever seen the show then you know the longer battles escalate as time passes, so imagine a fight that lasts for more than seven episodes! We really get a nice glimpse at what Sakura has learned in her time with Lady Tsunade. There's also a peek at what Chiyo is capable of, and it's safe to say one shouldn't just write her off as an old lady.
Aside from the fighting here there really isn't much else that happens here. Your enjoyment of this installment will vary depending on what you're looking for. Sure the team is still chasing Gaara, so I suppose that's considered "plot" but when the same battle goes on for more than half of this boxed set, isn't that a little overkill? What's here is fine enough and it will entertain Naruto fans, but it feels like the show has kicked it into neutral far too early. The next installment should be far more interesting, but until then fans of the show can still consider this one recommended.
Naruto Shippuden Box Set 2 is presented on DVD with its original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio. The show continues to be vibrant and maintains a nice level of detail all around. Black levels aren't the strongest, but really there's no flaw to speak of. The picture is clean, sharp, and lacks compression. For audio selections, English and Japanese 2.0 stereo are what you're going to find here. Things sound exactly like what you'd expect. The soundstage is a tad on the limited side and dialogue is front centric, but all around the quality is acceptable, just not impressive.
For bonus features this time around there's a production art gallery, an interactive character relation chart for Team Guy, and a voice actor featurette entitled "Sand vs. Leaf – Shippuden Quiz Show." This little piece is a question and answer session with the voice cast and it's set up kind of like a game show. It's a little lame, but rather original and stands out as fairly entertaining.
Naruto Shippuden is a worthy successor to the original series, but the Gaara arc is simply taking too long for its own good. Sure, the battles may be interesting, and the mission of the Akatsuki is compelling enough, but there's so much more of the franchise that should be focused on at this point. Fans of Naruto will appreciate it enough, but anyone looking for more engaging plotlines will find themselves empty-handed. Overall this box is recommended and it's worth noting that things do turn around in the next wave of episodes.