Based on Masashi Kishimoto’s manga series published in Shonen Jump comes the brash, hyperactive ninja who dreams of becoming the Hokage of his village. Years ago a nine-tailed demon fox attacked the village of Konohagakure. Many died in the destruction brought by the demon, but the Leaf Village’s powerful leader, the Fourth Hokage, was able to defeat the beast by sealing it inside a newborn child at the expense of his own life. Naruto Uzumaki grew up as an orphan which has molded his personality to be a class clown and troublemaker to get attention from others. Despised by the villagers for his actions and his connection with the nine-tailed fox demon, Naruto’s goal has become to reach the title of Hokage so that the villagers will have to recognize him. Unlike the TV Edit release of the series, Naruto: Uncut Box Set 1 delivers the first thirteen episodes of the series unedited and it includes the original Japanese track.
MSRP: $49.98, Limited Ed. Box Set $69.98
Audio: English 2.0 DD, Japanese 2.0 DD
Extras: Production Art, Sketch-to-Screen Storyboard Comparison, Episode 8 Storyboard Booklet. Limited Ed. also includes Leaf Village Wristband and Headband.
Notes: Review is based on a Screener copy of the final product.
Episode one begins with the Leaf Village ninjas chasing after Naruto. It seems that Naruto Uzumaki decided to deface the mountainside’s head carvings of the four great Hokage leaders with some paint. As Naruto hides behind a fence, Iruka Umuino catches him and gives the troublemaker an earful. Iruka teaches the Ninja Academy class and Naruto is going to fail once again if he doesn’t get his butt to class. In class, Iruka Umuino announces that everyone will have to perform their test, the Transformation Jutsu, again in order to pass. Everyone whines before falling into line. Naruto, of course, tries to have fun and uses his own brand of Sexy Jutsu to mess with the sensei. After making Naruto clean up the defaced mountainside, Iruka takes Naruto out for dinner.
The next day everyone is given the graduation test in order to earn their headbands. The test is Clone Jutsu, and Naruto fails quickly at his worst technique. Mizuki joins Naruto later and talks to him about a special way for him to learn the Jutsu he needs to get a headband of his own. However, Mizuki’s suggestion has Naruto steal the special Scroll of Sealing with many secret Jutsu techniques inside. As the villagers are ordered by Hokage Sandaime Sarutobi to find Naruto, Mizuki heads to the spot he told Naruto to go to in order to take the scroll for himself. Luckily, Iruka manages to figure out where Naruto has gone and it’s up to Naruto to figure out which one of the skilled ninjas are telling the truth.
The second episode introduces Konohamaru, the grandson to Third Hokage Sarutobi, who is nothing more than a troublesome brat in his own right. However, there seems to be a special kinship between him and Naruto when they meet. Much to the dismay of the Hokage and Konohamaru’s teacher, Naruto takes the kid around town to teach him his secret Sexy Jutsu technique.
With Naruto having earned his headband thanks to learning the Shadow Clone Jutsu technique from the Scroll of Sealing and saving Iruka from Mizuki, Naruto Uzumaki gets to join one of the student ninja teams for further instructions and missions on becoming a great ninja. We also get a proper introduction to Sakura Haruno and Sasuke Uchiha, who are soon stuck with the unfortunate fate of being teamed up with Naruto. Sakura Haruno is a skilled student and has a huge crush on Sasuke just like all the other girls in the room. Sasuke is the best student in the class and the last living member of the Uchiha clan. It’s Sasuke’s goal to become stronger and defeat the man who slayed his village. So naturally Iruka partners the worst student with best to balance out the team.
Naruto has a crush on Sakura, but she despises him. Sakura has a crush on Sasuke, but he won’t give her the time of day. Naruto and Sasuke just don’t like each other, so take your yaoi fantasies elsewhere. At lunch Naruto jumps Sasuke and changes his form to go meet Sakura in disguise as her crush. Sakura is more than happy to sit with Sasuke, but this Sasuke doesn’t seem to do anything but probe her on how she feels about Naruto. Sadly, Sakura isn’t astute enough to figure out what’s going on, and the case of mistaken identity is only going to worsen when Sasuke gets free.
The final two episodes for disc one introduce the Leaf Village’s toughest instructor, Kakashi Hatake. Kakashi has never passed someone before and Naruto’s team seven is next on his list. After being late meeting his group of students, the sensei explains that they will have a survival test the next morning and it would be best to skip breakfast. Naturally, the trio listen, skip eating, and end up waiting for many hours the next morning for Kakashi to arrive. Kakashi shows up and waves off the bitching session as he explains their test: whoever can take one of the two bells on his vest before noon will pass and get to eat lunch. It seems easy enough, but Kakashi isn’t the pushover he’s been pretending to be. One by one, the trio are defeated as they try to overcome Kakashi’s sneaky moves. Kakashi fails all three, and their only hope of passing is learning to work together… and not give Naruto any lunch because Kakashi ordered it.
With the bizarre test behind them, the first three students to have passed Kakashi’s test recieve their first mission. Of course, it’s rescuing a cat, but the owner seemed really happy to get her pet back. Naruto bitches about having to do D-grade missions while the Hokage explains the skill level that comes with each higher grade. However, this bunch may do well with a grade-C mission to escort Mr. Tazuna back to the Land of Waves. Along the way, the group learns that their simple bridge builder seems to have a secret, because two Hidden Mist ninjas have been sent to kill him. Naruto freezes up during his first real battle while Sakura and Sasuke manage to assist Kakashi in thwarting the attack. The group debates turning back so that more skilled ninjas can escort Mr. Tazuna, but Nartuo won’t have the mission held up on his account. He stabs his left hand to release the poison in his blood from the attack and swears to never be a coward again.
Episodes seven, eight, and nine introduce the first major villian for team seven to face. Mr. Gato of the Gato Corporation is one of the richest men in the world, and he wants complete control over the Land of Waves. If Tazuna’s bridge to the mainland is completed, then the villagers will regain their hope and not need his sea-based transportation anymore. So, Mr. Gato has hired the Hidden Mist ninjas to dispose of Tazuna. Since the last pair failed, the expert ninja Zabuza Momochi is going to take care of this mission by himself. As Zabuza confronts the group, Kakashi orders his students to stand back. Only someone of equal Jonin skill can handle Zabuza’s attacks. Kakashi also reveals that his hidden, scarred eye is actually a Sharingan eye. A Sharingan allows the user to copy any technique it witnesses and Kakashi is going to need it in order to battle Zabuza’s jutsu techniques.
Kakashi and Zabuza duel with equal skill, but Kakashi still manages to fall into a trap laid by Zabuza. With Kakashi prisoner in a water ball, it’s up to the trio to find a way to save their sensei and keep Tazuna alive. Sakura ends up being slightly useless in battle as Naruto comes up with a plan to free the instructor. By using his Shadow Clone Jutsu, Naruto and Sasuke are able to trick Zabuza long enough so that Naruto can break Zabuza’s control over the water prison holding Kakashi. Freed, Kakashi uses the full power of the Sharingan to meet Zabuza’s attacks and turn them against him. Just as the battle seems finished, a special tracker ninja from the Hidden Mist appears, kills Zabuza, and takes his body away.
With Zabuza disposed of, Kakashi rests a bit before thinking about the final events with his opponent. Meanwhile, the special tracker ninja Haku checks on Zabuza and tries to revive his master after faking his death for the Leaf Village ninjas. Zabuza comes to, rather grumpy with his androgynous servant for having struck him in the neck. A little more rested, Kakashi informs the trio that Zabuza is probably alive and was only in a near-death state when he checked the body. Injured from the last battle, Kakashi takes the group out to the forest to teach them how to control their chakra better in order to be more effective in a fight. Even injured, Kakashi can control his chakra enough to allow him to walk normally up the side of a tree. Sasuke takes a run at the tree and reaches a good height before losing control while Naruto falls off almost instantly. Sakura, on the other hand, easily walks up the tree to one of the highest branches. Back at Zabuza’s hidden base, Mr. Gato pays a visit to threaten his hired muscle. As Gato reaches to hurt Zabuza, Haku quick grabs Gato’s arm and then appears behind Gato’s two swordsmen before they can attack. Zabuza scolds his consort a little, but Haku has bought them time to go after Tazuna again.
Episode eleven provides a small break for the group before their next major fight arrives. Sakura has been assigned to guard Tazuna and sees firsthand how the village has fallen apart since Gato arrived. Even the workers have been leaving to avoid being killed for working on the bridge. In the forest, Sasuke and Naruto continue to practice their chakra control lesson by walking up the tree. Sasuke is surprised to see his rival has caught up quickly and wants to know what tips Sakura gave Naruto. Of course, Naruto won’t tell. Everything must be a challenge between the two, even something as simple as eating a meal.
Tazuna lives with his daughter and grandson in a small home. A picture on the wall shows the three together, but a corner is missing where someone has been ripped out. Tazuna begins to explain about the village’s former hero when his grandson Inari breaks into tears and runs out the door. Inari has been a sad child ever since his adopted father was killed by Gato’s men. The man from another land had taken Inari under his wing and acted like a father to the child. He swore he would protect the village with the strength of his two arms and became a hero helping save part of the town during a flood. To see him broken and killed destroyed any hope the village had of fighting Gato. Now only the construction of the bridge will be able to restore the faith and confidence of the desolate village. The Leaf Village ninjas understand that this mission must be completed.
The final two episodes for the first box set bring Zabuza back to torture the team that defeated him not long ago. Resting in the woods after training, Naruto is discovered by Haku in a pink kimono as he was picking plants to make herbal medicines. A quick flashback sequence shows how rough Haku’s life was before Zabuza took up teaching the orphan how to fight. As Haku leaves, he’s stunned that such a beautiful person, even cuter than Sakura, is really a guy. Kakashi takes the team out and is quite impressed that everyone has learned to control their chakra. The next day, Kakashi takes Sakura and Sasuke with him to help guard Tazuna while Naruto is left to sleep in after having stayed out in the woods all night. At the bridge they discover the workers knocked out, and waiting to get their revenge are Zabuza and Haku.
Naruto wakes to find out he has been left behind and runs through the woods to catch up. As he leaves, Gato’s two personal swordsmen storm Tazuna’s home and take Tazuna’s daughter, Tsunami, hostage. Inari tries to build up the confidence to stop them, but a child can’t stand up to two men with swords. As they turn to attack Inari, Naruto appears from behind and knocks them out. At the bridge, Sakura guards Tazuna while Sasuke and Kakashi square off with their opponents. Sasuke proves to be a good match against Haku’s speed, but Haku’s secret Crystal Ice Mirrors Jutsu weakens him considerably. Once again, Naruto charges into the scene as a last-minute save to help out his team.
Naruto switches back and forth between action and filler episodes enough that it really takes several episodes to keep your attention at times. The character designs and storylines are a lot of fun, but I can’t imagine trying to keep up with a weekly episode schedule that’s edited for Cartoon Network. The Uncut label on the box lives up to its name; the only change in the entire box is using the Shonen Jump’s Naruto logo instead of the original series’ logo. Otherwise, the opening and closing credits and all signs remain in their original Japanese. Anyone who has caught an episode or two on TV will confirm how much better the show becomes with the full action, violence, and blood added back in. The characters have their own unique personalities to give the show lift, but Sakura Haruno is especially noticeable; she’s generally nice on the outside and is a roaring demon on the inside. It’s fun to see her make a remark followed by her internal demon making some witty comment to finish the thought. Naruto’s headstrong nature can be a little off-putting at times, but he does seem to even back out and redeem himself shortly afterwards.
The Japanese cast is strong overall in capturing the different personality quirks, whether it’s a major or supporting character. Junko Takeuchi’s brash Naruto works well against Noriaki Sugiyama’s calm Sasuke. Chie Nakamura presented some weakness at first as Sakura, but the problem worked itself out as episode three moved along. The English production by Studiopolis can be a mixed bag due to some poor casting choices. Maile Flanagan is simply too harsh of a voice for the Naruto character and drags the series down quickly. Yuri Lowenthal (Sasuke) and Kate Higgins (Sakura) do fairly good jobs, but there are some weak lines that pop up even into the last disc. Dave Wittenberg’s Kakashi is a natural fit between character and actor as the best of the Naruto cast. Steve Blum’s Zabuza can be a little too dark and grumpy for the character, but this may have to do more with the script and direction. The script stays fairly faithful to the intent of the show overall, but there are the occasional, noticeable changes in dialogue or personality that seem to be a “made for TV” choice. If Naruto’s voice wasn’t so obviously unfitting to the character, the English production of the series would have the possibility of being something great down the road.
Naruto: Uncut Box Set 1 provides a heavy dose of action and is a great way to introduce yourself to the series outside of catching the TV broadcast. The video is very colorful and the subtitles are error-free. The DVD extras for the first box set are a storyboard booklet for episode eight, production art, and a sketch-to-screen storyboard comparison for episode one. The Limited Edition version of the box set also comes with an additional Leaf Village wristband and headband to wear. Naruto: Uncut Box Set 1 delivers everything Naruto fans were hoping for in getting an uncut version of the series. The show can take a few episodes to find its feet, but it’s worth the effort to keep with the series to see how episodes three, four, and five work together so well with team seven bonding together.