"Naruto" Vol. 6: Creepily Crazy and Crazily Creepy
With the Village Hidden in the Leaves focusing all eyes on the Chunin Exam, it’s time to shake things up, and that’s exactly what happens in Naruto Volume 6.
Previously, the final rounds of the Chunin Exam were just getting started. Naruto Uzumaki, the eternal underdog, faced off against super-genius and egomaniac Neji Hyuuga with the foxboy using the Nine-Tailed Fox’s powers to pull through. Later, the lazy man Shikamaru Nara faced off against the Sand Village’s Temari, with Shikamaru outsmarting Temari but giving up in the end. Now, it’s time for the match the entire village has been waiting for: Sasuke Uchiha vs. Gaara of the Desert. Sasuke displays some very nice new techniques, but their luster starts to wear off when Gaara begins to lose his mind. Soon after, Orochimaru begins his siege of the Hidden Leaf Village and traps the Hokage in a barrier. Temari and Kankuro take Gaara away to recover, so Sasuke chases after them while Naruto, Sakura, Shikamaru, and Pakkun (Kakashi’s dog summon) chase after him. Meanwhile, the Hokage, Sarutobi, faces off against his former pupil but finds his old age catching up with him. Now, as Sarutobi uses a forbidden jutsu to seal Orochimaru’s power away forever, Naruto must face off against a crazed and possessed Gaara, who’s out for blood by any means necessary.
Despite a rather annoying plot element later on, this stretch of episodes is one of my favorites. Actually, it started with Naruto completing his training, but the bulk of the good stuff is here in this volume. The first disc starts out with the Sasuke vs. Gaara battle, which has its good points and its bad points. This battle has a helluva lot of exposition in it, the vast majority of which was in the manga, which can get a bit old after a while. And I’m a guy who loves the exposition in Naruto. The actual fighting, however, is quite awesome. Rock Lee’s fights are always fun to watch, so seeing Sasuke imitate those moves and startle Gaara is all kinds of awesome. However, the big spotlight is on the debut of the Chidori (which, contrary to what’s said here, is different from the Lightning Blade used by Kakashi in the Zabuza arc), and while it certainly is an impressive attack, it just doesn’t seem to do that much damage, especially compared to Naruto’s Rasengan in about 20 episodes. Maybe it’s just that Sasuke only uses it on Gaara, who absorbs the impact with his sand, but for a super-powerful attack, it sure doesn’t do a whole lot.
The fight doesn’t last very long, though, as the Sand and Sound Villages begin their invasion. While the next few episodes deal with getting Naruto, Sakrua, and Shikamaru outside the arena and chasing after Sasuke and Gaara, on the whole they aren’t too spectacular, aside from a completely badass fight scene with Asuma early in Disc 2. No, Disc 2′s main subject is the battle between Orochimaru and Sarutobi, and what a battle it is. Not only do we see some brand new jutsu (something other than clones and energy blasts), but we get some fun dialog as well as the two enemies continue to mock each other about old times. I only wish we could have seen Sarutobi’s summon, Emma, do more, but Sarutobi’s awesomeness combined with Orochimaru’s creepiness (which hits a peak right here) makes for a simply awesome battle. The fact that we get to see the first two Hokage as well, along with their specialty jutsus, just adds to the mystique of the world and makes me want to see an adventure in the past involving a young Sarutobi with the other two Hokage. Unfortunately, the battle ends anti-climatically with the Reaper Death Seal jutsu. No, the attack itself is rather awesome, it just what happens during the attack that’s annoying. Mainly how Orochimaru and Sarutobi are stuck in the same positions for a few episodes.
Actually, it’s more than a few episodes—it’s throughout Disc 3 and shortly into the Volume 7 set. It doesn’t help that every episode cuts back to the two of them with no change whatsoever. Luckily, that’s saved by the assault on Gaara arc on Disc 3. Sasuke vs. Gaara Round II is similar to the first, but slightly cooler since Gaara’s more insane and Sasuke has some really cool Chidori shots. Plus, Gaara’s two-episode backstory is just heartbreaking and reveals one of the crueler childhoods in anime. However, the standout is Naruto. I simply love it when Naruto does something badass, so it should surprise absolutely nobody that “Naruto’s Ninja Handbook” is one of my all-time favorite episodes in this series. Just the way Naruto uses his Shadow Clones, the way he combines it with some of Kakashi’s earlier techniques, and the simply awesome battle between Shukaku the Sand Spirit and the chief toad Gamabunta all makes for an episode any true Naruto fan would love. The contrast Sasuke makes between early series Naruto and the current Naruto only makes the episode that much better.
Unfortunately, as with all things, there are negatives to this set. Thanks in part to the way the series is made (i.e. the manga’s still running), the anime has a lot of drawn-out pan shots and exposition to stall for time. I mean, the village being under attack and Kakashi sending the Genin to get Sasuke could have been combined into one episode easily. Thankfully some of the smaller fights (Shino vs. Kankuro and Shikamaru vs. Sound Ninja) were kept to one episode, and when fights actually begin things move at a fast pace, but there’s still so much stalling. Especially in the Hokage/Orochimaru fight like I mentioned earlier. They get stabbed in Episode 73, but by volume’s end at Episode 78, they’re in the exact same position in the exact same scene with the exact same lines. It probably would have worked out better if the anime had taken its own spin on things and put Orochimaru vs. Sarutobi and Naruto vs. Gaara at the same time, or filled out time by looking in on the other Leaf Ninja
As with all other long-running shonen series, the animation varies wildly from episode to episode. Much of the Sasuke vs. Gaara battle is animated rather well, especially when Sasuke performs his Taijutsu and Chidori attacks, but the following two episodes use some rather plain animation with an emphasis on repeated frames and digital pans. The first episode of the Orochimaru vs. Hokage brawl has some real nice animation, especially in the mud and fire jutsus the Hokage throws out, but the second episode sees the return of the less detailed, super-rubbery animation from the Forest of Death arc. At times this animation looks cool while at other times it just looks stupid, and it all depends on the scene its used in, though it makes the forest everyone’s chasing Gaara in really, really dark for some reason. The final disc returns to the usual standard animation for the series, with the animation highlight being Naruto’s various attacks on Gaara and the giant creature battle between Shukaku and Gamabunta.
While I do like Yuri Lowenthal’s Sasuke and Malie Flannigan’s Naruto immensely, and they do have great scenes on this volume, the standouts here are Steven Blum’s Orochimaru, Liam O’Brien’s Gaara, and Steven Kramer’s Sarutobi. Blum’s Oro always was and always will be extremely creepy, but he’s best when Oro is really nasty, leaving one very weirded out almost immediately. Likewise, Kramer’s Sarutobi makes the Hokage sound old, but not feeble, and his speech about the entire village being his family near the end of Disc 2 is extremely moving. However, Liam O’Brien’s Gaara is just on a whole other level. His “crazed Gaara” voice was already pure awesomeness (the Gaara preview on Disc 3 was just all kinds of greatness), but the stark contrast between that and the extremely lonely child Gaara just makes the entire character extremely tragic. If nothing else, O’Brien makes this set, it’s that damn good. The Japanese cast also performs up to their usual high standards, but at this point I love Blum’s Oro and O’Brien’s Gaara too much to go back to their Japanese counterparts. As for the music, “Sadness Into Kindness” is my second-favorite opening theme, with my #1 favorite, “Go!!,” appearing at the end of the volume. Unfortunately, somebody decided it was a good idea to can the awesome “Viva Rock” last volume so instead we the highly boring and insipid “Alive!” as an ending theme. Bah.
The regular Uncut Edition comes with the usual storyboard booklet, this time for the first episode of the set “Bushy Brow’s Jutsu: Sasuke Style!” As with the other sets, I love the inclusion of actual storyboards on printed material, making it far more interesting that it would ever be on a TV screen. On the DVD itself we have the usual “Storyboard to Screen” feature, the English credits, Shonen Jump trailers (including a movie theater-worthy trailer for Death Note), and a preview of Volume 7. There’s also the Special Edition out there. I guess Viz figured we have enough headbands and wrist cuffs and the like, so starting with Volume 5 all we get with the Special Edition is a small figurine of one of the summons seen in the series. This volume comes with Pakkun. While it’s nice of Viz to include figures and even a display stand, the figure is simply a hunk of plastic with only a decent level of details, certainly not that much more than you’d see from Mattel’s toyline. For $70, I’d expect something of McFarland quality, not just-above-Hasbro level. Sorry Viz. Next time, try including maybe one of the Naruto OAVs or a weapons pouch or something.
Overall, if you enjoy Naruto, this is the series’ peak right here. Enjoy it while it lasts (which is approximately Volume 8).
Naruto Uncut Special Edition Volume 6 contains episodes 66 through 78.