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Naruto Unleashed

directors: Hayato Date, Jeff Nimoy

590 minutes (12) 2002
Starz Manga DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
It's impossible not to credit Naruto Unleashed for its sheer ambition and scope. The story of a teenage ninja trying to better himself following an unusually dubious past, it would be all too easy for the series to be nothing more than the standard 'fight, fight, comedy, life lesson' formula that this sort of story has a tendency to fall into.

How it avoids this is through the sheer scope of the admittedly, fairly basic story. This set of episodes is set around the tournament to decide who becomes Hokage. Essentially little more than a set of fight scenes, the episodes are raised above the norm by the care taken to explore the background and desires of the fighters. It's not just restricted to Naruto and company either, other characters getting welcome depth and background as we see them fight, lose, win and in some cases, die. This not only creates a well rounded and interesting world but also emphasises exactly how dangerous that world is for Naruto and his friends, a fact driven home by the brutality of some of the fights, especially Lee's battle with Gara.

This character depth and development is remarkably subtle for a series of this type and openly surprising when you realise that almost the entire running time of these three discs is concerned with the Hokage Tournament. There's a highly impressive combination of action and character development here, which marks Naruto out as something genuinely different to the norm. This is further backed up by the animation, cleverly balancing violence, character, comedy and moments where the plot stops whilst the exact jutsu effect being deployed is explained.

Consistently impressive and not pulling any punches along the way, this is an impressive entry in a series which, for once, deserves the hype. Highly recommended.
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