Review for Naruto Shippuden: The Movie 1 & 2 Double
Short Feature Presentation
It's been eighteen months since the release of the first Naruto Shippuden feature film in the UK, eighteen months in which Manga Entertainment have taken their first faltering steps into expanding their Blu-ray portfolio, and eighteen months in which the Naruto juggernaut has continued apace. Spring 2012 sees the arrival of the second Naruto Shippuden movie, Bonds in the UK, and it's coming here in high definition as well as DVD. Just to provide a little consistency for Naruto fans, Manga Entertainment are taking the step of re-releasing the first Naruto Shippuden movie, this time on Blu-ray as well, although at this time the only way to buy it is if you purchase the two movies together in this double pack which I now review. To avoid repeating myself, this short review on the first page will concentrate on the Naruto Shippuden movie's Blu-ray specifications alone. If you want to read about the movie, I'll point you to the review of the DVD that I wrote back in 2010.
It should be noted that at this time, the first Naruto Movie Blu-ray is exclusive to the UK alone. I can't find its equivalent on sale in either Australia or the US, although in my cursory search I did find a French language release across the channel.
Naruto Shippuden: The Movie gets a 1.85:1 widescreen picture reflecting the original aspect ratio. The film gets a 1080i transfer, encoded at 60Hz on a BD25, which is a tad disappointing. The image is clear and sharp throughout, and while the quality of the animation is hardly the most detailed theatrical presentation ever given an anime franchise, it is free of aliasing, the posterisation and banding that afflicts even the finest of DVD transfers. It's just that the film isn't as smooth and as clear as you would normally see on a 1080p 24fps Blu-ray. Playing back on my equipment at its usual settings, I found that while the majority of the film was as I would expect, pans and scrolls were more prone to motion blur and slight judder.
Delving into my Blu-ray player's user guide, I found that by switching the player to deliberately output a 60Hz signal instead of a progressive one, it significantly diminished the motion blur, although at the expense of increasing the judder. It did look slightly better, but I'm the kind of person who leaves my home cinema set up for best results across all discs, and I never remember to optimise it if one disc in a hundred requires different settings. I'm sure the next time I play it, I'll watch it all the way through with the motion blur, before I remember that there's a setting that reduces it.
But, as you would expect from a high definition presentation, even an interlaced one, the detail levels are excellent, and the richness of the film's colours put the DVD to shame. Incidentally, the CG Terracotta Army looks even more out of place on Blu-ray than they do on DVD.
No such issues with the audio, as the film gets a pair of very robust DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtracks, in both English and Japanese, with optional English subtitles in a clear white font. The surround audio is rich, vibrant and dynamic, quiet and subtle when it needs to be, and booming and enveloping during the action sequences. Again it blows the DVD's already impressive DD 5.1 tracks out of the water. Back when I reviewed that DVD check disc, I had a few issues with mistimed and missing subtitles, although I was led to believe that was corrected for the retail release. Thankfully, there's no such problem here with the Blu-ray check disc.
Nothing at all, unless you count an animated menu screen as an extra. I guess you'll have to hold onto the DVD for the trailers, textless credits, and line-art images.
I put the disc into the player to be presented with the Manga Entertainment logo followed by a logo for Australia's Madman Entertainment, indicating just who is responsible for authoring this disc. It makes it all the more perplexing when I can't find a Blu-ray release of the first Naruto Shippuden movie on Australian retail websites. But it does mean that for the time being, the UK has the monopoly on the English language hi-definition release of the first film, and maybe the rest of the world can import our releases for a change.
As for Naruto fans who want to jump on the Blu-ray bandwagon, the interlaced video on this disc may not be the greatest advertisement for the format, but it is still significantly more impressive than the NTSC-PAL conversion of the DVD, and the lossless audio shouldn't be sniffed at either. If you're going to get Bonds on Blu-ray, you may as well get the first movie also, as it's just the matter of a few pounds difference between the single and double releases. Of course if you're fluent in French, you might want to try Naruto Shippuden - Le film : Un funeste presage instead, on the hope that it has a progressive transfer. Indeed it looks as if France also has the first three Naruto films on Blu-ray, and are two films ahead of us when it comes to Shippuden as well.
Main Feature Presentation
Here we come to the main point of this review, the UK feature debut of the second Naruto Shippuden Movie, entitled simply Bonds, coming out on DVD and this Blu-ray simultaneously. Whereas the original Naruto movies were conveniently timed Christmas affairs for Manga Entertainment, the arrival of the Shippuden movies has been somewhat more random. It's been some eighteen months and more since the last one, and I have to admit that I was beginning to miss the regularity of a feature film outing for the world's favourite bright orange loudmouth ninja. I know that the Naruto films aren't exactly big on story, and they are the epitome of filler, but they are filler that is efficiently told in 90-minute chunks, and they do tend to boil down what is most likeable about the Naruto universe. However, they are very much the TV show writ large, and the Naruto TV show isn't exactly deep or complex when it comes to character and world art. It's the last property that you would think to upgrade when it comes to a high definition experience, but Naruto Shippuden: The Movie 2 - Bonds is the franchise's first UK Blu-ray outing. It will be interesting to see just what more it has to offer.
The Hidden Leaf Village is attacked! Hordes of flying ninja suddenly appear and lay waste to the village, destroying many of the buildings, and causing several casualties. The unprepared Leaf ninja are hard pressed to respond, even Naruto, whose usual exuberance is diminished as the Sky Ninja remain out of reach. At the same time, he encounters a mysterious man who advises him to take care of the injured, to save the lives he can, rather than waste his efforts. The Sky Ninja have returned to wreak revenge for the actions of the Leaf ninja in the last great Ninja War, and Tsunade orders a considered response to their actions, assigning a team of four under Shikamaru to follow the sky ninja back to their origin, and deal with the enemy.
Naruto wants to be in on the action, but when a young trainee doctor named Amaru appears, looking for the mysterious man from before, his destiny is diverted. The old man is a master physician named Shinnou, and Amaru is his apprentice. Amaru's village has come under attack, apparently also from the sky ninja, and Shinnou's help is needed to deal with the aftermath. Naruto, Sakura, and Hinata escort Amaru and Shinnou back to the village, but it's a journey into a dark past, and betrayal. At the same time, Orochimaru orders Sasuke to find and bring back the physician that mastered the Art of Regeneration Jutsu. It sets into motion a fateful reunion between the two former friends.
This is more like it. Naruto Shippuden: The Movie 2 - Bonds gets a 1080p widescreen transfer at the 1.85:1 ratio. The animation is smooth and clear throughout, presented at the more appropriate 24 frames per second, and quite naturally free of motion blur. It is the TV series writ large as mentioned before, but the high definition presentation does allow for the full detail of the movie to come across, outlines are smooth, there's no problem with aliasing, and no colour banding to speak of. The Blu-ray format's greater rendition of colour also makes it a much richer experience than the DVD, and given the movie format, Naruto's action sequences are much more dynamic and impressive. The Sky Ninja in particular have an energy to them that you just wouldn't get on a TV series budget. The one fly in the ointment is that once again, the CG just doesn't blend with the 2D all that well.
The images in this review have been kindly supplied by the PR company, and may not be representative of the retail discs.
In terms of audio, the second Naruto Shippuden feature gets a couple of vibrant DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround tracks, in both English and Japanese. As always I opted for the Japanese audio, and yet again I was faced with an HD audio experience that is hard to fault. The clarity, the placement of effects, and the dynamism of the soundstage puts the usual DVD efforts to shame. When Naruto and his friends venture into the jungle on their way to Amuro's village, you're right in there along with them. The orchestral score really suits the tone of the film well, if it isn't exactly memorable. The only nit I had to pick is that the dialogue is a little low in the mix, and you may have to nudge up the volume on your centre speaker. I sampled the English audio, which is of comparable quality, comments on the dub notwithstanding. It doesn't have any problems with the dialogue levels though. The translated English subtitles are in a discreet white font, accurately timed, and free of error.
The Blu-ray gets a menu screen which has a slideshow of stills from the movie running in the background, while the menu bar lists the options at the left edge of the screen.
You get 7 minutes worth of the film's trailers, presented at 720p resolution, in Japanese only, without any subtitles.
The Special Opening Theme sets scenes from the film to one of the themes from the Shippuden TV series. This lasts 90 seconds, and is presented in 1080i resolution.
The Production Art Gallery has 16 colour and line art images for you to click through, again in full HD resolution.
Finally there are some trailers for further Blu-ray releases. This being a Madman authored disc, you have to put up with an Australian anti-piracy warning, and you won't be able to get The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya unless you import, but you can get Evangelion 2.22, Summer Wars, and Eden of the East 2: Paradise Lost from Manga Entertainment.
I was wondering who the young bratty guest character would be, which Naruto would wind up empathising and befriending, and it wasn't long before Amaru showed up. I think there's only the one Naruto movie, and they just keep on remaking it with different characters, and different villains. That's not such a new idea. For the last five movies, Star Trek has been remaking The Wrath of Khan in different clothing, and that keeps making money. The thing about remakes is that there's either a desire to maximise the quality, and improve on what came before, or there is just going through the motions. Naruto Shippuden: The Movie 2 - Bonds is a case of just going through the motions. Looked at dispassionately, it's not really a very good film. Looked at through the eyes of a Naruto fan, it's bloody good fun, especially if you leave your brain at the door and don't sweat the details.
This is a film where stuff happens because the writers ordain it. It makes very little sense in the context of the story, and even less sense in the context of the Naruto universe as a whole. The film has a strong opening, the strongest start of a Naruto film yet, with the attack on the village by the Sky Ninja portrayed as a ninja version of Pearl Harbour. We follow the Sky Ninja as they launch at dawn from their aircraft carriers, and make their way, flying low over the land towards the Hidden Leaf Village, children in the countryside looking up in shock as the squadrons of ninja fly overhead. For the purposes of the film, the Hidden Leaf Village suddenly becomes the Hidden Leaf City, now drawn as a metropolis worthy of a mass air raid, and the surprise attack leaves our familiar characters in stunned shock.
There isn't much time to grieve, as Tsunade orders a counterattack, and Shikamaru's team gets sent to deal with the threat. You'd think that this would be the main arc of the film, but the Sky Ninja are just a means to get the story rolling, and thereafter they subside to a minor plot point, occasionally revisited when we need to take a breather from Naruto's antics. The main story is about Naruto helping Amaru and Shinnou get back to their village, and deal with the attackers there. Except nothing is as it seems, and betrayal and loss lurk behind every corner. Why did Naruto so easily consent to go with them instead of dealing with the Hidden Leaf Village being nuked? Because the writers willed it, even though we know that he'd be on Shikamaru's team in an instant in the series. Why does the film's antagonist hold such a grudge, and betray the one who holds him in highest esteem? Because the writers willed it.
The writers also play fast and loose with the rules of the Naruto universe, introducing ideas and concepts that last only for the length of this film, and will never be thought of again, ideas like Dark Chakra, and the Zero-Tails. Of course a big selling point to this film is the fateful reunion of Naruto and Sasuke. Except it doesn't happen the way that you would expect, or indeed the way the trailers sell it. After all, that would be raining on the manga's parade, if the manga actually gets that far. On the other hand, the way that the film does portray Sasuke and Naruto's reunion doesn't quite ring true given the history they've had in the years since Sasuke left the Hidden Leaf Village, and I have to admit it was a disappointment.
But you do not want to ask any of these questions. You do not want to place this film in the context of the series, or indeed take it too seriously. You do not want to worry about the structure of the story, and you don't want to worry about the uneven narrative. What you want to do is put your brain to one side, and just enjoy the impressive action sequences, revel in the characteristic moments of Naruto humour, and let it manipulate the emotions in just the same way that all the other Naruto movies do. It makes you care about the characters, and its melodrama takes you on an emotional journey which is as finely crafted as the narrative is clumsy. They really have this down to a fine art at this point, and Naruto Shippuden: The Movie 2 - Bonds delivers to its audience just what they are seeking.