Boruto: Naruto Next Generations
by Amy McNulty,
How would you rate episode 45 of
Boruto: Naruto Next Generations ?
The Byakuya Gang arc's latest chapter shines an overdue spotlight on Ryogi. Despite being this storyline's principal guest character, the narrative has revealed little about his personal history until this point, and this week's revelations help provide the audience with some context for his actions. As it turns out, Ryogi's backstory is just the shot in the arm this arc needed, since it was starting to feel a little drawn out and repetitive.
Thanks to the Byakuya Gang's recent actions, a wave of anti-capitalist sentiment is sweeping the Hidden Leaf, with the Kaminarimon Company becoming the primary target for working class anger. Gekko, the gang's leader, claims this is a byproduct of his ninjutsu, which is able to manipulate and deceive human minds. Seeing how much pleasure Gekko takes in watching his handiwork unfold temporarily gives Ryogi pause and causes him to reflect on his past. Through flashback, we learn that Gekko and Ryogi's father worked as shinobi for an unnamed village, during which time they secretly formed the Byakuya Gang. After Ryogi's parents were murdered by a mysterious assailant, Gekko became an adoptive father to the boy and indoctrinated him into the secret group.
Back in the present, Ryogi decides to have one last shogi game with Shikadai in advance of the gang's last big heist in the Leaf. However, as the game winds down, Shikadai reveals that he's figured out Ryogi's true identity, giving way to an ideological debate and a brief skirmish. It's a poetic touch that Shikadai outmaneuvers Ryogi with a psychological feint, just as he might have on the game board. Convinced that his new friend could never understand his ideals, Ryogi rushes back to the hideout and prepares for the next job.
Unlike the past few installments, which painted the thieves in a somewhat more positive light, episode 45 hints that Gekko may be a fairly cut-and-dry antagonist after all. The menacing music that plays as he lays out his master plan and his ominous asides suggest that the Byakuya Gang's leader may not be as much of a Robin Hood figure as previously indicated. (Also, if it's revealed that he had a hand in Ryogi's parents' deaths, it's unlikely anyone watching will be shocked.) This isn't an altogether surprising direction for a kids' show to take, but it is disappointing. After several episodes of showcasing all the good the Byakuya Gang does, the show appears to be opting for a more black-and-white approach to morality. Furthermore, the citizens' exact beef with the Kaminarimon Company is never fully explained. Are they actually treating workers unfairly, or did the Byakuya Gang's heists awaken some sort of vague righteous anger in the Leaf's populace?
Gekko's malevolent intentions become clearer than ever this week, potentially turning a promising story into a clearly defined conflict of good vs. evil. Still, considering how stubbornly they've clung to their respective opinions on theft, Boruto, Ryogi, and Shikadai will likely ultimately find middle ground by the end. The story seems to be setting all of its key players up to learn important lessons, but the addition of a full-fledged antagonist undermines what seemed to be the arc's initial message.
The Byakuya Gang arc is starting to overstay its welcome and become longer than its original conceit warranted. Although it's by no means unsalvageable, it's hard to picture this storyline living up to the promise it showed in its earlier installments. Fortunately, there are still some interesting ideas and character dynamics at play, so with any luck, the show will find a way to deliver a reasonably satisfying conclusion.
Boruto: Naruto Next Generations is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is an author who has loved anime for over two decades.
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