Naruto Shippuden
Episode 381

by Amy McNulty,

Naruto Shippūden fans had their worlds rocked this week with the announcement that the manga is going to wrap up in early November, after fifteen years in print. How many Naruto fans were born in that time? How many fans stuck with it and watched every episode that's aired since 2002? Naruto isn't the first long-running manga to end, but still, it's the end of an era for fans of this offbeat ninja-world series. It would be great if this final stretch of the Fourth Shinobi World War saga could prove a proper send-off for the series. So far, however, it's been hit-or-miss.

Luckily for fans of the Naruto Shippuden anime, we're still a few story arcs behind the manga, although we're not as far behind as you might hope. An end date for the anime is surely in sight, too. The series has been teasing us that we're witnessing the fight-to-end-all-fights long enough, and episode 381 takes a big leap forward. Just as Naruto, Minato and the Kuramas are about to attack, and Sasuke has joined the throng of useless shinobi in being useless, Obito lowers his barrier and summons the Divine Tree, an earlier form of the Ten Tails.

The episode briefly ventures into horror territory as the Divine Tree sucks the chakra from the unimportant hordes of ninja. (I told you they were just liabilities at this point.) Strangely, Madara stops his fight with Hashirama to give him a history lesson about the origin of chakra and its connection to this tree. With biblical overtones and legendary beings we haven't heard a hint of before this, the story seems wedged in. Still, it leads to Madara's explanation of just how and why he's going to Matrix-ize the world and make everyone live in a happy illusion.

Kishimoto may have been determined to explain everything about his universe before he wrapped it up, but this mythological origin story borders on superfluous. No one needed to know why there's chakra in this world; we were willing to just accept it. However, we need some "bigger baddie" to appear now that Obito and Madara have all these episodes behind them, and it looks like mythological beings mixed with a living tree might be the new scene. That's a step down from the personal connection the shinobi have had with villains in the past—bland, all-powerful villains are usually boring—but we'll have to wait and see how this pans out.

The Naruto manga may be coming to a close, but there are likely months of anime still ahead of us. The anime's never going to be in danger of overlapping the manga's publication again, so there's sure to be less filler, for better or for worse depending on your tastes. I can almost forgive some of the slower pacing in light of the news that Naruto Shippūden will soon no longer be a staple in my anime-watching week, but then again, there's no reason to bore us before the end. Episode 381 does a great job of balancing a dash of humor with a bit of horror and an ever-building threat to make this one of the better episodes in recent memory.

Rating: B+

Naruto Shippuden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Amy is a YA fantasy author who has loved anime for nearly two decades.

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