by Amy McNulty,
There's no question that viewers are in for the long haul with the current Naruto Shippūden filler arc. After three episodes devoted to Team Guy's travails in procuring the scroll they need—although they didn't actually get the right scroll—the show shifts its focus to Team Kurenai. No doubt there will be several more episodes showcasing what Sakura, Ino and Choji are up to at this stage before it all comes together.
Taking the context of never-ending fillers out of the picture and judging episode 402 on its own merits, the episode succeeds in some aspects but fails in others. The eclectic trio of characters on the enemy team Hinata, Kiba and Shino face are amusing by Naruto standards. However, it seems like the show is going for over-the-top characters that might be more at home in Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, and in that regard, they seem somewhat out of place in this series. Additionally, the morbidly obese ninja, the one who got sweat all over the buffet and caused a brawl a few episodes back, is pretty much a one-joke pony. Anything cruel you can think of about overweight people is his strength. His flesh jiggles to reflect kunai, and he stores weapons beneath his fat folds. His biggest attack involves crippling Team Kurenai with an awful scent he "ferments" inside his body. Powerfully bad odors are Kiba and Akamaru's greatest weakness, but this "fat ninja" angle is just too lowbrow to amuse.
The episode also suffers from subpar artwork in several spots. For the most part, the visuals are on-point, but the numerous examples of off-model characters are quite noticeable. Animation-wise, the staff doesn't take too many shortcuts when it comes to the action this week, but there's nothing new or engaging here. Like previous episodes, episode 402 fails to adequately convey tension over the fates of the key players. Since the members of Team Kurenai are alive and well in the current timeline, watching them sink into quicksand doesn't illicit a genuine sense of danger. It's also repetitive, considering Team Guy nearly drowned in a sand waterfall a couple of weeks ago.
The episode's strengths lie in showing how well Team Kurenai works together in tracking and sensory perception, as always. It's been a while since this team got the spotlight, so it's refreshing to once again see them in action. However, they don't bring as much humor to the proceedings as Team Guy did, which is a shame because Shino's "no one remembers or notices me" bit is one of the series' funnier running gags, even if it's been done more times than I can count. At one point, Akamaru manages to save the day with nothing less than his infamous urine attack, but it's not really played for laughs. It's just as well, considering the episode is already rife with lowbrow gags.
Episode 402 fails to get the balance of humor right, piling too much on the guest characters and not enough on the team of ninja we care about. On the other hand, the new trio of enemies is at least more entertaining than the generic, stereotypical bad guys Team Guy faced off against alongside Shira's team. With the inclusion of a giant sunglasses-clad mole, this episode is poised to take the mini arc in a more lighthearted direction. Let's just hope the producers have exhausted their supply of "fat = funny" jokes.
Naruto Shippūden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is a YA fantasy author who has loved anime for two decades.
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