by Amy McNulty,
This week's Naruto Shippuden would have benefited greatly from a lengthy recap of recent developments in the main story. When these recaps occur from week to week, they can grow tedious and constitute blatant time filler. However, it's been five months since we left Naruto and Sasuke in mortal peril, and if you need a better refresher as to what was going on, head to your nearest Naruto superfan, do some Internet research, or rewatch those episodes. Episode 414 shows no mercy to casual viewers, unceremoniously plopping the audience right back where it left off. Shoehorning filler into the main storyline and littering episodes with comically long flashbacks has had adverse effects on this series for years. While it may be necessary to elongate the show for sponsorship and ratings purposes, the execution of the main storyline suffers when the pacing is so start and stop.
That aside, this episode is like a breath of fresh air compared to the seemingly never-ending anime-original arc that preceded it. Although the action is minimal, flurries of well-animated movement still grace the screen. Secondary characters are given more to do than simply simper on the sidelines. Karin and Orochimaru steal the show whenever they appear this week. Karin's rage over Sasuke's "death" is palpable, and it's entertaining to see Orochimaru slyly yet calmly aiding his long-time enemies.
Despite the series' two most important characters being at death's door, there's humor in this episode and many laugh-worthy jokes. However, Tenten "humorously" lamenting the loss of Neji (one of the few characters to actually die for good) because she finds Lee and Guy so annoying may make your jaw drop. The boy's body is still warm, and his passing is already being used as a source of humor? It's funny, yet strangely inappropriate—but it would have been perfectly suited to Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals.
Some particulars of both the good guys and villains' respective plans are murky, especially without a refresher course after 20 weeks away from the main story. Suffice to say, long-time viewers know to just go along for the ride when it comes to the "deaths" of most characters. If Kurama claims the half of his chakra stuck in Minato can save the clinically-dead Naruto, so be it. Still, in a particularly squeamish sequence, Sakura slices Naruto's chest open with chakra and massages his heart by hand. The show doesn't need to be so explicitly medical when it's complicatedly fantastical at the same time.
If there's one major drawback to episode 414, it's that the high stakes it strives for are utterly meaningless. Perhaps the most spoiler-adverse Naruto fan has somehow stayed away from all the information about the source material's conclusion (and The Last: Naruto the Movie), but it doesn't matter how dead Naruto or Sasuke are—the audience knows they're not in any real danger. Not only are these characters too important to the story, the world of Naruto is too cavalier about death to make anyone's tears and hysteria over a fallen comrade meaningful.
Naruto Shippūden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is a YA fantasy author who has loved anime for two decades.
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