Naruto Shippuden
Episode 417

by Amy McNulty,

If someone decided to edit together every Naruto Shippūden scene that features actual story progression, only a few minutes from this week's episode would make the cut. The latest installment begins with the conclusion of the anime-original story of Obito, Kakashi and Rin's first mission together. As annoying as the frequent inclusion of filler may be, the segment is entertaining enough. Still, nothing new is revealed. We've known for years that Kakashi was a no-nonsense shinobi before Obito's "death" as a child, and that Obito valued saving lives over adhering to the mission. Nevertheless, this portion of the episode is well-paced, and while there's nothing particularly necessary or memorable about it, it's not a pain to watch.

Following the conclusion of the joint mission flashback, the episode shifts gears and continually starts and sputters until it reaches the end credits. Back in the present timeline, adult Kakashi and Obito exchange their thoughts about what we just watched. In a line that seems like a parody of the never-ending fillers crammed between moments of this "final" epic fight, Obito relates how that reminds him of another adventure they shared. Cue the next flashback—one we've seen in the show before. If you're supposed to be feeling that these two characters are rushing head-long into death, as Kakashi calls it his "last mission," the flashbacks shouldn't eat up the majority of the episode's runtime. Instead of adding tension to remind the viewer how these two characters have a rocky past but an important bond, these flashbacks are an unwelcome distraction and a ploy for time. As a result, what little tension remains gradually dissipates, like air escaping from a punctured tire.

Not only does the second flashback go on too long, it also feels choppy, like the show is acknowledging that we've seen this scene before. Interspersed with extremely short scenes from the current timeline, the second flashback then leads to a third flashback that's supposed to demonstrate how Rin unified her two bickering teammates. Rin is not there however, and arm-less Minato tries to take her place, falling literally flat on his face as he runs into the fray. The tripping isn't meant to be comical, but it is since we're not invested in the stakes of this battle.

At least during the brief glimpses into the Madara fight, there's progress. As Obito and Kakashi simultaneously activate their Sharingan, Obito is able to escape to the other dimension in which Sakura is barely keeping Naruto alive. Meanwhile, Guy arrives to help Kakashi, his self-proclaimed eternal rival. It's a promising start to another phase of this battle at the very least.

Keeping Naruto Shippuden on the air for as long as possible may be in Shueisha and Studio Pierrot's best interest, along with other entities with a financial stake in the material. It's difficult to ignore the real-world need for anime producers to keep the show on the air when faced with forced flashbacks like these. Fiction is supposed to engage the audience and keep their minds focused on the dramatic stakes—and any flashbacks or detours need to add a purpose to the narrative. Consistently prolonging this final battle through such clunky means has ultimately undermined the animated version of Naruto Shippūden as a piece of fiction.

Rating: C-

Naruto Shippūden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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

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