Naruto Shippuden
Episode 421

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 421 of
Naruto Shippūden ?

The second half of this week's Naruto Shippūden showcases some of the most exciting action the show has featured in a long time. As "Night Guy" unleashes his dragon-like Evening Elephant attack, the screen comes alive with crimson color while everything radiates with Guy's untapped power. Madara is strangely excited to get his rear end handed to him, but since he's the hackneyed "I love fighting someone of my skill level" type of villain, his reactions aren't terribly surprising. Unfortunately for Guy, he shatters both his legs—along with half of Madara's ribs—putting him out of commission. Luckily, Naruto arrives on the scene just in time to save "Bushier Brows-sensei" from Madara's killing blow. Thanks to Naruto's newfound deus-ex-machina healing powers, Guy doesn't die from expending his own energy, either.

Until the episode gets to the end of the Guy/Madara fight, it's slower-paced. As Naruto finishes his heart-to-heart with the Sage of the Six Paths, the conversation is less humorous than their initial meeting, so it's less captivating to watch. Plus, there are a lot of cheesy, clichéd story elements info-dumped on the audience. Rabbit Goddess Kaguya initially used her deity-like powers to promote peace but eventually became corrupted by them. The Infinite Tsukuyomi's true purpose is to trap the denizens of the Naruto-verse in individual dream worlds while using their physical bodies as a source of energy for the Matrix-esque Divine Tree. Hagoromo's sons, Ashura and Indra, have been reincarnated as prominent figures throughout history, always starting off as friends and eventually becoming bitter rivals. Naruto loves repeated themes, and the Naruto/Sasuke theme of two eternal frenemies is one of the series' central components.

All the attention placed on fated reincarnations steals the spotlight from Madara, who seems to be on his way out after years of being billed as the series' ultimate villain. It also, at least so far, shifts focus from Naruto and Sasuke, two characters who truly matter to this series, by attributing their defining characteristics and core personalities to two ancient figures we've never heard of, spent any time with, or care about. This seems like an attempt to flesh out Naruto's world before the series bows out, but it's too clichéd and complicated, and it comes too late in the game to make any real difference.

With half of the episode devoted to edge-of-your-seat action, episode 421 manages to get viewers to overlook the overly complicated turn the final battle has taken. While shonen series aren't usually known for pushing boundaries when it comes to the "evil vs. good" trope, leaving little room for shades of gray, there's something distracting—and even cheap—about putting so much emphasis on ancient beings and reincarnations at this stage in the game. Fortunately, the show's newly re-energized pacing plows right through it, providing Naruto and Sasuke with another opportunity to join the fight.

Rating: B+

Naruto Shippūden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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

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