by Amy McNulty,
How would you rate episode 438 of
Naruto Shippūden ?
Whereas last week's installment was light on action, episode 438 puts the kibosh on fighting, movement, and any semblance of plot development. We're now seven episodes into "Jiraiya's Ninja Tales," and only now does the arc appear to be approaching its midpoint. I know padding is a staple of shonen anime, but this is getting ridiculous. The "important" parts of episodes 432 through 438 could easily be condensed into three episodes or fewer without losing anything of note in the transition.
This week's episode opens with Shizune bringing dinner to a thoroughly-engrossed Tsunade, who finally seems to be taking issue with Jiraiya's prose and narrative choices. While I share her disdain for the material, I'm a little confused by the nature of her concerns. At one point, she exclaims, "Just because it's a novel doesn't mean you can change things!" Forgive my insolence, Lord Fifth, but isn't a novel the perfect medium for changing things? As far as I know, Jiraiya isn't trying to pass this garbage off as a true story. None of what took place prior to this chapter constituted "real-life" events, so why is she getting annoyed now?
In Book-Within-a-Dream Land, Jiraiya explains that he was able to find Naruto through a marking Minato placed on the Eight Signed Seal. After trading lengthy pieces of exposition, Naruto and the Pervy Sage decide to release the seal (or possibly weaken it) to give Naruto more access to the Nine Tails' chakra. Why Jiraiya thinks Not-Tobi/Possibly-Hizashi, a villain he has yet to actually encounter, constitutes a substantial enough threat to risk releasing a Tailed Beast is never explained. Maybe he knows something the audience doesn't? (Or maybe he's just a terrible storyteller?)
One of the things writers are told not to do is to stick an idealized version of themselves into the story, even if it's under the guise of another character. Jiraiya, however, has no qualms about dispensing with a "Gary Stu" and inserting a barely-fictionalized version of himself into the proceedings. As of this week, the Pervy Sage is now an important supporting player in his own novel. (I guess. Why Naruto needs to go through training at this point in the story in the middle of whatever netherworld he's trapped in is beyond me.)
After Sakura delivers a super-powered punch to Sasori, the menacing puppet temporarily retreats, giving Sakura enough time to extract the poison from Sasuke's wound. While recovering from his ordeal, Sasuke recalls his failed efforts at perfecting the Uchiha clan's Fireball Jutsu during his childhood, providing the staff with the perfect opportunity to replay several scenes that we're all sick to death of already. Including a not-so-subtle nod to Sasuke's daddy issues in your story? Classy, Jiraiya.
The remaining two thirds of Team Seven soon meet up with the rest of the Hidden Leaf Twelve (excluding Naruto and Neji of course) as Sasori reappears and initiates the Secret Red Move: Performance of a Hundred Puppets. Based on a quick head-count, "Performance of 30-something Puppets" might be a more fitting name. The genin are still unclear on their next course of action. Should they plow ahead and take their chances against the puppets or hightail it back to the village and let the adults take care of this mess? Meanwhile, Not-Tobi/Possibly-Hizashi and Neji continue to watch from a distance as events unfold. What on earth is this guy trying to prove to Neji through "testing" his peers in such a manner? When Neji asks the same thing, Not-Tobi dodges the question by claiming the test isn't over. Do the screenwriters even know?
Abysmal and never-ending story aside, this episode's character designs are off-model at times, and the overall aesthetics represent a downgrade from the past few installments. As far as the animation goes, there are several more instances of shots being held for too long. For example, when Lee and Tenten meet up with the rest of the group, roughly four seconds pass with no movement or dialog. There's a lot of posturing and promises of threats, but outside of Sakura's brief row with Sasori, no actual fighting occurs this week.
The longer Naruto Shippūden remains committed to this improperly plotted storyline, the less forgiving I'm liable to be. It's poorly paced, its featured players are shells of their real-world counterparts, and worst of all, it's just plain boring. Tsunade's personal utopia would entail living happily ever after with Dan and Nawaki, not reading some third-rate adventure novel. If this is what passes for the Fifth's dream world, Madara oversold the Infinite Tsukuyomi.
Naruto Shippūden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is a YA fantasy author who has loved anime for two decades.
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