Naruto Shippuden
Episode 439

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 439 of
Naruto Shippūden ?

Like the past few installments, episode 439 opens with Tsunade, whose ill will toward the novel has apparently dissipated since last we saw her, as she sits in a gazebo reading Jiraiya's Ninja Tales. When Shizune comes to check on her, the Fifth can barely be troubled to acknowledge her old friend. (That's how engaging she finds this manuscript!) Since she hasn't left this gazebo in nearly a day, I have to wonder if her personal utopia entails no longer having to answer the call of nature.

In Book World, Jiraiya realizes that releasing Kurama probably wasn't the wisest course of action, as Naruto is overtaken by the Nine Tails' chakra and goes into Demon Fox Cloak mode. After incurring a nasty chest wound courtesy of the newly-demonic Naruto (Narama? Kurato?), the Pervy Sage flashes back to the day Gamamaru delivered his prediction about the Child of Prophecy. Jiraiya recalls the ancient toad's warning about what would happen if his prophesied pupil went down the path of darkness, prompting him to consider the possibility that Naruto is the Child of Prophecy gone bad. Fortunately, flashing back to his father teaching him the basics of the Rasengan (somehow) enables Naruto to gain control of his chakra and regain his human form.

Setting aside the myriad of problems I have with this arc, I'll acknowledge that seeing Naruto study the Rasengan under Minato was kind of neat. Even though Naruto's been interacting with his late father's reanimated corpse in the "real" world for a while now, it's interesting to see the Uzumaki men on a typical father-son outing—or whatever passes for one in a world of ninja. Although Minato's approach to teaching his son the Rasengan differs slightly from Jiraiya's, this version of Naruto ultimately reaches the same conclusion as his real-life counterpart; he'll dispense with the hard work and use a shadow clone to mold a circular ball of chakra.

As the Hidden Leaf Twelve do battle against Sasori's puppets, Sasuke finally decides to break mission protocol and join the rest of the group in rescuing the kidnapped jonin. Fresh off his ordeal, Naruto soon arrives on the scene alongside hundreds of shadow clones. The sweat-suited tween then performs hundreds of Rasengan in one fell swoop, effectively making short work of the marionette army. In light of this development, Neji asks Not-Tobi/Possibly-Hizashi if his friends have passed his increasingly vague test. When the masked figure once again dodges the query, Neji addresses him as "Father," upgrading this arc's antagonist to "Almost-Definitely-Hizashi."

Unfortunately, Naruto's growth loses a lot of meaning as a result of him barely struggling to overcome Kurama's possession. While the large number of clones simultaneously producing Rasengan looks cool, Naruto possessing this ability feels unearned. It's pointless if Naruto simply needed to remember a training session with his father to unlock this game-changing new attack. At every turn, Jiraiya's Ninja Tales has proven to be an inferior re-imagining of the real storyline.

The character designs are even more off-model than they were last week, which is saying a lot. The featured players seldom look the same from shot to shot, and their heads are often disproportionate to their bodies. Aesthetic blunders like these would be forgivable if the story were more entertaining, but it's not. We've seen ninja discuss the morality of following the rules versus breaking the rules to save a friend many times in the past. (This moral dilemma is the basis for Kakashi's entire character arc.) The fact that Jiraiya made Hizashi so obsessed with this issue makes little sense. True, his family viewing him as dispensable because he was born several minutes after his twin wasn't the best, but those are the Hyuga clan's backwards rules, not the Hidden Leaf's. Plus, he willingly volunteered to take his brother's place. Also, isn't casting the late father of one of the book's unauthorized caricatures in the villain role kind of insensitive on the part of the author?

The highlight of the episode—the scene where Naruto and his clones obliterate 100 puppets at once—is punctuated with a highly energetic BGM track that hasn't been used in ages. However, this scene would have felt much more at home in a better episode. At least the show's musical score, while often repetitive, is still able to get fans pumped. The longer this arc continues, the harder it is to look at each episode impartially. (Granted, these episodes don't offer much even when taken on their own.) In light of its horrible reputation, this series' anime-original material has to go the extra mile to win over manga purists, and Jiraiya's Ninja Tales is failing time and again to impress.

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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