Naruto Shippuden
Episode 440

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 440 of
Naruto Shippūden ?

If you've been following Jiraiya's Ninja Tales until this point (and kudos if you've made it this far), it should come as no surprise that episode 440 opens on the Fifth (or "the dream world version of the Fifth") reading Jiraiya's increasingly nonsensical manuscript. I've always thought Tsunade was a pretty smart cookie, but it turns out she's genuinely shocked by the "revelation" that the book's masked antagonist is none other than Hizashi Hyuga, Neji's late father. They've been dropping hints for the better part of two months, but I suppose even Hokages are bound to have off-days.

With Sasori's puppet army defeated, Hizashi concedes that the Hidden Leaf Twelve have passed his test. Not only did they break protocol by trying to rescue their sensei, they did so at the risk of their own lives. With the test complete, Hizashi dismisses Hidan, Kakuzu, and Sasori and then tasks Team Jiraiya with taking the genin to where their teachers are being held. Nagato, Konan, and Yahiko escort Naruto and company to the abandoned village from several episodes back and reveal that their teachers are tied up in an empty home. (Why four of the Leaf's strongest jonin were unable to break free from such weak bonds is beyond me.)

Once Kakashi, Guy, Asuma, and Kurenai are freed, Hizashi reappears and reveals that a mysterious figure (who's obviously Orochimaru) brought him back to life via the Reanimation Jutsu. After commending the kids for passing his test and taking another opportunity to gripe about how the village screwed him over, he requests a moment alone with his son. During this exchange, Neji reveals that he no longer feels any ill will towards Hinata—or the rest of the Hyuga clan—thanks to Naruto's shining influence. (Has Gaara been pushing Church of Uzumaki pamphlets on the Hyuga household again?) Although Hizashi wished to be taken back to the village to undo his resurrection, he magically fades away following his conversation with Neji, with his "business left on earth" (according to classic ghost rules, which apparently apply to him) completed.

I can't get over the fact that Jiraiya supposedly wrote this stinker. The Pervy Sage could use a few pointers on "friend fiction" from Tina Belcher. (Then again, most of these kids weren't even his friends, but he was somehow able to present accurate representations of them based on conversations with Naruto presumably.) Writing a story that features a young boy's dead father being brought back to life and presented as a villain (of sorts) isn't very considerate to Neji—one of the children whose image Jiraiya is misappropriating. Even if you were to take the manuscript-within-a-dream framing device out of the equation, Neji interacting with his late father isn't nearly as moving as this episode likely intended. "You know how Naruto's been shooting the breeze with his dead dad? Well, why should he have all the fun?"

Now that Team Jiraiya has given the villagers the go-ahead to return home, and our heroes are en route to the Hidden Leaf, all appears to be well… OR DOES IT? Shortly after Yahiko sets off to return the teddy bear that those stupid kids nearly died for a few weeks ago, the formerly-abandoned village is engulfed in a massive explosion, presumably killing all who dwell within it. Understandably upset, Nagato lets out an ear-piercing scream as he once again goes into full-on Shinji Ikari mode.

For the first time in this entire arc, the story managed to shock me, thanks to this episode's (literally) explosive ending. Of course, shocking the audience is not the same thing as taking the narrative in an appropriate direction. Everything was set up to be neatly (albeit anticlimactically) wrapped up, but a filler arc this bad wasn't about to let us off the hook that easily. Nagato's shock at Yahiko's death (which drove him and Konan to the dark side in the "real world") was overblown to the point of being comical, especially considering the audience isn't invested enough in this narrative to care about these versions of the characters.

I'd like to believe this is an unedited first draft of a rushed manuscript, or that the book's contents are purely a product of Tsunade's imagination. Sadly, the screenwriters may have thought this was a great story, if the number of episodes devoted to telling it are any indication. At least things started to (sort of) come together this week, only for all the progress so far made to be undone in the end. If this truly represents Jiraiya's best attempt at an adventure novel, the Pervy Sage is better off sticking to smut.

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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