Naruto Shippuden
Episode 441

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 441 of
Naruto Shippūden ?

This week's Naruto Shippūden kicks off a brand new arc. Don't get your hopes up, though—this arc is set in the same book in the same imaginary world we've been stuck in for nearly three months. Tsunade, who's apparently able to read the audience's thoughts, begins the episode by exclaiming, "How could Jiraiya have written a story with such a stupid ending?!" How indeed, Lord Fifth. Unfortunately, before she's able to leave the gazebo and resume Hokage-ing, Tsunade discovers that she's only read half of the manuscript. This prompts her to drop everything and begin making her way through Part Two.

As it turns out, the Hidden Leaf Twelve and their respective sensei are strangely unaffected by witnessing an entire village's populace being blown to smithereens. After Minato decides to forgive the kids for breaking the rules during their mission, the gang gets poised to celebrate. (Really, guys? You don't need a day or two to decompress?) However, Sasuke's peeved about being shown up by Naruto during Hizashi's "stupid test" (Naruto's words—and mine), so rather than go out for yakiniku with his friends, he elects to go home and get lectured by his father, who's a much bigger jerk in Jiraiya's book than in the actual canon. (Did this guy owe the author money or something?) Apparently, the Uchiha Clan's attempted coup d'etat was resolved diplomatically in this world, and Fugaku feels that his youngest son's disregard for mission protocol reflects poorly on the clan as a whole. In return for the Uchiha putting the kibosh on their coup, Minato promised to allow members of their clan to once again hold positions of power in the Leaf's interior government. Still, the Fourth has yet to make good on this promise, and relations with the Uchiha remain strained as a result.

Eager to one-up Naruto and earn Fugaku's recognition, Sasuke convinces Kakashi to teach him the Chidori. Never one to be shown up, Naruto sets to work honing his Rasengan under the supervision of Jiraiya and Minato. Never mind that we've already seen these characters hone their signature attacks. The Pervy Sage also reveals that the mysterious villain he confronted several weeks ago was indeed Orochimaru. Fresh off his latest body swap, the snake-like baddie vowed to return in three years' time to obtain a new body before making his exit. (Does this mean we'll still be stuck in this arc three years from now?)

Sasuke's daddy issues don't make for compelling viewing. (Neither did Neji's in "Part One" of the tale.) We already saw him grapple with these problems in the real world, and now that Fugaku has been deprived of his humanizing qualities, he's essentially become a cartoonish caricature of a disapproving father. As a result, Sasuke's character arc in this world comes across as yet another clunky rehash. Additionally, with the Uchiha Clan alive and well, Sasuke no longer has the tragic backstory to "justify" his perpetual rudeness. It's clear that Naruto's lifelong frenemy doesn't have a fan in Jiraiya. (Not that the author knew him well enough to paint an accurate picture of his childhood anyway.)

If there's anything positive to be gleaned from this mess, it's the mildly interesting what-ifs. What if Naruto's parents had lived? Apparently everything would be better. The Uchiha would still be alive, as would Sarutobi. (Presumably, the Land of Sand didn't invade the Hidden Leaf during Naruto's first chunin exams, or else Minato took them out fast. Does that mean Naruto failed the exams, or were they still canceled?) Tsunade would have given up her wandering, gambling ways to become a doctor in the Hidden Leaf. Although that could just be so she could fawn over Jiraiya's self-insert. All of these differences make it hard to keep track of which events from canon carried through to this world.

In recent weeks, I've begun to consider the possibility that we've wandered into Naruto Shippūden purgatory, with the series finale forever out of our reach. Instead of seeing the final days of the Fourth Ninja World War, we're given Naruto Lite, a watered-down, fanfiction-y re-imagining that no one asked for. It's become clear that fillers are unavoidable, but that doesn't mean they have to be so punishingly bad. If the second half of Jiraiya's magnum opus is as dull as the first, I'd just as soon read the Cliff's Notes.

Rating: D+

Naruto Shippūden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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

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