Naruto Shippuden
Episode 442

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 442 of
Naruto Shippūden ?

On one hand, episode 442 is the most entertaining entry in Jiraiya's Ninja Scrolls to date. On the other, that really isn't saying much. Where the past few episodes have meandered and progressed at a snail's pace, this week's episode speeds things up to a ridiculous degree. In light of how impossibly low the bar has been set, an episode that isn't pure boredom from start to finish can somehow stand above the rest.

In a surprising departure from what's become the norm, this week's episode doesn't open by reminding us that what we're seeing is the visual representation of a book being read in a dream world. It took nearly three months, but the show is finally willing to acknowledge that its audience does indeed possess basic retention abilities. In an effort to show how magnanimous he is about the whole attempted coup thing, Minato agrees to let the Uchiha into the Leaf's interior government—provided they complete a years-long mission to protect a V.I.P. from the Fire Country. (Sounds fair?) As the cartoonishly negligent Fugaku continues his reign of cartoonish negligence, Sasuke becomes even more determined to master the Chidori. When he acts completely in-character and lashes out at Sakura, the brooding Uchiha draws Naruto's ire, giving way to an unexciting rehash of the boys' post-chunin-exams rooftop battle. Before things can get too messy, Minato (acting as stand-in for Kakashi) intervenes, pinning Sasuke down and sending his own son flying. Not surprisingly, this aggravates Sasuke even more.

Meanwhile, in the ruins of an abandoned castle, Orochimaru meets with Danzo to discuss Hizashi's botched and incredibly vague scheme from the previous arc. These two apparently joined forces, and their desired endgame was to have the resurrected Hizashi and his motley crew ignite a rebellion against Minato. (How exactly?) When Orochimaru demands that Danzo honor his end of the deal, the bandaged antagonist agrees to find his co-conspirator a new body. (Hint: It's going to be Sasuke.) Putting these two powerhouses of Naruto villainy together is one of the few elements that hasn't been sloppily lifted from the canon story. Still, this pairing is too unlikely, and the chemistry between Danzo and Orochimaru is virtually nonexistent.

Veering dangerously close to supervillain territory, an enraged Sasuke withdraws from Team Seven and volunteers for the aforementioned mission. Not only will this get him away from his troubled home life, it will enable him to train under Shisui, who's been charged with leading this mission. Meanwhile, Jiraiya decides to leave the village and search for Orochimaru, who vowed to return in three years' time. Not wanting to be one-upped by Sasuke, Naruto volunteers to accompany the Pervy Sage on his travels and train under one of the legendary Sannin. Although Kushina expresses some apprehension, Naruto's parents are surprisingly cool with missing their son's formative years. In yet another nod to the actual canon, Sakura decides to train under Tsunade. After a training montage in which Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura train under their respective teachers and perfect various techniques, we learn that three years have passed, officially taking us into Jiraiya's Ninja Scrolls Shippūden.

Episode 442's artwork and animation are marginally better than the last few installments. For the first time in a while, there are no laughably off-model designs or any noticeably clunky animation. Although this episode contained a number of "humorous" moments, I'm not in much of a smiling mood after spending almost a quarter of a year in filler hell.

It's interesting to learn that Sasuke was destined to be a jerk regardless of whether or not his clan was wiped out. Perhaps a story in which he had a prosperous clan and a supportive father would be the key to a happy Sasuke? (Let's not give the staff any more ideas.) Then again, this is Jiraiya's version of events, and how well does he actually know his star pupil's longtime rival?

The show is slightly better for jettisoning the wonky framing device (albeit temporarily no doubt), but it still leaves a lot to be desired. This arc's "what if" scenario is much better suited to a film, as opposed to a seemingly endless string of TV episodes. (Wait, it was a film. It was called Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie.) The show's staff and sponsors may be reluctant to let their cash cow die, but their most recent efforts at padding have essentially turned the series into a sloppy reboot that lacks the character development, excitement, and emotion that made Naruto special.

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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