by Amy McNulty,
How would you rate episode 481 of
Naruto Shippūden ?
The second installment of the Boyhood series highlights the other two-thirds of Team 7. For the most part, episode 481 manages to recapture the whimsical, reflective feel of last week's outing, but young Sasuke's and Sakura's stories just don't feel quite as complete as Naruto's and Hinata's. In Sasuke's case, it doesn't feel like there's enough material to comfortably encompass half the episode, and in Sakura's, it feels like too much is crammed into a relatively limited runtime. This isn't to say that either segment is bad—in fact, they're both fairly strong. However, I think cutting Sasuke's story short in favor of giving more time to Sakura's would have benefited both portions of the episode.
The first half finds a young Sasuke (between the ages of four and six) clamoring for his busy older brother's attention. When the boys' parents go on an overnight outing, Sasuke finally gets to spend some quality time with Itachi, who trains with him, cooks him a sumptuous seafood dinner, and camps out in the backyard with him. Ever the in-demand shinobi, Itachi has already departed on his next mission by the time Sasuke awakes the next morning. Like last week's Naruto-centric segment, this is essentially a well-animated, nice-looking retread of things we've already seen. No, we haven't been shown this particular episode of the Uchiha brothers' lives, but we've seen many like it—most recently in one of the earlier installments of Itachi's Story. Still, watching Sasuke's family engage in low-key domestic interactions is always interesting, if a bit jarring. Despite all the cloak-and-dagger conspiracies surrounding the Uchiha clan, it's nice to know that their first family was able to function as a relatively normal (by ninja standards) family unit. This segment is also notable for providing an explanation of the Uchiha clan's crest: “A fan is needed to flame fire.”
In the second half, young Sakura (who's at least seven years old, given that she's currently attending the Ninja Academy) struggles with beauty, friendship, and confessing to her lifelong crush. After failing to cover her prominent forehead with long bangs, Sakura has the good fortune of making friends with Ino, who gives her a stylish red ribbon, enabling her to keep her hair out her eyes while ensuring that her forehead remains (mostly) covered. As their friendship continues to bloom, Sakura even shows Ino her trippy secret fort in the woods. However, things take a turn for the worse when Sakura confesses to having a crush on Sasuke, who's also the object of Ino's affection. After discovering that they like the same boy, Ino promptly puts an end to their friendship. Things go even further south for Sakura when she tells Sasuke her feelings and gets coldly rejected, giving way to the birth of Inner Sakura.
I think the second segment would have been better served by picking one of the many themes it covers and sticking with it. For example, an exploration of Sakura's feelings for Sasuke, the development of her friendship and eventual rivalry with Ino, or a comedic story about her struggling to contain Inner Sakura could have made for entertaining viewing—especially in light of the fact that Sakura is one of the few main characters whose early childhood hasn't been explored at length. Attempting to cover so much material the course of eleven-ish minutes didn't work to the show's benefit.
While the dream-like artistic style still lends a charming quality to the proceedings, episode 481 features a number of noticeable animation shortcuts. Throughout the first segment, Sasuke's reaction shots are held for an almost comical amount of time, and at the end of the second half, it's difficult to decipher where Naruto and Sakura are relative to one another. Also, it's a minor gripe, but the hard-hitting recurring theme that plays at the end of Sakura's segment felt tonally at odds with the general mood of this miniseries.
Like last week's installment, episode 481 certainly doesn't take anything away from the Naruto mythos, but it doesn't really add much to it either. Naruto Shippūden choosing to focus on “untold” stories of familiar characters' childhoods at this juncture—immediately following the main story's conclusion—is an odd choice, considering how much time the show has already devoted to their childhoods and the boundless storytelling possibilities of a post-Kaguya world. However, as far as exercises in style over substance go, the Boyhood series is pretty good.
Naruto Shippūden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Amy is a YA fantasy author who has loved anime for over two decades.
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