by Amy McNulty,
How would you rate episode 497 of
Naruto Shippūden ?
This gift hunt rolls on as Gaara tries his hand at finding a suitable present for Naruto and Hinata. Since Gaara carrying a comedic episode all by himself would be a stretch, he's paired with Lee, the ever-reliable tsukkomi Tenten, and the perpetually-rapping Killer Bee to make up for his humor deficiency. While not as wacky as the episodes that preceded it, this latest installment delivers some solid laughs and serves as a fun send-off for the young Kazekage—though I'm sure he'll resurface at the wedding and forthcoming sequel series.
While visiting the Hidden Leaf Village for a Five Kage summit, Gaara catches wind of Naruto's upcoming nuptials and immediately sets to work finding the perfect gift. After receiving some bad but well-intentioned advice from Lee, Mr. Teuchi, Kankuro, and Killer Bee, Gaara comes to believe that as the Kazekage, it behooves him to go all-out in the present department. However, after taking some time to reflect and have a talk with Iruka and Mr. Teuchi, Gaara decides to honor Naruto and Hinata with his presence at their wedding—not as the Kazekage, but as their friend.
Although Gaara has never been a particularly emotional character, it's nice to see him at his most sincere, even if he remains largely stoic and serves as the episode's straight man. One of my chief complaints about Gaara's portrayal in Shippūden is his near-fanatical devotion to Naruto, a devotion that rivals Naruto's loyalty to Sasuke. While the Kazekage certainly has cause to be grateful to Naruto, this aspect of his character was often too heavily emphasized. Fortunately, this quirk is largely downplayed this week, with Gaara regarding Naruto as an old friend instead of a hero to be worshiped. Like Lee's episode from a couple weeks back, the narrative feels meandering at times, and the choice of gift (aside from Gaara's attendance) is never revealed, causing the ending to feel muddled.
Even though Gaara is the central focus, a number of supporting players also get a chance to pop in and offer up some jokes. The Orochimaru cameos are as random and funny as ever, and Ayame's attempts at stopping her father from giving Naruto an all-you-can-eat Ichiraku gift card are certainly amusing. Mr. Teuchi deciding to give Naruto a lifetime free pass to his restaurant in spite of the financial hit he's sure to take is a touching way to illustrate how fond the old man's become of his number one customer. There's also a bit of progress made in Shikamaru and Temari's relationship, with the former finally inviting his future wife out for a bite to eat. Who knew Shikamaru and Temari's romance would get more focus than Naruto and Hinata's in the episodes leading up to their wedding? Unless audience members have seen The Last -Naruto the Movie- (and chances are good they have), they wouldn't even know how Naruto finally fell in love with Hinata.
While this arc has proven reasonably entertaining thus far, the wedding gift quest is starting to get repetitive. Even characters from previous stories—in this case, Lee and Tenten—are being thrown back into the mix despite having just had an entire episode to themselves. It's also interesting that most of this arc's featured players have mainly concerned themselves with what Naruto (as opposed to Naruto and Hinata) might want. Fortunately, it looks like this may be rectified next week, when the other two thirds of Team Kurenai take the spotlight.
Amy is a YA fantasy author who has loved anime for over two decades.
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