Revisiting Naruto Shippuden: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I was part of a very unfair and abusive relationship back in high school. When I say that, you might assume I’m talking about my first girlfriend. No! I’m talking about this show!

Naruto: Shippuden is the perfect encapsulation of everything I love and hate about shounen anime all in one package. Back when I first started it all those years ago, I was so enraptured by the story (and so used to skipping filler thanks to the original Naruto show) that I could live with its problems. The further in I got, however, the more glaring these issues became.

Once I was caught up with the show, things got really bad. Right at the climax, what do we get? A filler arc. A long filler arc. Multiple, in fact! If you’ve never been caught up with a show only to end up stuck in filler hell, then I envy you; it’s a special kind of torment! At that point, I gave up on the show completely and just read the manga.

But now it’s several years later. Shippuden has been over for a while now. It is all available to binge at your own discretion, filler and all.

So I rewatched all of it. And I do mean all of it. Just a few episodes at a time, putting them on my second monitor while I took care of other things. But I got through the entire show. Filler and everything.

Question is: how does Shippuden stand after all this time? Is it still watchable? Or should you just go read the manga or wait for a potential re-edit, ala DBZ: Kai?

Two years after the end of the original Naruto anime, our young hero returns to the Hidden Leaf Village, rejoining his friends and teammates to resume his work as a ninja and rescue Sasuke. But things are more dangerous now than ever before. The Akatsuki are making increasingly bolder moves for the Tailed Beasts, moving closer and closer to their mysterious goal. All the while, Sasuke strides further and further down the dark road he has chosen. Will Naruto be able to stop them and save his friend?

While I still think the original Naruto anime had the strongest arcs in the whole series, the arcs in Shippuden are still really solid. We’ve got some incredible highlights in this show! The Hidan and Kakazu arc, Sasuke VS Itachi, the entire Pain arc, the Five Kage Summit, Shippuden has some killer arcs!

I can’t emphasize enough how good the Pain arc is. Right after the powerhouse plot twist about the truth surrounding Itachi and the Uchiha clan, we get introduced to one of the best series villains in Pain, one of the most devastating character deaths in anime history, and a large-scale climax that culminates in one of the coolest showdowns in shounen history! To this day, it’s one of my favorite arcs in shounen!

Even if the ending paints Naruto as a total douche. Hinata confesses her love and nearly dies for him and what does he have to say to her? Nothing. Dude doesn’t even acknowledge her again until her cousin dies in the War. That’s fucked up, Naruto.

Unfortunately, the story does get noticeably weaker as the show goes on. The Fourth Great Ninja War goes on for waaaaaaay too long, even if you cut out the filler. It’s hundreds of episodes of characters fighting, and you only know and care about roughly 20% of them; the massive cast becomes a hindrance to the story rather than a boon. Then once that’s over, the show sort of drags its feet, focusing on random side stories of varying quality before eventually deciding to actually end the show at episode 500.

The villains also get dramatically weaker. Tobi starts out really cool until he just becomes a worse version of Pain. Madara is awesome, but he lasts too long, then he gets unceremoniously swept aside for Kaguya, who is one of the most boring and forgettable villains in the history of shounen. This genre is built off of strong villains, so ending this massive epic with such duds is really disappointing.

Although that last Naruto-Sasuke fight makes up for it in spades.

Even early on, the show makes some huge mistakes. The biggest one for me is how it handled Orochimaru. In the original Naruto anime, he was by far the most terrifying and dangerous villain. Now? He gets swept under the rug, unceremoniously revived, and he just decides not to be a bad guy anymore for the dumbest reason you can possibly imagine! Why did they do my creepy snake man so dirty?!

As for the fights… they’re a mixed bag. Some of them are absolutely amazing; the Kakashi-Obito fight is legit one of the best shounen fights ever animated. I love Naruto VS Pain to death, despite some of its more… quirky… shots. Every single Sasuke fight is an absolute banger; his duels against Deidara, Itachi, Bee, Danzo, and Kabuto are all a ton of fun to watch.

Unfortunately, Shippuden is where Naruto stopped being about cool ninja tactics and strategy and started being about giant monsters and explosions and laser clashes. The original Naruto was awesome because it wasn’t just about power, it was about strategy and skill. Here? It’s all about who has the bigger explosions. The fights I listed before were all awesome because they were the opposite; they felt very old-school Naruto in a good way. Alas, they were few and far between by the end.

I still love that last Naruto-Sasuke fight, though. That one managed to balance giant explosions with skill and strategy. Seriously, I can’t emphasize enough how good that fight is.

Okay, now it’s time to talk about the filler. The one word that puts the fear of god into any anime fan that hears it. This one word has driven away more people than I can count from watching Shippuden. So, how is it?

Hot take: it isn’t all as bad as people think.

Some of Shippuden’s strongest moments are actually filler. When the writers actually tried to use filler to expand the main story, it led to some incredible moments. Most of Shikamaru’s mourning in the Hidan-Kakazu arc was filler, and it was some of the best stuff in all of Naruto! The scene with him playing shogi with his dad was entirely anime original!

Yes, the sheer number of long, drawn-out filler arcs is a huge problem. I don’t want to watch a Chunin exam in the middle of the final battle, I want to know how Naruto and Sasuke are going to survive being half-dead! Why am I watching an Itachi flashback saga in the middle of the grand finale? The manga ended years before the show did, why couldn’t they just get on with it?!

Even worse were the repetitive flashback scenes. Some scenes are repeated so many times that any emotional weight they may have once had has been forever lost. If I ever have to watch Obito getting crushed by a boulder again, I’m going to gouge my fucking eyes out! If you did a drinking game just for that scene, you would die!

The worst part is that they mix together canon episodes with filler. If you just want to skip the filler entirely, you need to go through multiple episodes and fast forward through several minutes of bullshit just to get a few minutes of crucial plot progression. If you’re a manga purist, just stick to the manga. Fighting through all that just isn’t worth it sometimes.

But if you just don’t care, go wild. More power to you. If I could survive it, you can too!

Going away from the writing, let’s talk animation. As you’d expect from a long-running shounen anime, the presentation is wildly up and down. You can clearly tell which episodes the team put their effort into. When it’s ugly, it looks really bad. But when it looks good? It looks damn good!

The melee choreography is definitely the highlight. Whenever characters throw hands, the animators go absolutely crazy! Killer Bee fights using eight swords and they still found a way to make it look a) convincing and b) badass!

Music-wise, there’s nothing to complain about. Shippuden’s OST is packed to the brim with some of the best and most iconic tracks in shounen. From the heartwrenching to the exhilarating, the music never misses!

Even if some of it is so overused that it starts to lose some of its impact.

Less consistent are the OPs and the EDs. Some of them are among the best in all of anime, like ‘Silhouette’, ‘Lovers’, and ‘Blue Bird’. But others are really boring and easy to skip.

Is that a weak point to end on? Admittedly, yeah. But with how often I’ve listened to ‘Silhouette’ over the years, I had to fit it in there somewhere.

Revisiting Shippuden was an interesting experience. It wasn’t always a pleasant one; there were more than a few moments where I just wanted to scream and shut it off forever. My appreciation for Naruto and anime in general was definitely tested with this one.

Still, there were plenty of moments that made it worthwhile. When Shippuden is good, it is damn good! Those moments are well worth watching.

But the whole show? Good god, no! If you’re going to do it, use a filler guide. Otherwise, just read the manga and or watch the episodes where the stuff you actually want to see. Sitting down to watch the whole damn show just isn’t worth it.

That’s it. I’m done with Naruto. I’m never going to talk about it again. Goodbye.

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