I guess it had to happen eventually. The first true filler arc of Boruto just wrapped up: a three-episode exercise in pointlessness that tries to do little and succeeds in even less. Up until now, Boruto has had a kind of optimism that beat out even Naruto; even when things get dark in Boruto, there has never been the sense that anything really awful is going to permanently change things. (Excepting the very opening scene of the series and the showdown with the white super-beings, which hint at some major tragedy off in the future.) Having a supernatural monster sealed within you means that you live a lonely and pain-filled life in Naruto; in Boruto, it means that the entire universe may be threatened—but once you have a change of heart, your beast becomes a cuddly chibi and you get to continue being class president.
I have a pretty high tolerance for weaknesses in anime, and even though Boruto‘s brighter take on things meant less tension than the original series, I didn’t let it bother me because so much else was handled well: the animation—especially the fight scenes, ohmygoshsomeofthemwerespectacular; the music; and even the more sappy character scenes (and there’s a fair bit more than in earlier series) were executed well enough that I didn’t complain.
And then this arc happened.
I get what they’re trying to do: make use of the filler to develop characters that otherwise don’t get much time in the limelight. But as much as they’re trying to bring about some character development in Cho-Cho, both in this arc and in the “Who is my real dad?” arc, it’s not sticking. I want to like Cho-Cho: she’s dark-skinned and, um, big-boned (as her father once insisted on calling himself), bringing a bit of diversity to the cast; and she’s a good character, just not a particularly deep one. Now not every character has to be deep; but the writers are trying to make her have a deep character, without success. Part of the problem is that Cho-Cho only has character development moments that don’t “stick”: They don’t have any long-term impact on her role in the story. Either they’re not part of the main story (“filler”) or they are but then her character gets a ‘re-set’, and in both cases she backpedals any development that might have happened. If she’s primarily there for comic relief, as is typical during the main story arcs, that’s fine; you don’t have to give her depth. But if you’re going to give her depth, then keep her deep.
I might forgive that if the filler was particularly well-written, but it isn’t. In Boruto up until now, even those moments that strayed into cliches weren’t all the cringy; there was a smoothness and style to the execution that made up for any lack of originality. But in this arc, you can, quite literally, call the cliches before they happen, then watch them roll out without any sparkle or smoothness.
It’s like watching a first draft that accidentally made it into production.
I haven’t even mentioned the story for the arc, such as there is. It’s not really worth it, but I guess here we go: Cho-Cho has a crush on a TV drama actor. She and her friends then get assigned to protect the actor and his co-star actress. They’re getting death threats, and then they’re attacked by some half-hearted masked ninjas. Oh, and in all this Cho-Cho has transformed into a thinner, presumably more attractive, version of herself—and she is rewarded with the actor’s attention and interest. When later on she reverts back to her normal physique, he doesn’t recognize her, and even goes out of his way to tell her that he doesn’t like “fat girls”. What a jerk!! Anyway, the rest of the story is boring and so let’s leap to the end. I won’t spoil the ‘surprise’, but it really is obvious. So, yeah, the end of the arc has the actor hanging from a cliff, there’s a landslide, and he’s about to get pummeled by a gigantic boulder. Cho-Cho, in her normal form, smashes the boulder and saves him. Suddenly the actor is smitten with her and freakin’ gives her a ring!!! She turns him down, and… we get a moral (twice!) that “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”
Really? Cause I’m pretty sure it was Cho-Cho’s outside that just saved Mr. Primadonna’s life. The whole point was that she couldn’t use her full physical (i.e., “outside”) power unless she was in her real, larger, form. This moral is inconsistent when we have Cho-Cho’s teammates telling her she needs to be her real self or they won’t be able to succeed. Which is it: be your real self, even on the outside; or the outside doesn’t count? Plus, the moral here is really cliched: no nuance or anything. If you’re going to spend three episodes on teenage girl self-image weight issues—which in itself is fine, don’t get me wrong—then give them some insightful treatment.
There is one good thing that came out of this arc, as long as they don’t reset it, too. Near the end, Cho-Cho tells the actor,
Then walks over and hands her chips to…
I ship it.