Expanding on past events within continuity, Neji gets a chance to stand out on his own.
What They Say:
During the Chunin Exam, Neji rests in the medical room, having lost to Naruto. Just as Tenten comes in to check up on him, they see the Leaf Village attacked by Orochimaru and his men.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While I've certainly railed against a lot of the filler we've gotten since the end of the previous arc, Naruto spends an episode doing a good kind of filler piece here by actually expanding on the known continuity. Much of what we've seen has had the small bit of present time opening piece that then went to some completely new additional story for Naruto's past which showed that the kid had no time to himself since it's all likely been accounted for by now. What I've wanted them to do is to spend time expanding the existing stories with other characters, and that's exactly what we get here as Neji tells a tale from when Orochimaru attacked the village.
Going back to the Chunin exams, it's just after Naruto had beaten Neji and he was recuperating in the exam room. But it's also the time when Orochimaru and his group had just launched their attack and were causing a lot of trouble. Neji's tale has him doing his best to help people along the way until he learns that Hinata has been kidnapped by a pair of guys from Hidden Cloud who were at the exams to watch. Neji ends up grouping together, not entirely by choice, three others to go with him to go after Hinata and bring her back. The kids listening to the tale actually ask a good question though as to why none of the Jonin noticed, which he explains is because they were all whisked off on A-rank missions dealing with Orochimaru himself.
The bulk of the episode focuses on the actual fight between the two sides as Neji's group catches up, but it also deals a fair bit with the family side of things for Neji as Lord Hisashi arrives on the scene to help out since the young group can do only so much to take down the Hidden Cloud ninjas. And, of course, Hinata is his daughter so there's only so much that he's going to allow happen even if the village is becoming a battlefield against Orochimaru. The episode does a decent job of showing a bit of what was going on at the time of that attack and while it lacks any real impact in its own way, it's the kind of better than usual goofy filler material that we usually get.
While Tenten could have used a bit more time here since she's such a fun character, having a story focusing on what was going on that didn't involve Naruto that's actually tied to the continuity of the original series is very welcome. Neji's not a bad character and I like how he changed over the course of the series and became a fair bit more interesting at one point after the Shippuden storyline moved things forward a couple of years for everyone. Naruto's general absence from here in an active form is definitely a plus in my book but I liked how they had his efforts and words still having an impact on others as he's been one of those characters that continually influences others through his actions and beliefs. With the holidays coming up, we're likely to have another one or two filler episodes, though next week looks to be going back to the kind of filler material that you can easily call junk.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Dell 10.1 Netbook via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.