Naruto Shippuden
Episode 399

by Amy McNulty,

Last week, Sand ninja Shira exchanged blows with Rock Lee during the food fight, establishing them as foes for the next round of the chunin exam. Sure enough, Shira acts as a leader for all Sand ninja participating in this round, tasking them with taking out Team Guy because he sensed they were strong. They are definitely strong, but no more so than any other team from the Hidden Leaf. However, with Naruto out of the picture in this arc, the show must establish other protagonists. Lee plays that role this week, and Shira's reliance on taijutsu makes them an evenly matched pair.

Of course, there's a betrayal among Sand allies (some stereotypically sinister character designs make the twist painfully obvious) and foes become friends when Lee, Tenten and Neji swoop in to save the day. Luckily, Naruto Shippūden doesn't always need to stand on the strength of its plot alone. There's plenty of brawling in this episode, and the action is smoothly animated and compelling to watch. Lee's reliance on taijutsu has always made him one of the more fluidly animated Naruto characters. (He can't conjure up a puff of smoke to mask what's going on, after all.) With the addition of a new ninja who also relies solely on physical attacks, we're guaranteed more action on par with fast-paced karate flicks.

The endless array of tools Tenten summons provides a clever escape from a precarious situation this time. Neji's Eight Trigrams Sixty-Four Palms taijutsu attack (a perfect fighting game move if ever I've seen one) has always looked epic when animated well, and it's even more fun to watch when the attack doesn't go as planned. Even Team Shira's attacks are refreshingly different from what we've seen so far, although the producers could have found a more creative way to explain them. I've never been a fan of characters pointing out things they already know in order to convey information to the audience. (Really? All three of you have something to say to each other that conveniently explains Yome's water droplet spying technique? It's not like you haven't known how it works for as long as you've been together, but okay, the audience is seeing it for the first time.)

The scenery for the second round of the exam also proves much more lush and varied than expected, considering it's taking place in an endless desert. The sand waterfall looks amazing, even if there's absolutely zero sense of tension when we see our heroes fall down it. The drawback of doing a prequel story is that only new characters can ever really be in danger.

Episode 399's weakness is its reliance on action tropes. If the members of Team Guy weren't among the series' most entertaining secondary characters— for further proof, see Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals—the episode might be more of a drag to sit through. However, while the beats of the story are predictable, the execution is satisfying.

Rating: B

Naruto Shippūden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Amy is a YA fantasy author who has loved anime for two decades.

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