Naruto Shippuden
Episode 401

by Amy McNulty,

Honor means the world to Rock Lee, so it's little surprise that he challenged Shira to a duel at the end of last week's episode, even though the battle's outcome has no bearing on the chunin exams. Story-wise, not much is accomplished in Naruto Shippūden episode 401, but it's difficult to think poorly of an episode that gets the fighting so right—one of the things this series is best known for.

The battle between Lee and Shira doesn't overstay its welcome and doesn't even comprise the entire episode. The fight is paced so there's room for characters on the sidelines to provide commentary, and room for an amusing new flashback sequence showcasing Lee training under Guy. The only time said commentary stumbles is when Neji and Tenten discuss the benefits of rivalry, and Neji flashes back to his fight with Naruto in the original chunin exams, claiming the notably absent yellow-haired protagonist is the only one he can knowledge as his rival. It's another example of the show shoehorning Naruto in because he wouldn't otherwise be present during this particular time period. Naruto does touch the lives of those around him, but it's ridiculous to think he would constantly be on their minds. (If you really think Naruto is your rival, Neji, good luck getting him to even remember you exist between Sasuke, Gaara and every other secondary character who can't stop thinking about him.)

The Lee/Shira battle is an example of ninja fighting done right—and it doesn't even involve ninjutsu. It's refreshing to see two taijutsu users go at it, and the animators take no shortcuts, meaning we get to see every kick, punch and defensive maneuver. The sequence even slows down at times to give the viewer more time to soak it all in, exploding into a rush of sudden movement when time moves back to normal. Like Lee, Shira has the ability to release chakra gates, ensuring that the grand finale is an upswell of sheer superhuman strength and power.

If there's one drawback in getting to know Shira for a few episodes, it's that he and his team are bound to prove less important as Naruto Shippūden moves on to other characters in the chunin exam, and they certainly ate up a lot of screen time for players with no real importance to the overall story. Then again, Neji's revelation that Team Guy doesn't have both types of scrolls means that we haven't seen the last of them in this round of the exam. Since it's no secret that every secondary Naruto character winds up passing the exam, the real draw of this arc is their respective roads to victory. As far as Rock Lee filler-within-filler story arcs go, the Shira one may not have been particularly compelling narrative-wise, but it provided some of the best action sequences we've seen in weeks. If you tune in more for the brawling than the character development or plot, you won't be disappointed.

Rating: B+

Naruto Shippuden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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

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