Naruto Shippuden
Episode 403

by Amy McNulty,

Naruto Shippūden episode 403 falls victim to a number of issues that have plagued recent installments in this lengthy filler arc. There are the "look at this gross fat ninja" jokes that continue unabated. There are the constant mentions of an absent Naruto, as if no secondary character in his universe could possibly have a life outside of him. (While it makes sense for Hinata to mention him from time to time, Kiba's the one thinking about him most in this episode, and even Shino chimes in.) Finally, there are the filler-within-filler scenes: this time it's a training montage set in the days of the original series.

Two of these issues plagued the recent Team Guy arc. (Thankfully, "fat is funny" was not one of them.) However, it had more intriguing action and more fleshed-out throwaway characters. Rehashing all the weaknesses of that mini-arc a few episodes later makes the whole thing rather dreary. This arc's guest characters, a trio of zany ninja, never manage to shine. The svelte flag-waver and the pint-sized introvert practically disappear behind their rotund compatriot, even though one of them can summon a giant mole. Kiba demands to be the center of attention this week, followed closely by his memories of Naruto. The ever-optimistic and more powerful Naruto always makes Kiba feel inferior. It's a yawn-inducing rant stretched out over twenty minutes, peppered with scenes of how hard Kiba worked to try to improve his Two-Headed Wolf technique soon after Naruto left. Lo and behold, to the surprise of no one, he and Akamaru eventually succeed in adding a third head to the attack and are given the perfect opportunity to show off the fruits of their labor.

This episode does succeed in showcasing the strengths of a sensory-perception-focused team when the odds seem completely stacked against them. They're up against foes who confuse Kiba and Akamaru's ability to sniff enemies out, and even manage to outmaneuver Shino's insects and Hinata's Byakugan. This allows them to get the drop on Team Kurenai even as Kiba, Shino and Hinata are in the middle of (unsuccessfully) tracking them. Our heroes do very poorly in hand-to-hand combat, which seems strange—especially for Hinata. However, they quickly outthink the team that outthought them, thanks to Kiba's ingenious idea for putting his nose to good use.

Thankfully, Team Kurenai prevails, and episode 403 looks to be the end of their story for this round of exams. (Oddly, instead of forging ahead to Sakura, Ino and Choji, it looks like Team Guy is back in the spotlight next week.) Kiba, Shino and Hinata are often underused characters, and they make for good episode protagonists. However, this arc, tainted by attempts to make the target audience of young boys laugh at the "fat guy is fat" jokes, failed to bring out the best in them until the very end.

Rating: C

Naruto Shippuden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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

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