Naruto Shippuden
Episode 404

by Amy McNulty,

Just when viewers thought they knew the pattern for the chunin exam fillers, Naruto Shippūden goes and surprises us. Instead of giving each team of secondary characters its own mini arc, it seems that every character within those groups is going to get a mini arc of their own. At least that's how it looks, as we've thus far been treated to a Rock Lee arc and a Kiba arc. Now, we're revisiting Team Guy for a Tenten-centric arc.

Setting aside the obvious ploy for more episodes before the show comes to an end, giving the team more time to work on the main storyline, Tenten's episode actually represents a good effort for a filler episode. They've done away with one prickly point of contention—Tenten thankfully does not reference or think about Naruto at any point this week. Although she does follow the pattern of the previous two mini arcs by reminiscing about how she trained to exceed her limits, her memories follow a more subdued storyline than those of plucky Lee and brash Kiba.

On a team with a no-nonsense shinobi and an over-the-top ninja obsessed with hard work, Tenten has always been the tsukkomi, the woman of reason. (She was frequently called the "comeback queen" in Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals, in which this aspect of her character was exaggerated.) Episode 404 examines Tenten's insecurity about being Lee and Neji's backup, which is brought to the forefront when Lee repeatedly calls her "convenient" to have around because she can summon items like okonomiyaki ingredients for their campfire dinner. While she initially seems to be overreacting, her memories reveal that merely being "convenient" has always been a point of contention for her, and it was only by pushing herself with Guy's guidance that she was able to accept that her "convenient" power could be a great strength in its own way.

The episode even does a better job of showcasing action than the previous mini arc. The trio Team Guy faces this time, a team of three Hidden Rain kunoichi, get just enough buildup at the start of the episode to make them seem threatening. There's also a revelation as to why everyone was so leery of letting the Hidden Rain ninja participate in the exam. The battle takes place amidst sandy ancient ruins, which is an improvement on the endless desert landscape we've spent time on for the past half dozen episodes. The battle is fast-paced and shows off each ninja's skills effectively before the cliffhanger ending.

In the context of never-ending filler episodes, episode 404 shines. It does what it sets out to do—provide us with a compelling look into the mind of a secondary character who often gets the shaft in the main storyline—without skimping on the action.

Rating: A-

Naruto Shippūden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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

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