Naruto Shippuden
Episode 406

by Amy McNulty,

Surprisingly, Sakura isn't the star of this week's episode as last week's preview seemed to indicate. She does get some time in the limelight, but by the end of episode 406, it's clear that it's Ino's turn to shine instead. Once her mini arc wraps up, there are only five more Hidden Leaf ninja to receive the same treatment before we move on to the next round of the chunin exams. I hope you weren't counting on seeing the rest of the manga animated any time soon.

Although the show is still stuck in full-on filler mode, Ino brings something different to the table. Instead of reminiscing about how she trained to develop her physical prowess or mind powers, Ino flashes back to her beginnings as a medical ninja. One of the most recognizable facets of Ino's character, besides her psychic powers and comically unrequited love for Sasuke, is her rivalry with Sakura—largely due to the aforementioned infatuation. All three of these characteristics come together to form a compelling story despite the episode's relative lack of action. (After Ino, Sakura and Choji kill a giant scorpion to eat for dinner, anyway.)

The flashbacks reveal that Ino might have gone into medical training for the wrong reasons. For one thing, she was too impatient to complete years-long psychic training with her father, and secondly, Choji mentions that no man can resist a nurse. This prompts Ino to imagine herself in sexy nurse attire, tending to a laid-up Sasuke. (It'll be many more years before she's likely to acknowledge that he barely knows her name.)

It helps that her former good-friend-turned-rival-for-an-aloof-boy's affections Sakura is already training with Tsunade at that point. Ino asks to become a medical ninja too, and Tsunade makes her a deal. If she can revive an asphyxiated octopus in three months, the amount of time it took Sakura to master the technique with a fish, she'll give her lessons. Cue the montage set to rocking Naruto music as Ino practices and Sakura reads an entire wall's worth of medical texts. It's simplistic and largely uneventful, but you can feel both girls' determination as the scene wears on.

Ino passes, and she and Sakura congratulate one another before quickly falling back into their usual routine. Still, they stay friendly long enough to discuss Sakura's reasons for becoming a medical ninja. (Cue the requisite reminiscing about how awesome Naruto is, although at least Sakura thinks about Sasuke as well.) In another simplistic turn of events, Ino takes Sakura's determination to play an integral role on her team to heart and seems ready to accept the arduous training with her father, which may be why she never reaches the same levels of medical ninjutsu prowess as Sakura.

This episode is low on action and takes too many predictable paths to convey Ino's story. Still, it's heavier on the humor than many recent episodes, and it manages to weave the most important aspects of Ino's character into a story befitting of her journey to becoming the kunoichi she is in the current timeline.

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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