Naruto Shippuden
Episode 407

by Amy McNulty,

This week's episode offers one improvement over the previous installment. There's more action when you compare it to Sakura and Ino's studying montage. However, the episode's substandard animation easily drops it a grade. More than once, characters are obviously and comically off-model, and the fight between Sakura, Ino, Choji, and the three ninja standing between them and a desert oasis is laden with choppy movements and animation shortcuts.

Plus, there's the whole watching-Ino-master-mind-techniques thing. To be fair, any piece of entertainment featuring a telepathic and/or telekinetic character struggles to find ways to make it appear interesting on screen. One of the most popular ways to do this is having the character shut her eyes tightly to minimize distractions. The blood trickling out of the character's nose when she pushes her limits is another way to show that even though we can't see it, those mind powers are really taking a toll on her body. Bloody-nosed, tightly-shut-eyes Ino adds little new to the "how to convey invisible powers" challenge in this episode, besides a rather jarring infographic of her mind powers, where they're represented as a ball of light that travels between strings that connect her mind to her teammates'.

Like the other mini arcs that take place during the second round of the exam, the conclusion to Ino's short stint as the protagonist follows the same basic formula. During a battle with new and easily forgettable exam candidates, she and her teammates come within a hair's breadth of losing the fight. Cue the flashbacks to Ino struggling to learn a technique we've seen her use in the current timeline. Then, when all seems lost, that very technique is what saves the day. The screenwriters practically have filler-crafting down to a science.

The generic villains in this episode are nothing special, but at least they're not obnoxiously gimmicky like some of this arc's previous antagonists. They manage to outmaneuver our heroes thanks to a barrier technique that rends them invisible, and Ino must learn to sense the un-sense-able in the heat of battle, while defending herself and learning to relay telepathic communications between her teammates.

The episode's best scene is when Tsunade shares a secret with Ino's father as he frets about his "jack-of-all-trades, master of none" daughter taking the exam. The Fifth Hokage had no intention of making Ino a full-fledged medical ninja and instead thought the chakra control she learned from medical ninjutsu would ultimately help her master the Yamanaka clan's sensory abilities. That explains why Ino dabbles in medical ninjutsu in the current timeline, despite not being considered a medical ninja.

There's nothing terribly new or original to be found this week, although given Ino's mind powers, the episode did an adequate job of showcasing her "struggling to learn a technique, then managing to win at the last minute" story. While the looming final shot and the post-credits preview seem to indicate that it's Sakura's turn to learn to believe in herself next week, the presence of Sasuke and Taka/Hebi, his trio of groupies, may serve to shake things up.

Rating: C+

Naruto Shippūden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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

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