Naruto Shippuden
Episode 408

by Amy McNulty,

There's a difference between an ensemble story and a story with a lot of secondary characters. An ensemble piece devotes equal or almost equal attention to multiple characters, whereas a show like Naruto only highlights the secondary characters when they come into contact with the protagonist on his or her journey. Naruto filler episodes have a long history of fleshing out these secondary characters—for better and for worse. While it's sometimes fun to learn new things about the secondary characters, filler arcs often go on for too long and don't always add enough new information to make watching them worthwhile.

Naruto Shippūden episode 408 makes the mistake of treating the story like an ensemble piece, shifting between multiple stories without any logical transition. We go from Sakura's flashback to her chakra training with Tsunade, to her next battle in the second round of chunin exams, to what Sasuke is up to at the same time, to how Karin came to follow Orochimaru, and finally, back to Sakura, Choji and Ino's battle in the desert. Each of these pieces would work well on its own, but together, they come across as a rushed, choppy mess.

The current battle is sure to continue in the next episode, but showing Sasuke and Karin right now feels like the screenwriters are trying to shove a square peg into a round hole because they know they're almost done playing with the toy box. Better to make sure every peg gets in there than to skip over a secondary character's history in the fillers, right? (Wrong.) Sakura reflecting on how she used to trail behind Naruto and Sasuke (as she often does) is not a good enough transition. If they wanted to do a story about Sasuke and his Taka underlings, they could have devoted an entire episode to them since the current crop of filler doesn't seem slated to end any time soon.

The episode's messy structure aside, the latest group of shinobi to act as the villains du jour are colorful characters who manage to dole out a few laughs before being shoved aside for the Sasuke story. One is a doll user who uses mind control techniques on humans and wants to "collect" Sakura and Ino but has no use for the less attractive Choji. Her teammates hang on her every word and take her physical abuse and verbal jabs in stride. Their determination to let their leader have her "pretty dolls" means they both feel free to pile on Choji, giving way to an amusing turn of events. Additionally, the animation and general aesthetics of this episode are an improvement over last week's, with one glaring exception during Karin's attack on Suigetsu.

Like other mini arcs in this ambitious filler arc, the storyline seems to be building to Sakura being put in a position that requires her to display the immense strength she accumulated by the beginning of Shippūden. However, the payoff won't be as satisfying as it has been in some previous mini arcs because of the episode's disjointed nature. If this week's installment had been properly focused on one story, it would have earned a better grade for the entertaining new villains alone—but alas, the episode tried to do too much in too little time.

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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