Naruto Shippuden
Episode 409

by Amy McNulty,

This week's Naruto Shippūden follows in the footsteps of last week's scattershot offering, as the series once again devotes time to a character who is in no way involved in the chunin exams. This time, it's the titular Naruto, but no one was dying to know what the long-absent star of the show did during his two and a half years of intense training. (Three years in the manga.) If the producers were dead-set on showcasing pieces of Naruto's training with Jiraiya, they should have at least shown us something new or unusual. We've seen Naruto and Kurama exchange verbal jabs at the prison gate inside Naruto's mind countless times. We also know that they've finally become allies in the current timeline, so the prospect of Kurama taking over Naruto's body and running wild fails to illicit any real tension.

That said, the Naruto interlude is a smaller part of the episode than Sasuke and Karin's interruption last week, and the rest remains focused on Sakura's journey down this well-worn path. She thinks back to a time when her training failed and she almost loses the battle against the enemy ninja of the day. She then reflects on a time when her training went better, which somehow gives her the strength to defeat the baddies and win the battle for her team.

Sakura's arc would have played better if not for two things: the lack of cohesive focus in both the previous episode and this one, and reducing her character to someone who only thinks of herself in relation to Naruto and Sasuke. While it's true that feeling left behind inspired her to train under Tsunade and become the multi-talented kunoichi she is in the current timeline, she devotes entirely too much time to thinking about the other two thirds of Team Seven. (Her curiosity over what they're up to forms the tenuous connection to scenes featuring Naruto and Sasuke, but it's still a jarring transition each time it happens.)

To this mini arc's credit, the enemy ninja are amusing to watch—the doll-obsessed leader in particular. They're so cartoonishly over-the-top, they're practically an homage to JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, and it works this time. Unfortunately, even though less time is spent away from the action this week, they had more to do in the previous episode. Although there's a surprising twist to these villains—and a menacing character who might look at home in Child's Play makes an appearance—they're primarily there to receive a beatdown from the Hidden Leaf ninja. Sakura, on the other hand, is there just to reminisce about how inferior she feels compared to Naruto and Sasuke.

Sakura's most recent turn in the spotlight was far from memorable. It's tiresome to see her squander her screen time reminiscing about characters who have already received more than enough focus. As easily the third most important character after Naruto and his eternal frenemy Sasuke, Sakura deserves better.

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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