Naruto Shippuden
Episode 412

by Amy McNulty,

This week's Naruto Shippūden aims to showcase a big confrontation fraught with tension, but it invariably falls flat time and again. Since there's more activity than last week's relentlessly dull offering, this episode is an improvement, albeit a very small one. Although more is going on, there's still a lack of physical movement in the characters. Our heroes frequently stand stock-still, unblinking, with sometimes only the mouth of one character flapping for far too long to go unnoticed. Animation shortcuts are nothing new to this series, but the animators can usually pull it off with more aplomb. Several instances of characters looking laughably off-model are also distracting.

Contrary to what we were led to believe last week, Gaara and Foo can move a little bit despite being caught in Houichi's insipidly slow musical-instrument-chain attack. Foo manages to erect a chakra barrier to slow down the already laggy threat, which affords Team Guy, Foo's teammates, and Gaara's disciple enough time to swoop in and save the day. How Houichi fails to notice the six people discussing a plan of action in plain sight on such a flat landscape is beyond me. At last, someone tries attacking him to stop the musical onslaught, and as predicted, he whips out a barrier. (The animators fail to clearly show the barrier deflecting the barrage of attacks aimed at Houichi, expecting viewers to put two and two together.) Regardless, someone should have at least attempted to attack him last week.

However, the barrier's appearance is hardly a setback since the attack was mostly meant as a diversion. Meanwhile, Neji breaks through Foo's barrier with a chakra sword Tenten summons and uses his vast knowledge of chakra manipulation to free Gaara and Foo from their chains. Strangely, this causes the attack to ricochet back onto Houichi, and that's the end of that. To top it all off, the episode closes on a clunky and strange attempt at humor that cuts out so abruptly, it doesn't even feel like the end of an episode. That misstep aside, the few other jokes featured in the episode land well, particularly Foo's failed attempts to free herself from the musical monk's chakra chains.

Although Naruto is physically absent from this episode—and this entire arc—he continues to be foremost on the minds of the series' secondary characters and play an integral role in their decision making. Neji, for example, resolves to rescue Gaara despite potentially failing the exam because it's what Naruto would have done. While his logic checks out, this seems like a decision Neji would have come to without the help of the series' MIA protagonist. Similarly, Foo convinces Gaara to keep hope alive amidst his predicament because it's what his "friend" would have done. At this point, even characters who have never met the sweat-suit-clad hero are preaching the Gospel of Uzumaki. Naruto's a great guy, but his existence doesn't need to factor so heavily into the identities of his pals.

While not as much of a slog as last week's installment, episode 412 nonetheless proves to be one of the series' weaker entries. (Still, it's heads and tails above any of the poorly-timed clip shows scattered throughout the series.) Noticeably lacking in movement, the episode's often awkward artwork and "Thank you, Captain Obvious" moments that eat up screen time will make viewers crave the end of this increasingly unimpressive filler arc.

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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