Naruto Shippuden
Episode 491

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 491 of
Naruto Shippūden ?

Shikamaru's Story delivers a strong third chapter and gives viewers their first extended glimpse of this arc's chief antagonist: the elusive Gengo. Now that the group has successfully infiltrated the Land of Silence, the time has come to reveal the villain's true purpose and set the stage for an epic battle between Gengo's disciples and Shikamaru's crew. Despite being even lighter on action than last week's espionage-laden, anime-original outing, episode 491 does a serviceable job of conveying Gengo's true menace and moving the story into its inevitable endgame.

After faking her death off-screen, Soku rejoins her compatriots, and the trio proceeds to investigate the Land of Silence. While speaking with a food vendor, Shikamaru learns that Gengo came to the country 10 years prior and promptly deposed its feudal lord. Believing that shinobi should govern themselves, the charismatic villain seeks to create a world bereft of feudal lords, one in which ninja receive the recognition and accolades they deserve. After interrogating a defector from the Leaf, the three disguise themselves as Gengo's underlings and attend a gathering being held in the village square. When it's revealed that this gathering is actually a public execution for the captured Sai, Shikamaru and company spring into action, only to find themselves vastly outnumbered and overpowered. To make matters worse, Sai reveals that he's now under Gengo's control, meaning his supposed execution was a clever trap to lure out his former comrades.

This episode doesn't do a great job of transitioning from last week's anime-original story back to the storyline presented in the source novel. Soku mentions something about faking her death in a training exercise (since she was pretending to have joined the Land of Silence infantry) and the group is back together again, boldly strolling through the streets of the Land of Silence even though all three are supposed to be dead. In the novel, their identities hadn't been discovered prior to their infiltration, so this wasn't an issue.

If the intense flashbacks of past turmoil that paralyze Shikamaru and Ro are the source of Gengo's power, it's a little disappointing. While the idea of an elusive despot commanding the undying loyalty of an entire ninja army is intriguing, I would find it even more fascinating if he won his underlings on the strength of his message. Despite being cast in the role of antagonist, Gengo actually makes some thought-provoking points about the Naruto world's caste systems. Going off what little we've seen of them, the feudal lords are almost comically out of touch with the Hidden Villages and largely view ninja as expendable tools, so a charismatic figure capitalizing on shinobi disillusionment shouldn't be outside the realm of possibility.

There isn't much action this week, but Gengo's reveal, the look into Ro's past, and Sai's betrayal are sure to keep viewers intrigued. A villain who relies on others to do his bidding isn't the most original archetype, but Gengo presently appears to be an interesting embodiment of this trope. It's not clear how the team will counteract his mysterious jutsu, but with Shikamaru leading the way, the solution is guaranteed to be more cerebral than combat-focused.

Rating: B

Naruto Shippūden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Amy is an author who has loved anime for over two decades.

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