We begin with Kakashi summoning Pakkun and the rest of his pack of dogs for an important late night mission. Not too far from them is Takumi Village: the village responsible for creating missions for shinobi of the five great countries. There's a 'dark rumor' that they are trying to manufacture an ultimate weapon that could make the five villages their enemies. The dogs begin their search.
This was the prelude. Now the episode begins.
The dogs show Kakashi the village the workmen originated from. However, the corpses seem to make it seem different. Did the workmen abandon the village, and if so, where did they go?
Meanwhile, in Konoha, Naruto is happily hopping along rooftops, thinking of how he's going to splurge on ramen. He looks to his left and sees Shikamaru and Sakura together on a bench and assumes the worst: they're on a date. She hands him an envelope just as Naruto, who lost his footing and fell, runs up the stairs and accuses the two of them of dating when Sakura would never give Naruto the time of day at all.
It turns out that they're running errands for Tsunade: a new poison has been delivered and Sakura was giving Shikamaru a medicinal list for his father to do some research on. Also, word has arrived to Tsunade from Temari: the Suna village formed a training program similar to that of Konoha. Temari, Kankuro, and Gaara are the instructors. While Naruto muses over Gaara, Shikamaru can't believe that a 'hardass' like Temari could be a teacher.
In Suna, Temari, Kankuro, and Gaara stand before a group of young children. Before them are three tables filled with weapons for combat training. A girl raises her hand and asks if a weapon HAS to be taken, as they could hurt or possibly kill the other person. Gaara is prepared to say something, but chooses not to. The other two Suna siblings that the type of sentimental attitude the girl displayed could get her killed. A boy behind her remarks that he does not want to know her now that she, as he believes, angered Gaara.
For combat training, the children are to battle one of the Suna siblings by splitting into groups. Temari asks Gaara to at least smile, as if he's in a sour mood, no one will group with him. The children begin whispering amongst themselves about how Gaara is Suna's ultimate defense. They grow fearful and begin pairing off with Temari and Kankuro...everyone except the girl who asked a question earlier.
Her name is Matsuri. She pairs off with Gaara and the children begin picking various weapons. Matsuri prepares to pick up the sword until she has a brief flashback where a sword flies past and nearly misses her, flying into a tree. She picks up the club, but it is way to big for her, prompting Gaara to speak of the phrase 'demon with clubs,' which means 'double advantage.' Gaara chooses for her a weapon called a jouhyou. A long string is released from the base as Gaara swings it around. The teeth aren't for attacking, but keeping the enemy at bay, then render them helpless.
Elsewhere, some Suna guards are dispatched of, but before one can escape, he is stopped by four mysterious and unknown shinobi. They choose to let him live, since he can be used to draw 'him' out. He later weakly makes his way back before collapsing as Temari and Kankuro arrive. He has a message for Gaara.
Matsuri is still practicing with the jouhyou, but she is unable to get it wrap completely around the practice log the way Gaara demonstrated. The painful memory plays in her mind once again, but this time, she sees even more: two people in the distance collapse and die. Back to reality, Gaara asks her what the problem is and she explains that her parents (the two in the flashback) were killed by countless weapons right before her eyes. Gaara asks Matsuri what is her purpose for holding a weapon. There is a flashback sequence that goes back to Naruto's fight with Gaara during the Attack on Konoha arc when Gaara asked what did Sasuke and Sakura mean to Naruto? The answer: they were his friends and he'd do anything to protect them. Gaara's philosophy has changed a lot since his battle with Naruto.
The four unknown shinobi watch from a distance as their target, Gaara, heads off. Gaara finds Temari and Kankuro with the injured patrol shinobi, who tells them that the shinobi who attacked him, a group that calls themselves Shitenshounin, have a message.
"We, who are the ultimate weapons, announce our challenge to you. If you do not accept, everyday we will kidnap somebody close to you, until you respond."
Ironically enough, Matsuri is chosen by the group to be the first sacrifice.
Later, the three Suna siblings arrive to find only the jouhyou. Judging from its position, Gaara concludes that the group is moving northeast. They decided to head to the jounin meeting. At the meeting, Baki tells all of how the Shitenshounin have left, sandwiching the Rice Country with the Suna, as well as Konoha. The Suna siblings are told to form a squad and pursue the enemy, but considering that the enemy's objective is Gaara, that would be like walking right into their hands. However, if Suna shinobi were dispatched, there would be fewer left in the village.
In a flashback, Baki is speaking with one of the elders about how the enemy's objective is the Shukaku. Gaara is a powerful double edged sword, metaphorically speaking, and if he were to be captured, the consequences would be dire. Baki cannot go, as he tells the Suna siblings, because he already has a mission.
Back in Konoha, Shizune spots a messenger bird with a request from the Suna village. At a briefing, Tsunade explains to Shikamaru that the enemy is heading through the Rice Village towards Konoha. Shikamaru is a bit skeptical and can't believe he has to come up with a plan to stop someone overconfident enough to challenge Gaara, but Tsunade tells him that Konoha is on friendly terms with the Suna village. After all, it WAS Temari, Kankuro, and Gaara who arrived to help Shikamaru, Lee, and Kiba during the Sasuke retrieval mission. This time however, there's a lot more ground to cover for just one person. There's also, as Tsunade explains, the Takumi Village (where Kakashi was in the beginning of the episode), which the jounin and chuunin are currently working on.
Shizune hands Shikamaru a list of available genin for the mission and he is given 30 minutes to assemble a squad, but the thing is that Sakura is not on the list; she's undergoing training for her medical ninjutsu. Shikamaru accepts the mission under the condition that Sakura will come.
Outside Konoha's gates, the formed squad of Lee, Kiba, Chouji, Ino, and Shikamaru are waiting for someone else to arrive: Naruto, who got hungry and went to Ichiraku Ramen for a bit. Shikamaru declares that the squad is complete, but Naruto doubts that and knows that there are a lot more genin around. Even if Sakura's in training, there's the possibility of others coming, such as Neji, Hinata, or Shino. Kiba enters the conversation by remarking how the only ones with the ability of tracking the enemy are himself and Akamaru. Lee asks if the team they have formed is a, as he calls it, 'really amazing super attack type team,' to which Shikamaru replies that it is: 'Team Return a Favor,' which isn't exactly the best of names. He reminds them of how they were rescued during the Sasuke incident, so the mission is simply to return the favor. Naruto's prepped and ready to head off, but like other missions he's been in, he's not the leader and is getting ahead of himself.
The team formation where they proceed in a line is reminiscent of that during the Sasuke retrieval mission, but they can't use Byakugan or Akamaru's nose to go after them. Essentially, they'll split into groups of two who will move as one group. No solo stuff.
The groups are: Ino and Shikamaru, Kiba and Chouji, and Lee and Naruto. The 'four' that Naruto mentioned earlier are already ahead of them. Apparently, Neji, Hinata, Shino, and Sakura are involved as well, but they're taking a different route and won't be involved in combat. While the others believe that's a waste of power, the four are searching for the enemy and will be mostly regulated to medical support.
Elsewhere, said 'other four' are scouting: Sakura looks around, Shino uses his bugs, while Neji and Hinata scout their surroundings with Byakugan.
The six person group heads off and Naruto is determined to return the favor.
Next time: Suna doumeikoku: Konoha no Shinobi!
What is the Shitenshounin's secret battle technique?