Naruto Shippuden
Episode 456

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 456 of
Naruto Shippūden ?

With its subject now a full-fledged member of the Akatsuki, Itachi's Story continues to inch its way toward the current timeline. While it was obvious from the beginning that the story would eventually segue into this chapter of Itachi's life, I never thought it would happen so soon. The back half of Naruto Shippūden has (in)famously done everything in its power to prolong its filler excursions, so I feel blindsided by how quickly Itachi's formative years were covered. Fast pacing isn't inherently a bad thing, but certain life-altering events were either glossed over or skipped entirely. To be clear, Itachi's Story is still the most entertaining filler arc in years, but its blunders are becoming increasingly difficult to overlook.

Now partnered with Juzo Biwa, Itachi spends his days carrying out assassinations for the Akatsuki and receiving long-winded lectures from his relentlessly talkative comrade. As calm and collected as ever, there's no indication of the inner turmoil Itachi has buried deep inside as he adjusts to his new life. Juzo's loquacious nature makes Itachi seem even more reserved and works as an interesting character contrast—even if their partnership is short-lived. Although he doesn't appear to outright dislike Juzo, Itachi is somewhat put off by the disgraced Swordsman of the Mist's combative demeanor and propensity for droning on. For his part, Juzo seems to be genuinely interested in educating Itachi on the true nature of the shinobi world. While on a mission in the Hidden Mist, the dynamic duo find themselves confronted by the Fourth Mizukage and Three Tails jinchuriki Yagura and a group of the Mist's most elite ninja. Although Juzo is done in by Yagura, Itachi is able to immobilize the pint-sized Kage with the Mangekyo Sharingan and escape.

Since the first half of the episode established that the Akatsuki has its sights set on collecting jinchuriki, I'm surprised that Itachi passed up a prime opportunity to kidnap Yagura. I suppose the shock caused by the Mangekyo Sharingan's power may have prevented him from thinking clearly, but this was a glaring screw-up for such a capable and collected character. (I wonder if he conveniently left this part out when putting together his mission report?)

Back at the base, Pain contemplates who the now partner-less Itachi should be paired up with next. Eager for an opportunity to steal the young Uchiha's body, Orochimaru instantly throws his hat in the ring, only to have his proposal rebuked by Pain. Following a failed attempt at claiming Itachi's body, Orochimaru abandons the Akatsuki to focus on his own devious ambitions. Since Itachi's previous partner was one of the famed Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, Pain reasons that his next partner should be cut from the same cloth and assigns him to work with the shark-like Hoshigaki Kisame.

Orochimaru's borderline obsessive interest in partnering with Itachi almost seems wedged into the story. Prior to this episode, we were given no real indication that that the Leaf's Most Wanted was interested in using Itachi as his next vessel, so their pseudo-showdown at the end of the episode doesn't elicit much emotion. The intention is probably to establish that Orochimaru has always desired an Uchiha vessel—which is why he eventually selected Sasuke—but like this arc's other important plot points, it kind of comes out of nowhere.

Like the Star Wars prequels, this week's outing places an inordinate amount of focus on bureaucracy and world-building in a series that's supposed to be characterized by action and adventure. Even so, the extended glimpse into Itachi's Akatsuki days is consistently entertaining, if a bit disjointed. Now that Kisame has entered the fray, I look forward to seeing how he and Itachi came to work so well together. With any luck, this unlikely partnership will receive more breathing room than the events that came before it.

Rating: B-

Naruto Shippūden is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Amy is a YA fantasy author who has loved anime for over two decades.


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