Naruto Shippuden
Episode 443

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 443 of
Naruto Shippūden ?

The best thing I can say about episode 443 is that it isn't boring. Yes, it's a poorly-animated, aesthetically inconsistent rehash of the main story, but like some of the best films riffed by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew, it's ambitiously bad. Also, like last week's installment, this latest offering dispenses with the ridiculous framing device and gets right to the action.

With his three-year training journey at an end, the now-teenage Naruto returns to the Hidden Leaf to discover that things have changed quite a bit since his departure. Shortly before Naruto's return, Sasuke became a lieutenant in the Leaf's police force and now commands a squad of corrupt cops. (I always found it odd that the Uchiha are in charge of law enforcement despite the interior government's obvious mistrust of them.) In addition to administering savage beatings to petty crooks, Sasuke and his cronies are inexplicably fond of harassing local merchants. As a result, numerous businesses throughout the village have closed shop. Admittedly, I'm unclear on the connection between crippled local commerce and decreased crime rates, but I trust Sasuke knows his business. When Naruto spots Sasuke's men intimidating an elderly woman, he intervenes on the granny's behalf, predictably drawing the ire of his old frenemy. However, Danzo, who I guess was out for a stroll, steps in before the boys can commence their brawl.

Unwilling to let Naruto off the hook for his insolence, Sasuke's flunkies force their way into the Uzumaki family's home with the intent of apprehending him. After seeing the goons corner his mother, an enraged Naruto opens a can of whoop-ass. (I think?) The next time we see these guys, they're tied up at the police station, and we're left to assume that Naruto had a hand in it. Even though Sasuke didn't issue the order, Fugaku deems the men's actions a failure on the part of his son and dismisses Sasuke from the force. ("YOU'RE A LOOSE CANNON, UCHIHA!") Eager to settle the score with Naruto once and for all, Sasuke acts on Danzo's advice and leaves the village to train under Orochimaru. The one-eyed schemer conveniently neglected to mention the whole "you'll be his next body" part, but I'm sure Sasuke will find that out in due time.

For several reasons, this episode is stronger than the previous few. For one, the manuscript-within-a-dream framing device is absent (for the second week in a row). Even though we're still seeing a visual representation of what Tsunade's reading, we can at least pretend this isn't the case. Secondly, it centers on Sasuke being his good ol' emo self, albeit for far less substantial reasons. Sure, he's been a brooding dork ever since the second Ninja Scrolls arc began, but now that he's officially gone over to the "dark side," there's a little more gravitas to the plot. If you've followed my reviews with any regularity, you probably know that I'm not a fan of Sasuke as a person—but he can be a compelling character to watch, even if you wouldn't want to be his friend. In fact, the string of episodes that starred Sasuke and his Taka cohorts are among my all-time favorites.

Although it's been played more times than I can count, the acoustic-guitar-heavy Western-type theme music ("Wandering" or "Hyouhaku") that often plays during Sasuke's appearances is used extensively in this episode, and it's as awesome as ever. True to Sasuke's character, the track builds slowly, which is fitting since the young Uchiha is rarely in a rush to get anywhere. Even though his backstory is considerably less tragic in this world, this track still manages to loan an air of heaviness to Sasuke.

If anything, this Sasuke-centric alternate world story confirms that Naruto's archrival was always destined to be a sullen cad. However, now that he's a crooked cop instead of a vengeance-crazed vagabond, his jerkiness seems less justified—even laughable at times. While this episode doesn't make me any less anxious to return to the main storyline, it's a step in the right direction.

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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