Naruto Shippuden
Episode 453

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 453 of
Naruto Shippūden ?

Itachi's Story takes a foray into the realm of comedy this week in an episode that finds the titular character and his teammates tracking down a wayward ninja feline. That's right—one of the series' most tragic figures headlines a humorous romp that's rife with effective sight gags and physical comedy. Although Itachi primarily functions as the straight man to his decidedly wackier contemporaries, there are a number of jokes that poke fun at the less serious aspects of his character, like his apparent affection for tri-colored dango. After sitting through several months of material that served up an abundance of unintentional laughs, it's nice to see an episode that makes a conscious effort at bringing the funny.

Now a genin, the recently-graduated Itachi has been undertaking missions of varying ranks with his three-person cell. Led by Minazuki Yuki, Team Two is made up of Itachi, the perpetually cheerful Shinko Inari, and hot-headed Tenma Izumo, who's not crazy about the idea of being on a team with someone five years his junior. While confiding in Izumi that he longs to awaken his Sharigan, Itachi is summoned by Tenma, who informs him that the group has a new mission. The client is the elusive Nekobaa (making her first appearance in over 250 episodes), and after journeying to the abandoned city she and her cats inhabit, Team Two is tasked with tracking down a ninja feline who ran away from home after buckling under the pressure of finding a bride. To ensure that the group is able to communicate with her pets, Nekobaa outfits them with detachable cat ears.

Tenma has an ulterior motive for undertaking this mission. The head of his clan—who also happens to be his father—is sick and possibly dying, and the whiskers of a ninja cat can apparently cure his illness. (I wouldn't want to have to swallow that concoction.) Team Two eventually tracks the missing cat down to an abandoned warehouse, where they find the felonious feline imbibing on catnip-based sake and bemoaning his troubles with lady cats. After Minazuki's ham-fisted attempt at commiserating with his target goes awry, the cat flees and the group gives chase. Not surprisingly, Itachi is able to catch the kitty with relative ease after stealthily cutting off a few of his whiskers to give to Tenma, who he saves from certain death when the over-eager boy almost falls down an inexplicably huge pit in the middle of the warehouse to try to catch the whiskers.

The episode's final scene throws the audience a huge curve-ball. While staring up at the night sky with Sasuke, Itachi flashes back to a battle against a masked man (Tobi/Obito?) that ended in Tenma's death. As Itachi weeps for his fallen comrade, toddler-Sasuke notices that something's amiss with her brother's eyes: remembering Tenma's passing awakened Itachi's Sharingan.

While Tenma coming around to Itachi is predictable, the story surrounding his begrudging acceptance of his naturally gifted teammate is entertaining enough. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the quasi-twist ending, we'll probably never get to see this story fully play out. Based on what we know about Itachi's history, it's reasonable to assume that Tenma would eventually wind up dead—I just thought we'd be shown the circumstances surrounding his passing. Presenting such a transformative event in Itachi's life in the form of a hazy minute-long flashback hardly does justice to the story or its central character. According to Itachi, Tenma's death is what taught him the meaning of true sorrow and unlocked his Sharingan, so it should have been treated with more importance.

Another drawback to this week's installment is the underdeveloped supporting cast. For the most part, Tenma and Shinko come across as generic, expendable teammate characters, and Minazuki's only real purpose is to set up a joke toward the end of the episode. I assumed we'd learn more about the other members of Team Two in the coming weeks, but judging from the post-credits preview, their time in the limelight appears to be over.

With its silly premise, this week's Naruto Shippūden won't be for everyone, but viewers who enjoy the lightheartedness the show has demonstrated on occasion will find themselves cracking a smile more than once. Setting aside the bizarre ending and general predictability, this week's episode largely manages to get by on its jokes. Despite being the most filler-like entry in Itachi's Story to date, episode 453 still offers more entertainment value than any episode of the mercifully-concluded Jiraiya's Ninja Scrolls storyline.

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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