Naruto Shippuden
Episode 454

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 454 of
Naruto Shippūden ?

After three frenetically-paced installments, Itachi's Story slows things down in its consistently entertaining fourth chapter. Although the past two episodes largely broke away from the somber, introspective atmosphere established in this arc's introductory chapter, this week's outing reminds us that Itachi's backstory is all about tough decisions, moral ambiguity, and personal sacrifice. While not as heavy as what's to come, episode 454 effectively sets the stage for Itachi's teenage and young adult years.

Still broken up over Tenma's death, Itachi accepts Shisui's invitation to accompany him on a mock mission. This peril-filled training exercise entails venturing into the aptly-named Forest of Death and tracking down a fake fugitive. Of course, this being fiction, it isn't long before the boys comes across a real fugitive. This supposed criminal is an Anbu officer being pursued by a trio of Foundation Anbu, who claim he possesses a missive that contains the name of someone who betrayed the village. While their target wants to deliver the scroll to the Hokage, the Foundation Anbu want exclusive access to this information, which will enable them to track down and punish the traitor as they see fit.

Although Itachi carefully considers the Foundation Anbu's position, he ultimately supports Shisui's efforts to drive them away. (Much like the audience, Itachi and Shisui consider the possibility that this is all an elaborate test.) Despite their lack of field experience, both boys prove to be more than a match for three of the Leaf's strongest assassins. Fortunately, before anyone is seriously injured (or worse), the jonin proctors in charge of supervising the mock mission reveal themselves, prompting the Foundation ninja to retreat. Even if the skirmish in the forest wasn't part of the test, it taught young Itachi a valuable lesson: there are multiple sides to every conflict, and each of these sides believes that they're right. I liked how the show kept us guessing about the attack the boys stumbled on. Right up until the proctors appeared, I continuously changed my mind. One second, it seemed like the danger was real; the next, I was convinced it was all part of the mock mission.

In the episode's closing moments, a teenage Itachi reports to Anbu headquarters for his first day of work. As it turns out, the Foundation's way of thinking made quite an impression on the introspective youth. Frankly, I would have liked to see more of what transpired in the intervening years. Was Itachi's initial exchange with the aforementioned trio enough to turn him onto the Anbu's core mission—or did other events in his life contribute to this decision?

Despite being a relaxed character piece, this latest chapter in Itachi's Story contains a fair amount of action. The fact that the animation and general aesthetics remain in top form after four episodes is another pleasant surprise. It's still a shame the show glossed over Tenma's death and shows few signs of ever examining that in more detail, but I enjoyed being privy to the evolution of Itachi and Shisui's relationship. Since we know what's on the horizon, Shisui's promise to never betray Itachi carries quite a bit of meaning.

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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