By this point, the Naruto anime is pretty much one huge joke to everyone except the die-hard fans. Even people who love the manga like myself and grew up watching the TV series in the mid-2000s have a massively negative opinion on the current state of the anime.
Despite its source material having concluded nearly a year and a half ago, the anime is still chugging along, fueling itself with filler arc after filler arc of dream sequences that have zero bearing on the plot whatsoever. However, the latest arc finally granted fans some relief with a story that many have been begging to see for years: the story of Itachi Uchiha.
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains massive spoilers from the Naruto series regarding the back stories of Itachi and the Uchiha Clan. If you have not read up through Chapter 402 (volume 43), you have been warned. I will admit that I had mixed feelings about this arc going in.
On the one hand, Itachi has been a fan favourite, and one of my own personal favourites, for years, so a story solely dedicated to him would be a great way to inject some life back into the series.
On the other hand, one of the things that makes Itachi so great is that he’s fairly mysterious and rarely ever shows up for significant screen time. You almost get the sense that he’s semi-omnipotent, controlling the situation from the shadows with little interference. A back story for such an important character could be very easy to screw up, especially since the novels that this arc is based on weren’t written by Kishimoto.
In either case, this 8-episode arc (though more like 6 and two half episodes) spanning episodes 451-458 follows Itachi from his early youth all the way up through his death at the hands of his brother, Sasuke, and it explores some of the more complex and heavy emotions and mental hang-ups he experiences that set him down the path we know he is destined to take.
In fact, the very first scene of this arc starts on Itachi as a young boy fighting in the Third Great Ninja War.
Here, he starts to see the truly nasty and primal aspects of humanity, and, with guidance from his father and other adults, he begins to understand the true nature of war and violence in their world and how it can turn even the noblest of men into ruthless murderers. While there were some moments that were a little bit on the nose and too blatant in their message for my taste, it rarely ever got in the way of building Itachi’s characters. Either way, we already know that Itachi is a genius from the main story, so for him to be able to comprehend these more complex topics at such a young age isn’t all that surprising.
Aside from Itachi, this arc also remembers to focus on the Uchiha themselves and the discrimination shown to them by the elders of the Hidden Leaf, as it is this pivotal friction that causes Itachi to make the ultimate decision of slaughtering his clan.
To that end, they do a fairly good job of portraying the Uchiha in a realistic light, with opinions from both sides feeding into how we feel about them. It’s really easy to put yourself in their position and understand why they would want to rebel, and the gradual buildup over several years makes a revolt seem inevitable, but it’s also easy to see how Itachi would choose to maintain order within the Leaf Village above all else, as a child scarred by war and someone who really does want peace to reign over his home.
As for Itachi himself, I love pretty much everything they’ve done with his character.
The show does a fantastic job of showing just how much of a genius Itachi really is and how far ahead of everyone else he’s grown. They also never forget to humanize him and remind us that he’s imperfect just like the rest of us. He gets embarrassed, occasionally messes up, and feel pain and sorrow just like all the other characters, so it’s really nice that they were able to bring him down from the aforementioned semi-omnipotence that he so often puts of, especially when he experiences the pain of loss. The awakening of his Sharingan is a particularly powerful moment, and its importance in his life is conveyed in a riveting and heart-wrenching scene of devotion and sacrifice.
The side characters do a pretty good job of pushing the prevailing themes of this arc as well. Itachi’s father seems a lot more torn about the Uchiha rebellion than he seems to be in the main story, though perhaps I’m just remembering it wrong, and the different ninja that Itachi grows up with and meets along the way all contribute in some way to how Itachi grows as a shinobi and as a person.
That being said, the arc pretty much goes nowhere after the massacre of the Uchiha and Itachi’s induction into the Akatsuki, which is where I thought the arc would initially end.
Instead, it prattles on for two and a half more episodes, with two episodes dedicated to unnecessary Akatsuki back story, and the last episode recapping events we’ve already seen in the main series, this time from Itachi’s perspective. While it is somewhat interesting to see his take on these events, it doesn’t really change the significance of them anymore than the initial reveal of Itachi’s truth does when Madara explains it to Sasuke.
I do still think this last half-episode is still alright, but the two episodes preceding it could be taken out entirely.
How the Akatsuki found Deidara and some of the other members is entirely unnecessary since Itachi’s character arc is essentially finished until his final battle with Sasuke. This is Itachi’s story after all, so I don’t really see the point in devoting so much screen time to events that don’t affect him as a character.
On the technical end, there’s not too much to talk about. Animation-wise, this is definitely one of the better-looking Naruto arcs, filled with crisp outlines, fluid character movement, and intense fight choreography. I also really like some of the minor stylistic choices, like the picture book aesthetic used during the Nine-tails attack, making the event feel more mythological. The soundtrack is just as solid as it’s always been, though I’m not sure if they’ve added any new tracks since I haven’t watched Shippuden since episode 51.
If you’ve distanced yourself from the anime because of the massive filler count, or if you haven’t even seen the anime to begin with but really enjoy the manga, I would still highly recommend watching Itachi Shinden.
It adds even more depth to a beloved character that stands at the core of the Naruto-verse, and both the story and technical aspects are pulled off very well.
Perhaps now that Kaguya has finally appeared and the final arc of the story is commencing, Naruto will finally begin to wrap up after so many years of air time…
wait a minute…
Itachi Shinden, along with all episodes of Naruto and Naruto Shippuden, is available for streaming over at Crunchyroll.
Final Score: 7.5/10