Wow. I honestly don’t think I’m overstepping myself here by saying straight up this was the single best episode of Naruto ever produced. Just wow, everything about this episode was great. An amazing adaptation of a historic event, huge surprises, and beautiful almost avant-garde (for Naruto anyways) artistic styles with its use of shadows and contrasts. This was a feast for the eyes and any fan of this franchise has a requirement to drop what they are doing and watch this episode now if you haven’t seen it. Seriously stop reading WATCH THIS EPISODE!
Lets get this out of the way this is the episode people have been waiting for since Itachi Shinden was announced its the “dark night”. The one that every fans of Naruto knows so well, which leads to a simple question if this is so well known how will they make it interesting to watch for the fifth or so time?
The episode opens as Itachi has been promoted to a Captain of the ANBU black ops force. Several years has passed by now and Itachi is no longer but a boy but a full grown man and powerful ninja in his own right. However as he aged he’s been pulled in many different directions by both his clan and his loyalty to the village.
On one hand his father continues to remind him of his “duty” to the clan. However Itachi remains troubled by the clans darkness, he turns to the one person he can trust his friend and confidant Shisui. However Shisui wounded from a fight off screen decides to commit suicide so his eyes cannot be used against the village. Long time fans know this was an action orchestrated by Danzo however at this point this information is unknown to Itachi.
Shisui using his last breaths begs Itachi to protect the village and honour the Uchiha name. As he falls to his death he requests Itachi allow him to die if he is a true friend. As Itachi watches his only true friend fall to his death his Mangekyō Sharingan awakens for the first time. Setting off further events.
Back at the village another scene that we have seen before plays out. As Sasuke watches Fugaku and three Uchiha guards pressure Itachi into standing with the clan. Itachi in a fit or rage rebuffs them. However he quickly regains his composure remembering his position as a spy for the village and prostrates himself demanding forgiveness. All the while trying to show how vile the clan is to his little brother.
It was during this scene where it became very apparent the colour scheme for the episode would be quite unique and distinctive. The contrasts between the shadows over the faces with the brightness of the backgrounds created a very stark and beautiful scene. It’s clear a lot of effort and thought went into how best to show these scenes and the episode it better for it. If anything is said about Itachi Shiden following its completion it should be said that without any doubt it is the most inventive arc in the series.
A short scene follows the confrontation as Itachi officially promoted is introduced to his ANBU subordinates. Where they are sent on an assassination mission to signify Itachi remains a loyal member of ANBU. Following this Itachi informs Danzo that unrest within the Uchiha Clan is reaching a boiling point and something may need to be done about this. In response to this Danzo orders constant surveillance of the Uchiha.
During the surveillance Itach is shown watching his childhood friend/girlfriend Izumi as she joins the Leaf Police, the main arm of the Uchiha Clan. Follow this after significant surveillance Fugaku asks Itachi to join him at the Uchiha’s sacred Nakano shrine. At first as he was required to spy on the meeting and the shrine Itachi declines, however upon reflection he agrees.
In the depths of the shrine Fugaku explains his plan of a bloodless coup. However to drive home his point he reveals Itachi is not the only Uchiha who posses the Mangekyō Sharingan as he releases his own, a surprise to even Itachi. He explain he keeps them a secret as if other Uchiha new they would try to use the Mangekyō to control the Kyuubi and there would be too much bloodshed.
Instead he asks his son to join him. With two Mangekyō Sharingan they will overthrow the Hokage in a small bloodless coup. Installing Fugaku as the Fifth Hokage. Itachi in the moment seems conflicted; his family and Clan or his village.
Characteristically this indecision doesn’t last long and reports this information to the Third Hokage, the Elders, and Danzo. Who decides action must be taken before the Uchiha coup can be instigated. Predictably Hiruzen the Third Hokage wishes to find a peaceful solution. Danzo has other ideas.
He proposes Itachi do the dead and slaughter the clan. For the village he must forsake his people. In exchange for his cooperation Sasuke will be allowed to continue to live a life as a member of the Leaf. As we all know Itachi chooses the path of betrayal in order to protect the village. A decision he has made time and time again up to this point always putting the Village before Clans.
Before he moves against the Uchiha he finds Obito who he believes to be Madara Uchiha to aid him in his mission. Together the two slaughter the Clan with Itachi taking on the residential areas while Madara assaults the police building. While there Madara encounters Izumi and comments “such fine eyes” however their confrontation is brief. As Obito/Madara easily slaughters the young kunoichi who’s last words are “Itachi save me” showing she never once forgot her love.
Itachi though as he becomes covered in the blood of his Clansmen has one great enemy left. His father meeting a Kage Bushin of his father along the way he proceeds to his house to end the night. Thinking this will be his greatest battle - a battle between two Mangekyō Sharingan.
However what he finds is not what he expects. His mother and father have quietly waited for him, knowing Itachi has won Fugaku has no wish to engage in a death match with his eldest son. Instead he merely asks Itachi to take care of Sasuke for them and that even though it ended so poorly he was proud of all his son accomplished. With tears streaming down his face Itachi remains silent as he disembowels his own parents for the good of the village.
Interestingly what isn’t shown is Itachi and Saskue’s interactions following this. I personally think that was a smart touch as that is the beginning of Sasuke’s story and this is after all about Itachi. Showing a level of self awareness that is often not seen in shonen shows such as this.
Following the slaughter of the clan Itachi and Obito meet up once more. Itachi says go on ahead as he must talk to the village higher ups. Itachi visits the Third Hokage who wishes there could have been a different way and asks what Itachi will do next. Itachi decides to join the Akatsuki to in his words “make sure a promise is kept”. A reference/threat directed at Danzo knowing the old man is untrustworthy and only by the threat of action by Itachi will Sasuke remain safe from Danzo’s Foundation.
As Itachi leaves the village he is greeted by his two “subordinates”. They explain he has been made an S Class Wanted-Ninja in the Bingo Book of high value marks and as such they must at least pretend to give chase as the three begin battle they joke “go easy on us”. However their intent to kill is palpable showing training on how to defeat the Sharingan, eventually after a brief encounter they seemingly impale Itachi.
That is until Itachi’s genjutsu is revealed. Dying one asks how since they never once looked in his eyes. Itachi explains they did the moment they met and there he cast his suggestion to kill themselves if they ever turned their swords on him. As they die they are surprised Itachi never once trusted them, he responds “I was a double agent I saw you both as an Uchiha and a Leaf” “at times I didn’t even know which side I was a spy for”. Leaving for the Akatsuki as his former comrades likely die.
As the episode comes to a close Itachi’s Bright Light comes to an end and the dark night is upon us. He meets his new comrades in the Akatsuki including Orochimaru and a new adventure for Itachi begins again.
As I said this episode was amazing, I’ve since watched it again and it still is that good. The beautiful art direction clearly makes it stand out, however the way it draws you into a scenario despite knowing how it will end was impressive. With the reveal of Fugaku’s Mangekyō Sharingan was expertly done and actually surprised me. During the whole episode you could feel the divide within Itachi and the pain following Shisui’s death. All around it was a perfect example of what makes Naruto such a popular series, I just wish more anime were like this.