Analyzing the Criticized: Sakura Haruno (Naruto) Part 3 – Chapters 201-300 – Starting to Blossom

See Part One Here

See Part Two Here

Chapters 201-220 (Kiba and Shikamaru’s Battles + Kimimaro Appears + The Sand Siblings Arrive + Naruto and Sasuke’s Battle Starts + The Beginning of the Full Story of Sasuke’s Past)

I can’t believe we’re starting off on such a blasé note, but I have nothing really to discuss here since Sakura is in a grand total of zero chapters in this section. She appears very rarely and very briefly in flashbacks of Naruto’s to remind him of his promise to her and she’s just there in a lot of his flashbacks of Sasuke in general, but present-time Sakura is not shown at all. Ever. Not once.

But you know who does come back and even fights? Rock friggin’ Lee.

Not only did he accept an insanely dangerous surgery with a high mortality rate, not only did he survive it like a damn boss, but the same day as the surgery he’s rushing out to help with the mission to retrieve Sasuke because Rock. Lee. Is. Awesome.

And even though he still needs assistance from Gaara (always loved this brief but poignant team up) he was able to hold his ground fairly well against one of Orochimaru’s strongest, in terms of powers anyway, associates. (Kimimaro’s story is sad, but his powers freak me out)

Let me repeat that. Rock Lee, who was essentially crippled when Naruto and the others left for their mission just that morning, had surgery to fix his body, survived it and was out helping with that same mission almost immediately after the surgery was over.

Meanwhile, Sakura is literally nowhere to be found.

Maybe she’s practicing her apple peeling skills.

I’m not blaming her for not also rushing out the door to help behind everyone’s backs because she understands that she’d be more of a liability than an asset in this circumstance, but we can at least get a brief scene with her doing…something. ANYTHING.

I will note something funny, though. The entirety of the second chapter cluster, a whole 100 chapters, not a one had a chapter title card pic including Sakura even though she was at least in a decent amount of those chapters. In this section alone, she’s in two chapter title cards. Granted, one of them shows her from very far away, but she’s at least there. Yes, in the 20 chapter section where she’s in all of, being generous, ten panels, and that’s only in flashback, she’s in two chapter title cards. *shrug*

Maybe they want to remind us that she exists. I mean, even Tenten got one and we haven’t seen her in so long I’m starting to think she was a figment of my imagination.

But hey, Shikamaru gets his sexist ass saved and then some by Temari, who completely dominates the battle.

Kiba’s battle was a little boring, to be honest. I never really connected with Kiba that much, outside of his relationship with Akamaru (and that’s probably born of my love of animals, particularly dogs) Kiba’s always been kinda obnoxious to me, nor is he very interesting as a character (He’s basically a more abrasive and possibly less mature Naruto with little in terms of decent backstory and motivations. The fact that Naruto has a lot of fox traits while Kiba has a lot of wolf/dog traits doesn’t help this comparison) and he’s just not all that impressive in this battle. It was badass of him to stab himself to hurt Ukon, who had merged with his body, but that’s about it.

Shikamaru’s fights are always entertaining simply because of the incredibly clever ways he manages to defeat his enemies. Even though he needed Temari to finish off Tayuya, the match as a whole was very entertaining.

Chapters 221-240 (Sasuke’s Full Backstory – Naruto and Sasuke’s Fight – The Aftermath and Naruto’s Departure – Start of Kakashi Chronicles)

This is a pretty inappropriate chapter title card for the chapter where Sasuke’s family and clan get slaughtered…..I’m not making a joke. This is the title card they used for this part. What the hell?

Obviously, almost none of this section involves Sakura since so much of it is taken up by Sasuke’s backstory and Naruto and Sasuke’s battle. Surprisingly, she’s not even brought up much, if at all, in the emotional pleas and flashbacks the two have. She’s barely present in the background.

Sakura finally appears when Naruto and the other Genin who were on the mission get brought back home to the hospital for medical care. At first, she believes Sasuke has been brought back, but she soon learns about the group’s failure in returning Sasuke after she overhears Shikamaru and Naruto talking through the hospital room door. Sakura initially puts on a smile and tries to push through her disappointment and despair, but Naruto asserts that he will keep his promise, as his ninja way states, and he’ll bring Sasuke back home no matter what.

Driven by Naruto’s resolve, Sakura decides to FINALLY take some initiative in her ninja training and asks Tsunade if she’ll take her on as her apprentice, which she accepts.

After a three month time skip to allow everyone ample time to recover and get their ducks in a row for their futures while Naruto’s off training, we see Sakura has a talent for medical jutsu. She healed a fish!

I’m not making a jab at her – fish need care too. Have a heart, guys.

Tsunade even points out that she hasn’t seen someone with such talent and promise in medical jutsu since Shizune.

……Also, let me just get this off my chest – it does bug me that most prominent medical-nin are girls – or, more to the point, that most girls are medical-nin. Tsunade did make the very good suggestion to have at least one medical-nin included in squads or brought along with squads when they have missions, but that pretty much makes it seem like if there’s a girl in the squad, she’s the healer. And considering I can’t think of any squads that have more than one girl in it…..yeah. The girl=support thing has always been a pet peeve of mine.

I’m not badmouthing medical jutsu, it allows you to do some pretty fantastic things as we’ll see soon enough, nor am I ignoring that male medical-nin exist (Kabuto was the first medical-nin we ever met) but considering the relatively poor treatment of women in this series as it is, it only serves to irk me more that the new role of most of the girls will be medical related.

Sakura becomes the healer of Team 7. Ino becomes the healer of her squad. Rin was the healer in her squad. Karin is the healer in her team. Tsunade was the healer in her squad. And even though she’s not specifically a healer, Hinata will also learn some medical jutsu, which she is able to learn rather quickly due to Hyuga techniques requiring such precise chakra control.

The only prominent Konoha girl who never develops skills in medical jutsu is Tenten, and that’s not for lack of trying. She idolized Tsunade and wanted to be a medical-nin, she just never had talent for it. Poor Tenten. So overlooked and mishandled that you even fail at becoming an annoying stereotype.

I’m not saying this is a hard and fast rule. There are several female characters who also don’t utilize medical jutsu like Temari, Kurenai, Anko and even Kushina, but it is a trend and it is still annoying.

And that’s the end of Part One of Naruto. There is more to this section, but it goes into the backstory of Kakashi. I’ll save any notes about that for the next section.

Chapters 241-260 (The Rest of the Kakashi Chronicles + The Start of Part Two + Reprise of the Bell Test + Gaara’s Battle with Deidara and Capture + The Start of the Mission to Save Gaara)

Alright, so since Sakura isn’t in the Kakashi Chronicle chapters, obviously, I thought I’d try to draw some parallels between Team 7 and Team Minato. Parallels have already been made as a whole by others, but I’ll try to focus on Sakura’s parallel specifically.

First of all, even though the other two look very different from Naruto and Sasuke, Rin looks strikingly similar to Sakura, in my opinion. Maybe it’s just the haircut and the fact that we can’t see her hair color in this black and white manga, but she looks very similar to Sakura.

Rin is much more useful to her team even in these handful of chapters than Sakura probably ever has so far, and I’m pretty sure they’re the same age here. She’s a skilled medical-nin who patches up her teammates, Kakashi and Obito, when they get hurt, which was a few times in this side story (Am I going to get in trouble for calling this a side story when it’s so important to future events?) She also performs a rather complex eye transplant right in the middle of the battlefield on two people who stay completely conscious through the whole thing and neither seems to experience pain during the procedure…..Wow.

However, she doesn’t seem to have really any battle prowess, and, guess what? She ends up getting kidnapped and needs saving.

The main reason I even decided to start drawing comparisons between Team 7 and Team Minato is because of the love triangle….angle. Obito is a screw up who is in love with Rin, but Rin is in love with dark and stern Kakashi, who has never given her the time of day. Sound familiar?

To her credit, Rin is nowhere near as Kakashi-crazy as Sakura is Sasuke-crazy, in fact until she outright blurts out her love confession to Kakashi near the end, you can barely tell she has a thing for him, but still.

What annoys me a bit more in Rin’s particular situation is how her love confession is handled. After Obito dies slowly and horribly right in front of both of them, half his body crushed by a boulder, sacrificing his life to save his friends, giving his sharingan to Kakashi, telling Kakashi specifically to take care of Rin for him, Kakashi tells Rin that Obito loved her (since he could never admit it before his death and probably to treasure her life enough to honor his wishes and leave before they get slammed by a group of enemy ninja.) Rin basically doesn’t even react to this information and stubbornly tries to stay with Kakashi and basically die with him because she loves Kakashi.

Yeah, Rin basically spit on Obito’s dying wish and love for her so she could needlessly die with Kakashi. The way the whole scene was structured was just terrible, at least in regards to the light it puts Rin in. It was basically “Let me protect you because Obito loved you and his dying wish was for me to protect you!” “Yeah, well, I love you so I’m staying and dying! Nyehh!”

Onto the Part Two of the main story – Sakura’s a Chunin now, yay!

Our first sighting of Sakura is more or less her reacting to how much Naruto has grown. It actually kinda seems like Sakura’s smitten for a few pages because she blushes several times and even makes flirty expressions. This is reverted back to same old, same old when Naruto breaks his new maturity for a minute to attempt to show off a newer, sexier version of the Sexy no Jutsu to Konohamaru.

I really love that our first venture into Part Two is a revisiting of the bell test. As you’ll recall, I criticized Sakura quite a bit for her role in the first bell test. She pretty much fretted about Sasuke, tried to impress Sasuke to no avail and then ended up fainting from a Genjutsu that made it seem like Sasuke was severely wounded.

Sakura’s performance in that test was almost laughably bad. To be fair, Naruto’s was similarly terrible, but at least he was making honest efforts. I can’t even remember a moment when Sakura made a play for the bells.

This time, Sakura’s visibly impressed with Naruto’s initial strikes, but when she realizes Kakashi’s coming for her next, she quickly assesses her surroundings and correctly surmises that he’s dug down below her. Which means we get our first glimpse into Sakura’s new abilities. That of which being Hulk-Smashing the ever-loving hell out of everything.

A single punch from Sakura can now cause massive craters, something Kakashi experiences firsthand as he cowers under a pile of rocks after barely evading her strike. I really love that Sakura’s new abilities manifest themselves into both massive explosions of raw power like this and extremely precise abilities that she’ll display later on with medical jutsu. They took a really awesome route with her power and it fits perfectly with her specific talent being chakra control.

Kakashi mentions Sakura’s affinity for Genjutsu again, whatever, and thinks to himself that she certainly shows potential to be even more skilled than Tsunade.

But Sakura’s growth reflection in the bell test doesn’t end there. In the bell test two and a half years ago, none of the trio were working together. They were all trying to gun for the bells on their own. Sakura would try to work with Sasuke, but her focus was more on gushing over him or trying to impress him. Sasuke saw Sakura as a liability and Naruto was too bullheaded to do anything but rush out on his own without thinking. Sakura basically wished for Naruto’s failure in the test or, at the very least, enjoyed watching him screw up.

Here, Sakura and Naruto are sticking together and working alongside each other. Not only that, but Naruto comes up with a final plan that actually sounds really silly, but Sakura doesn’t think to mock him about it for a second. Instead, she thinks it through, and realizes that, even if it’s silly, it could very well work – and it does. There’s a method to Naruto’s goofiness sometimes, even if he’s still a doofus on occasion, and Sakura realizes that. She respects Naruto as a teammate much more now than she did back then. Likewise, Naruto earns this respect by showing that he’s more mature, serious and focused, even if he’s still Naruto at heart.

Later on, after the battle with Deidara and Gaara’s kidnapping, as Sakura and the others are traveling to Sunagakure, Sakura reveals that she’s been snooping around and secretly reading private reports in Tsunade’s office for the past two and a half years. She explains that she now knows everything Naruto and Kakashi know about their current situation, which absolutely floored me.

This confirms that Sakura did not, in fact, know the details that Naruto and Kakashi knew about Sasuke’s situation with Orochimaru, Itachi and the Akatsuki, and, apparently, no one thought to ever actually clue her in all this time. She had to sneak around and read private reports instead when there is absolutely 100% no reason to keep this information from her considering how involved she is with Sasuke and Naruto, how much she already knows about the situation and her drive to return Sasuke to Konoha.

Do they really have such little trust in Sakura’s resolve as a ninja, even now that she’s clearly more mature and focused, that no one ever thought to explain this shit to her? Not even right before they sent her on a mission against other Akatsuki members?! That is ludicrous!

At least Sakura ends the chapter proclaiming that she’ll be the one to protect Sasuke and Naruto this time – but her mileage may vary.

For now, she’ll settle on saving Kankuro’s life.

Once we get to Sunagakure, Sakura quickly saves Kankuro’s life by removing poison from his system with her own chakra, which is pretty baller. She can’t get all of it and he’ll need additional treatment, but her medical skills were well beyond that of Chiyo, a very experienced medical-nin, and it’s clear that both she and Naruto are impressed with Sakura.

Later on, she even expertly crafts a medicine to help combat the effects of the residual poison.

Our first look at Sakura’s actual battle prowess is a bit…..disappointing, though I suppose it’s understandable. Itachi confronts the group, and while Naruto and Kakashi try to fight off Itachi, he actually knocks both Sakura and Chiyo to the ground so quickly that Naruto and Kakashi don’t even notice until they look behind them.

Yup, Sakura didn’t even get to throw a punch before she’s flat on her face.

Now, I’m giving Sakura a good deal of leeway for this for two reasons; 1) It’s Itachi. No one would ever expect, no matter how much Sakura has improved, that Sakura would be able to successfully fend off Itachi. 2) Naruto and Kakashi are both having trouble simply trying to keep up with him, so it’s understandable for him to get off a cheap shot.

Later, Sakura breaks Naruto free of a Genjutsu that Itachi had trapped him in, and he was unable to release it himself because he wasn’t skilled enough to break it. Chiyo did help her, but I’m giving Sakura the points here.

Chapters 261 – 280 (The Battle Against Sasori + Pursuing/Battling Deidara)

Sakura cries again, but I’m giving her another pass because she’s just learned that any jinchuriki that has its biju taken out of them will surely die, meaning Naruto will be killed if he’s captured by the Akatsuki.

Sakura uses her Hulk smash to break the giant boulder in front of the entryway to the room where Gaara’s being held.

Before we start the battle with Sasori, can I just say that it’s very nonsensical to split up the group and take your only two medical-nin and pit them against an extremely powerful enemy? Especially when you’re pursuing a near-dead or fully dead Kazekage who would need immediate medical attention?

In her battle against Sasori, Sakura pulls off some really impressive evasive maneuvers and breaks through Hiruko’s hard shell with her hulk smash. Then she does more impressive evasive maneuvers and barely escapes harm time and again …..buuuuuuuuuuuuuutttttttttttttttttt.

I can’t give her credit for most of this because Chiyo was controlling her body like a puppet. Even though Sakura was likely the one doing the Hulk smashing, I still have to take points off here.

She finally starts taking the initiative for herself when she’s trapped in a cloud of poison gas. She’s able to trigger a paper bomb on her belt, allowing her to dissipate the poison and allow her to break away. While this was kinda badass, it was also, as Chiyo pointed out, very reckless. I can’t really ding her too much here because it was either take a chance with the bomb or get poisoned to death.

Sakura then makes a big tough declaration that is supposed to be intimidating and show how much she’s grown, but all it really does for me is show how immature she still is. A true, mature, shinobi doesn’t bother with such grandstanding…especially when her role in the battle so far has been mostly playing Pinocchio and blowing herself up. She’s yelling at the top of her lungs, she’s making rather vicious threats to him (because she was triggered by him mentioning Orochimaru, which made her think back to Sasuke) and she’s obviously puffing out her chest more than she’s earned so far.

This little speech is made even more laughable when Sasori basically ignores her and throws a ton of kunai at her, which she needs to be saved from by Chiyo and her puppets because Sakura’s an idiot who would rather blather on about how much she’s going to kick Sasori’s ass than pay attention in battle.

Later, she’s targeted by Sasori again and Chiyo needs to use her puppets to save her….again…

Then they’re attacked again, and Chiyo uses her puppet to save Sakura…..again…..*cough*

But then, hip hip hooray, when Chiyo is out of puppets and down an arm, it seems like Sakura finally has to step up and take Sasori on by herself……Well…Kinda.

Sakura does step up. She refuses to leave even when Chiyo, again, tells her to flee since Sasori is too powerful and dangerous. However, instead of defending Chiyo and fighting on her own two feet, she tells Chiyo to use her as a puppet again….

This time, it’s not quite the same. Since Chiyo’s arm is gone, she can’t control all of Sakura’s body like she did before, but, still, a majority is still being puppeteered. Sakura pretty much just has full control over one of her arms, meaning yet again Sakura stands there like an idiot as something is about to hit her so Chiyo can yank her strings and pull her away and Sakura can Hulk-smash another projectile.

I really don’t understand why Sakura is having such difficulty evading shit in this battle on her own. Logically, it makes even less sense than when she was younger. She should have much more battle experience by now that would allow her be better at evading.

Not only that, but her training in honing her chakra at specific points in her body should also make her insanely good at evasion since all she’d have to do is focus it into her feet and either launch herself up or zoom off in literally any other direction. Remember, she was skilled at honing her chakra evenly into her feet near the start of Part One before she ever met Tsunade. Remember? One of literally two times where she proved to be more skilled at least in some area above both Sasuke and Naruto, for like a second? Climbing the tree?

Note that they still show the strings, implying that Sakura is being controlled here as the projectile misses her.

I was about to say that maybe she’s just standing there gawking at whatever attacks are about to hit her because of Chiyo’s chakra strings making her unable to move but:

1) There have been numerous instances of her gawking and nearly getting killed without the strings on her.

2) She has been shown to be able to move with the strings on her. See: Hulk -smash

Chiyo is impressed with Sakura’s next attack to break one of Sasori’s projectiles, claiming she’s quickly been able to predict Sasori’s offensive patterns. She also goes so far as to say she ‘never dreamed she’d be so good.’…Okie dokie, Granny. Dial it back a little.

We get a flashback to Sakura’s training with Tsunade. She asks Sakura why medics should never have their first focus be offense. Sakura immediately, and somewhat obnoxiously, explains in a textbook-like manner that medic ninja are meant to be support. They’re always meant to be providing aid, not fighting.

Tsunade declares that answer to be incorrect. Medical-nin are meant to treat the wounded, yes. But the reason they should never focus on combat first is because it puts their lives in danger. If they die, there’s no one to treat the wounded.

Now this is all well and good, but Tsunade mentions something else – something that directly contradicts everything I’ve been writing for this section.

Tsunade says one of the most important skills for a medical-nin to focus on…..is evasion.

……..I don’t get it. Sakura has been a deer in headlights for most of this fight, needing Chiyo to pull her away from danger or her block her from it numerous times. The one time she actually got away from danger herself, she didn’t evade it, she Hulk-smashed it away.

Not to mention that Sakura’s also completely disregarding that entire lesson from the ground up with her declarations that she’s going to make Sasori scream and she’ll kick his ass and yadda yadda.

But enough criticizing Sakura for the moment because her next move is indeed all hers and is very intelligent. Sakura is poisoned by the iron sand and topples over. Sasori’s about to finish them both off, but Sakura gets up and saves Chiyo. She had secretly made two and a half doses of antidote when she treated Kankuro. She gave one to him and saved the other two for the mission in case they faced off against Sasori. She kept it hidden from Sasori because she wanted him to use his trump cards before revealing that she had something to combat the poison. Why she kept it secret from Chiyo, I have no idea.

The catch is the antidote isn’t so much an antidote as it is a temporary treatment. It will null the effects for two and a half minutes, but after that the poison will start affecting her system again.

She heals Chiyo’s wounded hand, but at this point Sakura’s already at her limit. (Chiyo also mentions that Sakura’s been using chakra to dodge, but, again, that doesn’t really match what we’ve been seeing.) With what little chakra she has left, Sakura heals the worst of her wounds and prepares to take on Sasori. He’s impressed that she was able to make any sort of medicine that can combat his poison since even he needs to consult ratio charts to make suitable antidotes for it.

Sasori, wanting to end the battle quickly, uses some giant mass of needles to attack Sakura once more. Even with Chiyo helping, Sakura’s unable to evade all of the needles – the poisoned needles, and she ends up with a bunch of deep cuts all over her.

Another assault from Sasori delivers a stomach wound to Sakura, but his real target is Chiyo. Sakura manages to grab a reel of some kind of cord coming out of his stomach to pull him away and Hulk smash him to pieces.

However, he’s a puppet so he just pieces himself back together again.

Unbelievable – she literally hit him about two and a half inches away from his clearly marked weak spot….

Chiyo kinda takes the spotlight now since Sakura’s reached her time limit with the antidote and Chiyo is now breaking out an army of puppets, as is Sasori. To Sakura’s credit, though, she’s still not backing down.

Sakura, in conjunction with a sealing puppet-esque tool Chiyo gives her, ‘seals’ Sasori so he can’t move his puppets, but she throws it at an empty puppet. The real Sasori attacks Chiyo with a sword, but Sakura jumps in the way and takes the hit to her stomach. She’s able to heal the wound a bit even with the sword inside her, which is impressive, and her gripping the sword allows Chiyo to have the opening to hit Sasori’s weak spot. The totally well-hidden not completely obvious weak spot under that giant-ass insignia panel on his chest that completely stands out and has no purpose other than to be a beacon that says ‘THIS IS MY WEAK SPOT’ to his enemies.

Chiyo also saves Sakura’s life by injecting her with the last vial of antidote, which is a problem because Chiyo was also poisoned in that battle. That’s not really good enough, however, because Sakura falls and starts to die because of her wounds from the sword, which is weird because she was specifically healing the wound around the sword, but maybe the wound was too dire. Chiyo saves her life by healing her while also pulling out the sword.

However, even THAT’S not good enough, so Chiyo uses a jutsu she invented – a life-transferrence technique that is so powerful it can bring the dead back to life, but only if the user sacrifices their life. Since Sakura wasn’t actually dead when she did the technique, Chiyo doesn’t die. Sakura gets up and pointlessly punches Sasori in the face….It’s pointless because he’s basically already dead anyway and he’s a puppet so he doesn’t feel pain. It’s not like she crushed his head with a Hulk-smash, she just regularly punched him in the face.

Even Sasori points out how pointless and wasteful of her energy it was to do that…and…well..yeah. Chiyo’s nearly on death’s door trying to revive you, Sakura. Why would you waste any energy to slap a puppet and lecture him? Your mission doesn’t end with Sasori’s death. Chiyo needs your help. And what if Naruto or Kakashi need you for medical aid later? Gaara certainly will. Save your energy, you dingleberry.

My issue with this battle has always been that it feels like Sakura’s merely an assistant here. That is way better than her being useless and watching from the sidelines, but it’s still frustrating. This is her first actual battle since the time skip – this is our first chance to really test out her skills in the field after actually training and working her ass off to improve and she’s mostly just following Chiyo’s lead and being foolish.

Between her irrational behavior here and Naruto continuously losing his temper throughout this whole mission, to the point where he’s frequently acquiring Kyuubi features on his face, I feel like backwards character development has actually occurred over the past two and a half years.

Not to mention that Sasori and Chiyo have their own storyline going on, which obviously makes this battle more about them and less about her. It always seems like Sasori is more focused on Chiyo as his main enemy than Sakura.

Granted, both Chiyo and Sasori take the time out to point out how impressive Sakura is being (in inner monologue) but usually it feels like they’re being too impressed. Usually. Sometimes, there are moments when the awe is called for, like realizing Sakura could make a medicine to treat the effects of Sasori’s poison without having any of his charts or knowing the exact makeup of it. Most of the other instances of this, however, felt really exaggerated.

It’s just disappointing, because this is the one Sakura battle that actually sticks out in my mind in Part Two and they didn’t even let her have the full spotlight….they gave her a flashlight with cheap batteries.

I will, of course, give credit where credit is due here. This is certainly the most impressive Sakura has been in the entire series. She’s getting to actually fight, she’s making some really smart decisions and she saved Chiyo’s life a couple of times…..but…I feel like Sakura wasn’t really needed here that much.

If Sakura just gave Chiyo the antidote vials and let her fight the battle, Chiyo probably would’ve been fine on her own. The only part of the battle Chiyo most likely couldn’t have done on her own is destroy Hiruko’s shell. That’s about it. Sakura was otherwise a good meat shield to get Sasori to use up his energy. There were also numerous points where her presence was actually a little detrimental, such as Chiyo getting injured, losing her arm and using more chakra than was necessary in order to help Sakura.

Again, I’m not saying she was useless in this battle – of course she wasn’t. She did much more than she ever did in any battle in Part One, but, as a whole, it’s disappointing as Sakura’s premiere battle in Part Two. There was never a point where she really wowed me. And nearly any time where she was very impressive is offset by instances of her making poor decisions or being rash.

I almost feel like this battle originally was written for just Chiyo and Sasori but they realized they didn’t want such a massive section of the start of Part Two to focus on two characters we barely know. So they hastily wrote a role for Sakura to play here – and a good chunk of it was literally Sakura being a puppet for Chiyo.

I also don’t appreciate the fact that not only was Sakura saved numerous times over the course of this section, even if Chiyo acts like she wasn’t (??) but in the end, she nearly died and had to be saved again, technically twice since Chiyo gave over her antidote when she needed it, and this time it was nearly at the cost of Chiyo’s life.

In addition, in my opinion, this self-sacrifice was pretty needless. Why didn’t she just Hulk-smash Sasori to pieces to stop the attack instead of acting as a human shield? It wouldn’t have killed Sasori, unless she knew to hit his giant weak spot button, but it would’ve halted his attack.

Why did we need to see Chiyo’s life-transferrence technique at this stage anyway? It didn’t actually kill her and she’s just going to do it again in a chapter or two. It would have been more badass if Sakura removed the sword herself and completed her own healing, which she was already in the process of doing.

Sakura deserves all the credit in the world for not leaving when prompted, several times, and standing her ground to help Chiyo and succeed in their mission. She had her moments here, but I’m just disappointed that our first venture with her on a mission after the time skip is a two on one battle where she gets a few cool moments peppered throughout a lot of the same old Sakura stuff.

Later, when Sakura and Chiyo meet back up with Naruto and Kakashi, Sakura can’t heal Gaara – his condition is either too grave or he’s already dead. I’m not blaming Sakura for being unable to do this as I doubt any medical-nin, probably even Tsunade, would be able to treat him at this point. Plus, she’s very drained of chakra. Chiyo offers her life to save his instead.

In a surprising moment, she actually tells Sakura that, in the future, she shouldn’t risk her life to help a dying granny like her. Which…yeah, I guess I agree a little – as I said there were better options than jumping in front of that sword – but if she hadn’t saved Chiyo, Gaara would be dead for good. So, save those old grannies, Sakura. Just be a bit more careful about it next time. Chiyo praises her abilities and her spirit and tells her that she definitely has it in her to surpass her master.

Can I just take the time out to say it continues to baffle me how hypocritical people are in the Naruto universe? Two and a half years ago, Gaara was treated as nothing but a monster – someone everyone, even his father, wanted dead. It was understandable for him to become Kazekage in that time, even if that is a stretch, but for everyone in the village to be so fangirly/boy-y about him…it’s just….a little irritating.

For contrast and fairness, they did have one of the government officials act like Gaara wasn’t worth saving because he was just a monster, but still.

It’s more understandable when Naruto’s drowning in fans later on, considering he becomes a war hero, but the fact that most people don’t apologize for how they treated either Gaara or Naruto really bothers me. Because it’s like Naruto and Gaara were required to work their asses off to earn the respect of their peers when all they did to not have it at the start was exist.

Chapters 281-300 (Returning to Konoha + Introducing Yamato and Sai to Team 7 + A New Mission – Deceiving Orochimaru and Kabuto + Naruto Going Insane in Four-Tails Mode)

Gonna point out how adorable it is that Gaara nudged Naruto’s hand for a handshake by manipulating some sand around it. Seriously, I had to stop reading for a second – that was so sweet.

Sakura is put on the same level as Shizune in regards to them being the two people Tsunade trusts most explicitly.

Anyone else feel really bad for Shino when Naruto recognizes Kiba, Choji and Hinata but not him?

I find it very…interesting that Naruto seems way more offended and threatened by Sai’s inclusion on the team as Sasuke’s replacement than Sakura is. It’s strange. Naruto is literally yelling out how much cooler Sasuke is than Sai and I feel like, if the panels didn’t show the characters, I’d be mistakenly attributing his dialogue to Sakura. Meanwhile, Sakura is teasing Naruto about it, trying to cheer him up on the situation.

After Sai insults Sasuke with some….err…well…truth (He IS a traitor who turned his back on everything to pursue power.) I was about to give Sakura heaping mounds of props because it seemed like they were going to have Sakura be the most mature and level-headed one here. Considering Sai’s insulting Sasuke right now and tensions are high with Sai seemingly taking Sasuke’s place, I was looking to the sky to see if the heavens had opened and bestowed upon me a wonderful moment of proof that Sakura’s a mature ninja who can put aside such personal feelings and keep her team focused on the mission – reflecting those two and a half years of hard work and change.

PBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBB…..No.

Sakura does step between Naruto and Sai when it seems like Naruto might actually start a fight with Sai. She calmly apologizes for Naruto’s behavior and explains that, even though Naruto doesn’t know Sai very well yet, it’s no excuse to judge him so harshly.

………..Then she punches Sai square in the face, knocking him several feet backward and with a scary face she says ‘I don’t care if you forgive me.’ Blah blah blah you don’t know Sasuke blah blah I won’t hold back next time blah.

Seriously, what the hell is up with the wishy washy maturity levels Sakura and Naruto are displaying since we entered Part Two? Is it understandable that Naruto doesn’t trust Sai? Sure. He’s an identity-less wack-a-doo who attacked Naruto before they even met. Is it understandable that Naruto’s uncomfortable with someone taking Sasuke’s place, even temporarily? Definitely.

Is it understandable that Naruto’s yelling out at that top of his lungs that they don’t need another member since the fourth member of their squad is Sasuke and this “loser” will never be Sasuke or anything close to him? No.

It’s especially stupid that Sakura’s like ‘Naruto barely knows you, but that’s not an excuse for him to to judge you.’ and then immediately follows that up with judging Sai herself, even though she barely knows him either. It’s like they’re trying to be badass by covering up immaturity by even worse immaturity and that’s just dumb.

“But, Twix, they’re just teenagers! You can’t expect them to be emotionally stable!” Agreed. Leeway where leeway is appropriate, BUT, like I’ve mentioned before, there’s only so much leeway I can give in that regard given the world they live in.

Children in the Naruto universe, particularly when they’re ninjas, are expected to grow up faster than children in our world would. Children as young as twelve, sometimes younger like with Kakashi and Itachi, are sent on life-threatening missions all the time. They are treated as if they’re still students, and they are, but they’re also full-fledged ninja and are, technically, comrades in arms with Chunin and Jonin, who commonly aren’t even that much older than they are.

For example, Shikamaru is now a Chunin (and so is Sakura) who is proctoring the Chunin exams and taking squads out on missions as team leader – and he has been doing that since he was 12. Temari is a Jonin who is basically acting as an ambassador between Suna and Konoha. And lest we forget that Gaara is the flippin’ Kazekage whose maturity and emotional stability has grown so much in just two and a half years that you almost wouldn’t recognize him.

Sakura and Naruto have both been given special attention and direct individual training by two of the Sannin for the past two and a half years and, if anything, it’s like they reverted in maturity half of the time.

Now Naruto is badmouthing Sai’s art for no reason. I think we’ve reached a point where I can comfortably say Naruto can go fuck himself. What’s the matter? The series can’t reach its angst and attitude quota without Sasuke so now Naruto has to pick up the slack? At least Sakura is being nice about it now and showing a legitimate interest in his art and life (when she discovers the picture of Sai’s brother.)

By the by, I’m not defending Sai’s behavior. He may be emotionless, but he’s been a dick so far.

Sakura does show more restraint after Naruto says he’ll team up with Sai if it helps them bring Sasuke back. She’s about to punch Sai again after he showed more insensitivity towards their relationship with Sasuke, but she acknowledges that he can’t help them to the best of his abilities if he’s injured via Hulk-smash.

Aaaannnnnnddddd…..Sakura’s knocked out by hitting her head on the bridge right as the battle between them and Orochimaru and Kabuto starts. *sigh*

Not only that, but Naruto’s loss of control over the Kyuubi causes the bridge they’re on to collapse and Sakura’s unconscious body falls off of it. She’s saved by Yamato, though.

After Sakura wakes up, the next thing she does, after some conversation with Yamato, is confirm to Kabuto Sasori’s fate….because why not give the enemy more intel for no reason? (Seriously, if they thought Sasori was still alive, Konoha might have been able to use that to their advantage somehow. It’s not much, but think before you speak, Sakura.)

Then she gets pulled away from an attack by Naruto from Yamato.

Realizing Naruto’s current condition, Sakura rushes towards him and tells him she’ll save Sasuke so he doesn’t have to keep suffering in the Kyuubi form…which, while noble….is also really, really, REALLY dumb. It’s been made clear that Naruto has no control over himself right now – as evidenced by the massive amounts of destruction and nearly turning Sakura and Yamato into shish kabobs – but she still decides to rush right towards him. Of course, Yamato needs to save her from Naruto’s wrath and, of course, she gets wounded anyway.

Again, you’re perfectly utilizing Tsunade’s training advice of trying not to get wounded or killed as much as humanly possible because the team needs their medic, Sakura. Just perfect.

To her credit, she does ask Yamato if he can teach her the jutsu used to pacify Naruto. She’s seemingly biologically unable to do so so, however, since he has the First Hokage’s cells inside of him and they’re the only ones that can utilize the jutsu. Due to her wounds, she also suffers from pain while trying to heal Naruto, but does her duty anyway.

This exchange was sweet but also a little irritating.

Sakura: “The only things I can ever do for Naruto…are these little things.” I really thought the point of the last two and a half years was to allow you to grow outside of that box, so nice to see you’re still in it. /sarcasm

Again, It’s good that she at least acknowledges that she has these shortcomings but we’re only a little bit into Part Two and we’re right back to ‘I can’t do much to help.’ Giving her some big credit, though, she is healing Naruto pretty quickly from the wounds he received from his four-tailed state, and from what Jiraiya said about the first time he transformed that far, his wounds must have been pretty severe. Considering they really need Naruto on this mission, getting him back on his feet is no easy…well….feat.

It’s just a bit disheartening knowing that her biggest obstacle as a character is trying to keep up with Naruto and Sasuke and she really just…can’t and never will. She takes two steps forward and they take an airplane to the next country.

Yamato: “It doesn’t matter whether the things you do for him are large or small…what matters is how much you care about Naruto.” Realistically, he’s right. From a narrative standpoint….eeehhhhh.

Someone’s ship teasing the NaruSaku fans…

Sakura lies to Naruto about the damage caused by him since he doesn’t remember doing it. I don’t really feel strongly either way about this. It’s understandable that she’d lie since he’d probably feel like garbage about what he did, especially considering Sakura got wounded by him, and there’s no real benefit to telling him, at least not now.

Because Sakura’s wound was caused by the Kyuubi’s chakra, Sakura is unable to heal it fully and it basically acts like an acid or poison, so she’s a wounded duck for now and they need to stop their pursuit to let her rest.

No big note to end this entry on besides Sakura reading Sai’s picture book and getting a sneak peak at Sasuke.

————————————–

A lot of stuff happened in this entry, and it was quite the roller coaster of progress in Sakura’s character.

On the other hand….

As I pointed out, Sakura does show a lot of growth after the time skip. She’s more mature, she’s developed many useful skills, and she’s become a medical-nin with abilities that have already surpassed much more experienced shinobi in her field. I may have my qualms with the battle itself and her role in it, but Sakura also faced down an Akatsuki member when, last we saw of her in battle, she couldn’t even take on the Genin-level Sound-nin or even friggin’ Ino without being laid out at the end.

She’s Hulk-smashing shit, she’s eager to learn and even though she still does cry numerous times throughout this entry, she’s not bawling at the drop of a hat or simply staying on the sidelines anymore. She’s also grown as a ninja in regards to her teamwork with Naruto. As shown in the bell test with Kakashi, she gives his ideas, even seemingly goofy ones, more credit than she would have in the past and she’s working with him not against him. She’s no longer snickering at his failures or hoping for his downfall.

That being said, the improvement is not as sharp as I’d like.

She’s being very impulsive and illogical, especially where Sasuke is concerned. She’s screaming threats at her enemies, she’s punching her comrades, and she’s ignoring Tsunade’s guidance to stay reserved and defensive in order to stay alive and well to treat her teammates if need be. I can’t count how many times she suddenly flung herself into danger unnecessarily.

Her position as a medical-nin also basically means she’s now solidified as being the one teammate who will always need to be protected and never put on the front lines unless absolutely necessary, and that’s a little irritating – made all the more irritating considering there were already many times where Sakura needed to be rescued or otherwise protected by her teammates.

I know it seems like I’m being contradictory for dinging her on rushing into danger while also dinging her for needing to be saved just as much as she used to back in Part One, but the thing is a good medical ninja – or just a good ninja in general – needs to find a balance between being effective in offense, defense and evasion.

The one time where it seemed like she did find this balance, kinda anyway, was when Sasori stabbed her. She healed herself while she was being stabbed and kept him in place that way, but 1) She shouldn’t have allowed herself to get stabbed in the first place, there were better options, and 2) this technically didn’t matter as she ended up on the brink of death afterwards anyway. Maybe this did give Chiyo the opening to cut through his weak point, but I think Hulk-smashing him in the right spot would’ve have achieved the same aim.

Speaking of the battle with Sasori, that was a really confusing and lackluster battle debut of time skipped Sakura. She was used as a puppet for a good chunk of it, which is disappointing, but Sasori and Chiyo seem really impressed with what she was doing. Chiyo praises her for having good evasion when I thought for certain Sakura was being pulled by Chiyo most of the time. They always made a point to draw the chakra strings, so I’m doubly confused.

She definitely Hulk-smashed on her own, which was good. She also had the forethought to make three antidotes and bring two with her in case they ran into Sasori, which was very smart. She had the skills and knowledge to save Kankuro from the poison when no one in Suna could, including Chiyo, which is really impressive.

Later on, she also healed Naruto from a fairly terrible state after he reverted back from four-tails, which was impressive, even if Yamato wants to leave him behind after being mostly healed (He’s still very weak and falling over.)

This entry really has been a massive mixed bag for Sakura, but the highs were higher and the lows weren’t quite as low. I’m certainly thankful for the development Sakura has gotten, but I can’t help but feel they’re still holding back on making her really astound me. Plus, even though Sasuke is not present for most of this chapter cluster to outshine her, Naruto still is. Hell, Gaara still is, for that matter. It’s hard to be truly floored by Sakura’s Hulk-smashes and medical prowess when Gaara’s guarding an entire village with his sand while fighting an Akatsuki member by himself and Naruto is leveling a 1000 foot radius with his Kyuubi powers and nearly killing Kabuto and Orochimaru without thinking.

Speaking of Sasuke, this was the first cluster where we were completely free of Sasuke, barring a bit at the end. Meaning, we finally get to see Sakura fully without Sasuke’s direct influence. I can’t help but wonder where Sakura would be right now had Sasuke not left the village. She still had a drive to better herself, but she wasn’t doing anything with it. She was doting on Sasuke and stagnating like a puddle in an alleyway.

With Sasuke gone, she’s become an apprentice to a Sannin, she’s become an incredible medical-nin on her way to surpassing Tsunade, she’s….kinda matured….And the only reason I say ‘Kinda’ there is because, even though she has shown a lot of mental and emotional growth, she’s at her worst, maturity-wise, in Part Two when Sasuke is involved. Sakura’s making rash decisions and calling out a frickin’ Akatsuki member with loud threats? Happened because he mentioned Orochimaru, which implied Sasuke. Sakura socks her teammate so hard he flies several feet backward? Happened because he badmouthed Sasuke.

Then again, while Sasuke’s influence was hindering her, he is technically responsible for her growth, in a way, too. Afterall, she’s mainly doing all of this so she can bring Sasuke back home. And once Sasuke’s back, I’m not sure she continues improving beyond what she had already achieved. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

I’m actually pretty bummed we’re moving out of this chapter cluster because Sasuke is definitely returning in the next one, and I’m very worried it will result in more backwards development for Sakura. I’m not saying she’d gush over him like she used to, I’m almost certain she wouldn’t, but I do fear that she’d be paralyzed with pre-time-skip-Sakura uselessness if she came into contact with him. I’m pretty sure she never throws a punch in his direction over the entirety of the manga, so, whenever he’ll be the enemy, she’ll most certainly be a passive party. I definitely know some very questionable things will happen in this regard, but let’s save that for next time.

Speaking of next time, there’s a whole lot going on in the next cluster, but how much Sakura actually has to do over the following 100 chapters, considering the very wide focus, is up in the air. Hopefully, we have some great things to look forward to with her, though. If she’s not still not wowing me, maybe she can at least get some spotlight and growth.


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