Analyzing the Criticized: Sakura Haruno (Naruto) Part 2 – Chapters 101-200: Deeper Problems Starting to Bloom

See Part One Here

Chapters 101-120 (Chunin Exam Finals and the Start of the Attack of Konoha)

Sakura Analysis Part 2 1

Sakura’s not very active during this period because so much of it is the Chunin exam finals, and Sakura’s role is to merely observe (And wait for Sasuke to arrive for ten of these chapters…Just to get this off my chest – I fully agree with Shikamaru. Sasuke and Kakashi’s big overly dramatic arrival is a little irritating when they had everyone waiting. I kinda wanted them to follow that up with “Oh sorry, Sasuke, you got disqualified for making us wait about an hour. Nice pizzazz, though.”)

However, there are some points of note.

Sakura again feels a pang of jealousy when Naruto shows how powerful he is and how much he’s grown when he defeats Neji.

I especially like her saying that watching him makes her want to work even harder. She’s not only showing that she has definitely come to respect Naruto, but he is also actively inspiring her. It’s a nice circle too, considering Naruto got as far as he did in his fight with Neji by remembering the people who have inspired him, like Hinata and Rock Lee, who were inspired by him as well.

….However, as you’ll note, not a damn person was inspired by Sakura’s fight. *cough*

The second annual Naruto character popularity poll is listed in these chapters, and I didn’t think to note the first one back then because I didn’t find it relevant, but considering the topic at hand and the fact that I don’t have much to write about yet, I feel I should point this one out.

In the first popularity poll, Sakura ranked fifth.

In the second popularity poll…….she ranked 14th…..

Ouch is an understatement. Allow me to point out some notable characters who beat her as further evidence of the disdain towards Sakura starting to show up. Gamabunta, the frog who appeared in all of one chapter so far – Jiraiya who, at this point really hasn’t done much but train Naruto for a while and perv on girls – Hayate Gekko, the drowsy-looking proctor of the prelims who didn’t do much else but get murdered – and the fifth Hokage who has barely shown his non-mountain face in this manga at all and has yet to get a speaking role.

She’s not even the highest ranking kunoichi – Hinata takes that spot at #6.

Granted, she never falls this far again, but she never meets or surpasses her first ranking in the future. In fact, she struggles to stay in the top ten. The last popularity poll, taken in 2011, leaves her at 12th place.

Since we’re still not getting much in the realm of Sakura right now, let me babble for a while. The endless Sasuke praise and adoration is irritating enough, especially considering he is literally being given preferential treatment because he’s the special Uchiha kid everyone wants to see fight so no disqualification for him being late, but then he has to come in being a literal copy of Rock Lee.

I get it, Sharingan user means he can copy whatever he’s seen, but this specific instance really bugs me. Rock Lee worked his ass off day in and day out for a few years to get to the levels of speed and taijutsu skill at which he has peaked to this point. Sasuke trains all of a month and he’s matched Lee’s physical abilities – his top speed, his hand-to-hand combat, his jutsus – all of it.

Sure, he can’t open the chakra gates (or maybe he can, he did see that happen too) and these abilities still take their toll, but it breaks my heart to see Rock Lee hobbling around on crutches after a near-death experience against Gaara using everything he had as he watches Sasuke implement his own moves against Gaara and drive him into a state of desperation he couldn’t get him into even by sacrificing his body to achieve that goal. And Sasuke’s barely even tired or injured at this point.

Do you see what I mean when I say I hate ‘geniuses’ and ‘prodigies’?

I’m not saying the Sharingan is cheating – as ninja, which are basically soldiers, they’re perfectly allowed to use whatever powers and bloodline abilities they have to come out on top, even if they’re overpowered or cheap. I take this more as being a massive shortcut. It’s things like this that make feats of certain characters seem less impressive to me.

People can look at this and go ‘Wow, Sasuke’s such an impressive badass.’ but I feel underwhelmed.

Rock Lee is so impressive because he reached this insane level of skill and power at his age with a handicap, not with any born advantages like many ninja have. His main powers are determination and self-discipline. On sheer willpower, he managed to match top dog ninjas time and again, even if the series commonly doesn’t let him have the limelight. Neji’s natural genius, bloodline powers and talent were a perfect foil for him. Neji may be cool, but he’ll never be as cool as Rock Lee to me, nor will Sasuke.

And hey, just to loop around back to Sakura, that IS a point on her side of the scoreboard. Even Ino and Hinata have bloodline traits that give them an edge, but Sakura doesn’t. We don’t know much about her home life besides barely seeing her parents once and that was anime-exclusive. She doesn’t come from some special clan, she has no kekki genkai, she has no curse mark or demons inside of her – she’s just Sakura.

However, the reason that she’s nowhere near as impressive as Rock Lee is because her work ethic up until this point seems mostly relegated to the basics – book learnin’ and basic skills. Like many have pointed out, she has spent a majority of her time being preoccupied with flirting and impressing Sasuke. She gets really good grades, but she doesn’t go beyond that. She’s one of the top kunouchi in her class, but she doesn’t strive to learn any powerful jutsu or focus on a particular area of strength.

I don’t want to chalk that up to laziness, because she doesn’t seem like she’s lazy. I want to say she’s lost.

She doesn’t have an identity as a ninja yet. Even in regards to the writing, she’s in a very confusing state. She’s super smart, but not as smart as Sasuke, Neji or Shikamaru. She’s skilled with chakra control, but they don’t do anything with that. She’s supposedly good with Genjutsu, but we already know how contradictory that statement has been. She’s one of the top kunoichi in her class, but in battle she ties with Ino, who is supposedly in the middle or back of the pack.

I think one of the reasons she was jealous of Naruto wasn’t just realizing yet again that he’s on a completely different level than her – it was knowing Naruto knew exactly who he was and wanted to be as a ninja. As the character descriptions state time and again in each volume, Sakura’s main goal is to ‘win Sasuke’s heart.’ Meanwhile Naruto’s is to become hokage and Sasuke’s is to get vengeance for his clan. One of these things is not like the others.

Sakura has finally realized how far she truly falls short as a ninja, but she has no direction on what she wants to be as a ninja or, realistically, a person. Winning the heart of an edgelord is not a goal of a ninja nor is it really a viable goal as a person as we’ll delve into soon enough. And it’s not until Tsunade starts training her that she actually has direction, purpose and a goal as a ninja…….even if that goal is heavily centered around Sasuke, but, again, we’ll get to that later.

That’s likely one of the reasons why Sakura is seen as so much better once the time skip rolls around. She’s not only more skilled, serious and powerful with her own fairly unique set of skills (being fair, all of the main characters adopted and adapted most of their techniques from their elders), but she also has direction.

Once the attack is launched on the Chunin exam and most people fall under the Genjutsu, one of the enemies points out that realizing the Genjutsu and being able to use a jutsu to release it is to be expected of Konoha’s elite. Immediately after he says this, we see Sakura releasing the Genjutsu on herself as well.

FINALLY an actual implication that she’s good at catching Genjutsu and can easily escape it. Too bad there’s so much more evidence to the contrary that this actually seems weird. I almost feel like she was just taking a beat from Kakashi and Gai, seeing them do it before her.

While worrying about Sasuke, given the attack from Orochimaru, Sakura gets attacked by two enemy ninja. Kakashi rushes in to save her…..This attack has absolutely no point besides to show Sakura getting saved again.

Kakashi points out that she has a natural talent for Genjutsu again, which is par for the course at this point, roll your eyes and move on, but he also said something that made me raise an eyebrow. He said he’s glad he trained her in Genjutsu during ninja survival training….Uhm….when did this happen?…And why are you lying?

Kakashi never gave Sakura any specific training, and any training she did with Naruto and Sasuke never involved Genjutsu, that we saw anyway. The only instance I can think of was the bell test where Kakashi placed a Genjutsu on her to make her think Sasuke was mortally wounded – and that made her faint!

Sakura is recruited to break the Genjutsu on Naruto and Shikamaru to take on an A-rank mission. She’s very clearly nervous and apprehensive, but, to her credit, she doesn’t panic. Shikamaru recognized and broke free from the Genjutsu (he pretended to be asleep) so she doesn’t get to break him free.

Chapter 118 does not put any good light on Sakura at all.

There’s a fairly decent opportunity for Sakura’s character growth here. One of the aforementioned overlooked aspects of her character is in the fact that she’s supposedly very smart. Since she was shown to be quite nervous a moment ago, Kakashi might have relied on Sakura’s knowledge to help command a squad to carry out his mission. Sakura could bungle it up a bit at first, her fear getting in the way, especially since Kakashi brought up the Hidden Mist mission, of which Sakura holds bad memories, but ultimately she could come through and manage to effectively lead the squad for at least a while.

This would also give her a better moment of glory than whatever the hell happened in the Chunin exam prelims.

However, Kakashi ordered her to recruit Shikamaru, who was recently proven to be a tactical genius with an IQ over 200. And since he was also touted to be the one who would be most fitting as a Chunin out of that year’s group, it’s a no-brainer that he’d basically be leader and brains of their temporary squad.

But he went a bit overboard.

He made Sakura look about as stupid as Naruto with her suggestions, and even described her as ‘A kunoichi with no particular talent.’ I’ve stated that it’s a bit annoying when they press Sakura’s ‘she’s really smart’ button when trying to give her props when she’s in a team with Sasuke the genius, but this moment made me really glad they didn’t opt to put her in a team with Shikamaru – especially considering his outward sexism.

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Secondly, Sakura immediately believes Shikamaru probably ran away when he goes off to basically sacrifice himself to be a decoy to the nine pursuing ninja. Not only is that insulting and a poor testament to Sakura’s faith in her comrade, but that doesn’t even make any sense. If Shikamaru wanted to save his ass and run, he’d just do it. He wouldn’t come up with an elaborate plan, pretend to be the décoy in said plan and then run off.

Chapters 121-140 (Conclusion of the attack on Konoha + Battle against Gaara)

Sakura’s not present in half of these chapters because there’s other stuff going on that has nothing to do with her, namely the Third Hokage’s battle against Orochimaru, Shino’s battle against Kankuro and Sasuke’s battle against Gaara.

However, I will note something. When Naruto finally arrives on the scene, he makes a dramatic entrance by kicking Gaara in the face (Does that mean now Naruto’s too fast for Gaara’s protective sand? Come on.) as he’s about to attack Sasuke.

Sakura’s entrance is rushing to Sasuke’s side and fretting over him. Granted, he is out of chakra and the curse mark is taking over again, but still. Contrast.

Also, there’s a weird spot, shown above, where Sakura seems like she’s not even paying attention to what’s going on around her, gets pissed off when Naruto tries to ask her about their enemy, literally goes ‘grrr’ when she looks at Gaara and explains…. “That’s the guy who knocked Sasuke down.” I don’t know if the translation is just weirdly worded, but that sounds like a little kid getting angry at a bully.

And let me remind everyone, Sasuke chased after Gaara so they could have this fight, yet Sakura’s acting like Gaara sought him out.

To her credit, Sakura does jump in the way of Gaara as he tries to attack Sasuke (Though her stance is kinda weird if you ask me. Really limits your attacks if you hold your kunai down that low, doesn’t it?)

But, of course, she can’t do a damn thing and just gets slammed against the tree. Her willing to put her life at risk to protect someone precious to her creates an additional instance of emotional turmoil for Gaara, for what that’s worth.

Sakura spends a good chunk of the rest of this section being pinned to a tree and being a damsel in distress. Gaara has separated some of his sand from his body to keep her pinned to the tree and it’s slowly constricting her. Unless Naruto beats Gaara, she’ll be crushed to death.

So glad she was able to break free from that Genjutsu just so she could do literally nothing useful and become a damsel in distress. Bravo.

I love how when Naruto’s thinking about examples of people acknowledging him, Sakura’s segment is asking him about Sasuke and him desperately trying to get her to pay attention to him….

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Hey, now. Sasuke showing concern for Sakura. Sasuke tells Naruto to save Sakura no matter what and to run away with her while he makes a distraction. He also includes her as one of his ‘precious comrades.’

Tell you the truth, though, all of the dialogue in play, this is just as much a NaruSasu moment as it is a SasuSaku moment.

Gamakichi refers to Sakura as Naruto’s girl….That probably irritated me more than it should.

Some people like to also give flak to Gaara for becoming Kazekage later and being a good friend to Konoha and Naruto when he’s basically a reformed serial killer. Many people don’t give him too much leeway just because of his sordid past (“Cool motive, still murder.”), but considering he also suffered from endless insomnia possibly since birth and had his sanity chewed on by a demon whenever he did get some semblance of rest, it makes more sense to pardon his actions and believe his development when he gets a better grasp on Shukaku and comes to change his views on love and affection. His sanity is slowly repairing itself, somewhat symbolically, through the love he witnesses and eventually obtains from his friends and family.

I’ll probably bring this back up way later down the line when we get to some more questionable reformations, but since we’re focusing on Gaara right now, I thought that’d be the best time to discuss that…..Sakura’s still stuck to a tree afterall.

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Sakura got unstuck from the tree. Caught by Sasuke, showing a tiny bit more caring for her.

Chapters 141 – 160 (The Aftermath of the Attack on Konoha + Finding Tsunade)

In a flashback, Sakura initially doesn’t believe that Naruto was responsible for defeating Gaara, saving her from the Sand Gauntlet. She’d rather gush over Sasuke and believe he was responsible and that he’s just being modest. Sasuke, however, does convince her, and even though she’s not seen thanking Naruto, she does smile and seemingly respect what he did.

Sakura’s only other appearance in this section is briefly being seen sitting at Sasuke’s hospital bed side saying “Sasuke….”

Yup, 20 chapters and those are Sakura’s only appearances. Granted, the story as of now doesn’t really call for her – Naruto’s been away for most of it, but still. If you were just casually reading this, you’d be seriously questioning whether Sakura’s actually a main character or not.

Chapters 161 – 180 (Tsunade’s Decision + The Battle Between the Sannin + Coming Home with the Fifth Hokage)

Sakura’s still not in a good portion of this part, but….Alright, since I didn’t really have much else to say, I wanted to make an observation. I am in no way slamming Tsunade, but I couldn’t help but make this parallel. Even though Tsunade was holding her own, she was still very evenly matched and nearly losing to Kabuto, whom Orochimaru stated earlier was only on level ground with Kakashi. No sleight to Kakashi either, but he’s not a Sannin. I’m just saying……is Tsunade basically the Sakura of her team?

I’m not saying the skill and power difference is as great as Sakura’s with Sasuke and Naruto, but she really doesn’t seem to be on the same level as Orochimaru or Jiraiya. During this battle she needed to be saved twice. And the first time she was facing Kabuto only.

So the first instance we see of Sakura in this chunk of the story is a brief image of her and Ino looking all crazy as Shikamaru goes off bad-mouthing all woman-kind.

And the first shot we actually see of her…..is…..At Sasuke’s bedside….And Tsunade notes that she seems to have been going there every single day. Wow.

Look, I get that this is kinda sweet, but from all I can tell she has literally done nothing with the time Naruto has been gone, which is a couple weeks I think, besides sit on her ass and mope about Sasuke. While Naruto was off working his ass off to learn the most powerful move he’s ever mastered, one that will become his signature attack technique throughout his lifetime, she’s been doing nothing. Even Rock Lee was training while actually being a PATIENT in this hospital after getting his body viciously mangled, but Sakura’s just been sitting there like a lump on a log….

What happened to the Sakura who was sick of people getting hurt protecting her and being gung-ho about proving herself? You don’t only do that in the field, Sakura. You have to actually be active when you don’t have missions. You have to learn new jutsu or make up your own. Kakashi might be out of commission for the moment, but surely there are other instructors who can take over for a while, if she absolutely needs someone to help her, even if there is a shortage of people in the village lately.

However, we clearly see most of the other teams are training in their off-time, whether it be as a hobby or not, even without an instructor nearby. Sakura has no excuse to be doing nothing.

And for the record, Sakura spends the rest of the first chapter she’s really been seen in for ages crying and hugging Sasuke…..

Meanwhile, in the next chapter, Sakura is peeling an apple for Sasuke and cutting it up into itty bitty pieces for him to eat more easily…..Sakura, sweetie, he’s just tired – he’s not a three year old.

Wow, I missed this the first time around. You’re internally cheering that you peeled…an…apple. Sakura, I know people like to joke that you’re useless, but when you’re starting to pat yourself on the back for successfully peeling fruit, I think it’s time to take a good hard look at yourself.

When Sakura presents the apples to him, he’s gotten himself so pissed off thinking of how Naruto is pulling ahead of him in skill and power that he growls at her and smacks the plate out of her hands. Then he just glowers out the window without a single thought of remorse or apology.

The girls really aren’t getting a lot of love in these few chapters anyway. Tenten’s just there, Hinata is shown being jealous that Kiba and Shino have hobbies and Ino keeps ragging on Choji for eating too much and being fat. She states that she would never get Sasuke if she ever put on weight, and tells Choji to stop eating too much or else he’ll never a girl. What a bitch.

I find this dialogue to be really weird too, because she should know very well that a large portion of Choji’s skill as a ninja comes from his weight.

The apple thing gets even worse when, gasp, Sasuke steps on one of the apple pieces on the floor. Dammit, Sasuke, you might as well be stepping on her heart!

During the match between Naruto and Sasuke, all she does is stand there looking on with concern and nearly kills herself trying to stop them from fighting (Can’t help but wonder how the series would have gone had they killed her. Not as a jab at Sakura, but something like their rivalry killing their teammate and friend would have seriously messed Naruto and Sasuke up for life.)

And once Kakashi stops them and saves Sakura, she just cries….And then Kakashi tries to cheer her up instead of talking to her like an adult….Seriously, “Don’t worry, things will be the way they used to be.”? You don’t know that. Don’t promise that, especially with Sasuke clearly going off the deep end. He did something similar when they returned for the Chunin exams when he told her the curse mark was nothing to worry about when it clearly is.

Just a moment ago, Iruka was talking to Naruto like a fellow shinobi about how he needs to help the village out and take missions whenever asked. And here Kakashi is basically ‘Santa is real’ing Sakura….

Later, Naruto tells Sakura to not get in his way. Oh goodie, even Naruto’s giving her shit now.

When Naruto, of all people, is subtly saying you just did something stupid and reckless, again, it’s probably time to take a good hard look at yourself.

Sakura does make the decision to go against Sasuke’s wishes and tell Naruto about the curse mark and Orochimaru, and he tells her it’s okay because Sasuke’s too strong to be tempted by Orochimaru. This is basically the same thing Kakashi’s doing, but at least here Naruto probably believes it himself.

Sakura’s also remembering all this while lazing about in the window. Ya know, times like these might prompt some characters to think they should’ve been stronger to stop their friends from fighting and maybe become more determined to train harder and get stronger so they won’t be ‘in the way’…….Some characters.

You might argue that there’s not enough time to give Sakura a lot of focus or develop her much right here, but Shikamaru, Choji and Rock Lee are all getting mounds of development in this section and none of the main plot involves them at all right now.

Meanwhile, Rock Lee’s story never fails to make me want to sob. Please give him all of the good things in the world forever.

Chapters 181-200 (Sasuke’s Departure – Battle Against the Sound Four for Sasuke: Choji and Neji’s battles)

 

The start of this section is one of the biggest moments for Sakura and SasuSaku in the entire series.

Sakura is keeping watch over the only path out of the village because she’s concerned Sasuke will leave, which he does. She starts off kinda funny because she tries to remind him of the time when he yelled at her for acting like Naruto had it made…..Ya know….being an orphan.

And he told her she made him sick.

She brought that up as the start of them being a team…..but it really wasn’t. The start of them being a team and opening up to each other a little was probably during the bell test.

Him yelling at her over what she said is definitely the first time he even slightly shared anything about himself to her, but he never said anything in regards to his own situation. He was just pointing out what a shitty thing it is to say that an ORPHAN has it good because their parents don’t nag them. Anyone would say that.

She goes on to talk about how fun it was being a team together, that she understands his loneliness and, even with her friends and family around her that, if Sasuke leaves, she’ll be very lonely too. This is kinda sweet, but sounds kinda shitty when it immediately follows her saying she understands Sasuke’s loneliness. Again, Sakura, no you don’t. You don’t understand loneliness. You definitely don’t understand the loneliness either Naruto or Sasuke has felt before.

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And I swear to god if someone brings up her being bullied for her forehead I will lose it.

It still doesn’t work. Sasuke affirms that they’re just all going on different paths. His is of revenge. Hers is…wherever.

Then she starts sobbing (though she’s been crying this entire time) and yells out that she’s so in love with Sasuke that she can’t stand it. She’ll do anything if he stays in Konoha. She’ll do whatever she can to make him happy – even help him exact revenge. Because swearing a blood oath over a crush…..that’s healthy.

Then….she does something I’ve always kinda hated Sakura for……she offers to go with him to Orochimaru.

……………..And then what, Sakura? And. Then. What? You’ll sit by cutting up apples for Sasuke as Voldemort trains him in the dark arts? You’ll join in? Have to hope their team has room for someone whose skills amount to high chakra control, pretend Genjutsu talent and cutting her hair.

I know it probably seems like I’m being too pissed at this, but I have justification. It’s not just that going with Sasuke to Orochimaru is dumb, it’s that she’s willing to BETRAY HER VILLAGE to stay with a guy who has only barely ever given her the time of day before because she can’t stop writing ‘Sakura Uchiha’ in her ninja textbooks.

You can shout your love for him all you want, Sakura. It’s not real. The fact that your most seemingly cherished moment with Sasuke is when he yelled at you and said you made him sick is telling enough.

The fact that you think you understand Sasuke’s feelings in the slightest, after acknowledging that you know what happened to his clan, just because you’ll be sad your eye candy won’t be around anymore is more than enough.

But the fact that you’re willing to either kiss his ass to make him stay or follow him, betraying your village as well as all of your friends and family, to someone who MURDERED THE THIRD HOKAGE and god knows how many other people – the guy who cursed Sasuke and caused him untold amounts of pain, is the frosting on the cake, the cherry on top and the little umbrella in the drink.

I can understand she has good intentions, really I do, but this confrontation paints her in such a bad and immature light. She’s twelve, so I guess I can’t hate on her too much for acting like this, even though you’d think she’d be much smarter and more mature by now, especially considering the maturity levels of a lot of her peers, but it doesn’t make it any less obnoxious.

Sasuke smirks and tells her she’ll never change, which I never really understood if that was meant to be a compliment or an insult. She threatens to scream if he leaves, which causes him to fwoosh behind her, thank her, which is kinda nice (How is Sasuke the non-annoying one in this situation?) and then knocks her out and leaves her on a bench.

The next day, Sakura tells Tsunade’s associates of what happened, which sends her into a bit of a panic because now Orochimaru has Sasuke in his clutches and can achieve his ends. Which just brings another stupid thing to light – Sakura, if you were so concerned Sasuke would leave the village soon to the point where you were seemingly pulling all-nighters watching the one path out of the village, why did you not tell Kakashi, Tsunade or any other authority figure? Why did you not have have some method of alerting them if Sasuke was attempting to leave? Maybe a clone or something or some sort of signal.

Even if she didn’t know exactly why Orochimaru wanted Sasuke, she knew he wanted him anyway. She knew the biggest enemy of Konoha at present, one who just pulled off a terrorist attack on Konoha and assassinated its leader, wanted Sasuke. Yet she didn’t think to maybe give a heads up to Kakashi? Leave a note on Tsunade’s desk?

Also, if she truly doesn’t know of Orochimaru’s intentions with Sasuke, that’s the fault of everyone continuing to treat her like a child and choosing to not share vital information like that with her. Not telling everyone, sure, but she’s his damned teammate. Naruto knows, doesn’t he? There’s no excuse.

You can argue that Sasuke would have found some way to leave no matter what they did, but if they really felt he was a danger to Konoha due to his willingness to walk into Orochimaru’s open embrace….lock the kid up. Throw his ass in prison. Use some sort of jutsu to keep him in the village. That’s kinda harsh, yeah, but it’s better than Orochimaru getting what he wants and needs to end Konoha entirely, killing untold amounts of people, and letting one of their most powerful and talented young ninja become another human dynamo with dark powers who intends on mowing down anyone in his way.

After Tsunade enlists Shikamaru to the task of retrieving Sasuke, given that all of the Chu and Jonin as well as some Genin are out on missions, and Shikamaru enlists his team of Genin, Sakura shows up and does what she does best.

Cry.

Shikamaru explains that they can’t bring Sakura along with them because she failed to persuade Sasuke to stay, and even though he doesn’t directly say it, she’d most certainly be a hindrance to them anyway given her lack of notable skills and power and her clear bias towards Sasuke, meaning she’d never be able to bring him back through force. So Sakura instead starts crying and begging Naruto to grant her ‘wish of a lifetime’ to bring Sasuke back.

Naruto obviously agrees, pointing out how much Sakura truly cares about Sasuke, which prompts Sakura to remember a time when she was talking to Naruto as a Sasuke doppleganger telling him how Naruto ruins everything, doesn’t understand her at all, if he had his way, supposedly, she’d never find love or happiness, and she can’t stand to have him anywhere near her. I’m not sure if this is her coming to the realization that that was Naruto or just that she’s reflecting on what a bitch she was then, but either way she realizes that she was wrong about Naruto and that he really does understand her and care.

Before I continue, can I point out that Konoha is very clearly hard up for help on missions, even Iruka told Naruto that he’d probably be called for missions to help out, Iruka himself has been pulled away from the academy to do missions, yet Sakura’s been in Konoha this whole time sitting on her ass and as far as I can tell no one’s asked her to do shit? Is this just convenient, like she hasn’t been picked through some random selection, or does no one….ya know….want her on the team? Or think she’d be useful? I can’t help but think the latter is very possible.

Where is Ino, by the way? I know she’d be nearly as bad as Sakura in the fogged focus area because of Sasuke, but where is she? Tenten’s nowhere to be found either, or Hinata. They explain Shino’s away on a mission with his father – where are all the girls at? Nearly all of the boys in Konoha, barring Rock Lee for obvious reasons, are going on this mission. Why isn’t at least Hinata, the one girl in all of Konoha whose heart doesn’t go pitter patter at the mere thought of Sasuke, being asked to go along? I know Shikamaru is sexist but at least explain where the girls are or why none of them were considered for this mission.

The end of the chapter has a picture of Sakura looking at the reader with a frown. Yeah, I’m not happy either, Sakura.

Sakura’s obviously not a part of a vast majority of these chapters after this point either. So….let’s continue to explore more reasons why practically every other character in this series is more interesting than Team 7 – Today’s excerpt: Neji and Choji….but mostly Choji.

I’m really enjoying that Neji has chilled out so much. He’s still a bit of a superior air around him, but it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. Naruto and Kiba are being much more obnoxious in looking down on others, namely Choji and, for a minute, Shikamaru, in this part of the story, so it’s nice to see such a talented and skilled ninja actually be chill and helpful instead of snotty or emo.

As for Choji, his is another arc that never fails to bring a tear to my eye. Choji may be a bit on the annoying side when it comes to him outside of battles and missions, mostly because his shtick pretty much just amounts to ‘Haha, he’s fat. Haha he eats a lot.’ but when he’s set on something, he’s serious, he’s smart, he’s skilled and he’s incredibly determined to prove himself and defend his best friend, Shikamaru.

This is one of the best moments of badassery in the entire series, and it’s pulled off by the fat comic relief guy whose final form is a butterfly.

And not only that, but this plotline is actually relevant to our main topic.

Choji was ostracized from the other kids because he was overweight, yeah, but people also tend to think Choji’s stupid and useless on top of that, even though Shikamaru goes on record saying he is, by far, the strongest Genin in their group. Thanks to the support of Shikamaru, he has been able to keep his head up, continue moving forward and become a great ninja, no matter what others, including Ino and Asuma, who should know better, think of him. He’s able to take down one of the Sound Four, willfully giving his life to do so.

And, no lie, when I first saw this part of the story in the anime I legitimately thought Choji had died. And I cried. This storyline made me cry over the only person in the Chunin exams who had a more pitiful performance than Sakura – and that’s counting Tenten, because at least in the anime her fight was a little entertaining.

Especially when he reached the trees and saw the arrow carvings, knowing Shikamaru put them there, realizing Shikamaru had enough trust in Choji’s abilities to do as he claimed he would, beat the enemy and catch up.

We keep getting similar characters who are put down for being useless, talentless burdens on their teams like Choji and Rock Lee, and when it comes to their times to shine they get these grand, amazing storylines that pluck every heartstring you have. But when Sakura, a main friggin’ character with this same problem, is given a shot at proving herself she ends up with either a haircut or a double KO against people like Ino. Choji just beat one of Orochimaru’s bodyguards, who has a curse mark, who triggered his final form with this mark, and Sakura….couldn’t beat….Ino.

Also, I really like the dynamic the five of them have. I mean, yeah, Kiba and Naruto are generally being irritating brats, but they work really well together. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses that work in tandem with the others, and, given a bit more time, they’d probably be a powerhouse of a ninja squad…….still salty there’s not a single girl here, though.

Neji’s fight is not as interesting, in my opinion. It’s more tense seeing him actually struggle with someone and not constantly blather on about destiny and fate and whatnot (He does bring it up at the end, though), but I think it drags on a bit long. Just a little bit. Also, I can’t get as emotionally charged from Neji’s story when his crescendo is that so many people don’t see him as a failure, but as a genius and he can’t let those people down. They try to do the same death fakeout that Choji got, but, again, it’s not tugging my heartstrings as much.

————————————

Overall, this cluster of chapters really doesn’t reflect well on Sakura, which is shame because the first part of this analysis series actually gave me quite a bit more respect for her and now it’s fading pretty fast. There are so many more moments where she frustrated the hell out of me and much fewer moments where she was actually redeeming herself. And, sadly, none where she was really impressive.

I’m debating how much of that is her fault because she’s simply not a part of most of the storylines that are happening in this section. She’s just not given anything to do. Chapters 1-100 focused almost exclusively on Team 7. The Hidden Mist arc, the first few sections of the Chunin exam – all of them had the team together and gave focus to them as a team, usually. But the start of this cluster is where the team starts falling apart, which I guess means Sakura just gets less focus by default.

I can easily say that a majority of that isn’t her fault, but when you think about it, it really is.

She’s shaking too? Have some dignity, Sakura.

She’s not really part of the Chunin exam arc after the prelims. That’s kinda her fault because she hasn’t been doing enough training to beat Ino, of all people.

She’s not being given special training for the main event of the Chunin exams because she’s not in them because see above.

She has little to no use in the attack on Konoha because she hasn’t bothered trying to train and improve herself during the Chunin exam off time anyway – despite her drive being to get stronger and more skilled so she won’t be useless and cause people more pain and grief.

She’s not of any use in the battle against Gaara, and is, depressingly, reduced to a literal damsel in distress.

She’s not involved in the part with retrieving Tsunade, which is the first instance where the fault was entirely out of her hands. However, the entire time this was going on, she was literally doing nothing but doting on comatose Sasuke every day instead of training. They could have easily brought her along, especially considering she’ll be Tsunade’s student later. That could have made for a great baseline of Team 7 connecting with their Sannin counterparts to seek out mentors. But nope.

When Naruto returns, she’s somehow 10x worse in the whiny useless crybaby department to the point where even Kakashi seemingly babies her now. She cuts up an apple for Sasuke like he’s a preschooler and does nothing but cry and nearly force Naruto and Sasuke to murder her as she pulls an Ash in Pokemon The First Movie.

She makes a 10% heartwarming 90% stupid plea, while sobbing, to make Sasuke stay, not properly planning this out at all and nearly betraying her village to stay with him. Then she cries some more to Naruto, not allowed on the mission to get Sasuke back because she’s too useless and Sasuke crazy, and begs him to bring her back.

End of chapter cluster.

It’s a shame, too, because most of what we’ve been getting with the development of side characters, such as Shikamaru, Choji, Rock Lee and even Neji, has been pretty damn great. Why is one of the main characters falling behind so much? Why is Sakura seemingly not even making an effort to do what she keeps saying she wants to do? I mentioned that I thought Sakura was lost, which I still think she is, but she can at least make efforts to improve in the meantime. Her screentime shouldn’t constantly rely on either Naruto or Sasuke.

I probably come off as a bit harsh on her through this part, but I was really starting to lose my patience with her. We go these long gaps without seeing her at all and whenever we do see her, nine times out of ten, she’s reinforcing all of the negative things people have been saying about her for years.

But fear not, reader. We still have a long way to go…whether that’s good or bad is up in the air, but considering Part 3 will be chapters 201-300, which means we’re finally dipping our toes into the time skip chapters, I’d say we have at least a little to look forward to.


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Analyzing the Criticized: Sakura Haruno (Naruto) Part 1 – Chapters 1-100: The Buds of Problems and Promises

Sakura Analysis 1

When it comes to hated female anime characters, few get as much flak as Sakura Haruno of Naruto. The most common complaints about her character include – she’s useless, she’s whiny, she’s obsessed with Sasuke and she’s one of many ‘typical female leads’ where their role is defined by the men in their lives (Either Sasuke or Naruto)

I watched Naruto and a good chunk of Shippuden many moons ago and my opinions were the same. Heck, I slammed her quite a bit over the years and even included her in my entry for ‘Least Favorite Female Sidekick’ in the Salty Anime Challenge.

Everyone agrees that she becomes much better during Shippuden and….I’ll have my time with Boruto later, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still a LOT of talking points regarding her usefulness and simply how she’s portrayed. But it’s been so long and I need another perspective. I need to dive into the details of the criticisms throughout time.

I’m hitting the nostalgia button. I’ve decided to go back and read the Naruto manga, which I’ve never done, to focus firmly on Sakura’s role. Why? To give Sakura a fair shake. To break her down as objectively as possible and try to see how much of the criticism was really warranted while also giving her proper credit when due. If this analysis goes well, I may do similar evaluations to other criticized characters such as Kagome from Inuyasha, Eren from Attack on Titan and Miaka from Fushigi Yuugi. I might even do this for characters I like, though that’s more of a traditional character study than what I’m doing here. We’ll see.

Quick Disclaimer: I am going to be discussing my opinions on certain shippings in this series. I kinda can’t avoid it, honestly, because so much of Sakura’s character is entwined with her relationship to Sasuke, and it’s no secret that I have a lot of criticism for the pairing. HOWEVER, note that I am very much against anti-shipping. I may post heavy criticisms about ships, but at the end of the day I am very respectful of people’s opinions on the matter and never sling hate their way for them. Ship anything you want, it’s fine. No matter if it’s canon or not, like what you like. Have fun.

I, personally, ship Rock Lee and Sakura and Hinata and Naruto (And Temari and Shikamaru, but I doubt that’ll ever come up, really) for a variety of reasons, but I most certainly won’t harp on that. I may bring it up if it has to do with Sakura’s development or if there’s a particularly good comparison to be drawn from it, but otherwise, this series will definitely not be championing any shipping and no shipping hate will be tolerated, that includes the comments.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll be breaking up this series into 100 chapter marks and 20 chapter sections.

Chapters 1-20 (Covering basic training and part of the Hidden Mist Arc)

Even 20 chapters in and there’s already a lot of commonly discussed issues that are brought to the forefront.

Sakura treats Naruto badly. True. However, she’s a 12 year old girl and Naruto is the egotistical class clown who has a crush on her and hates Sasuke, her crush. Even though those facts don’t justify her behavior, it’s somewhat understandable.

What’s not understandable is her comments about how he behaves poorly because he has no parents and that he’s lucky to not have them, in a way, because he doesn’t have his parents hounding him.

When I got to this scene in the manga, I looked up responses online and some people justified this by saying she was explaining his behavior, not mocking him, but I don’t think so. From what we’ve seen of Sakura to this point, she never says anything kind or in defense of Naruto unless someone chews her out or Sasuke acts as an example for her. Both of which happen after the scene in which she makes the aforementioned comment.

Not to mention how unbelievable it is that she didn’t realize she was saying these things to Sasuke of all people. I can’t imagine she didn’t know about the Uchiha family massacre and didn’t connect the dots that, maybe, saying stuff like Naruto acts poorly because he has no parents and is lucky to not have them isn’t the best thing to do in front of a fellow orphan.

Then there’s the moment where they’re practicing climbing trees with their chakra and she actually seems like she’s looking forward to Naruto getting frustrated and quitting.

Sakura Analysis 2

Sakura is obsessed with Sasuke. This is also very true. Nearly every line she gets, either internal or external, somehow involves Sasuke to some extent. If not, she’s merely providing commentary on what she’s watching.

When she has moments of character development, at this point anyway, like rethinking her views on Naruto or giving Naruto some of her lunch during the bell test, she only does so because of Sasuke. He scolds her for her comments on Naruto’s lack of parents – she rethinks her views on Naruto for about ten seconds. Sasuke gives some of his lunch to Naruto first – Sakura follows suit.

Even during a moment where she actually has a time to shine brighter than the boys, a rarity to say the least, her focus is on Sasuke. She climbs the tree easily with her chakra but is upset that Sasuke isn’t impressed with her.

Speaking of chakra control, Kakashi does praise her for this, but it doesn’t come into play as an actual strength of hers until way down the line after the time skip where she uses it for medical purposes and feats of massive physical strength, particularly in punching and kicking. As of right now, her chakra control is only as useful as the ability to climb trees without her hands, and even that won’t be impressive in about one chapter as Naruto and Sasuke learn the ability.

Kakashi also mentions in passing that, despite her great chakra control, her potential power is ‘nothing’ compared to Naruto and Sasuke. While I understand that to a degree, considering she doesn’t have a massively powerful demon living in her and isn’t part of an incredibly powerful bloodline, it’s still a bit irritating to not only have confirmation that she’s the weakest in her team by far, but also that she doesn’t even have the potential to match her comrades’ power.

Also, I could’ve sworn another of Sakura’s strengths was in her being smart. I thought she was at the top of the class, but she’s not. Sasuke has the best grades in class according to Iruka. So she doesn’t even have that going for her.

That also brings about a question of the balance in their teams. Sasuke and Naruto supposedly got paired because the best in the class is balanced by the worst in the class, but where does Sakura fit into this equation?

She’s supposedly the most talented kunoichi of her class but….come on….that’s not really something to brag about. There’s all of five or six girls in her class, only three of which get names.

To her credit, she does attempt to do something brave on her own without even thinking of Sasuke. She jumps in front of Tazuna, the old bridge builder they’re meant to protect, as two enemy ninja attack him. However, the moment is still overshadowed by Sasuke because he suddenly jumps in front of Sakura to protect her. Either this was a brief fleeting moment where Sasuke actually shows concern and caring for Sakura or he knew she wouldn’t be able to do anything to protect Tazuna and was more concerned with the mission. Maybe a little of both.

Chapters 21-40 (The rest of the Hidden Mist Arc and the first part of the Chunin exams)

As you can probably expect, Sakura doesn’t do much in the rest of the Hidden Mist arc. She’s relegated to babysitting Tazuna on the sidelines for the entire fight. Sasuke and Naruto fight Haku, and Kakashi fights Zabuza.

To her credit, she is shown to be very determined to both help her friends and protect Tazuna with all her might. However, the one time Zabuza does break off to attack Tazuna, Kakashi steps in the way.

Granted, it’s not like she can do much now, as I stated before.

This is one of many times where Sakura is massively eclipsed by Naruto and Sasuke off the bat. This arc is where Sasuke awakens his Sharingan and Naruto starts tapping into his nine-tailed fox powers. Obviously, Sakura has nothing grand to show off that even comes close to these abilities, so she’s mostly relegated to being a bodyguard and she doesn’t even really get to do that.

Kakashi also mentions that Sakura’s the brightest mind on the team, which is odd because not only is there the earlier mention of Sasuke getting the best grades, but in almost the same breath as him saying that, he mentions that Sasuke is a genius. It’s hard to be impressed by her intellect if you immediately follow that up with ‘but she’s not as smart as the other main character.’

There’s a slight bit of character development here in that Sakura, without prompt, kinda compliments Naruto. She says Sasuke will never lose to someone like Haku, then she adds that Naruto wouldn’t either.

The only other thing Sakura does during this arc is cry over Sasuke’s body, believing him to be dead then her hugging him and crying more when it’s revealed that he’s alive.

Some people complain about this scene, mostly in regards to, of course, the girl is relegated to crying being one of her only notable actions during the entire arc, but these complaints are easily countered.

1) She just watched her sensei kill a kid her age in a horrible manner mere moments before she found out about Sasuke. She’s already on uneasy ground, emotionally.

2) She doesn’t go to Sasuke until Tazuna offers to go with her in order to properly perform her ninja duties.

3) Before she cries, she explains that part of the shinobi way is to never show your feelings on the battlefield no matter what, like she’s trying to apologize beforehand for breaking this rule.

4) Her comrade, teammate, crush and kinda friend is laying dead on the battlefield. I’m pretty sure anyone would get a pass for crying in that moment.

5) She’s not the only one who cries in this arc. Haku cries, Naruto nearly starts bawling and even Zabuza sheds some tears. You can’t ding the trope of girl tears if several guys are also crying.

Sakura Analysis 3

After the Hidden Mist arc, we get to the Chunin exams where Sakura starts reevaluating her standing in the team after Sasuke chews her out for being more focused on flirting than training and being ‘just as bad as Naruto.’ Trouble is, there’s an entire chapter dedicated to her struggle with this, even named ‘Sakura’s Depression’ but it doesn’t amount to anything.

Sasuke compliments her strategic skills, which haven’t really been displayed yet, and her ability to identify Genjutsu, which also hasn’t really been mentioned up til now. The only experience she’s had in Genjutsu, really, is when Kakashi tried to trick her into thinking Sasuke was terribly wounded, and she didn’t see through that one. She freaked out and fainted….

That is the first instance of Sasuke seemingly being nice to Sakura genuinely, though. I don’t know if he felt guilty for what he said or if he knew she felt useless compared to the two of them, but it was a rare moment of niceness.

Sakura did catch Sasuke after being thrown by Rock Lee, so chalk one up for her.

Chalk up more character development for her too because she believes Naruto is shaking in fear or about to cry in the face of the Chunin exam and she goes to comfort him.

She’s also being very analytical during the first portion of the exam.

Chapters 41-60 (Chunin Examsthe rest of the intel test and part of the Forest of Death)

Sakura’s actually impressive in the first part of the Chunin exam, even if Sasuke figures out the main goal of the test before she does (Actually, it’s a bit unclear whether she figures out the main goal of the test. The furthest she seems to get is that the test almost seems designed to force the participants into cheating.) She’s the only one of the main characters to legitimately answer all of the questions on the exam instead of trying to cheat…..which is the main point of the exercise….which….may mean she actually didn’t do well in this part? Hinata may have also answered the questions herself, but considering she has her Byakugan, that’s questionable. Even Sasuke the ‘genius’ and Neji the ‘genius’ needed to cheat.

She was also willing to take the hit in quitting the exam for the sake of protecting Naruto’s future as a ninja, knowing he’d be too proud to do so himself – completely disregarding that quitting would mean Sasuke would also be forced to fail the exam.

I find it funny that Sakura does this to spare Naruto from being a Genin for the rest of his life, when he stays a Genin for the rest of his life anyway. Not kidding – he never officially advances beyond the point of Genin the entire series until he earns the role of Hokage.

Sakura punches Naruto for trying to take a leak in front of her, which is kinda justified, but the little inner Sakura above her head implies that she’d be fine with Sasuke doing it in front of her…..So either Sakura has a urine kink or she’d love to see Sasuke’s doodad while he’s doing one of the most unsexy things with it. O…kay….Sakura….

Sakura didn’t notice the fake Naruto when she’s supposed to be the smartest one…kinda…Sasuke the genius realizes it immediately. She also does absolutely nothing against the enemy ninja that tries to pull this stunt.

Sakura AGAIN doesn’t detect the fake Naruto in front of her and doesn’t find it odd that he remembered Sasuke’s long complicated password with no issue. Sasuke the genius, again, realizes it immediately.

Also not a big fan of Sasuke needing to put his hand over Sakura’s mouth to keep her quiet. Nor am I a fan of the fact that chapter 47 ends with a page focusing purely on Sakura being paralyzed with fear….

Sakura spends the rest of this fight doing fuck all. In fact, when Naruto is grabbed by Orochimaru, she just stands there yelling “Sasuke, Naruto needs you!” The one thing she does do is stop Naruto from falling.

I do kinda like how she implied that Sasuke was acting cowardly because he was seemingly giving up and submitting to Orochimaru when Naruto was giving it his all. It’s a slight implication, but it is there. And I will admit that her words are what drive Sasuke to getting back in the fight.

They kept saying Sakura has an affinity for Genjutsu, but this is yet another instance of someone using a Genjutsu on her (The death vision) where she couldn’t identify it or break it without help yet Sasuke was able to recognize it, keep moving and break it entirely by hurting himself while Sakura was frozen in fear.

We’re at Sakura’s first big solo moment here, and it’s one I and many other people have slammed pretty hard in the past – her haircut.

But there’s more to it than that.

……But I’m still pissed about.

Let’s break this down. Sasuke and Naruto are both unconscious after their battle with Orochimaru and Sakura is the only one left behind to both care for them and protect them – big responsibility. Big opportunity for growth.

To Sakura’s credit, she does several things here that are worthy of praise. She carefully watches and tends to Sasuke and Naruto all through the night, driving herself to the point of paranoia and exhaustion. She sets booby traps around their camp to help catch intruders, and despite being very visibly afraid, she stands her ground and confidently confronts the other sound-nin when they show up, even name-dropping Orochimaru.

Rock Lee kinda comes in and ruins it A LITTLE. I love that little bushy browed bowlcut, and he’s being sweet here, though on a similarly misguided infatuation level as Sakura is with Sasuke, but I think this confrontation would have been better without his initial interference, mostly because it derails the story into more of a Rock Lee moment than a Sakura one for a bit.

Granted, the fact that Lee fails in his attempt to protect Sakura compounds her guilt that people are always coming to her rescue, getting hurt in the process, and she doesn’t like that.

She does try to combat the sound-nin with some throwing stars, but they’re about as effective as you’d think.

Then comes the moment of truth. One of the sound-nin, Kin, has Sakura by the hair…..Yup. She doesn’t restrain her hands to prevent her from pulling a weapon or making hand signs or just…to not use her hands, she just grabs her by the hair and expects that to be good enough.

Sakura actually pulls out a kunai and Kin, like an idiot, just doesn’t do anything, even though it’s in plain sight and she even acknowledges it. And then, after much buildup, she frees herself by cutting her hair very dramatically.

Everyone looks at her like she just cut her damn arm off.

Now, considering Sakura had been dinged a few times now for being more concerned about her looks and flirting than she was about being serious in her ninja duties, this could be seen as her growing out of that and proving her ninja prowess. Considering that she actually does have a slight moment of badassery after this, that much is certain….but 1) There’s still the glaring part about this also being a big thing because Sakura and Ino both grew their hair long because they had heard a rumor that Sasuke liked girls with long hair. They focus on this aspect, but we all know it doesn’t really matter in this respect because Sakura’s obsession with Sasuke never ends.

2) It’s still just hair, it grows back. Granted, she never does grow her hair back, whether symbolically or because she realized she looks a lot better that way, but still. It’s hair.

3) She has about four pages of badassery in her before she just resorts to biting Zaku and not letting go like an untrained puppy. I give her props for taking that beating, but it was unnecessary. Why didn’t Kin or Dosu do anything to stop it?

4)….In the end, she still gets saved by other people, which is what was she was trying to prove she DIDN’T NEED.

I know, she’s against three people and she’s already exhausted. There’s no way she’d be able to pull something uber powerful out of her butt and defeat them all. I would never expect her to. Considering they just whupped Lee’s ass, it’s completely unrealistic. It’s unrealistic even if Lee never appeared. Even Naruto and Sasuke would have great difficulty taking on three skilled ninja, BUT I have a constructive criticism on how this entire scene could’ve been made eons better.

First of all, maybe restrain Sakura in some way where there would be no way for her to escape without harming herself. It would badass, a definite show of courage and seriousness, and the scar left behind would be proof that she cares more about her stance as a ninja than her looks. Maybe even go the extra mile and put the wound on her face somehow. You don’t need to pull a Berserk, but shed some blood.

Second of all, keep the scene with Sakura fighting the sound-nin alone, but after the biting scene have her get thrown by Zaku then have him try to look for her to finish her off. He can’t find her and, after some time, the other sound-nin realize they’re in a loop (This is inspired by later events). They reveal that Sakura had bitten Zaku as a distraction. While he was focused on her head, she was making necessary hand signs to pull off a Genjutsu.

The Genjutsu in question would be making the sound-nin think everyone’s still there when they aren’t and put them into a loop of trying to find Sakura. The Genjutsu was so good even the Genjutsu-savvy sound-nin didn’t realize it until she had grabbed the boys and taken them far away. She doesn’t need to defeat the other ninja, she just needs to get out of this dire situation. She needs to ensure their survival. That in itself is a big enough moment.

Finally, Ino, Shikamaru and Choji would all witness this and just quietly give Sakura a moment of respect for how much she’s grown as a ninja.

My version isn’t perfect but it would be much higher tier than what we got, which just pales in comparison to the big moments of Sasuke and Naruto up until this point. Plus, it would actually show that she has a true affinity for Genjutsu instead of people telling us that without any evidence. How can I really give this moment much credit when it comes after Sasuke very nearly dying for a mission (twice now) and Naruto kicking ass while using his nine-tailed fox powers (Twice now)?

Another big-ish moment for Sakura, especially where SasuSaku is concerned is him reverting back from his cursed form when Sakura hugs him and begs him to stop. This moment is a bit up in the air for me considering it’s another moment where Sakura’s crying and doing more observing than anything, but I think I’ll give it to the pairing support at least. Sasuke really could’ve just pushed her away and staked his true claim as a power-hungry ‘avenger’ by taking out the last sound-nin, but instead he listened to her pleas and calmed down.

Considering this, you’d think, later, Orochimaru would have mentioned her influence being a problem for Sasuke’s dedication to being an ‘avenger’ instead of just mentioning Naruto and making him a target because of it.

Even though I give Sakura props for lying to Naruto about the reasons behind cutting her hair, the fact that they focus on Sasuke and Ino pausing as she says this, like it’s some dark secret, is a bit goofy.

Sakura Analysis 4

It’s very interesting how Tenten points out that Lee could have easily taken the sound-nin in battle if he wasn’t preoccupied with Sakura. Does that mean I have to ding her here for being the reason Lee lost?

I appreciate Sakura defending Lee so fiercely but punching the hell out of Naruto for making a comment like ‘unibrow’ is way too far. I’m also starting to get sick of the old ‘female love interest is allowed to punch the protagonist for little to no reason and haha it’s funny even though it would be clearly seen as abuse if the genders were reversed’ trope….

Chapters 61-80 (The rest of the Forest of Death and most of the tournament prelims)

Sakura is the first to get so tired she collapses when they get caught in the enemy loop Genjutsu, which is silly because Naruto and Sasuke were both exhausted from battles that left them both unconscious for several hours, but I guess Sakura did also fight for a bit and they got to rest that night while she didn’t.

Hey, speaking of Genjutsu, Sakura didn’t notice another damn Genjutsu when she’s supposed to have a talent for this shit.

Another instance of a different Genjutsu that Sakura neither notices or can dispel. She also needs to be kinda convinced that it’s a Genjutsu at all.

When they finish the second exam, there’s an interesting bit involving the scroll on the wall. It was a little interesting back then, but it’s much more interesting now given hindsight. Iruka points out that the scroll is talking about traits you should work on in order to be a good Chunin. It’s necessary to have the properties of heaven and earth with heaven signifying wisdom and knowledge and earth signifying strength and physical prowess.

He notes that Naruto’s weak point is the trait of heaven – he needs to study hard and develop himself mentally to become a good Chunin. Then he notes that Sakura’s weak point is her physicality – earth. She’s physically weak and doesn’t have much battle prowess, so she needs to work on that. (He doesn’t state it, but the framing implies Sasuke has both properties, so he’d be most fitting as a Chunin in Team 7)

The reason I found this more interesting in hindsight is because Sakura does become incredibly physically strong later after learning to channel her chakra in very specific points such as her fists and feet. Problem is, this doesn’t happen until way down the line after the time skip.

She vehemently tries to get Sasuke to withdraw from the exams due to his curse mark to the point where she starts crying and threatening to tattle on him if he doesn’t leave. I’m debating how much of a pass, if any, I’ll give her here because she has already seen Sasuke ‘die’ once before and she’s pretty much starving and sleep-deprived right now. However, I will ding her a little because I’m having a hard time thinking she’d fight as strongly if Naruto was the one who was cursed and she’s back to crying some more.

This has nothing to do with Sakura, but can we please stop referring to Sasuke as an avenger? This complaint has nothing to do with anything Marvel related – it’s just a cringey thing to say, especially when you’re proclaiming it about yourself. It’s so emo or forcibly dark and edgy. Putting the Marvel spin on it, it’s a team name so it doesn’t have that spin. It’s not like something you’d say before flapping a black cape in front of you and walking off dramatically to go reapply your black mascara.

Oh shit, son, are we at chapter 71? It’s time for the main event!

SAKURA

VS.

INO

Let me give you my initial views on this battle from when I watched the anime version: This is one of those Sakura-centric plot points that I’ve heavily criticized in the past. One of the few times Sakura actually gets to battle on her own, no one interfering at all, and it’s kinda boring and ends in a silly tie. Ino, in a seeming act of defiance to Sakura cutting her own hair, cuts her own hair, which, unlike Sakura, she doesn’t keep for too long, in fact she has much longer hair when the first time skip happens and even longer in the Boruto age. It’s also slightly symbolic in that, again, the long hair was grown in an attempt to impress Sasuke.

I think this battle would’ve been more interesting if they both got past their insane love of Sasuke afterwards, but of course that didn’t happen.

We just got one of the dumbest friendship breakup baskstories in existence.

(Trying to keep this as an aside: Another common complaint regarding Sakura even in Shippuden and Boruto is that Sakura never gets to actually finish her battles, even when she’s winning. She always either has someone else come in and take over or she has someone save her. My question will be answered in time as I do this series….but does Sakura ever actually win any battles on her own? Legitimate question. Does she actually WIN, as in completely finish by herself, any battles? I’ll even take movie references as proof, even if those aren’t considered canon. I’ll become so much sadder doing this series if I find out she’s never won once…..)

So, since this is basically the first actual major Sakura event….and uh…..pretty much…..the only one until we get to Shippuden, let’s break this down a little more than we normally would.

Ino and Sakura are paired to fight in the prelims of the third round of the Chunin exams because why wouldn’t they? And we get the absolute best vote of confidence that this fight is going to be boring by Ino’s teacher, Asuma. He says in inner monologue that Ino may look fierce, but, and I quote “among the kunoichi rookies, she’s far from the top of the pack.”

Let me remind everyone that the only rookie kunoichis in konoha that aren’t nameless nobodies to fill up classroom space are Sakura, Hinata and Tenten………And I’m going to give top spot in skill to Hinata and knowledge to Sakura…..If Ino is ‘far from the top of the pack’ in konoha kunoichis and we’re ranking Sakura as one of the top dogs….this match is going to be depressingly uninteresting before the bell even rings.

Let’s be even more fair and include the non-konoha konoichis there, which consist of Temari, who is skilled probably on the same level as Hinata, at this point anyway, and Kin, the sound-nin, who is basically Tenten if she focused more on Genjutsu, and whose sole role to this point has been ineffectively restraining Sakura. Admittedly, Ino did take over her mind once, but she was defeated by Kin’s teammate there, so make of that what you will.

Asuma expounds upon this even more by wondering if Ino can even give Sakura a good workout…..He either drastically overestimates Sakura, maybe based on her grades, or he underestimates Ino, which is a bit sad because he’s her teacher. I feel like, if the rules didn’t say whole squads had to participate or none of the individual members could, Asuma never would have submitted Ino has an entrant.

And, considering this match ends in a tie, I’d say he did both massive under and overestimating on both sides here. They’re both disappointing, but to different levels.

Since this is the first time we’ve really focused on literally the only ‘tragic backstory’ Sakura has (or really the only backstory she has at all) we have to sideline the battle a few times to go over her past with her previous best friend Ino.

The flashback starts off with a female ninja leading a class specifically meant for young aspiring female ninja, teaching them feminine practices for the sake of blending into a village easily and being a covert spy. One of those important traits is flower arranging…….sure it is. And we see that Sakura’s even useless at picking flowers as she trips and falls on her face. And if you think I’m being too harsh on her, even Sakura says she’s no good at this stuff.

Ino teaches her to arrange flowers, and she’s being kinda passive aggressive about it. First she says it’s pathetic that Sakura is not being able to arrange flowers when her name is based off of cherry blossoms. Then she says blossoms should never be in the competition for the main focus of the arrangement, very clearly making a metaphor in regards to Sakura. She then compares herself to the center flower, the cosmos, and says she’s even prettier than that flower. So, if we’re completing Ino’s little metaphor, Sakura should always be kept to the background as an ‘accessory’ and Ino’s the beautiful star of the show.

This is the foundation for this beautiful friendship torn asunder. Go grab some Kleenex before it’s too late.

Three girls walk up harassing Sakura about her ‘big forehead’ but before I go off about that, what the hell is up with the designs of these girls? They’re meant to be like 8 or 10 years old yet one of them is dressed like a punk rocker, the middle one is like a female Orochimaru and the one on the right……pbbbbtttt what is the girl on the right? She looks like the love child of Bobobo-Bo Bo-bobo and Wobbuffet.

Sakura Analysis 5

Back to the ‘big forehead’ thing – I never once understood this. I get that kids are little pricks and will make fun of anything they think can be a viable target, but this has followed her into her Genin years. In fact, while Sakura’s go-to insult with Ino is calling her variation of a pig (because her name is Ino, which means ‘pig’) Ino’s is to constantly poke fun at Sakura’s forehead. Sakura’s forehead looks ridiculously normal. It looks no bigger than Ino’s.

They’re bullying her outside of the forehead stuff anyway, and Ino pulls a pretty badass move and uses flowers as ninja stars, throwing them in the mouth of one of the bullies and claiming they’re poisonous, which causes them to run off.

Sakura then continues with the metaphor from earlier, saying Ino’s so smart and cool, and if she’s the cosmos, Sakura must be a purple trousers (one of the accessory flowers) Ino then says she’s not even a bud yet. Sakura then asks why Ino gave her the ribbon she wears on her head to hold her hair back from her forehead. Ino replies that she felt it was a shame to see a bud like her dying on the vine. She gave her the ribbon to help her bloom into something even prettier than a cosmos.

Admittedly, this part, even in light of the passive-aggressiveness from earlier, was sweet. She helped build up Sakura’s confidence in herself and it strengthened their bond.

HOWEVER, any sweet sentiment involving their backstory or current situation is instantly completely destroyed all because of their stupid fight over Sasuke. It literally went ‘Hey I heard you like Sasuke. Guess we’re rivals now.’ *end friendship* It’s like they didn’t realize they can be friends and rivals at the same time or didn’t bother trying that route.

Some deep and caring friendship you two had if your competition over a guy who has never even shown a passing interest in girls can completely destroy it to the point where all you two do when you see each other is make fun of the other. I also find it particular stupid that the ribbon that Ino gave Sakura for the sake of keeping her hair back and owning her ‘big’ forehead as opposed to hiding it and giving the people who made fun of her power over her is even a thing because once they stop being friends, as I mentioned, she resorts to making fun of Sakura’s forehead too.

I won’t comment on their future friendship status yet because I don’t remember enough about it. I’m pretty sure they don’t reach a point of even really being casual friends again until either mid to late Shippuden, which is probably around when Ino started letting go of Sasuke and liking Sai, which, if that really is the lynchpin, is even more disappointing. At least it shows that Ino can get over her petty obsession….Unlike some people.

Back with more flashbacks, soon after their graduation I assume, Sakura proclaims that Ino doesn’t have much of a chance with Sasuke now since she and Sasuke are on the same team, but Ino won’t let up. Sakura returns her ribbon to Ino and proclaims she’ll use her leaf headband as a hair band until the day she feels she can face her in battle as a true kunoichi – then she’ll wear it on her forehead properly.

Ino takes the ribbon back and agrees to do the same (well, she wears hers as a belt).

Back in present day, Sakura shows she’s ALL BIDNESS by taking off her konoha headband with a flourish. Then, to prove this isn’t some silly stereotypical catfight, she announces that she’s never letting Ino anywhere near Sasuke………………….Kakashi points out that she’s riling her up so she won’t go easy on her, but still….that is one of the points they’re fighting for. Their friendship wouldn’t have ended over it if it wasn’t.

Ino realizes what’s going on, and she removes hers as well. They replace them both on their foreheads, signifying that they’re ready to prove themselves to the other.

The match starts and it’s pretty much just physical blows for a while. I love how even the other characters are cognizant of how boring this match is because, even with all of the aforementioned factors already making this match kinda boring, they point out that Sakura and Ino are too well-matched at this point in time so they’re just stalemating for over ten minutes.

The only way Sakura ups the ante is by basically calling Ino too vain and pointing out her long flowy hair, which prompts Ino to cut her hair too. However, I must have forgotten this point, Ino’s main point in cutting her hair wasn’t to prove herself to not be vain to Sakura, she was actually setting up a living hair jutsu trap, which is kinda ingenious. I still believe literally throwing her cutting her hair in Sakura’s face was part of it, though.

I’ve always loved how this moment, in a way, just highlights how silly it was for Sakura’s big moment to be cutting her hair. Like “You think you’re hot stuff because you cut your hair?! Look, I can do it too! It ain’t hard, there, Supercuts!”

And just to follow up an ingenious mark with a stupid one for Sakura – she’s top of her class in grades, Ino’s back of the pack, and even she was able to outfox Sakura in battle.

Technically, Sakura should’ve lost because she clearly said the full phrase ‘I, Sakura Haruno, wish to withdraw from the match.’ and she had her hand up most of the way. I have no way of knowing the volume at which she said that, but the text wasn’t small or implying a whisper, so, by all means, Sakura should’ve lost.

I always thought it was kinda dumb that they actually acknowledge inner Sakura is a legitimate other being – Ino refers to it as a second psyche. And Ino develops one later too, it’s weird.

Sakura manages to use her inner Sakura to literally fight off Ino internally long enough to use a release jutsu and force Ino out of her mind, with the help of some egging by Naruto. When all is said and done, they tie with one final punch, but the tie is negative – they both lose and neither moves on to the next round.

Alright, so even though I still found this fight to definitely be boring, most certainly the worst match of the Chunin exams (well…..maybe not as bad as Choji vs. Dosu. That’s pathetically short and I didn’t even remember it) it was more entertaining than I remember….but that’s really because of Ino.

She was the one thinking on her feet and coming up with clever strategies. She was the one with cool jutsu, even when Shikamaru claimed she needed to use her mind control technique with him because he restrains them first. She proved she knew that weakness and could overcome it on her own. Ino technically managed to win, but I guess the ref just didn’t hear her or something.

All Sakura did was have decent physical strikes due to good chakra manipulation, even though she didn’t seem to be hitting harder than Ino, and she had the weird inner Sakura willpower to fight off an already weakened Ino’s mind manipulation.

If this battle was meant to highlight Sakura’s growth as a ninja, it didn’t do much. I was much more impressed by her in the Forest of Death, to be honest. Yes, I was more impressed by her haircut moment than her big battle with Ino that was meant to prove herself. There, she was putting her life on the line and proving her vanity wasn’t more important than her duty as a ninja and a friend. She fought literally tooth and nail back there. The haircut was lame, but at least they painted some badass aspects over the lame.

Here, she’s not really impressive. In fact, she’s disappointing. Sakura’s so smart and skilled with chakra manipulation yet, in all this time, she never tried to learn some specialties, find a niche, or maybe make her own moves? Her strategy was just full on punching and kicking with one instances of making clones. How does that prove you’re the better ninja? It only proves one or the other is a better kickboxer. Ino, despite being more vain than Sakura and seemingly much lower in class, not only mastered her own clan technique, but she mastered an ability that fixes a major issue with its implementation.

Sakura didn’t even really come back on her own – Naruto had to pump her back up to push Ino out.

I do appreciate the sentiment behind this battle more than I did in the past. I viewed it more as a bitchy penultimate catfight over Sasuke when, at it’s core, it was more about their rivalry as ninja – Sakura proving that she’s just as good as the girl she once idolized and Ino proving her own worth. However, it pretty much failed on Sakura’s end in that regard. What a wasted opportunity for some much needed Sakura shine.

At least the very end of the confrontation has a sweet moment between the two, though I still wish they’d move past their dumb obsessions with Sasuke.

But, hey, let’s be fair to all the girls who get shafted up in here – the anime was a lot more generous to Tenten than the manga was in regards to her match. They just straight-up cut from the start of the match to Tenten bent over Temari’s fan in defeat after a brief conversation with Ino and Sakura in-between. In the anime, the match was completely one-sided, but we still got to, ya know, see it.

After Sakura wakes up, she cheers on Naruto to not lose to the sand-nin….but the framing is weird? She’s not looking at Naruto when she says this and Rock Lee’s the one who challenged Temari in defense of Tenten. Considering Gaara’s the only sand-nin left to challenge, it’s strange that she would assume that Naruto will get paired with him anyway. Oh well, at least she’s being supportive.

She goes further by basically giving him a speech similar to the one he gave her during her match and thanking him for helping to give her the willpower to break free. That was nice….I mean, Naruto had to ruin it by saying he saved her butt, but still.

When Naruto is in his match with Kiba, Sakura is cheering him on quite spiritedly. She and Kakashi also share a knowing look when everyone thinks Naruto’s down for the count, but they clearly know better. Show’s a bit of growth in her respect for him.

Hm, I had forgotten how clever Naruto was in his match with Kiba. He was pulling some really good moves and even utilized his prank-y nature to get the better of him…..The fart was still stupid, but at least it had an actual point.

And Sakura didn’t even really ding him for it, which is pretty impressive because that is definitely ripe for both mocking and yelling.

When Naruto asks what a keirakukei is, Sakura says “Here we go again. The insightful questions of an idiot!” Really, Sakura? Come on. I’ve been praising you all this time and then you go and call Naruto an idiot for not knowing what is essentially chakra physiology?

Also, Sakura punched Naruto in the back of the head for seemingly making a jab at Rock Lee’s haircut, yelling that he should be respectful since Lee outranks them…But Sakura has been really disrespectful of Lee a couple of times at this point.

I always get chills when I watch Hinata’s match with Neji. Yes, you could apply some of the same criticisms I throw Sakura’s way when it comes to Hinata, that her focus is heavily on a guy she likes when she does stuff, but her focus is less on how cool Naruto is or how attractive she finds him and it’s more about how he inspires her to be better. She admires him for being the underdog who always gives up, never backs down and is always trying to prove himself and be better.

She wants to be like him more than she wants him. She does express a desire for Naruto to watch her and acknowledge her here, but it’s more to show him that she’s improving too. She’s bettering herself, putting her life on the line and never giving up because she wants to be better and he inspired her to do that. Even Kurenai points out how much Hinata has improved over her time as a Genin, and she’s had very little contact with Naruto since graduation.

Sakura, however, is different. Her focus is on impressing Sasuke through her looks, charms and whatever skills she can muster in her ninja training (such as climbing the tree) She also feels a desire to prove herself as a ninja, to not be useless in her ninja team, and she has made strides in improving herself, but when it comes to Sasuke’s influence, he doesn’t inspire her. He doesn’t prompt her to be better – at best, she just gets sick of him and Naruto getting hurt trying to protect her. On the occasions that she is prompted to make changes for the better because of him, she moreso copies him seemingly because she thinks it will make Sasuke happy. And her rivalry with Ino is heavily based on fighting over Sasuke and who will ‘get him’ in the end.

But it’s superfluous to both of them because neither really care to know him and fall in love with him as a person, like Hinata has with Naruto. They love him because he’s dark, brooding and hot. Even today, I’d be hard-pressed to say Sakura really knows Sasuke deep down and loves him for who he is as a person, especially considering all of the crap he does later on, but I’ll refrain from making a firm statement until I’m further along in this analysis.

Chapters 81-100 (The end of the Chunin exam prelims and the entirety of training for the finals)

Sakura is cheering on Rock Lee and is clearly showing a lot of concern for him through his match. She also has a very grave look on her face as she tries to go to Lee after the match is over and Kakashi stops her, because he knows seeing her will cause him more pain at this point.

Though, goddamn, can we take the time to appreciate the Rock Lee vs. Gaara match again? This has been one of my absolute favorite matches in all of shounen for quite some time, and the manga was just as good. It’s telling how two of my favorite matches in Naruto are ones where the character I’m rooting for loses.

Gaara’s insanely powerful and scary, yet even he’s amazed and nearly defeated by Rock Lee. It’s full of tender, sweet moments with Lee’s backstory and it’s got some of the best action you can find in shounen fighting manga/anime. It’s just awesome.

Even though Sakura really doesn’t have much to do in the following chapters considering she lost her bout and thus doesn’t have to train for the finals, Ebisu does elaborate more on Sakura’s good use of chakra production and specifies why she has a slight edge over Naruto and Sasuke in that regard.

No matter what jutsu Sakura is using, she is able to precisely convert her stamina reserves into the proper level of chakra. If she needs 30% of her stamina to create the proper level of chakra, that is exactly how much she will use. Her skills with hand signs also allow her to control her chakra properly, making for a clean and efficient jutsu to be created.

Sasuke’s chakra production isn’t quite as good. For the sake of a 30% chakra move, he’ll use 40% of his stamina, causing him to waste 10%. However, his skill with hand signs is just as good as Sakura’s so he still makes a clean jutsu, he just needlessly wastes a little energy.

Naruto, however, is the worst of the lot because he’ll convert 50% of his stamina for the same 30% move and his skills with hand signs are sloppy, which makes his control over his chakra poor, creating bad jutsus sometimes.

However, even though I will definitely give Sakura this, it’s never really much of an issue. Sasuke never seems like he’s noticeably using too much chakra, and Naruto has such immense stamina due to the nine-tailed fox that his wasted chakra is also not very noticeable. Even though his knowledge and skills with hand signs needs work, he doesn’t seem to be bound by the crap jutsus he used to make, so even that note doesn’t seem to be too relevant. (Not to mention that Jiraiya notes that Naruto’s chakra control and production problems were further expounded by the five-pronged seal he had put on him, but he released it so his control is much better now.)

Sakura is the most efficient ninja of Team 7, there’s no doubt about that, but it doesn’t count for much if both of her teammates have massive chakra reserves and seem to be insanely fast learners. Sakura was desperately in need of powerful and useful skills that focused on these strengths early on, but they waited a depressingly long time to give her any.

Also, given this situation, you’d think Sakura never would have tied with Ino. I mean, if chakra efficiency Sakura’s forte and she went the longest match with Ino, and she didn’t even use many jutsu, it only makes sense. If Ino’s far from the top of the class, I’d imagine she has chakra production and control issues too, but maybe not considering she later also becomes a medical-nin.

Other than that, we have Sakura and Ino trying to get some flowers to Sasuke, who is still hospitalized, but become saddened when they find that he’s not there. Sakura does show great sympathy for Lee, who is also hospitalized, but continues to try to train despite doctors claiming he’s so badly injured he’ll never be able to be a ninja again. She even picks out a flower for him and gives it to him secretly, which was really nice. (Note: She didn’t get him a flower after she saw him try to train. She got him one while she was shopping for one for Sasuke.)

The last bit with her before we reach the end of this part is her asking Ino why boys always push themselves too far. Ino says she doesn’t know either because she’s a girl. I feel that’s an unnecessarily sexist statement that makes no sense for Sakura to ask let alone not know the answer to.

—————————————

Overall, I feel I have a little more respect for Sakura as a character, at least right now. The moments that I saw initially as being ridiculously stupid or annoying don’t seem to bother me as much upon experiencing them through a more balanced lens. At this point, I’m more annoyed at her being wasted so many times and her moments to shine being poorly executed than anything else.

Sakura does obsess over Sasuke, she does treat Naruto badly numerous times and she is pretty useless and unimpressive at this point. I get frustrated at there being so many moments when she realizes that she’s so far behind Naruto and Sasuke and can’t do much on her own, but she doesn’t respond to this by training, coming up with a plan of jutsu or areas she can specialize in, or trying to perfect the use of some tool or weapon or something – she just mopes and gets encouragement from others which spurs her to get off her ass. At least she does manage to get off her ass, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.

Here’s looking forward to chapters 101-200!


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