Haruno Sakura and the Portrayals of Women in Naruto

As you may or may not know, I’m a huge Naruto stan. I’ve been reading the Naruto manga and watching the anime since I was 10 years old. Like most people in the Naruto fandom, I had a lot of feelings about the longstanding manga finally ending after 15 years. It was to the point that I was too excited to wait until after class to finish reading, which meant that I was fighting tears and laughter IN THE MIDDLE OF CLASS. I swear I’m an adult.

One of the things that has always bothered me is the abysmal portrayals of women in the story. Admittedly, when I once made an impromptu decision to live tweet my rewatch of the show, I had a Twitter rant about it.

It goes on a bit more, but I thought I would explain my annoyance more here, without the limit of 140 characters.

While some of the female characters in the manga/anime are not problems in certain situations, the problem is that there tends to be a lack of nuance and character development. Pretty much all of these characters are defined in relation to their proximity to men, and for some their entire goal is to get the attention of men, despite them being ninjas (and I don’t know about you, but if I was a ninja I think I would be much more concerned with my awesomeness than what the nearest bruh with Harry-Potter-hair-times-100 was thinking about me).

What is really interesting is that for some of these characters, the writers attempt to develop them more, and succeed for an arc or two before devolving back to their base characteristics. For example, Sakura (who is by far the most disappointing character in this show for this very reason) spends a good amount of the beginning of her story arc squealing over Sasuke and being completely useless in the field. 

She is a know-it-all who doesn’t have any real world skills but tries to act as if she does. For the entire first part of the series she is like this, without really advancing. What’s odd about it is that during the Chunin Exams, Sakura (and the writers) seem to be really aware of this issue with her character, and then go about trying to write her out of this hole. It doesn’t last long; by the end of part 1 of Naruto, she is reduced to crying about Sasuke leaving and begging Naruto to go save him rather than going to save him herself (though, honestly at this point in the story, she couldn’t. She isn’t nearly strong enough, which is a problem in and of itself).

Up until maybe Naruto Shippuden, Sakura doesn’t do much other than cheer on Sasuke, or worry about what Sasuke thinks about her, or cries after Sasuke. It’s so exaggerated to the point where you’re just annoyed, which becomes even more pronounced due to the fact that Sasuke barely shows any kind of affection to her in return, aside from like one time that is almost unbelievable because of the amount of disinterest he’s shown her up until that point.

Things start to change in Naruto Shippuden, set three years after the first part of Naruto. Sakura has grown much stronger due to her training by the Fifth Hokage and legendary medical ninja Tsunade, and for the first couple of arcs, she is amazing. She even kills a member of the Akatsuki in one of my favorite arcs in Shippuden. And one of the main reasons it is my favorite is because that it was the moment where I was sure that the writers would completely change Sakura for the better. And while this works for a bit, and Sakura actually has real power, both physically and medically, it’s all for naught once she sees Sasuke again. What is frustrating about the story’s treatment of Sakura is that they legitimately try to get her out of the hole she was originally written into, but towards the end, she basically just oscillates between being extremely powerful and completely useless. There’s a moment when it is revealed that she can do the regeneration jutsu on herself like Tsunade (an awesome justu that lets you regenerate your cells in the middle of the fight in a way much more awesome than The Doctor), but she only really uses it at the very end and only for a split second. 

While ultimately, I appreciate Sakura more on the tail end of the story, and I feel like she does improve vastly throughout the story, the writing of her character is indicative of the ways women in Naruto are portrayed. The writers tend to just fall back on the stereotypes of women rather than making their female characters more complicated and developed, an issue they don’t seem to have with the male characters in the story. There are so many instances to do develop characters like Sakura, Hinata, and Ten Ten, but they get lost due to the large focus on the male characters of the story.