Been binge watching Naruto Shippuden on and off since Christmas.
I love the series. There are so many, many awesome characters. Especially, awesome female characters. And my favorite part is that they are usually as flawed as the male characters. In that respect, western story telling still makes women so perfect, for fear that they won’t be likable otherwise.
Not Naruto. The women varied, and their flaws run from drinking and gambling, to over-confidence, to under-confidence. They are proud and/or ashamed of their pasts and their families. They are allowed to fail and triumph.
And then there’s Sakura.
Or as I’ve come to think of her, Hamlet with pink hair.
I had three different Shakespeare courses in college, and Hamlet has been and always will be my least favorite play. And that’s because of Hamlet himself.
Ignoring the sexism and whatnot, Hamlet spends the entire play in a holding pattern. He’s loathe to make any decisions, and when he does… well, it’s almost always a horrible one. Not to mention, he usually ends up subverting his own intentions, ie: REMEMBER THE WHOLE PLOT WITH THE PLAY!?!?!?
Well, that’s Sakura to me. She has a lot of potential. Great chakra control (in-universe, the energy that allows these fighters their amazing battle skills), highly intelligent, good team player, super strength, and healing abilities; she should be a force to reckon with.
I didn’t even mind the early characterization of being boy crazy, and insecure. It made her very human. It’s a place to grow from.
But she keeps ending up being The Load. She has to be pulled away from every battle. She has to be protected. She makes really, really dumb decisions every single fight. Okay, in the interest of fairness, she does have one fight that she wins all on her own with no need of rescue or support.
But that one instance aside, she’s consistently The Load, and she knows it. And worse, she never learns from her experiences.
Other female characters fail or do dumb things, but (like the male characters) they learn. They improve, they have arcs.
Now, I can’t blame the writer. Kishimoto has written some really amazing characters (male and female) with fabulous arcs, so he clearly chose for Sakura to be this type of character.
But when her only motivation is to not be The Load, and she keeps ending up back in that situation no matter what she’s learned and accomplished, I begin to get frustrated.
She realizes that she’s The Load, does a lot of training, and then… whoops, she’s still making the same mistakes. And the other characters keep saying how amazing she is… *sigh*.
It’s a pet peeve, the character who keeps hitting the reset button on their arc… for no good reason.
And it’s especially irritating in a series full of characters who continually grow and evolve, learning from their past.
I’m not saying she has to be the best of the team, but why is she always the worst? Why can’t she make a decision that doesn’t end up with her being rescued, getting in trouble, or having to be protected in some way?
And why do the other characters go out of their way to convince me that she’s awesome?
Much like Hamlet. The other characters go on and on about how intelligent and thoughtful and philosophical he is. And I’m sitting there screaming at him to make a decision and follow through, good or bad.
That’s the real problem with loving character driven stories. You need the right mix of agency, growth, and plot. I wouldn’t mind Sakura trying and failing, and trying again. All with a clear goal in mind.
For example, Naruto wants to be acknowledged and respected by the village. The pranks he pulls as a kid gets him the acknowledgment, but not the respect. He has to learn to control himself. It takes years and self-discipline to earn that respect. He has setbacks, but there is also clear forward motion and he remembers his failures and learns from them.
In contrast, Sakura wants to be competent and help her friends. She spends years learning to be a medical ninja, but when the chips are down, she always has to be saved by someone stronger and/or more knowledgeable than herself. And she keeps on making terrible decisions that put herself in jeopardy. And the other characters keep telling me that she’s awesome.
I detest the reset button. I hate that she can’t ever seem to grow beyond her original characterization. I hate the endless holding pattern she’s in, same as I hated it for Hamlet.
So, now that I’ve ranted… time for me to try and get some writing done…