Sexism in Naruto: About Tsunade & Sakura

I put these two characters together because their write-ups are the longest and they are more connected than some readers like to admit.

Of course, as one of the Sakura’s mentors the only real mentor Sakura had, Tsunade is inextricably linked to Sakura. There was also the parallel between the Sannin and Team 7. Much like Sakura was to her peers, Tsunade was far behind her teammates in terms of abilities. And much like Sakura, Tsunade had plenty of focus in the manga, relatively speaking.

Sakura’s write-up is long because as the “heroine” of the series, she subsequently garnered more attention than many other characters. Sadly, that attention was overwhelmingly negative.

Tsunade

Tsunade was introduced as a 50-something compulsive gambler who had developed somewhat of a drinking habit over the years. She was known as the “Legendary Sucker,” because her willingness to put down large sums of money despite a long losing streak. The funny thing was how she sense a bad omen whenever she started winning.

Despite being over 50 years old, Tsunade maintained a youthful appearance. It not only belied her real age, but masked additional aging caused by her use of Creation Rebirth, which she could use thanks to the diamond-shape seal on her forehead. In addition, Tsunade had abnormally large breasts and her cleavage could be seen when she wore her normal attire.

Much of the above didn’t bother me too much, although I had minor complaints about Tsunade’s breast size and the effects of Creation Rebirth. The former could be categorized as a “gag” feature. The latter could have been remedied by a more creative application of medical ninjutsu techniques or by having Tsunade show her real age in the first place. Regardless, I liked the character, so looks were a minor issue.

Although I said her introductory arc pulled me into the story, I’ll admit it was an unbefitting introduction for an incoming Hokage. She made a series of bad decisions, one of which was not staying in shape. She lost the first real fight she was in and only beat a largely incapacitated Orochimaru. What’s more is that her relations to two past Hokage were each listed as a qualification. It’s as if her past contributions weren’t enough on their own.

Once things were settled, she was never going to be Hokage in her own right. Tsunade was put there merely as a place holder for Naruto and I feel that she was the most disrespected Hokage in the story itself due to that fact. Anyone who would be Hokage before Naruto would in essence just be keeping the seat warm for him. Sure, Jiraiya as Godaime would be allowed to fight more (and certainly would have been allowed to kick the ass of someone like Kabuto in their own introductory arc), but the Toad Sage would still be limited.

(I think this is true for Kakashi, as well. He was stripped of his greatest asset (the eye Obito gave him) only to be made Hokage afterward. It is believed that Kakashi looked after the village in one of its most peaceful periods. Maybe Kishimoto has a thing with the number 7 so that Naruto would be the Seventh Hokage, but it makes little to no sense that Tsunade wouldn’t have help onto her role of Hokage until Naruto was ready. That’s peculiar.)

I once read a post where someone pointed out that Sakura, as the “heroine,” was not to be outdone by her female peers. In that same vein, no one [alive] was allowed to be a greater Hokage than Naruto would become. That said, Tsunade did the best she could in a limited space, in terms of dealing with past problems she inherited, rebuilding the village after the Sound and Sand offensive, and dealing with Akatsuki.

When it came to fights, Tsunade hardly had any abilities given to her. She had her healing and super strength, and…not much else. She had Katsuyu, which helped her to heal more. (For ladies, medical ninjutsu was a prime way to say they contributed to their team but keep them from the front lines. The only character we have seen effectively use medical ninjutsu in a fight was Kabuto.) Tsunade’s role in the Pain Arc was understated and kind of negated after Nagato resurrected everyone who perished during his onslaught. She fell into a coma after trying to save numerous Konoha shinobi. She never fought, as any of her predecessors would have; at the time, that was ultimately Naruto’s job.

The worst development for Tsunade came during the war. While spending much time twiddling her thumbs, she was finally called to action to in essence serve as one of Madara’s playthings until he got bored. The worst of his vitriol was reserved for her and he called her a weak woman. She would Tsunade pretty much received the brunt of the punishment and those who hated her had plenty of fap material.

Tsunade still survived the above. After the war was over, she inexplicable stepped down as Hokage [during a relatively peaceful time] and was last seen alive in Chapter 700.

Sakura

Sakura is perhaps the most hated character in Naruto. While some of her biggest fans and some sympathizers insist it is mainly due to pairings (which is true in some respects, due to how big the pairings were), many have raised valid complaints about the character’s overall portrayal. It’s not pretty.

For all intents and purposes, Sakura is the worst-written character in the manga. Depending on who you ask, she may be the worst shounen “heroine” or worst heroine in general. I personally wouldn’t go that far, but I agree that Sakura had the worst development in Naruto. She was certainly the most abused character and that is saying something. She went from a third wheel and self-proclaimed “helpless” member of Team 7, to a very competent kunoichi, back down to a self-proclaimed useless person with very low self-esteem.

When Sakura was first introduced, she was a loud, obnoxious girl with a visible crush on Sasuke. That made up 80% of her character with the other 20% being split on chastising Naruto (and others on occasion), controlling chakra, showing book smarts and a potential prowess with genjutsu, and being put on the sidelines. She made fun of Naruto being all alone — in front of Sasuke, who had already lost his entire clan. She only gave Naruto her food during the bell training upon seeing Sasuke give up some of his. She was mean to Rock Lee at first, until he intervened with Team Dosu. Finally, a young Sakura basically trashed her friendship with Ino over a boy.

When I went back and read the first 30+ chapters in Naruto, I was taken aback by how limited Sakura was. She only received a bell to illustrate that Naruto was somehow worse than her at the time and she hardly had a role in the Land of Waves. It was ridiculous to see how Sakura — a friggin’ 12-year-old — was stationed next to Tazuna to protect him, when she could barely protect herself. Her fight against Ino was one of the worst and she was knocked out from further competition during the Chūnin Exams.

Sakura came to realize that she offered very little in terms of Team 7. She asked to Tsunade to tutor her by the end of Part 1. As Part 2 began, Sakura made marked improvement and she was developing into a capable fighter and teammate.

The strides that Sakura had made in the beginning of Part 2 however were all but erased starting in the Sai and Sasuke Arc. Sakura in fact regressed from her Part 1 self. Even looking back at the fight against Sasori, it was clear that Kishimoto couldn’t fully commit to Sakura’s improvements. I do not know what Kishimoto was on when he allowed her and Chiyo to do so well against Sasori, but the mangaka had to make Chiyo throw in that line that her grandson — in puppet form, mind you — had allowed the ladies to defeat him. It all went downhill from there, but at least Sakura was allowed to KO that scorpion summon during the Pain Arc. (Fuck yeah!)

The Kage Summit Arc served as a way for Kishimoto to ultimately punish this “realistic girl”. First, she was guilt-tripped by Sai, who was just learning to deal with emotions and clearly misread the entire situation. Next, she dragged along Kiba, Akamaru, Lee and Sai to Iron country under the pretense that the teens would tell Naruto the truth about the death sentence awaiting Sasuke. Kiba in particular was under the impression that they might even fight the missing-nin. Then there was, of course, the false confession.

Unfortunately, the character assassination continued, as Sakura then lied again to Lee and Kiba and knocked out those two, Akamaru, and Sai with sleeping gas at the last minute. She planned on handling Sasuke alone, but ultimately had to be rescued by Kakashi after telling yet another unconvincing lie and turning her back to the missing-nin. Naruto had to rescue her shortly after that, as Sakura attempted to stab Sasuke with a poisoned kunai, but ultimately chickened out and was subsequently choked by him. Then she looked at her current and former teammates and resolved that she was utterly useless. Oh, but this was not the end of the shitfest. The coup de grâce [for the Kage Summit Arc] was that one line about Kabuto helping Sasuke to build an immunity to poisons. Not only did we not get to see Sakura actually hit that boy, but we told that such an attempt would have been futile, anyway.

Of course, the abuse of Sakura’s character continued on until the end of the manga proper and beyond. Sakura hardly had a role at first and was relegated to punching a Zetsu clone who was posing as Neji. (That damaged both her and Neji, to be fair).

That part that was the most jarring was seeing what Sakura was able to do at that point in comparison to her teammates. I once saw a signature on NF that featured all three. Sasuke was shown with his Susano’o after receiving Itachi’s eyes. Naruto was shown in his [incomplete] kyuubi cloak, but it was still impressive at the time. Then there was Sakura holding her first as she punched the stuffing out of a White Zetsu clone. Now, no one realistically expected Sakura to be as strong — let alone stronger — than her teammates, but the difference in strength was ridiculous. Even her sensei, who was supposed to be surpassed, would easily leave Sakura in the dust.

Sakura would later receive some powerups in the forms of the Byakugō no In and the ability to summon Katsuyu. Some people call those BS, but I call BS on that. In my opinion, Kishimoto didn’t do enough, but he had neglected Sakura all that time anyway.

(Speaking of Katsuyu, the nature of the slug shows a lack of imagination and willingness to develop Tsunade or Sakura more. From what we’ve seen, there are numerous toads and snakes from their respective lands. There was only one slug from Shikkotsurin; it could split into smaller copies of itself and had to be shared if it had more than one summoner. And, we don’t know what Slug Sage Mode looks like or if that was what Hashirama exhibited. Either way, these two ladies were shafted yet again.)

Regardless, Sakura would once again become a bystander shortly after. She did have a moment where she used basic medical techniques to try and keep Naruto alive, but after that, she messed up royally. Instead of stabbing the Rinnegan at the behest of Obito— and thus messing with Madara’s plans — she flinched and stood there like an idiot long enough for Madara to come and swipe the eyes. I mean, WTF? Here was another chick with the chance to help in the biggest of ways in terms of prevention and she fumbled, too. Sakura looked more and more helpless after Mugen Tsukuymi was initiated and for the first moments of Kaguya’s resurrection.

Sakura would only contribute to help Obito retrieve Sasuke from another dimension and to punch Kaguya in place so that she could be sealed by Sasuke and Naruto. Yippee!

But the worst was reserved for the end. By the worst, I mean Sakura ending up with Sasuke. Sasusaku was by far the worst pairing I have ever seen in Naruto and one of the worst I have seen in fiction. This was not a real relationship based on its portrayal and what we did see was a cycle of abuse. Sasuke either chastised Sakura or ignored her for the most part yet she still pined for him. He tried to kill teammates, his sensei, and threatened to kill many others, yet Sakura still pined for him. He would leave for months or years at a time, yet Sakura still pined for him.

Now, when I think about it, there were no excuses made for Sakura when she messed up…unless it pertained to her loving Sasuke. She was quickly called out when she made fun of Naruto for no good reason, she called herself out for not helping her teammates more, she was called out for making that fake love confession, and she was called out for lying to Kiba, Lee, and Sai and knocking them out in the Land of Iron. But her love for Sasuke was even encouraged despite what he did and said to her and those who cared about him.

And it sucks even more given that there were three actual suitors for Sakura: Naruto, Lee, and the Love Letter Fodder. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded if she ended up with Lee, as he was the most polite, he was relevant, and he would never try to kill his friends.

At the very least, there needed to be real, positive communication between Sakura and Sasuke, but no. Kishimoto wouldn’t at least let her move on or take some time to give readers the appearance of happiness between these two characters. Sakura had to be a baby incubator so we could have more Uchiha. That is all.

(Sasuke didn’t even stay in the village for long periods post redemption. What is worse was this included the first twelve years of his daughter’s life. Dude wouldn’t even kiss his wife, FFS. This is messed up when you consider what drove Sasuke’s character from the beginning. He was wrecked by the massacre of his clan, his brothers, betrayal, and Sasuke desperately wanted to revive the Uchiha. That he would ignore his own child is disgusting.)

Now, I would have to talk about what happened in the Naruto Gaiden. That was one big waste as much of the story was based around Sakura and Sasuke’s daughter, Sarada, questioning her maternity. Karin trolling abound. While I assumed Sarada was Sakura’s daughter until proven otherwise, part of me wouldn’t have put it past Kishimoto to make Karin the mother. In the end, Sakura was Sarada’s biological mother, but it was ridiculous that it was even a question.

I think what Kishimoto has said about this character in various interviews is also telling. It provides some context into what he was trying to do, willing to do, and how he views certain characters based on gender.

But before I get to that, I need to address some of the dialogue from the manga.


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