Friday, January 09, 2009
Sakura Haruno (春野 サクラ, Haruno Sakura?) is a fictional character in the Naruto manga and anime series created by Masashi Kishimoto. Sakura has become the series' female lead, although she was not immediately intended for the role. Kishimoto has had difficulty in drawing her, resulting in Kishimoto inadvertently emphasizing certain parts of her appearance, including her large forehead.
In the anime and manga, Sakura is a kunoichi affiliated with the village of Konohagakure, and part of Team 7, which consists of herself, Naruto Uzumaki, Sasuke Uchiha, and their sensei, Kakashi Hatake. Sakura initially has an infatuation for Sasuke, praising him at every juncture, and heaping scorn upon the less skilled Naruto. Over the course of the series, she begins to shed this singularly driven persona, and grows more appreciative and accepting of Naruto; in Part II, she begins to develop a closer bond with him as they both share in their goal to bring their departed teammate Sasuke back. Sakura has appeared in several pieces of Naruto media, including the four featured films in the series, all of the original video animations, and several video games.
Numerous anime and manga publications have praised and criticized Sakura's character. She was initially noted to be a stereotypical shōnen character, serving as a love interest for the protagonist, and served little purpose in the series initially beyond being comic relief. Her emergence from this stereotype as the series progressed, however, has been celebrated by reviewers. Amongst the Naruto reader base, Sakura has been popular, placing high in several polls. Several pieces of merchandise have been released in Sakura's likeness, including a plush doll and key chains
Although Sakura is the most recurring female character in Naruto, Masashi Kishimoto did not originally intend for Sakura to be the heroine of the series. Kishimoto attributes this to his being unable to draw good heroine characters, and fashioned Sakura as a girl who cannot understand men, the best example of a heroine he could come up with. Sakura's creation is a result of Kishimoto's desire to make a somewhat irritating character who was well-intentioned. Despite these elements, Kishimoto is fond of Sakura, as he feels that many of her personality traits are common among all people, thus giving her a sense of real humanity.
When designing Sakura, Kishimoto focused on her silhouette and created a costume as simple as possible. This is a divergence from the other main characters of the series, whose costumes are very detailed. The leggings are the most notable aspect of her design, as they are meant to show that she is very active. At the start of the series her leggings extended below her knees and closely resembled trousers. As Part I progressed, the leggings became increasingly shorter and tighter. Similar to his inexperience with drawing heroines, Kishimoto lacked the experience needed to make Sakura "cute" when he first began drawing her. Although he implies that her appearance has become cuter since then, Kishimoto and much of the Naruto manga staff agree that Sakura was "far from cute" at the start of the series.
Sakura's most well-known physical characteristic is her broad forehead. Because of this, Kishimoto at times focuses too much effort on drawing it in scenes or promotional artwork where Sakura is featured prominently. This results in her forehead appearing too large. When designing Sakura in her Part II appearance, Kishimoto decided to change her clothes to a more lively karate suit style. The upper part, though, still has a Chinaesque feeling to it, so as to make her more feminine.
Sakura as she appears in Part II.
At the start of the series, Sakura has a deep infatuation for Sasuke Uchiha, rooted primarily in his good looks, cool attitude, and prodigious talents. Because of this, many of Sakura's early appearances are dedicated to her continuing effort to win his affection. As the story progresses and she begins to spend more time with Sasuke as a teammate, Sakura develops a concern that Sasuke will someday abandon her and the rest of Konohagakure in his quest for power.
When her fears comes true at the end of Part I, Sakura does all that she can to stop Sasuke from leaving, such as professing her love for him and offering to join him. Though touched by her words, they do not stop Sasuke from defecting from Konoha. Since then, Sakura has made her personal goal to bring Sasuke home, which becomes a recurring component of her role in Part II. Although she still worries about his well-being and doesn't allow others to insult Sasuke, Sakura is willing to attack him if it means returning him to Konoha.
Sakura's relationship with Naruto Uzumaki, like with Sasuke, also changes throughout the series. When first teamed up together, Sakura views Naruto as a talentless idiot who deliberately tries to ruin her life. As the story progresses and Naruto continually shows his worth as a ninja as well as his dedication to his teammates, Sakura realizes that her initial perceptions of him were wrong. After Sasuke defects from Konoha at the end of Part I, Sakura pleads for Naruto to bring him back. Having a crush on Sakura, Naruto does all in his power to return Sasuke to her. Although he fails and is left in the hospital afterwards, he vows to someday complete the task she has given him. Realizing the lengths Naruto will go to for her, Sakura spends the two-and-a-half years dividing Part I and II to training so that she can help Naruto during his next attempt. As they search for Sasuke during Part II, Sakura learns of the various hardships Naruto faces: the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox and Akatsuki. Saddened by the impact both forces have had on his life, Sakura becomes protective of Naruto and tries to do whatever she can to help him overcome these obstacles.
Within Sakura resides "Inner Sakura," a manifestation of her inner emotions. In addition to comic relief, Inner Sakura represents Sakura's actual opinion on things when she outwardly displays something opposite. Inner Sakura's appearances are typically marked by an exclamation of "Shānnarō" (しゃーんなろー). The phrase has no literal meaning, but is usually translated as "hell yeah," "hell no," or "damn it" depending on the situation. Viz media replaces it with the word "Cha!" in the English versions of Naruto. Although she appears quite frequently at the start of the series, Inner Sakura all but disappears midway through Part I, her only other appearance being at the start of Part II. Sakura, likewise, now performs the emotional outbursts she once relied on Inner Sakura for, much to the dismay of those who are around her at the time.
Sakura extracting poison from Kankuro's body.
For the duration of Part I, Sakura's abilities go largely unseen and undeveloped. While she is shown to be very proficient with basic ninja abilities during the few battles she participates in, Sakura lacks any unique traits that set her apart from the rest of Team 7. Her teacher, Kakashi Hatake, notes that Sakura has an excellent control over her chakra early in Part I, but it is not until Part II that she is taught to use this ability to her advantage.
After training under Tsunade for two-and-a-half years, Sakura acquires two abilities that rely directly on her precise chakra control. The first and most common of these two is her ability to heal wounds, giving her the position as her team's medical ninja. Due to the speed and proficiency with which she can heal others, many characters have noted Sakura to be more talented than most medical ninja with far more experience. Because a ninja team relies on its medical ninja to survive, Sakura must both avoid opponents and keep them at bay during battle. This is accomplished through Sakura's second ability: her superhuman strength. By building up chakra in her fists and releasing it on contact with a target, Sakura can reduce most obstacles to rubble with great ease.
Sakura accompanies the rest of Team 7 during all of its early missions, though she does little to contribute to the battles that take place. Instead, Sakura sits on the sidelines, content in allowing her teammates to protect her and defeat their opponents. During the Chunin Exams, when the rest of Team 7 is left in need of her protection, Sakura realizes that relying on others to fight her battles has been unwise. She resolves to better her ninja abilities from that point further, and throughout the rest of the series takes a more active role in Team 7's battles. After Sasuke's defection from Konoha at the end of Part I, Naruto's failure to bring him back, and Sakura's inability to help either of them, she becomes Tsunade's apprentice so that she can do more for her teammates in the future.
Sakura takes a more active role in Part II, as is first seen in her defeat of Akatsuki member Sasori. As a result of her victory, Sakura is given the chance to learn of Sasuke's whereabouts. Naruto, Sakura, and the new members of Team 7 use this intelligence to track Sasuke down, but they are once again unable to prevent him from escaping. While disappointed in their failure, Team 7 tries once again to find Sasuke, though after almost apprehending him they lose his trail and are forced to return home.
Appearances in other media
Sakura (right) in Naruto: Clash of Ninja.
Sakura has made several appearances outside of the Naruto anime and manga. She is in all four of the featured films in the series: in the first movie, she battles Mizore Fuyukuma, and later defeats him; in the second she helps Naruto and Shikamaru Nara in their battle against Haido and his subordinates; the third has Sakura battling the hired ninja Karenbana, whom she defeats using her enhanced strength; and finally in the fourth movie, which is set in Part II, Sakura, Naruto, Rock Lee and Neji Hyuga are assigned to escort the maiden Shion. She is also present in all three of the original video animations produced for the series, helping Naruto and Konohamaru to find a four leaf clover in the first original video animation, joining his team in escorting a ninja named Shibuki to his village and helping him fight the missing-nin that stole the village's "Hero's Water" in the second, and participating in a tournament in the third.
Sakura is a playable character in nearly all Naruto video games, including the Clash of Ninja series and the Ultimate Ninja series. In some games, she uses "Inner Sakura" in combat, as well as numerous different genjutsu. Naruto Shippūden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen EX marks the first appearance of Sakura in her Part II appearance in a video game, with the second one being Naruto Shippūden: Narutimate Accel.
Sakura has ranked highly in the Shōnen Jump popularity polls, continuously placing in the top ten and reaching the top five twice; however, she was ranked twelfth in the most recent poll. There has not been another poll as of 2006. In an interview, Kate Higgins, who does the voice acting for Sakura in the English dub, notes the development of Sakura in the series, remarking that she becomes a more complex character as she becomes more sensitive and caring. Numerous pieces of merchandise based on Sakura have been released, including a plush doll,, key chains of her Part I and Part II appearances, and various character patches.
Several publications for manga, anime, video games, and other related media have provided praise and criticism on Sakura's character. IGN commented that every anime and manga benefited from a strong female presence that Sakura provided for the Naruto series, although characterizing her as "stereotypically girly." In a review of episode 110 of the anime, IGN celebrated the culmination of the development of Sakura's character throughout the series, and the growing out of the "girly" personality. GameSpot noted that Sakura's character has largely been used in the series as a form of comic relief, as well as often stating the obvious.T.H.E.M. Anime Reviews considered Sakura to be a stereotypical echo of similar love interests of protagonists in other shōnen manga, and that she was not likable