Every anime and manga series has a variety of characters that fans love and hate. Each of them go through different levels of character development. Unfortunately, there are also a handful of characters that receive an unnecessary amount of hate. It gets to the point where other fans expect you to hate the character, without giving a valid or even justifiable reason why. One of these unfortunate characters is Sakura Haruno from Naruto.
I still remember when I discovered the series in its original manga form. It was at least a year after a friend showed me the first two or so episodes of the anime. At the time, I loved each character that I met and it was great meeting some fellow fans that went to the same school. Unfortunately, there were comments made that conditioned my opinions on Sakura. It became worse over time as I came across media that supported these negative comments. “Sakura is completely useless!! She literally does nothing to contribute to the series!! Why is she still in the series? They should just kill her off.” Soon, I began to agree with them and hate Sakura, despite the clear as day moments where her character developed. Thankfully, over time, I was able to cleanse my mind of those thoughts and re-examine everything with a clean slate. This is where this article comes into play, it is my analysis on Sakura’s character developement throughout the Chunin Exams.
The Written Exam
While there wasn’t much-involving character development, I did notice some instances where her attitude towards Naruto improves. For those that aren’t familiar with the series, Sakura generally gives Naruto the cold shoulder and can be aggressive towards him, all because she finds him annoying. However, just for a moment, when things look bleak with the chance of the team failing the exam, Sakura mentally shows compassion. Sure, there were a few moments where she mentally puts him down for not being academically smart, but this one moment did something. In any other situation, she would let him have it for making the team fail at any type of mission. Instead, she mentally tells him that it’s okay to give up, that they can always try again next year. Sakura showed that she was prepared to go down with him and no one would blame him. Heck, when Naruto straight up said that he wasn’t going to quit (which somehow led to them passing on to the next test), she cheered him on with praises. This is one of the rare moments where the viewers/readers are shown that Sakura doesn’t entirely hate Naruto and does feel a shred of respect for him. An interesting, yet unsurprising fact that I discovered, was that she’s smart enough to tackle some of the most difficult questions without cheating. And the whole point of the written exam was to cheat or gather information about the questions from the others…without getting caught.
The Forest of Death
If the written exam part of the Chunin Exams showed her levels of academic intelligence, the Forest of Death showed her ability to survive when the odds were against her. Sure, if Sasuke wasn’t so keen with catching on to everyone disguised as Naruto, things would’ve gotten significantly worse. However, this also taught her to not be too trusting of others. As time passed on in the forest, there came a point where Sakura had to take a stand to protect both Naruto and Sasuke. The team came face-to-face with an unexpected enemy, who would later play a big role in the series, that was too much for all of them. Even after an epic fight between this villain (later revealed to be former Hidden Leaf Village ninja Orochimaru) and Sasuke, Sasuke was over powered and given the Cursed Mark. Despite feeling helpless and terrified (in an incredibly real way), Sakura stood her ground and did everything in her power to make sure that nothing happened to the boys until they woke up. What became the next test of her abilities, was when a team of three ninjas from the Hidden Sound Village ambushed them in order to fight Sasuke. Obviously, Sasuke was in no condition to do anything, let alone fight. Fortunately, Sakura was able to set up some clever and well-constructed traps, and even when those traps didn’t work, this girl stood her ground. Sure, she was terrified and didn’t know what to do next, but she stood her ground.
When Rock Lee appeared to defend her, she could’ve taken this moment as an opportunity to grab her teammates and run (or even run to save her own skin), but she stayed. Even after the Sound ninjas’ took Lee down and she was once again next, Sakura fought with everything she had. What never ceases to amaze me was how she, with zero hesitation, cut her hair with a kunai knife while it was being used to make her submit to the enemies. Sakura’s hair was one of the things about herself that she took great pride in growing and keeping healthy for years. It gave off a vibe where she was willing to let go of something that she believed would raise her chances of being with her crush. Sure, Sakura doesn’t give up her crush on Sasuke, but it definitely showed that some sacrifices have to be made, and her hair was one of them. After that, she fought at least two of the three sound ninjas BY HERSELF and took every punch they (and kunai knife) threw at her like a champ. It got to the point where she was fully prepared to give her life away to protect Naruto and Sasuke, which isn’t something you see every day. Here’s the thing that made this whole scene so powerful: Sakura is fully aware that she isn’t as powerful as Naruto and Sasuke, but she was prepared to face what she did and she did it while staring death in the face. After she and some fellow Leaf Villiage ninjas get pummeled, Sasuke wakes up and goes on a cursed mark rampage. While everyone else is standing on the sidelines watching him destroy one of the Sound ninja, Sakura, with no hesitation, runs over and holds him back. This simple, but courageous action was what snapped Sasuke out of it. Honestly, this is one of the bravest things I’ve seen her do at her age, even I wouldn’t have had the courage to do what she did. And at the end of it all, she thanks Rock Lee, someone she found a bit annoying at first, for going all out to protect her and her team. In all honesty, The Forest of Death section of the Chunin Exams is where a huge chunk of Sakura’s character development blossoms.
While Sakura spends most of the time watching from the sidelines in this part, she still shows a good amount of growth during her fight with childhood friend and rival: Ino. The fight between these two shows not only more of Sakura’s fighting skills, but also allows us to see her becoming more independent. Back when they were kids, Sakura would always rely on Ino to protect her from bullies and to be her main source of self-esteem. By fighting to beat her, Sakura wants to show Ino that she’s not the same little girl. And in a way, she does. Sure, the fight ended in a tie, but Sakura didn’t hold back her punches. Even when Ino hit her with her signature Mind Transfer Jutsu, Sakura, through her powerful inner strength, pushed Ino out. When the two are brought to the sidelines (after their fight ends), Ino acknowledges Sakura’s strength by telling her that she has bloomed into a flower. This is a statement that I whole-heartedly agree, Sakura has bloomed into a beautiful flower, but one that also has plenty of thorns. After this nice exchange of words, Sakura and Ino make it clear that they’re still rivals (when it comes to winning Sasuke’s heart), but now they have more respect for each other. Even when they make small talk about their fight, Sakura doesn’t rub it into Ino’s face how she beat her jutsu or even the number of punches she hit her with. While we haven’t seen too many fight scenes involving Sakura (before the Chunin Exams), this scene shows that she is capable of being a good winner and accepting of her losses (even if she’s disappointed with losing).
All-in-all, Sakura’s character development, whether you think it did anything for her or not, was still quite something to see. The Chunin Exam arc offered a number of moments for her to grow and develop into the character she is now. Not only the Chunin Exams, there are a good number moments later in the series where she strives to be a better ninja and gain more useful abilities. Even if you still don’t like her after these moments, that’s perfectly fine. As long as you give valid reasons for not liking Sakura’s character, you can hate her as much as you want to. All I ask, is that you let any new fans to Naruto asses her character through their own eyes. If you don’t and push your own opinions about her, then they’re going to expect themselves to hate her without giving her a chance. All I have to say is: sometimes there’s more to a character than being “useless and annoying.” If you only use those characteristics, there’s a good chance that you’ll miss out on some important moments. Sometimes the character will acknowledge that they’re useless and use that to improve themselves. So the next time you first think about how a character is annoying or useless, think about Sakura and her greatest moments of character development. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts on Sakura and her character development, I want to know your thoughts. Feel free that share your thoughts in the comments below. The only other thing I ask of you is to respect everyone’s opinion, even if you disagree with their reasons. Until then, this is CuriousCat-13: signing off.