The Women of Naruto

I really, really like Naruto. The story arcs (when they're not filler, of course) are clever and powerful. Almost every character has a unique personality, backstory, powers, and secrets.

But I've been watching the show for over 300 episodes now, and I'm starting to get tired of swooning, ineffective female ninjas. I didn't really notice until someone pointed it out to me, which is sad (I'm such a white, privileged, heterosexual male that way; sorry).

A quick briefing for those who haven't seen the show. It centers around the ninjas-in-training of the Hidden Village Konoha, most especially Naruto (the Goofy Boy Trying to Prove Himself™) and Sasuke (the Awesome Hawt Boy™). There are dozens of other characters, though only a few major women.

Sakura is part of Naruto's original team along with Sasuke and their sensei. She's super strong, but usually we only see her strength when she's hitting Naruto for being rude. She's also a medical ninja who is in love with Sasuke.

Ino is Sakura's childhood friend and rival. She can take over someone's mind, but it's rarely effective (her most awesome moment was in a fight with Sakura, of course). She's also a medical ninja who is in love with Sasuke.

Hinata is part of a very powerful ninja clan, but she is its weakest member. She suffers from a lack of confidence, being overshadowed by her older brother. Also she's in love with Naruto.

It seems like the only cool, kick-butt women in the series are villains, and even then... I just finished an episode where Sasuke teamed up with what looked like an awesome villain ninja. Two episodes later, she still hasn't fought anyone (though Sasuke and others have), and what do you know she's in love with Sasuke.


The only major female character who isn't in love with someone is Tsunade, who becomes the leader of Konoha Village. Unfortunately, since she became the leader, she hasn't fought anyone and has only used her super-strength to...hit Naruto for being rude.

For a show with such awesome characterization, this is really disappointing. In your writing (especially if you're a guy), this is something to watch out for. It's not like every woman has to be kick-butt and super awesome, but if none of them are -- if all the interesting stuff is being done by men -- it's a red flag that something is wrong.

Not that Naruto doesn't have it's moments. There was one episode where an enemy ninja was mocking Sakura for being a weak girl. The enemy had Sakura by her ponytail, gloating over how wussy she was. Sakura snapped. She grabbed her knife, cut off her hair (a big deal for her), and kicked the enemy's butt. It was awesome. I wonder what happened to that Sakura.


Emmet said...

Bunch of sexists!
This is why I've never gotten into the series, well that and the fact that I'm yet to see an episode. Though to hear you talk it reminds me a bit of Samurai X.

Adam Heine said...

I know this post doesn't sound like it, but it really is a great show. This is my only real complaint (aside from the filler arcs), and it took me 300+ episodes to even notice.

Matthew MacNish said...

I was going to mention Tsunade, but then I remembered that she is also a drunk, right?

What about the boys that look like girls phenomenon?

Still, we do love Naruto in our house. It's a great show. We also play the Xbox games. Great fun!

Adam Heine said...

Was she a drunk, or was it gambling? I can't remember now. Where I'm at (Shippuden ep. 120-something), she seems to have taken care of whatever it was--at least they haven't mentioned it.

I can only think of a couple "lady-boy" characters that weirded me out. Fortunately none of them were major characters.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

What they need is powerful Ninja sister, where her brother is the favored son of the clan, but he's sent on some mission so he's out of the picture, and now she has to defend her elderly father and young siblings against the encrouching villain ninja clan, using her awesome emotion-bending powers to make them crumble in fear before her. But when one is a sociopath and sneaks through her emotional weaponry and critically wounds her, Sakura comes to the rescue with her super strength and medical healing powers. And they fall in love. (Ha!)

Oh wait. I've never seen the show. Never mind.

Natalie Whipple said...

You know, this is a fairly common stereotype in shonen anime/manga. It's marketed to boys (as opposed to shojo, which is for girls), so oftentimes the girls are "less important." I'm not saying it's right, but there are lots of male stereotypes in shojo as well.

And since gender roles are still fairly firm in Japan, it's not a huge surprise. Though I would like to see changes, there are those cultural differences to keep in mind.

I mean, even when the MC is female, you be shocked how wet noodle they can be. Boys constantly coming to their (very romantic) rescue.

Adam Heine said...

Susan, that's a great idea :-) And I can only imagine how boring this post must be to someone not interested in the show. Don't worry; more writing stuff next week.

Natalie, it's definitely a cultural thing. I remember that every time I see it, but it still disappoints me a little. And now that you mention it, I can think of very few good examples in anime (Nausicaa comes to mind though).