:: Strength in Adaptability: A Girl and Her Monsters::

?So, Naruto? Have I changed? Am I more... womanly??

As I have mentioned time and again, there is only one character in the series with the strength of self to endure the pains of being a shinobi without destroying who she truly is, without becoming a monster like so many others. And, that person is Hyuuga Hinata. However, there is one other character who finds a strength of self, who finds the ability to remain healthy in mind and heart, but who finds it through constant adaptation, through growth and change.

And, that character is Haruno Sakura.

Sasuke, Naruto, Kakashi, all of the Team 7 men were forced to go through their own set of traumatic experiences. To a lesser extent, Sakura has been through a similar ordeal, her childhood mockery, in the loss of Sasuke and her own empathy towards those she cares for and the pains they endure. Unlike Sakura, all of the boys seem to be unable to deal with the pains of their pasts, presents, and possible futures. Sasuke loses himself in the need for revenge. Kakashi loses himself to the guilt of his own failings. Naruto loses himself to the beast raging within him.

But, Sakura tackles each horrible, life-destroying experience head-on. She doesn?t just passively react to her life but actively forges ahead. Should her own weakness prevent her from protecting those she cares about, then she doesn?t allow herself to drown in guilt. Rather, she sheds the parts of herself that hold her back, cuts her hair and stands strong.

Should she find herself lacking the strength to rescue the boys she cares about from themselves, then she will apprentice herself to the Hokage and develop the skills that she needs to become the kind of person that can truly be there for them.

Should she find herself conflicted, her thoughts and feelings a tumult that threatens to breakdown her own external stability, occasionally evidencing itself through bizarre mood swings and identity crises, then she will embrace both sides and conquer the parts of herself that must be put down, yelling out a too long held, ?SHANNARO!? as she punches her fist into Akasuna no Sasori?s chest.

Sakura isn?t one of the strongest characters in the series because she wins every battle. Sakura isn?t the strongest because she has an internal, unbreakable core. She?s the strongest because she learns and adapts to the world around her. And, because no matter how many times the branches wilt and pink petals fall to the ground, Spring will always return. And, Sakura will always be Sakura.




::Yin and Yang: A Microcosm Girl in a Macrocosm World::

"Where the leaves dance, fire burns. The shadow of the fire will flash over the village... and the leaves will grow once again."

Mind and body. Masculine and feminine. Active and passive. Self and other. Reason and rationality. Life and death. Good and bad. Heaven and Earth.

Dualities, irreducible heterogenous principles that help in the analysis of life, nature, and the origins of knowledge. They are often applied to literary works and figures; one character representing an aspect (Naruto = bonds) with another being put in opposition (Sasuke = isolation). In the beginning of the story, we are led to believe that Naruto (Earth) and Sakura (Heaven) represent the two opposite types of ability with Sasuke being the combining force between the two.

However, with the Time Skip, increases in abilities and further exposition of the characters and their needs/desires, it?s become rather obvious that the truer duality lies between Sasuke and Naruto, the typical shounen rivals. And, Sakura is the connecting force between the two. Not to mention, she serves as a microcosmic example of their conflict, and she becomes a well of dualities represented through other macrocosmic themes spread throughout the story.

Not only does this make Sakura into a more interesting, dynamically thematic character, but it also garners her more attention and interest from me. Below are some of the instances of duality that have captured my interest, so completely.

Instances of Sakura?s Duality:

Mind and Body: Sakura?s skills post Time Skip.

While she may have been the unbalanced Heaven during the chuunin exam, few characters have the diversity of skill yet strict dichotomy that Sakura displays during her TS fights. For example, Sasuke has countless skills ranging all over the metaphorical ability board. However, they feed and take from one another, until the division between Heaven and Earth seems unnoticeable. Sakura, on the other hand, has skills that are constantly being kept separate from one another.

Her extreme intelligence. Her aggressively athletic and powerful taijutsu. Her resistance and untapped potential to genjutsu.

They are all wonderful and well-developed. But, she rarely uses them in conjunction, leading to a decidedly divisive set of abilities that individually represent the separate categories in the Naruto verse.

Masculine and Feminine: (DISCLAIMER: Rather than running the risk of offending more than half of you, let me say that I know masculine and feminine traits are primarily learned and culturally-based. But, this section is going to deal specifically with Japanese thoughts on masculine and feminine and how they can be applied to Sakura?s character.)

More than any other character, Sakura seems to have an undeniable balance of both masculine and feminine traits. For her haters, the masculine traits are used to ridicule her,\ for not being woman enough. Her occasional lack of femininity somehow making her into a less worthwhile character, despite the fact that a number of other women display an even greater predilection for masculine thought and action (i.e. Temari, Anko, etc.)

For me, on the other hand, the fact that Sakura can be incredibly aggressive and opinionated (masculine), while still evidencing real empathy and concern for the feelings of others (feminine); or, when she displays an obvious, masculine sexual hunger/good taste in yaoi combined with instances of feminine modesty; or, even, how she is portrayed through her actions and feelings regarding Sai (both masculine rationale and feminine intuition ruling her attitude); all of these dualities serve to make her into a more interesting and admirable character.

As, it?s a common idea running throughout many world cultures and philosophical discussions that the most complete human being is one who is able to fully harness their masculine/feminine traits, embracing the good and discarding the bad. And, in my opinion, Sakura seems to be the one character making any progress towards that higher goal of personal understanding and completion.

Life and Death: Life = medical ninjutsu. Death = other shinobi skills.

Other medic nins have been shown (i.e. Tsunade, Kabuto, etc.), who have been willing to take the lives of others. But, when you get right down to it, they tend to desire prolonging life rather than ending it (remember Kabuto?s greatest benefit for Orochimaru was prolonging the lives of the Sanke nin?s research subjects).

It isn?t that Sakura seems to be particularly bloodthirsty. It?s that, despite her skill as a medic, there seems to be nothing holding her back from killing beyond orders or her own ability. She doesn?t seem to have that same catch to her morality that stops her, even for a second. Whatever the job is, she does it. Life and death juggled effortlessly, endlessly flying past one another, brought about by the touch of her hand.

Now, the above aren?t the only dualities represented by Sakura. They are merely my favorites; the rest discarded due to a lack of typing space. All of them, however, contribute to my affection for the girl, and her interesting place as a microcosmic symbol of most macrocosmic conflicts.




::The Pettiness of Grand Gestures::


?It's bad luck to buy a potted plant for someone who's in the hospital, so... the best choice is cut flowers. Which ones should I get...??

Naruto vows to defeat Neji.

Sasuke roars for revenge.

The Hokage gives his life to save the village.

Chouji takes the red pill.

Throughout the series of ?Naruto?, it isn?t difficult to find grand gestures. I mean, it is a shounen series, and, because of that fact, over-the-top actions and moments of heroism seem to line every other page, to fill every single fight. They are expected and accepted and lauded.

But, what I find at least as interesting as those amazing acts are the little ones.

Sakura bringing flowers to all of the boys who are hospitalized.

Sakura willing to raise her hand during the first chunnin exam.

Sakura?s final words to Sasuke.

Sakura?s lie to Naruto about her injuries.

They don?t change anything. They don?t lead to the capture of Akatsuki or character growth or anything big and important. They are petty, small gestures, done for a variety of reasons (most often empathy and true caring for others).

(CONTINUED ON NEXT POST)