When the original series ended its fifteen year run back in November, it was a bittersweet moment. I had to say goodbye to the series that got me into watching anime in a big way. Sure, I’d seen anime before and I loved it but Naruto was the one series that opened me up to the whole manga scene. I saw one episode almost eight years ago and never looked back. So yes, having to let go was painful but at least the ending was good and everyone was happy with everything resolved.
And when I found out about a spin-off, I was delighted. I would get to revisit my old friends and make new ones as I got to know their children. There would be another generation of Naruto and the idea was exciting.
So when I got the email notification saying that the first Gaiden chapter was out, first thing Thursday morning, I shot out of bed and grabbed my laptop absolutely ecstatic that I’d get to see my favourites again after nearly 6 months. But after a few pages, my excitement slowly died.
Now I’m not saying the entire chapter was bad. There were plenty of things I loved about it. I loved Sarada and her relationship with Chocho. There weren’t very many moments of female friendship in the original series and some of my favourite moments were whenever Sakura and Ino were together. To see more of this in the new generation is amazing and I hope that Chocho and Sarada have a lot of scenes together because I like their dynamic. Revisiting Boruto and Naruto’s relationship was great, as was seeing Inojin and Sai together. I’m also really interested in the new kid introduced in this chapter, because I have a strong suspicion that he may be the third member of Boruto and Sarada’s three man cell.
But halfway through the chapter and it starts to seriously focus on Sarada.
Sarada is easily my favourite person in the next generation. Her parents were my favourites in the original series so it’s only logical that I would love her too. And this is why I get so frustrated over this chapter. From the moment she was introduced in chapter 700, I grew protective of her because she showed traits of both my favourites and combined them perfectly. So I developed this sort of maternal instinct for her over the last five months, consuming any fan created works of the Uchiha family being domestic that I could find.
So then to find out that Sasuke had been absent for more than a decade, and Sarada not even being able to remember him felt like a slap to the face.
This is not just because the manga didn’t line up to my expectations, it’s because these characters deserve so much more. Sasuke went through years of suffering, wanting his family back, becoming twisted and warped by his misguided desire for revenge. And the moment he is finally redeemed, happily back in the village with a family, he has to leave again. At this moment in time, it makes very little sense as the Uchihas value love and family over anything else, and it is very out of character for a Sasuke free of vengeance to go off and leave his wife and newborn daughter without any contact for more than ten years. Sarada is an innocent child, who does not deserve growing up without her father when all of the other kids around her get to spend time with theirs. She has grown to doubt her father, her mother and even herself.
But most of all, Sakura does not deserve this at all. She had already waited five years for Sasuke to come back to the village, even hunting him down herself to save him from his own darkness. Then he comes back, albeit with hidden motives. He announces that he will start a revolution but is defeated by Naruto, and content with his loss he willingly returns to Konoha to start a new life. But approximately a year afterwards he leaves again, then comes back to marry Sakura and have a family. And she has been more patient than a thousand saints, waiting for his return to her after everything. She has selflessly offered Sasuke love when no-one else would. But still, Kishimoto has once again decided to separate them.
Because of this, Sakura is once again the laughing stock of the entire fandom.
For the first few hours of the chapter being online, her name was trending on Twitter, the majority of tweets ridiculing her. But if anything, this has once again proved how strong and resilient she actually is, despite a large portion of Naruto’s demographic regarding her as “useless”.
For over a decade, she has raised her daughter alone. Single mothers are some of the most badass people known to humankind because of the sheer pressure and stress they have to deal with on a daily basis. I’m sure her friends would not let her suffer alone, but she has still had to handle the majority of this by herself, all while knowing that her husband is out there somewhere.
And we see in this chapter that the stress is taking its toll.
I don’t blame Sarada for talking back to her mother, she is upset and at the age that children start to give attitude to their parents. But you can see in Sakura’s face that she is tired and the pressure is getting to her. So when Sarada starts questioning the relationship between Sakura and Sasuke, she cracks and accidentally destroys their house with her monstrous strength, before fainting.
And here we have something else that makes no sense. According to Shizune, Sakura used to faint frequently, but in the original manga the only time she passed out for a reason other than loss of chakra or head trauma is during the bell test, when Kakashi put her under the genjutsu to see a half-dead Sasuke.
Whether this continuity error is explained later, I don’t know yet, but right now it seems like Kishimoto has confused her with Hinata. Even if she is sick, she should be able to heal herself by using the Byakugou seal.
Also, using Karin as a plotpoint just seems to me like he’s trying to create unnecessary drama. We have already had it confirmed via Twitter and promotional material that Sarada is the biological daughter of Sakura, and this is dragging up old fan-theories from months ago, creating more in-fighting and shipping wars, when the online forums had only just settled. I understand that drama has to be created somewhere but it could have been done differently.
The Uchiha family deserves happiness. Knowing Kishimoto, he probably has something hidden up his sleeve to explain everything but there is nothing that can really justify Sasuke not being present in his daughter’s life. This is given that all of his character development points to him being completely devoted to his family and it seems really out of character for him to abandon them. I understand that I could be slightly over-reacting because of my Western cultural values, as I know that the Japanese culture has a heavy emphasis on the father to be the breadwinner of the family and to often spend long hours working, but for me, 12 years is too long to go without seeing his only child. While he may be away trying to protect them, that’s still 12 years of his child’s life that he won’t get to experience.
I am still waiting patiently to see the outcome, but for now, I just don’t see how this can be resolved.