Masashi Kishimoto’s Female Characters in ‘Naruto’ Revisited

I’m sure I’m not imagining things now, or overanalyizing.

Naruto is a boys-will-be-boys, fraternal love shounen anime. I don’t think that the manga is so different from the anime arcs that it can’t be compared, so I’ll judge the thing as a whole and offer more of my critique.

Of course, Naruto is doing a few things with homoromantic/homoromantic asexual love (?)–that is affection between two or more people of the same gender that is affectionate, sexual, and/or nonsexual–that many fighting anime meant for male audiences does not do. But the rub is that female characters, no matter what positions of power they might hold, are on the periphery as things that need to be protected, mothers, the love interest of male characters, violently irrational maniacs, boy crazy goofs, healers and nurses, spiteful deceptive vipers, canon fodder for male ignorance and sexism perpetrated by male characters.

After watching the most recently subbed episode of Naruto Shippuden (episode 247, “Target: The Nine Tails”), and seeing Kushina’s portrayal, I’m really frustrated with Kishimoto and the animating staff. The mangaka’s resolution to Kushina being brought to the Village Hidden in the Leaves to be a vessel for the Nine Tails, and how she dealt with it, is that she “filled herself with love”. What the hell is that supposed to mean? She got a boyfriend, is this the answer to sexism and making women’s bodies vessels and weapons of political warfare? That’s the resolution to this horrible thing that an entire village and it’s political leaders decided to do to her? And then they told her not to be too loud while she was giving birth to a f**kin’ baby??? 0_0

That’s got to be one of the most horrible and the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. He chose to present her as yet another passive, maternal, my-boyfriend-fixed-the-horrors-of-my-life kind of female character. Another passive, motherly (albeit with a fiery temper) kind of female character, using her inconsequential, passive magical girl powers to save everyone except herself. I’ll tell her the same thing I’d tell Sailor Moon: She would get punched in the face and murdered if she tried to use the power of love to stop a fist from coming at her and to stop someone trying to kill her. I think Kushina’s plight could have been presented, at this point, as more realistic.

It’s really sad because several of Kishimoto’s female characters have a lot of promise and potential, but despite that the anime/manga is ongoing, it’s clear that these characters as strong female heroines are being poorly executed/portrayed. I definitely think that Kishimoto’s inability to craft 3-dimensional female heroes is a reflection of how he probably thinks of women and interacts with them. It’s the same hurtle that female viewers and female players such as myself run into with both anime and manga and furthermore the gaming industry.

Art is not separate from those who create it, it comes from within them.


Taviante Queens


Kunoichi/Female Characters in Kishimoto’s ‘Naruto’

I think one of the biggest issues with Naruto, for me as a female viewer of color, is Kishimoto’s/the animators’ treatment and portrayals of female characters. Even if you were to argue that the target audience is mostly male, this should not excuse or validate sexism and, in some cases, misogyny.

Some of these point may be overlooked but it’s worth saying anyway in terms of how I view the roles and typecasting of female characters/kunoichi in the show.

  1. There is a strict gendered separation of male and female characters that is maintained throughout the series.
  2. Females are members of the team but there’s no way to really say that these male characters are actually friends with them. They are typically either 1) villains, 2) love interests/mothers, 3) team members/colleagues/comrades, or 4) sexual objects. I definitely think Kishimoto and the animators are more interested presenting fraternal relationships.
  3. With the exception of Ten Ten who is rarely seen in the main story arc, many of the primary female characters may be fierce fighters but Kishimoto has firmly seated/stereotyped them as nurturing and motherly with the concept of medical ninjutsu and chakra control. As if females are natural healers and nurturers with natural propensities towards innate chakra control. It’s a useful skill to have but this idea is nonetheless sort of problematic, because it presents female ninjas as natural healers and softens their strength and abilities by placing them in the mold of “the healer type”, as if to cater to a largely male audiences needing motherly figures/nice girls to not feel emasculated. How many male characters do you see presented as healers, with the exception of Kabuto (a villain) and nameless medical nin who appear throughout the series? Because, obviously, guys’ chakra control is too poor so they get all the cool physical/flashy jutsu, yeah. So Kishimoto definitely plays to heteronormative gender roles, albeit in a way that can be overlooked.
  4. The only brown female character so far is presented as a brute (Karui of Kumogakure). Nobody can tell me that two or three or more of the ninjas from the Village Hidden in the Clouds are not racist portrayals, and that includes Killer B.
  5. Ten Ten is the only openly feminist-like character, or at the least the only person inspired by successful, powerful kunoichi (not just their beauty), in the whole series and it seems she gets the least airtime out of the Konoha female shinobi. (And there’s going to be some people who pop up and argue that Sakura’s also an exception but, just to let you know, I’m tired of Sakura, honestly.)
  6. Is there any female ninja whose beauty or big breasts isn’t the focus of what’s great about her?
  7. Many female characters are presented as sacrificial lambs, so to speak. For example: the f*king 5th Hokage, in all her years of combat, training, and experience, never developed a justu that could protect the entire village or kick Pain’s ass (one of Pain’s asses at least). Not that it’s something to be overlooked, but she instead protects the villagers by nearly sacrificing her own life with a passive justu that used her chakra in conjunction with Katsuyu. Annnd then…Naruto swoops in to save the day.
  8. Of course there’s only one female shinobi per team and she will always need a male shinobi to save her at some point.
  9. The younger female characters of the main cast are presented as boy crazy! Ten Ten and Temari, probably less than others but it comes out sometimes.

Additional Relevant Thoughts:

  • Are there no females who have the sharingan?
  • How is it okay for Jiraiya to invade women’s privacy in hot springs and this is largely treated as it is supposed be funny? I like Jariya as character—without the peeping. It’s really starting to bug me. You could have made him an imperfect character without that extent of perversion and sexism/objectification.
  • Is it too much to ask for a cool fat female character who’s not presented as a complete joke?

Naruto’s dad is the 4th Hokage?—kinda of a letdown….

Sorry is this is a spoiler for anybody who didn’t know, but I’m sure most people who have been following the series know this by now… ~MsQ

One of my primary reasons for continuing to watch Naruto once I picked it up years after it came out was the fact that I believed Naruto was a common kid who happened to be an orphan. Come to find out his mother is from some gifted, old-blood type family and his father was the uber-talented, genius Fourth Hokage.

This premise of the show gives into the old orphan fantasy of discovering that their parents were millionaires or superheroes or government spies.

The producers of the anime and the manga artist Masashi Kishimoto spend a lot of time dancing around the fact that Minato is Naruto’s father. They tried their best to draw attention away from the fact, but the resemblance is apparent. I believe that this was to build Naruto’s character apart from his famous deceased parents. However, hardly anyone in anime/manga seems to be from a ordinary working class family. Everybody is from some well-known clan of super-ninjas. With the exception of Rock Lee–we don’t even know who his parents are….

The theme is this: Everybody is [secretly] a princess or prince or related to one from the past or something. Everybody’s from a privileged, wealthy and/or renowned family or something.

Bleach the animation is even trending towards suggesting that viewers feel sympathy towards wealthy/uppercrust characters like Byakuya Kuchiki and Rurichiyo Kasumioji because of their positions in society, their gilded cages. The truth is that I do sympathize…but only to an extent. The people suffering in poverty in the Rukon district (Rukongai) are treated like background noise for much of the show. Though Rukia and Renji are both from the area, they are both either elite Shinigami or adopted into noble families; even Toshiro Histugaya is genius-boy captain.

In the same vein, many of the Naruto movies are all about princesses and other nobility.

As a continuing theme in movies, shows, anime, and manga, the message that this sends to me as a working class member of an oppressed race is disappointing. Furthermore, people with these backgrounds aren’t the only ones who are interesting enough to be main characters. I do not want to pretend to be a princess or fantasize to that extent outside of my class and lived reality all the time.

A real challenge and lovable manga or anime would be one that doesn’t play to the princess/prince theme.

for real,

Ms. Queenly

Kishimoto’s Naruto [the anime], Commentary Part I, Pros

Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto, Part I, Pros 

I will elaborate on what I view as the pros and cons of Naruto, starting with the pros.

++Naruto Pros++ 

1. Themes:

I enjoy several themes presented in Naruto–

  • love versus might
  • roads of peace and roads of vengeance
  • hard work versus natural talent
  • militant shinobi villages in lands that generally aren’t populated with them
  • philosophy of death
  • underdogs and perseverance
  • philosophies of pain
  • horrors of war and politics
  • proving and questioning one’s own existence
  • generational retention
  • following the rules and sticking by your comrades
  • bonds of love and friendship

2. Excellent opening and closing themes. My favorites:

Part I:

++Opening Themes++

  • E01: “Rise” by Jeremy Sweet and Ian Nickus (eps 1-52)
  • E02: “Haruka Kanata (遥か彼方)” by Asian Kung-Fu Generation (eps 53-77)
  • E03: “GO!!!” by FLOW (eps 78-103)
  • E04: “Seishun Kyosokyoku” by Sambomaster (eps 104-128)
  • E06: “Namikaze Satellite (波風サテライト)” by Snowkel (eps 154-178)

++Ending Themes++

  • #01: “Wind” by Akeboshi (eps 1-25)
  • #05: “Ima made Nando mo (今まで何度も)” by the Mass Missile (eps 78-89)
  • #06: “Ryusei (流星)” by Tia (eps 90-103)
  • #07: “Mountain A Go Go Too (マウンテン・ア・ゴーゴー・ツー)” by Captain Stridum (eps 104-115)
  • #09: “Nakushita Kotoba (失くした言葉)” by No Regret Life (eps 129-141)
  • #11: “Soba ni Iru Kara (そばにいるから)” by Amadori (eps 154-165)
  • #13: “Yellow Moon” by Akeboshi (eps 179-191)
  • #15: “Scenario” by SABOTEN (eps 203-220)

Part II:

++Opening Themes++

  • #01: “Hero’s Come Back!!” by nobodyknows+ (eps 1-30)
  • #02: “distance” by LONG SHOT PARTY (eps 31-53)
  • #03: “BLUE BIRD” by Ikimono-Gakari (eps 54-77)
  • #05: “Hotaru no Hikari” by Ikimono-Gakari (eps 103-128)
  • #06: “Sign” by FLOW (eps 129-)
  • #07: “Toumei Datta Sekai (透明だった世界) ” by Motohira Hata (eps 154-179)

++Ending Themes++

  • #01: “Nagare Boshi ~Shooting Star~” by HOME MADE Kazoku (eps 1-18)
  • #08: “BACCHIKOI!!!” by DEV PARADE (eps 91-102)
  • #09: “Shinkokyuu” by SUPER BEAVER (eps 103-115)
  • #12: “For You” by AZU (eps 142-152)
  • #13: “Jitensha” (自転車 Bicycle) by Oreskaband (eps 153-166)
  • #14: “Utakata Hanabi” by Supercell (eps 167-179)
  • #15: “U Can Do It” by Domino (eps 180-192)

3. Music by Toshio Masuda—too beautiful and well suited to the series! The music in Part II is mostly very militant and hometowny but I like some of it.

4. Good characters. My favorites are:

  • Rock Lee
  • Gaara
  • Might Guy
  • Anko
  • Lady Chiyo
  • Tsunade
  • Tenten
  • Hinata Hyuga
  • Shino Aburame
  • Naruto Uzumaki
  • Choji Akimichi
  • Shikamaru Nara
  • Zabuza Momochi+Haku
  • Neji Hyuga (*to Rock Lee* “Forget it!”)
  • Kankuro
  • Shizune
  • Pain

5. Character Foils–Naruto has good character foils. My few of my favorites:

  • Gaara++Naruto
  • Sasuke Uchiha++Itachi Uchiha
  • Iruka++Mizuki
  • Ino++Sakura
  • Might Guy++Kakashi Hatake (the best!, lol)
  • Rock Lee++Neji Hyuga

6. Shinobi battle arts and fighting techniques

7. Sensei and student relationships. My all time favorite is Rock Lee and Might Guy, followed by Hotaru and Utakata.

8. [SPOILER?] Last but definitely, definitely not least at all, the symmetry, the drama, and the poetic beauty of many of the relationships (in accompanied by Toshio Masuda’s music). Like when Sakura cut her hair or when Naruto and Sasuke fought at the end of Part I, and when Lady Chiyo sacrificed her life to bring Gaara back and left behind the legacy (though the potential symbolism behind her dying as one of the strongest female shinobi in the series is kind of troubling).

 See Also:

Anime, A Precursor