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Episode 125: Konoha's Allies: The Shinobi of the Sand!

Ahh, those Sand siblings--can't live with them, can't live without them! I say that with all affection, my occasional frustration with them aside. I had of course been waiting for their arrival in the anime arc for a long time, and what a grand entrance they made! I happen to like all three of their voice actors, too--especially Temari's. I like the way Temari's voice is lower than most of the other girls'. But my favorite Sand sibling has to be Gaara. It was so uplifting to see him step in for Lee like that. It made me want to stand up and cheer, as in take THAT, Kimimaro--you have met your match! Gaara also looks so much more at peace with himself these days. I like his outfit, too--much better than his old one. And seriously--who can resist a redhead?

Most of the action in the episode, though, centered around Kankuro/Kiba/Sakon/Udon. I'm not quite sure what to make of Kankuro sometimes. In fanfics I usually see him portrayed as the annoying teenaged brother to the manic Gaara and the responsible Temari, which I think is a rather endearing portrayal. But as this episode showed, Kankuro is a ruthless, bloodthirsty shinobi. In some ways he's more reckless and cruel than Gaara. Gaara was the way he was because he had, let's face it, a miserable childhood and a monster inside of him. But he actually started out as a very sweet boy. Kankuro seems like, Gaara aside, he's never been afraid to push anyone around. Okay, he seems like a bit of a bully and meanie. But to quote Kiba, "They were fearsome as enemies, but as allies, they couldn't be more reliable." I know that in the current manga arc Kankuro is laid up in the hospital and vulnerable, and fans have been remarking on how good looking he is without his hat and mask (personally, I think he would look better with dark hair), but he showed some very nasty skills against Sakon/Udon in this episode. What a nasty way to go, enemy or not, locked inside a puppet with a dozen sharp spikes hurled into your body from all sides. Nasty, Kankuro--you are nasty! You could tell that was what Kiba was thinking, too--his eyes grew all wide and his pupils shook.

As for dear, darling Temari...sigh. Now, I like Temari. I really do. (I've said this before, I'm sure.) And I wish it was she who had been chosen Kazekage because I think she'd be great for the job. But I just can't be impressed with her jutsu. I mean, she doesn't even do anything! She just waves her gi-normous fan around! And here Shikamaru has been working so hard to give Tayuya a real fight and suffering under her genjutsu and all that, and Temari just waltzes in and does two measly moves (doing immense damage to the forest, I might add!) and Tayuya keels over and dies. How lame is that! Okay, so she bites her own finger and summons a ferret. But the rest of the time is just spent flirting with Shikamaru!

The music that starts playing in the background after Temari summons her ferret is admittedly cool, and I can't wait until that appears in the next Naruto soundtrack. And Temari has a nice, spunky smile, okay. This whole Shikamaru/Temari thing...I'm going to horrify anime_babble and say that I'm becoming resigned to it. The main reason is that Shikamaru's character is changing in a direction that I just don't find that appealing for Ino's sake anymore. He's become so...boring! He's not the lazy, effortlessly brilliant, sarcastic Shikamaru of our days of yore. He's responsible, self-deprecating, a word, he's different. And maybe this new Shikamaru is more suited to Temari than he is to our loveable Ino.</span>


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Episode 124: The Beast Explodes! Burst, Blow, and Break Through!

Can I just say that I LOVED THIS EPISODE??!! :D I haven't been made to laugh so hard at a Naruto episode in a long, long time. It was fabulous! Lee was fabulous! And I just got such a kick out of that little flashback with Team Gai. I liked it so much, in fact, that I couldn't rest until I had written a one-shot about it. If you're interested, here is the description and link!

Title: Drunk with Love
Summary: Inspired by episode 124 of the anime. Why was Tenten standing on the sidelines as Gai and Neji tried to restrain a drunken Lee? A one-shot of what really happened that day, rated PG-13, just in case.

It was just too funny to pass up the opportunity to fill in that "missing moment"!

The animation was really excellent this time around, a real improvement over the last few episodes, which I think have been of a little lower animation quality. The way Lee's hair moved as he swayed back and forth, and the way his body seemed to stretch and thin as he moved drunkenly, was just perfect! I loved Kimimaro's utterly bemused expression as Lee kept falling into a stupor before getting back up again. Lee's voice actor also did a wonderful job.

And--FINALLY--the Sand trio have arrived! I thought the animators did an excellent job building up that moment simultaneously. I haven't been a fan of the three simultaneous battles format because it seemed to cause very sharp breaks in the story's continuity, but the moment of revelation made it all worth it.

Honestly, WOW!
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The Naruto OST II Top Five...Itachi's match...Gaara/Hinata

I said that I would present my Top Five for the second Naruto soundtrack someday, and now is as good a time as any!

5. "Daylight in Konoha"--A nice, cheery, Konoha-pride piece. In my mind, this song is forever associated with Kiba, Shino, and Hinata training together, with Kiba and Akamaru doing their "dynamic air marking" while Shino collects his bugs with a bemused expression. And Hinata's just along enjoying the beautiful day. That's what this song reminds me of. A beautiful, happy day.

4. "Confrontation"--This may seem like a strange choice for number four, but there's something about this piece that intrigues me. It usually plays when a new enemy has introduced himself, and the opponents are sizing each other up. The rattle in the background really lends a feeling of tension to the piece, and I love the deep drum pattern that recurs in the bass line.

3. "Konohamaru's Theme"--This is just a wonderfully goofy, light-hearted little piece that makes me smile. :D See? It did it again! (I'm listening to the individual pieces as I type.)

2. "Sasuke's Theme"--Even though this is titled "Sasuke's Theme," the person who comes to mind the most when I hear this track is Itachi. The scene is where he returns to Konoha after his long absence and runs into Asuma and Kurenai. This song comes on when Asuma and Kurenai realize who it is they've run into...the infamous mass murderer of the Uchiha clan! It's got a nice, mellow beat that suits the cool, sinister Itachi perfectly.

1. "Hinata vs. Neji"--This is probably my favorite out of both soundtracks. There's just something about this song, it's quiet, dignified sorrow, that gets me every time. I love the zither's opening melodic line, and the soaring flute melody that comes a few measures in is awesome as well. But what I love best is the low bass drum-wood block-tambourine pattern that repeats steadily in the background. That just gives this piece the added touch that it needs. Even though it's titled "Hinata vs. Neji" because this is the song that plays in the background when Neji is telling Naruto about the Hyuuga controversy, it also shows up at the Sandaime's funeral, to great effect.

And now for a bit of a confession. I usually don't indulge in crack!pairings, but I'm going to 'fess up and say that there is one crack!pairing that I am particularly fond of. And believe me, I know it's really out there, but here it is...


Wait! Before you dismiss it as absurd! I've actually thought about this, that is, there's a modicum of reasoning behind it! I know that it's way more popular to ship Itachi/Sakura (as if that's not a crack!pairing) but there's just something terribly unsettling about that ship to me. It's the power imbalance. Itachi is just so much stronger than Sakura that it would be a horribly unequal relationship. Itachi needs to meet his match in a strong, independent, mature woman, and the person that suits the bill best is none other than Temari. She's the only one who could both intrigue him and have the backbone to be her own person and not simply succumb to him. She's also closest to him in age. Now, don't get me wrong. Itachi is an evil, evil person--we have no idea why he murdered the entire Uchiha clan and left only Sasuke alive to avenge the family, but the fact that he did so is just horrible. But if I had to ship him with someone, it would be Temari. I had this whole imaginary scenario of Temari becoming Kazekage and then having to take responsibility for fighting Akatsuki and then meeting Itachi that way and...well, I don't know what happens after that. But aesthetically, they don't look bad together.

Anyway. Like I said, it's just an indulgence.

Speaking of seemingly absurd pairings, one that I've come across more and more lately is Gaara/Hinata. And unlike other unusual pairings, I was rather intrigued by this one. Not enough to ship it, but enough to ponder it and consider why it is a little more common these days. I can see the reasoning behind it. Gaara's had a really painful past--like Naruto--which makes him, obviously, reluctant to trust people with his unconditional love. But Hinata is the type, as we know from her affection for Naruto, who can love someone unconditionally and devotedly, and who can look beyond the obvious to recognize someone's true worth. I have a feeling that Hinata might see that in Gaara. And Gaara would find in Hinata someone who doesn't judge, but who would love him for who he is. Hypothetically, that is. And, well, they sort of look cute together, don't they?

Okay. That's enough crack!pairings for now. Something's gotten into me today!
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The Naruto OST I Top Five

One of the things that makes the Naruto anime series so wonderful is the soundtrack. Here the genius of Toshiro Masuda meets the genius of Kishimoto Masashi. Alternately goofy, sad, triumphant, and pensive, Toshiro’s music perfectly complements the series’ most unforgettable moments. Only the first two installments of the soundtrack have been released, and I for one am looking forward to the next one, since some of the great songs from the recent episodes of the series have yet to be made available. Just listening to the first Naruto OST gives me such an intense feeling of nostalgia for those early days of my obsession with the series! Here are my top five favorite songs from the first soundtrack, in ascending order:

5. “Evening”—I love the peaceful, simple tune of the flute superimposed on the steady rhythm of the zither. This is the background music in the scene where Kakashi, Sasuke, Naruto, and Sakura arrive in the Country of the Wave way back during their first real mission. It’s a perfect “Country of the Wave” song; it’s as if by listening to it you can just visualize a small village located on the edge of a river with beautiful mountains in the background.

4. “I Said I’m Naruto”—This is an upbeat song that takes me back to the old days when Naruto was young, flawed, exuberant, and innocent. It captures his personality so well and reminds me of him taking his first steps toward becoming Hokage. In general, very uplifting and inspiring.

3. “Loneliness”—This song is so wistful-sounding that it makes my heart ache. I love the opening flute solo, of course, but my favorite part is when the acoustic guitar comes in a little bit later. This song reminds me of Naruto reflecting on his unhappy childhood.

2. “Sadness and Sorrow”—Another heartbreaking song, it’s been used for many a heartbreaking scene. One that comes to mind is back in the first arc of the series, when Kakashi and Team 7 visit the Country of the Wave. It plays when Sakura thinks Sasuke is dead and delivers those memorable lines about the twenty-fifth rule of being a shinobi (or whatever the number of the rule is)—she remembers how she blithely memorized the dictum that a shinobi should never show any emotion at the same time that she collapses into sobs over Sasuke. It also plays when Naruto bursts out into a bitter lecture at Zabuza, and then we see Zabuza—that hardened, professional assassin—break down in tears. And of course, “Sadness and Sorrow” was also used when Sakura desperately confesses her love to Sasuke in an attempt to stop him from leavin Konoha in Episode 109. It was perfectly employed in all of these scenes!

1. “The Rising Fighting Spirit”—This song just kicks ass. I like the juxtaposition of the lute and the flute (especially the lute) with the electric guitar and drums. This song plays when one or another of the shinobi breaks out with a cool move and just lifts you up and makes you want to cheer!

Wow—going through the songs has been like walking down memory lane. Some day I will have to present my top five for the Naruto OST II, but that’s enough rambling for now.

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Episode 122: Fake! Shikamaru, the man who gambles on the revival of the dead

Wow--I'm not sure if it was because the future of Naruto fan-subbing was momentarily threatened or what, but watching this week's episode renewed my love for the series after the beating it's taken recently. To be honest, I didn't find much to be hopeful for in the new manga arc judging by issues 246 and 247. With both Naruto and Sakura now both powerful and cool, I'm afraid they're in the danger of becoming rather Gary Stu and Mary Sue-ish. Now, I like Sakura. I always have. I never held it against her that she was not a strong kunoichi. To me her strength always came from the emotional growth she's experienced since becoming a genin and the way her feelings for Sasuke matured into something wonderfully, desperately genuine. But to turn her into a strong, powerful, beautiful, perfect character is definitely not the way I imagined her personality to develop. Seeing Shikamaru hanging out with Temari in issue 247 also came down hard for the Shikamaru/Ino shipper that I am. BUT! It is still too early to tell. I'm still clinging onto the possibility that Ino and Tenten will get to play meaningful roles in the future storyline...

Gaara's grown into a very handsome guy, hasn't he? And Kazekage, no less--although to be honest I was hoping Temari would become Kazekage. She's the oldest sibling after all, with a good head on her shoulders and deep loyalty to her village. It would have been nice to see a female ascend to the title, and I didn't think Gaara was emotionally stable enough for the job. Of course his skills can't be doubted--it just seemed like too obvious a choice to pick him. But I'm cool with it! He's clearly calmed down a lot over these last few years.

Anyway! Episode 122. I felt sorry for poor Kiba, wading through the river with the injured Akamaru. He is so sweet to him! I've also never seen Kiba without his jacket on, but apparently he wears overalls underneath. When he wiped the tears away from his eyes, I just wanted to give the poor guy a hug. It was a rare moment when the burdens of being a shinobi are so heavy that the shell that they build up around their emotions cracks just a bit. It was nice to see that bit of vulnerability in him!

The main focus of the episode was, of course, Shikamaru's battle with Tayuya, which I thought was very well done. Tayuya's rather attractive in her Level 2 form, isn't she? She loses that weird hat she always wears and gets some white horns instead. And her red hair grows out quite a bit. Shikamaru, of course, was brilliant with his analysis of her finger movements, but again, I thought the best moment came when he was at his most vulnerable--when Tayuya used her music to create the illusory world and mentally paralyze him. Having never seen Shikamaru lose his cool like that before, it was especially unsettling to see him scream with pain so uninhibitedly. (The high-level genjutsu techniques are so nasty, aren't they? Itachi's Tsukiyomi comes to mind.) And the way Shikamaru used his shadow to break his own finger to snap out of it was awesome--that's sheer will, right there. He's learned some pretty cool new tricks with his kage mane no jutsu since the last time we saw him fight.

But to top it all off, a new guest is arriving next week--none other than the Green Beast of Konoha himself, Rock Lee!!! The preview was very tantalizing indeed. And we can certainly say that the Sand Trio are hot on his heels, since Kiba has already detected them. Thank goodness fan-subbers are going to continue their noble work. I don't know what I'd do with myself if they didn't!
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Episode 120: Growl! Howl! The Ultimate Tag

I'm sure everyone noticed the slight modifications in the opening credits that appeared in this week's Naruto episode--Orochimaru has transformed from his old self to his new, bandaged, green-haired version. And instead of Jiroubu and Kidoumaru, we have Orochimaru's darling, Kimimaro, swinging his knife with his shirt hanging in a sexy, off-the-shoulder sort of way. Yowza!

As for the episode itself, aside from some great Kiba scenes, I confess that it still had the feeling of a filler episode and left me wanting more. I think it was difficult to balance the three simultaneous fights--instead of getting an in-depth look at one, we get a fairly shallow glance at all of them. The highlights of the episode were undoubtedly Kiba and Tayuya. First, Kiba. The poor guy got stuck with the very nasty Sakon and Ukon. Ukon, of course, is even meaner and nastier than Sakon and has the uncanny ability to embed himself in another person, which can't be a pleasant feeling. There were some sweet moments between Akamaru and Kiba, though. I like the sorrowful expression on Kiba's face after Akamaru bit him in frustration, and he really is so much more handsome without his fur hood on. Maybe when we see Kiba three years from now in the manga he won't be wearing that anymore--he needs to let his natural look shine forth! I'm not a fan of Akamaru's "dynamic air marking" (neither is Shino, I'm sure), but the transformation into the drooly, double-headed wolf was suitably cool. The flashback sequence was, however, way too long and not terribly touching, either (it's hard to beat Chouji's and Neji's farewell scenes--especially Chouji's). The part that tugged at my heart strings the most was when Kiba took that kunai and plunged it into his side once Ukon was embedded inside him. The look of bitter determination on his face when he says, "Let's die together" is marvelous. And the music is very appropriately heavy and sad. Great scene.

Other than Kiba, I thought it was most interesting to see Tayuya finally play her flute--she's not bad, either! Her melody is very hauting and airy. That's some nasty jutsu she's learned, though. It's as if she's awakened creatures from the dead and has to charm them with her music. And at least when her mouth is preoccupied with her flute, we don't have to hear her spout swear words constantly! (Not that I mind--it's kind of funny, actually.) But aside from the eerieness of her jutsu and her own tenaciousness--even Orochimaru knows she doesn't like to give up--Tayuya doesn't seem as strong even as Kidoumaru. I can't wait for Temari to come and meet her match...

Lee! Sand Trio! Hurry and come!!
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A problem of terminology...Blue, black, or red?...Personal style

I begin today with a problem of terminology: what do you call those things that the shinobi wear that bear the insignia of their village? The translators usually describe them as "forehead protectors" but the problem is, not everyone wears it on their head, much less on their forehead! In fact, when you think about it, "forehead protectors" come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors, and they are worn in a variety of fashions as well. For lack of a better name, I will stick with the term, "forehead protector" in this post, but it's worth pointing out that the protocol for wearing these forehead protectors is very loosely defined, which makes it interesting to ponder the different ways in which the various shinobi personalize their gear.

Everyone in Konoha seems to start out with the same kind of forehead protector: the standard-issue strip of blue cloth with the metal plate bearing the village insignia. Way back in the early part of the series, we see them displayed neatly on the table in front of the examiners when Naruto takes his final academy test. But as it turns out, not all forehead protectors are blue. Neji's is black, Lee's and Gai's are red. Everyone else's in Konoha, however, are blue. What is the explanation for this? Hinata's is blue, so we can't say that black is a distinctively Hyuuga color. Perhaps Neji simply prefers the color black because it matches the strap he wears around his forehead. As for the red, Gai probably started the trend in order to stand out more, and Lee, naturally, followed suit. Blue, black, or red—seems like a decent range of colors to choose from. A more flamboyant color (yellow, pink, orange, purple, florescent green) might lessen the dignity of village. In any case, color is but one way in which to invest your forehead protector with style—more importantly, you can choose where you want to wear your forehead protector, because this has important implications for its shape.

With the standard-shape cloth strip, we've seen shinobi wear it in the classic fashion around their forehead (like Naruto), but also around their neck (Hinata) and waist (Gai, Lee, Ino). Some like to wear it with the metal plate on top of their head and tie it like a hair band (Sakura). Some like to wear it on their forehead, but at a rakish angle so that it covers one eye (Kakashi). I have to say, though, that I find the classic fashion to be the most dignified—I couldn't imagine Neji or Sasuke wearing their forehead protectors any other way than in the classic fashion. There's just something very simple and elegant about it.

Out of all the genin teams, Asuma's team has the most variety in style. Even though Ino wears the standard-shaped cloth strip, she ties it around her waist for a bit of creativity. Shikamaru's style is definitely unique—his forehead protector is some truncated form of the cloth strip that's pinned to his shirt sleeve. But Chouji’s is even more interesting. His forehead protector, when tied up, is shaped sort of like a pair of briefs. When he ties it on his head, two tufts of hair stick out from where the leg holes would be. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I think it suits Chouji well enough.

My favorite style, though, has to be the bandana/doo-rag type of forehead protector notably worn by Ebisu, Hayate, and of course, Genma! Ebisu and Hayate wear (in Hayate’s case, wore) it the proper way—with the metal plate in front and the tie in the back. But Genma, rebel that he is, wears it backwards, with the metal plate in back and the tie in front. Isn’t he just too cool for words?

Finally, a word must be said about the Sand Trio, since they are practically honorary Konoha members and ought to be considered in any discussion on style, seeing as how they are all three of them quite stylish. Temari goes for the sophisticated, around-the-neck look a la Hinata. Gaara ties his forehead protector on his gourd strap for a very casual and understated look. Finally, Kankoru has an entirely unique forehead protector that is actually part of his overall costume. The metal plate is attached to a long piece of cloth that hangs down to his shoulders, topped off with two protrusions on the top of his head that resemble cat’s ears.

In summary, not only do shinobi work hard and fight hard—they have to look good, too. And one of the ways to do this is to customize one's forehead protector to suit one's personal style.

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Genma’s hotness…The jounin instructor strictness ranking…Shizune’s teaching credentials

As you have undoubtedly noticed, I have acquired an ICON for my name! Thanks to goldberry for recommending places to acquire them—the icon is in fact her creation! I picked Genma because, well, the guy is hot, but also because he is a wise ninja. He won me over when he gave Neji those little words of encouragement after his defeat by Naruto. In fact, with his knack for giving meaningful words of advice, I’m surprised Genma himself isn’t a teacher. I think he’d make a good one. And speaking of teachers...

Out of all the jounin instructors in Naruto, it’s clear to me that Gai is the strictest. He's the type of teacher who would work his students to the bone. That's why his wackiness and exuberance are deceptive--to others he may seem like a lot of fun because he strikes bizarre poses, grins widely, and flashes thumbs-up's entirely too often, but when it comes to training, he's undoubtedly super intense. And having Lee as a student only encourages him since Lee is, well, a sucker for punishment! He likes running 500 laps around Konoha and eats all of Gai’s words of wisdom right up. He’s a living embodiment of Gai’s teaching philosophy—hard work, perseverance, and undying optimism. And let’s not forget that Gai’s strictness is probably the only thing keeping Neji from losing all respect for his teacher. Neji can put up with Gai’s weirdness precisely because he can’t help but respect Gai’s abilities as a ninja and an instructor.  Tenten would probably be a good student no matter who her teacher was, and the fact that she can endure such an intense teacher and two teammates who are constantly upping the ante with each other is really a testament to her own fortitude. Unlike Sakura, though, she still tries to get something out of the experience in order to better herself as a ninja.

After Gai, I would have to put Kurenai next on the strictness level. Some of you may be surprised at this, because there’s an argument to be made that Kakashi should be number two (it’s pretty clear where Asuma belongs!). But while Kakashi does have a real toughness behind his nonchalant exterior, I think Kurenai takes her teaching position much more seriously. Why? First of all, she’s a rookie jounin. As someone who has only recently been admitted into the ranks of the elite, she probably feels that she has something to prove. She wants to show her comrades that she belongs there among them, and that she can be an effective teacher. This leads to the second reason, which is that she is one of the few female jounin that we see. Not only is she a rookie, but she’s a woman, and in a male-dominated society she probably feels an additional pressure to show that kunoichi aren’t wimps. And we do see Kurenai taking her role quite seriously. She pays a special visit to Hiashi to discuss Hinata’s being under her tutelage. Whereas Kakashi really doesn’t involve himself in the personal affairs of his students—he didn’t give Sasuke “the talk” until it was really too late.

After Kurenai on the strictness ranking is Kakashi. Kakashi is definitely stricter than Asuma, but he doesn’t feel as much pressure to prove himself as Kurenai. And he takes a more relaxed approach to teaching than Gai does. He would rather assign an exercise, sit back, and let his students work through the problem by themselves. The only time he takes a more intense teaching approach is when he is training Sasuke for the third stage of the chuunin exam, and that was an unusual circumstance.

And finally, we have good ‘ole Asuma. Just because Asuma is a very relaxed teacher doesn’t mean he is ineffective. After all, he was the only jounin teacher—ironically—who had a student reach the chuunin level. Granted, this probably had a lot to do with Shikamaru’s natural talent, but Asuma was the one who nurtured and encouraged that talent (by playing shogi with him) without pushing Shikamaru too hard. In fact, Asuma is quite suited for the students that he has, just as Gai is well suited to his students. Chouji and Shikamaru need someone they can feel comfortable around, who will accept them as they are, and bring out their natural talents. They need a nurturer, not a slave-driver. And Asuma is probably the only one who is laid back enough to handle the occasionally manic Ino (I think Ino would annoy Kakashi, whereas Gai wouldn’t be able to let her natural exuberance express itself.).

Finally, I just want to pitch the idea of Shizune becoming a teacher, specifically an additional teacher for the four kunoichi. Kurenai is probably a great teacher to Hinata, but I’m just not sure how well she could handle Sakura and Ino because Kurenai is rather serious and Sakura and Ino are kind of wacky at times. Shizune can be serious and proper—she’s always nagging Tsunade to live up to the dignity of a Hokage—but she can be quite wacky too. I love her expressions of shock when Tsunade does something unusual, like work. She has a sense of humor, and you definitely need a sense of humor to deal with Sakura and Ino. At the same time, Shizune also has a very compassionate side, as when she tried to comfort Gai about Lee’s condition after Tsunade told Lee to quit being a ninja. That will help her deal with Hinata. Finally, Shizune commands respect—she is a pretty kick-ass medical ninja, after all, and she seemed to be the leader of the mission with Genma, Raidou, and Iwashi (was it Iwashi? I always forget who that guy is). This will make her a legitimate teacher in Tenten’s eyes, since Tenten needs a teacher that she can respect. It also helps that Shizune was the student of Tenten’s own idol, Tsunade.

Skills-wise, I think Shizune would be suitable for the four girls as well. She’s a great medic-nin, obviously, which is great for Sakura and Hinata, since they have interests in that direction. I can also see her as being skilled with weapons—when she first met Kabuto, she caught him off guard with a quick throw of a few senbon, which made even Kabuto think, “Tsunade’s attendant is good.” As for Ino…well, Shizune probably can’t do much to help her with her specific jutsu style, but she has enough all-around qualities to train her in more general ways. And if Ino’s interests ever head in the direction of healing jutsus, Shizune would be great for that. After all, we can’t ever have too many medic-nins, can we?
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Issue #245: Naruto's Return

I finally got around to experimenting with Live Journal a little more and was able to update my journal format to the much cooler-looking Newer Version. You, my esteemed reader, are looking at it right now. Yesss! I can stop wondering why everyone else's looks so sleek and sophisticated compared to my blocky and un-color-coordinated page.

As I am sure all are aware, the much anticipated beginning of Part II of Naruto has finally arrived, and I am here to offer my initial impressions. But before we start talking about the storyline and the character changes, etc., I have to say that I found the results of the character popularity contest quite interesting. Sasuke has taken over the number one spot on the polls, and Naruto has dropped to number two! Does this mean that audiences everywhere like the tortured, bad-boy Hamlet type over the noble, good Horatio? And Kakashi-sensei is in number three. In fact, out of everyone on Team 7 the outlier is Sakura--who is back in eighth place (although to her credit, she is the highest-ranking female ninja).

Shikamaru is the highest-ranking "minor" character, unsurprisingly--his initial laziness and later transformation into the understatedly heroic team leader has made him quite endearing to people. And the next most popular member of Team Shikamaru is Hyuuga Neji, everybody's favorite once-caged bird--I had to give a little cheer at this! (I was also pleased to see that Hakke Rokuyuuyon-shou ranked so highly on the favorite moves list.) Hinata continues to surprise me by ranking so highly despite having been an unimportant character since the end of the Chuunin exam--but I like that readers appreciate her. Itachi is overrated, I think. And it's baffling to me that Kiba ranks more highly than Lee. Finally, it's even more startling to see Kimimaro in 18th place! KIMIMARO, folks! I've told you what I think about that fellow. Kimimaro is favored over Hayate and Shino and Jiraiya and Tenten? But Kurenai...didn't even make the list. Oh,the injustice!

Anyway. Enough about the polls. Back to the story.

Change is always hard. It's one of life's inevitables. And I'll confess my bias here and say that I always find change difficult to handle, both in life and in epic stories--no matter how much the characters grow and develop, after I finish a good book I always look back to the beginning with a bit of nostalgia. At how young and innocent and fun everyone was in the exposition of the story. That's something of the way I felt when I read through issue 245. It's too early to tell, of course, but while it was great to see Naruto and Sakura again, they both seemed a little too...perfect for me. The "normal and good" members of Team 7--here the implied contrast is to the missing Sasuke, who's gone off the deep end to the dark side. "See how great Naruto and Sakura turned out?" the moralizing voice of the manga seems to say. "Compared to the delinquent Sasuke who chose to seek the nasty Orochimaru instead of staying behind with the good legendary sannin." And when will Sasuke's name come up again? They haven't forgotten about him, have they? When will they renew their vow to "save" him? Of course I didn't expect this to be the first thing they talked about, but Sasuke was certainly in the back of my mind as I read the issue.

I know I'm always harping about how the female characters deserve more credit, etc., etc., but the new "beautiful and strong Tsunade No. 2" Sakura was disconcerting. And anyway, I should qualify that and say that the female characters other than Sakura deserve more credit, because Sakura already gets so many privileges as the lead female! She gets to be on the same team as Naruto and Sasuke. She's the target of the affection of many men (Naruto, Lee, and probably Sasuke as well). She gets the very cool Kakashi as a teacher. Must we make her an awesome ninja too, star pupil of the legendary Tsunade? To me, the great thing about Sakura was the fact that she wasn't a great ninja, that what she had to offer to Sasuke was, as I've said elsewhere, nothing more or less than total, unconditional devotion. That despite her objective weakness as a ninja, she could still help Sasuke in a meaningful, emotional way. But now she's...perfect! Pretty, strong, emotionally mature, AND a great ninja. No more character development needed!

Of course something has to be said about the new outfits. Naruto's doesn't look too different. But Sakura! Shorter skirt, knee-high boots...I suppose the hotness factor has increased a bit there! (Which, despite his friendly, carefree reaction, I'm sure Naruto noticed--I mean, come on, how can you spend two and a half years with Jiraiya and still be an innocent little boy?! I highly doubt Naruto is as ingenuous as he made himself out to be in this issue.) Speaking of which, Naruto/Sakura proponents must have gotten a kick out of this issue. Sakura really seems to see and appreciate Naruto in a new light, and I am almost certain that Naruto's feelings for her have stayed the same. Sasuke's departure seems to be drawing them together more and more...

Poor Sasuke. What's happened to him?

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The worst love triangle, Ino/Shikamaru/Temari

I like Temari. I really do. Despite the fact that she defeated Tenten in a very mean and cheap way, and that I'm not a huge fan of her huge fan (ha ha), Temari has a certain spunk and toughness. You have to be, if you're Gaara's sister and daughter of the Kazekage and have to put up with Kankurou everyday. (It's sort of the way I feel about Tenten--to be on the same team as Gai, who is, I'm sure the toughest of all the genin instructors, Lee with the fanatical work ethic, and Neji who's just...Neji, you have to be tough! I don't know if Sakura, Ino, and Hinata could handle that kind of team.) And sure, Temari seems more mature...even sophisticated, as far as genin kunoichi go.

All of this is obviously leading to a huge "but"! And here it is: BUT I just don't like the Shikamaru/Temari ship. There, I said it. The problem with this ship is, of course, Ino! Next to Naruto/Sakura/Sasuke (or any triangle involving Sakura), it seems that Ino/Shikamaru/Temari is the most popular love triangle out there. First, I think love triangles are painful to read, especially if I like all of the characters reasonably well and I have to watch one of them get hurt (if you really hate one of them, it doesn't really matter, does it?). I'm always afraid that the development of the love triangle will have me end up disliking a character I don't want to dislike--if that makes any sense. For example, I don't want to dislike Temari, but if the love triangle plays out in an annoying way, I might end up disliking her in the story, which I don't want to do! (All right, I am guilty of wishing for a one big happy shinobi family.) Second, Ino is clearly the underdog in this triangle, which is unique in having two girls competing over the one guy. With the ratio of female to male characters in the series, one would more often than not expect two guys competing over a girl. And as I've mentioned in almost every post I've made, Ino gets no love in fandom* and I always feel the urge to defend her. To put a horribly gendered spin to this, it's easier for me to handle one of the genin guys being heartbroken than one of the genin girls--either Ino or Temari, actually. (*The prominent exception to this statement are the--famous? infamous?--Link and Luigi, who do happen to like Ino quite well, but portray her in a way--and at the expense of the other female characters--I find really off-putting. I refer you to their latest, "As I See It," on

Before the Sasuke leaving Konoha arc in the series, I thought Shikamaru/Ino was a sure thing. Next to his mother, Ino was probably the most prominent female in Shikamaru's life. Their parents were friends, they were long-time classmates, and even though Ino manifested a lot of annoyance with him (and he with her), the way she supported him during the chuunin exams was a really pleasant surprise. It was also cute to imagine the lazy but observant Shikamaru being able to see past Ino's brashness and recognize her inner vulnerability and compassion, as when she couldn't help but jump in and save Sakura in the Forest of Death. Shikamaru seemed like the only guy who would notice and value that wonderful part of Ino that, when push comes to shove, is fiercely loyal to those who are important to her...including him!

But now I'm not so sure where this is all going. With the Sasuke leaving Konoha arc, Temari has obviously come back in an important way, Ino has been left behind in Konoha. If Temari takes a certain shine to Shikamaru, can he really resist? He obviously caught her eye when he "defeated" her in the final round of the chuunin exam with his understated cleverness. And next to Temari, Ino must seem shabby, ordinary, even childish. How awful is that?! What made Shikamaru special was that he saw something special in Ino that everyone else might not see--but now that he's the cool leader and chuunin and all that, it's like he's moved on to bigger and better Temari. And no, it would not make me feel better if Ino wound up with Chouji. Chouji's great and everything, but he and Ino just don't have the romantic tension that Shikamaru and Ino have (or had).

So I have to admit that I will be very disappointed it Shikamaru's and Ino's stories diverge, and he ends up working more and more with Temari, for all that I like and respect Temari. It's just not the same for me.