The world of Naruto is defined by its wealth of colorful and unique characters, from the broody, so-called cool genius, Uchiha Sasuke, to the colorful and thematic ninja like the stoic bug-boy Aburame Shino or the powerful sand-bender Gaara. Each character within the canon is driven by their own unique moral code and individual point of view, they captivate audiences with their uniqueness and specific voice, they pursue individual goals and objectives separate from their responsibilities as ninja. Each of these characters could easily replace Naruto Uzumaki as protagonist if the perspective was shifted, because they are all so deep and complex in their own right.
All, that is, with one notable exception—the de facto ingénue Haruno Sakura.
Sakura’s defining characteristics seem to be much more binary than the other characters of this universe and decidedly less nuanced. She likes Sasuke, she doesn’t like Naruto, but any real investigation into the hows and whys of her infatuation reveal a gaping and awful void where there ought to be more motivation. This gap in motivational forethought might be something that could be overlooked, were it not for the precise and specific motivations of everyone around her. Furthermore, her ninja abilities are far below those of her contemporaries and seem to have no unifying theme or cohesive style aside from baseline minimums. Her most distinguishing characteristic, in fact, seems to be her knack for being around more powerful ninja.
It’s a problem that the narrative has attempted to address on several occasions, from the time when she “selflessly” cut her hair to escape a trap during the Chuunin exam arc to the Shippuden transition when Tsunade takes over her training and teaches her healing Jutsu and rage punch abilities. Yet even in these instances, Sakura’s attempts at self-actualization fall flat.
After making a big proclamation that she doesn’t want to be a victim anymore during the Chuunin exams, and dramatically cutting her hair, all she really manages to do is to fall on the sword (so to speak) while her comrades recuperate and come back with renewed determination to (again) save her. Her post Shippuden power surge is little more than a carbon copy of Tsunade’s abilities—which fit better into the overall style of Tsunade’s femme fatale motif (which more closely matches Ino’s style) and seldom avail her teammates much more than below average support—even her super punch ability works more as a deterrent to Naruto’s advances than any real threat to their shared enemies.
Which brings us to Sakura’s most defining quality, her role in the ongoing love/hate triangle between the central protagonist and antagonist of the series. Naruto is enamored with Sakura from the moment we meet him (God only knows why), while Sakura is hopelessly in love with Sasuke who loves only power and vengeance. This cycle of infatuation and disinterest drives much of the early episodes, but (inexplicably) continues, unaltered when Sasuke betrays the village and Naruto nearly loses his life trying to bring him back, for no reason other than that he promised Sakura.
Believe me, I understand the value of a good “will they/won’t they” arc, it keeps audiences captivated and hoping one way or another (see also: Twilight series), but there has to be a reasonable limit, but in Sakura’s case, there really doesn’t seem to be one. Betraying her, her home village, nearly murdering her closest friends and even attempting to murder her on numerous occasions—none of these things are deal-breakers for her, apparently. She retains this crush on Sasuke, in spite of never being encouraged in the slightest and continues to exploit Naruto’s feelings for her to try and bring Sasuke back to Konoha Village, in spite of everyone else’s wishes.
Sasuke never minces words with her and only ever treats her harshly, yet for whatever reason, Sakura just can’t quit him—which may in fact be her specific ninja way, battered housewife jutsu. Her chakra enables her to make excuses for Sasuke’s abusive behavior, his disloyalty only makes her view him as even more of a “bad boy” and in spite of his directness and explicit statements about his motivations and his desire for power above all else—she continues to believe that there is a softer side to him which will reciprocate her feelings some day.
Self-delusion no jutsu!
Sakura’s not just a boring, lazy and out of place character in Naruto, she’s a downright dangerous example to set for female viewers of a show which caters in large part to younger viewers. Sasuke and Sakura’s relationship normalizes abuse and even glorifies self-sacrificing, obsessive infatuation—a terrible example to set for a character that a frightening number of girls view as a role model (not as many as the better female characters, but still, too many).
With all this in mind, it ought to be pretty obvious that Haruno Sakura is just the worst.