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The Real Reason Romance In Naruto Doesn't Work

When one thinks of the extremely popular manga and anime series "Naruto," romance is not the first thing that comes to mind. Nor the second. Or the third. First, one thinks of lightning-fast hand signs and epic ninja fights, then one thinks of an incredible soundtrack that has been elevated to be legendary among anime soundtracks as well as part of the meme culture, and thirdly, one likely thinks of Naruto (Junko Takeuchi) persistently trying to get his rival and friend Sasuke (Noriaki Sugiyama) to either acknowledge him or stop being an angry, angsty teenager with big brother issues.

That being said, it does not mean there is no romance whatsoever in "Naruto." The simple fact alone that "Boruto" exists should tell people as much. However, fans well-versed in the universe know that romance in the series took a backseat when compared to other themes. Why is that? A user on Reddit seems to have gotten close to figuring it out.

NaruSaku or NaruHina?

A user (who has since deleted their account) wrote a lengthy essay-like post exploring two incompatible but popular pairings in the fandom: Naruto Uzumaki and Sakura Haruno (Chie Nakamura), and Naruto and Hinata Hyūga (Nana Mizuki), which are commonly referred to as NaruSaku and NaruHina respectively. As fans will surely know, of the two, the pairing which became canon in the series was NaruHina, and for this particular fan, this was the only logical outcome as it made "perfect sense from both a thematic point of view and from a raw romantic point of view."

This Redditor did not hold back in dragging NaruSaku through the mud and unpacking in exactly what ways NaruHina was superior. Indeed, perhaps the one negative aspect of this essay is how it's missing some nuance, as another user, u/nightfishin, pointed out: "There's plenty of times she shows [Naruto] care and affection, the way you write about Sakura she comes off as this all evil witch."

Nevertheless, the essay goes into comprehensive detail as to why "NaruHina was the only couple that was ever going to make sense in a story deeply infused by Taoist ideas and themes." Furthermore, the user relegates NaruSaku fans to a position of ignorance in regards to romance: "shippers don't understand real-world love and romance; they're young, naive and have weird standards for love and relationships that no adult in a healthy romance would ever accept."

Indeed, in an interview Kishimoto himself revealed that he had "decided on Hinata a while ago" and that if he were to make Sakura fall for Naruto, she would seem too inconsistent as she had always had feelings for Sasuke. Making the kunoichi change her mind all of a sudden would've, in his mind, made her unlikeable. 

The inability to write romance

But NaruSaku shippers are not the only people this Redditor described as not being romance-savvy. Although this user does show Masashi Kishimoto, the author of the series, some reverence, they also point out how the mangaka himself has in the past been candid about his inability to write romance. In the Redditor's words, considering "Kishi's blatant admission to being inept at romance in general we have to understand what we got from NaruHina was as close to romantic development Kishimoto could muster."

A user named Shinobi1jutsu, this time posting on Fanverse.org, shared a similar view on the issue: "Even the very few moments where there are romantic type instances, they seem so awkward, forced, bizarre, and unrealistic. This just seems odd to me since [Kishimoto is] generally such a brilliant writer. He himself is married, and has been since 2003, and also has a son, so I'm not sure why romance would be so uncomfortable or foreign to him."

In 2006, already over five years since Kishimoto began "Naruto", he told Shonen Jump that he had yet to give proper thought to the romance aspect of his manga: "With the volumes of Naruto manga I've put out so far, I've already done most of the things I wanted to do," he said, adding, "So now I'm trying to figure out what to do next. Well, I haven't really written about romantic relationships..."

At the end of the day, even the greatest works within a genre can have their flaws. The main strengths of Kishimoto's work do not rely on romance, instead, they rely on other facets of the story, such as its jaw-dropping fight scenes or riveting character arcs. That's how "Naruto" nevertheless continues to be a hallmark of greatness within the Shonen genre.