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The pink-haired ninja Sakura Haruno we see in BORUTO is nothing like what she was when Masashi Kishimoto began his long-running manga Naruto back in 1997. It’s been more than a decade and a half since she was first introduced to fans, but Sakura is arguably one of the characters who has grown the most in Naruto’s large cast of ninjas.
Before Sakura makes her debut appearance in BORUTO, let’s take a look back at how she developed throughout the story:
An Artificial Start
When the series began, Sakura was an honors student with tons of confidence in herself and her abilities. She constantly looked down on her classmate Naruto, and praised her crush Sasuke to no end despite knowing pretty much nothing about him—except that he was “cool.” When asked about her dream for the future, she had no real plan for herself—only a vague want to end up with Sasuke. She was trying to live up to an ideal pushed into her head by others: Be pretty, get good grades, get the coolest guy.
She also had a tendency to play up her cuteness, hiding away her real thoughts while her “Inner Sakura” shouted everything she was REALLY wanting to say inside her own head. And that’s not the only part of her true self she was hiding—she only grew out her hair longer so she could impress Sasuke after hearing a rumor that he liked girls with long hair.
While Sakura thought she had pulled the short stick when she was teamed up with Naruto after graduation from the ninja academy, she soon learned that grades don’t mean everything.
Realization of Weakness
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On their very first big mission, Sakura was forced to realize that all the book smarts she boasted about were honestly pretty useless. While trying to remember escort mission protocol, she almost got herself killed. Enemies don’t follow the books, and it turned out that Naruto, the “good-for-nothing” she constantly talked down to and ridiculed, actually was able to do a ton more than she was.
That’s not to say that her knowledge was for nothing—and she showed her talents at multiple points. But her weakness finally became clear to her when Naruto and Sasuke were incapacitated during the Chunin Exams, leaving her on her own.
Her change from a look-obsessed, haughty crybaby into a strong girl unafraid to protect what’s dear to her is made complete when she cuts her hair—a symbol of her effort to try and meet the standards of others—in order to escape from the enemy and stop them from harming her teammates.
From this point, she started treating her teammates in a completely differently way. She talked down to Naruto a lot less (though she was still very harsh on him) and started seeing Sasuke as a person, not just as an object of her admiration.
What is Love?
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What Sakura initially felt for Sasuke wasn’t love—it was adoration of an ideal. However, as she spent time with him, she began to have feelings of real love for him. When Sasuke left the village, Ino, Sakura’s friend who still had the same feelings for him that Sakura did at the beginning of the series, merely cried.
Sakura, on the other hand, tried to stop him before he defected, giving a heartfelt, tear-jerking speech about everything she would do for him if he would just not leave. She even offered to defect from the village with him if she could be by his side. While her feelings couldn’t stop him, he appeared to appreciate her a lot more than he did at the beginning of the series when her feelings were—well, artificial. Her love for him had even gotten through to Sasuke, someone so drenched in hatred that he was willing to betray everything he ever knew.
Becoming a Guardian
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After losing Sasuke and failing to bring him back, Sakura decided that she wanted to become stronger. Naruto departed on a training journey for the same reason, and during his absence, she studied healing jutsus as well as combat techniques from Tsunade, the fifth Hokage of Konohagakure. When Naruto returned, Sakura had completely changed: she threw away the dresses she once wore for more practical clothing, no longer hid her true emotions with “Inner Sakura,” was able to use healing jutsu to an impressive level, and—most shocking of all—possessed a physical strength rivaling even Naruto’s.
Although Sakura had been protected by her teammates Sasuke and Naruto in the past, the Sakura after the timeskip was not only able to pull her weight, but became an irreplaceable ninja powerhouse of the village. Countless times in Naruto: Shippuden, Sakura saved Naruto’s ass, sometimes from the brink of death.
And, putting physical assistance aside, Sakura was also there for Naruto in the role of emotional support, giving him advice and telling him about things he wouldn’t have been able to notice in the first place. Sakura even strongly resembles Naruto’s mother in personality with her fiery but doting personality. And, with her healing powers, it’s no mistake to say that Sakura has changed from “one dependent on others” to “one to be depended on.”
Forgiveness & Eternal Love
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Let’s face it: Sasuke was an asshole (or is, depending on your opinion). He betrayed his best friends (who had basically become his family) as well as his entire village just to get revenge on his brother. And even when the impetus behind his need for revenge turned out to be false, he STILL refused to repent and continued to cause havoc! Even when everyone wanted him dead, Sakura was one of the few who continued to love him from the bottom of her heart.
At the meeting of the five Kages on the brink of the Shinobi World War, the decision had be made: Sasuke had to be killed. However, Sakura secretly decided to go a step further: She actually planned to kill Sasuke herself—feeling that stopping him from committing anymore crimes was her responsibility. However, even after she was almost killed by him, Sakura could not bring herself to harm the man she loved.
Her love and dedication to the man she once saw superficially as “the coolest guy in school” had become so strong that she would risk betraying her own village or even worse, dying herself. While she judged people on appearances in the past, at this point of her life, Sakura had become someone who saw the good in people no matter what the situation.
Although she was rejected by him time after time, after the war ended, Sasuke finally accepted her straight-forward, pure feelings of love. And while some still considered him a criminal, the understanding and loving Sakura forgave him.
Becoming a Mother & Wife
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Although the two reconciled and even got into a romantic relationship, Sasuke still felt a need to travel alone and repent for his sins. Even after she gave birth to his child, Sasuke was out of the house so much that their daughter Sarada could not even remember her father’s face.
While we’ve only seen adult Sakura in manga Naruto: The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring and film Boruto: Naruto the Movie, we still are able to get a good look at the final person she has grown in to. Without her husband on hand, she’s clearly lonely. But now, as a real mother to her own child, Sakura has to hold it together. Instead of complaining or getting depressed, Sakura stands strong and consoles her own child’s loneliness. She puts her own child before herself. While Sakura once chased after her (future) husband, now she believes in him and waits, putting her own needs second and the needs of her husband and daughter first.
With her daughter being a main player in the Boruto anime, we’re sure to see Sakura again. But for now, the contrast between the twelve-year-old girl we met more than a decade and a half ago and the mother who stands in front of us today is clear. Sakura is no longer the weak little girl who had to be protected. This powerhouse mother not only takes care of herself, but also her husband, daughter, and precious comrades that surround her.
The Naruto Shippuden anime ended its ten-year run last month. The sequel to that anime—BORUTO: Next Generations—is currently airing, and is available to watch for free with subtitles on Crunchyroll. The original Naruto and Naruto Shippuden sequel anime are also streaming there.