Warning! Some minor spoilers for volumes 5-24 of Naruto!
Well, I’ve already blabbed about Tsunade and Sakura and how they unfortunately fall into some female character pit traps so, I thought it was about time I wrote something positive about the women/girls of Naruto. I don’t know about the rest of you Naruto fans, but when I think of the girls/women of Naruto I think Sakura, Hinata, Tsunade, and maybe Ino. But as I was writing last week, a character that I really never fully appreciated popped into my head: Temari. Remember her, the tough girl from the Hidden Sand Village that tags along with Gaara? She may not be the star of the female characters of Naruto, but she might just be one of the best representations in Naruto of what a good female character in shonen (boys’) manga looks like.
When Temari first hits the scene just before the start of a large-scale ninja exam called the Chunin Exams, by mere virtue of the fact that the group that she’s with is intimidating, she becomes a bit scary herself, but she fades into the background in the presence of her comrades (and brothers), Gaara and Kankuro. Kankuro comes off as the tough, scary guy who you don’t want to mess with only to be swiftly upstaged by the seriously blood-chilling Gaara. Temari, on the other hand, stands by coolly, occasionally offering her brothers warnings or plays referee. While her brothers do overshadow her in the beginning, her sit-back-and-bide-her-time attitude makes her look like the most stable of the three in comparison; Kankuro picks a pointless fight with a kid and Gaara ends up looking psychopathic. Temari’s rational and cool behavior also pays testament to what readers later see are some of her major strengths. Her first appearance also shows her as the fountain of knowledge that many shonen girls seem to be and she does do a little batting of the eyes at Sasuke, but she shows a bite to her character that sets her apart from characters like Sakura.
Temari really doesn’t get a chance to show off her skills until the later parts of the Chunin Exam arc. Readers get a hint of her strength when she easily defeats her opponent in a match that decides who goes on to the finals, making her the only girl to advance, but it is not until the actual finals that Temari gets to show readers what she’s made of. When she finally does, it’s an exciting match between her and the hidden genius strategist of Naruto’s friends, Shikamaru. I loved this match-up for two reasons: 1) It’s a match between a girl and a guy. Too often do story writers of all medias restrict women to go up against women and men to go up against men. No, it doesn’t always happen, but it’s common enough that I find the former scenario more unusual. 2) By pitting Temari against such a brilliant mind, it shows off her strategical skills as well. Despite Shikamaru’s muttering about how a guy can’t lose to a girl and a guy can’t go around hitting a girl, it ends up being an interesting match between two very keen characters.
I want to stop here and bring up something up about Temari’s character: her ruthlessness. As Temari establishes herself, she comes off as tough and even ruthless toward many of the other characters. When I first read through the Chunin Exam arc of Naruto I wasn’t a fan of Temari’s because of that; however, looking at it now I actually like this aspect of her character. Temari has lived in a tough environment and, when all this is taking place in the story, she’s in the middle of a tough situation and Naruto and his friends are her enemies. (It would be strange to say the least if she had frolicked around, giggling and making friends with everyone.) Temari is certainly not the only female character that takes on an antagonist role, but she’s the only one that returns as an ally to use her powers alongside Naruto and the bunch. This allows readers to see her toughness as an asset. Yet she isn’t one of those female characters we’re seeing more of in fiction where they end up feeling like the Terminator (aka a male stereotype) in a women’s body. She’s tough, but she’s also definitely a woman.
The other wonderful thing about Temari is she is the only girl so far to have successfully protected a guy in Naruto. Thank you, Temari! Because, seriously, if these girls are supposed to be comrades shouldn’t they be able to aid a comrade?
Interestingly enough, she comes to the aid of none other than Shikamaru who can’t help but make some remark about men and women. Temari has a few words to say on that matter as seen in the picture below.
Honestly, after I thought about it, how could Temari not join the ranks of my favorite shonen manga female characters? She stands on her own, undefined by the male characters around her, and doesn’t fall into any female character pit traps (if you want to know about some of those, check out my posts on Tsunade and Sakura.) She’s not the star of the show, but in the limited times she has appeared, Temari has managed to make a definitive mark amongst her fellow female characters.