Queering the Relationship Between Naruto and Sasuke in Naruto and Naruto Shippuden

Written by: Anna-Leigh Siegert and Michael Morris

Introduction

The manga, a Japanese comic book, and anime, a Japanese animation, Naruto was created by Masashi Kishimoto. The manga was first released in late 1999, and became so internationally and wildly popular that the television show was developed and released by early 2002. The manga and anime developed later into other series, Naruto Shippuden, Boruto, and even a movie. As of 2018, 235 million copies of the manga have been sold. The series tells the story of Naruto Uzumaki and his peers as they train to become ninjas, protect their village from harm, and Naruto faces memories of his deceased parents while seeking to become the next great Hokage, the village leader. Of his peers, Naruto maintains a special relationship with another ninja-in-training who also lost his parents, Sasuke Uchiha. Utilizing queer theory, which assists in understanding how LGBTQ+ characters are represented on screen and how expectations of heterosexuality can be deconstructed, Naruto and Sasuke’s deeply tense friendship can be read between the lines of homoeroticism and passionate, “willing to die for you” love. 

Naruto Kissing Sasuke (Reddit)

In episode three of the first season, Naruto (left), in trying to intimidate Sasuke (right), is bumped from behind and the two end up in a kiss. This begins their relationship off with more hatred than friendship pertaining to the storyline, characterizing Naruto as a pest and Sasuke as the prodigy student. Research findings suggest that many cases of popular slash fiction queer relationships develop from a place of enmity, or active opposition, rather than friendship (Arunrangsiwed, 2016). These findings are consistent with the attitudes towards one another observable between Naruto and Sasuke. In queering their relationship, this kiss, preceded by a prolonged and sexual tension filled face-to-face stare off, is their first of three incidents of “accidental” intimate contact. With a target audience of young boys, this scene as intended by the creators is to communicate repulsion towards the same-sex kiss in the context of heterocentric norms in the Japanese and American cultures consuming this media. Naruto and Sasuke’s expressions of sweated embarrassment are meant to communicate distaste, but by applying queer theory, their reactions can be taken for nervousness due to Naruto’s openly displaying affection towards his same-sex peer.

Naruto and Sasuke walking (Tumblr)

An animated scene from the Naruto anime was spliced together to create this image. In this scene, Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura, the ninjas-in-training composing Team 7, are walking together, led by Naruto. Sasuke is walking behind him with Sakura, who has made her romantic interest in Sasuke obvious. The commentator queer-codes this scene by hinting at Sasuke’s desire to be close to Naruto out of compulsion of romantic feeling towards him. By speeding up, Sasuke is leaving Sakura to walk alone. This exemplifies Sasuke’s unwillingness to conform to heterosexual expectations by choosing Naruto over Sasuke. Moreover, Sasuke’s desire to be close to Naruto contradicts the future state of their relationship, where later, Naruto spends years chasing after Sasuke who continuously flees from him. From the moment of this scene, Sasuke’s impending flee from Naruto can be interpreted as a hesitation to confront his feelings for Naruto in wanting to avoid the judgment cast upon their homosexual relationship from members of their village.

Sakura hugging Sasuke (Twitter)

In this image, Sakura embraces Sasuke from behind as she tells him to stop giving into the curse marking his body. In a heteronormative context, this act is not thought to be any more than a girl that has a crush on a boy showing her affection for him in a time of need. Reading the situation for queerness, Sasuke’s back turned towards her and his distant gaze communicates that he does not desire to reciprocate this affection, but is not necessarily actively resisting her pursuit as he tends to do. In queer-coding Sasuke’s character, the audience is able to assume that Sasuke, after initially forcefully denying Sakura’s feelings for him, is giving her a chance here to mask his true feelings for Naruto. Allowing her to comfort him after a fight in front of their peers is more acceptable, no matter how badly he wishes it was Naruto there for him. In a culture concerned with aligning with heteronormative expectations, Sasuke is willing to fake his actions to conceal his truth that is a desire for affectionate condolence from Naruto. 

Sasuke defending Naruto (Pinterest)

This image comes from episode 16 of the first season in which Sasuke is protecting Naruto from a volley of needles. At this point in the show, the audience knows that Sasuke and Naruto have a relationship similar to a sibling rivalry. This justifies Sasuke risking his life to save Naruto as they see each other like long lost brothers. Though the protection of a friend is completely fine within a heteronormative space, the context of Naruto and Sasuke’s relationship allows for a deeper interpretation. Through a queer eye, the sibling rivalry that these two characters have can be seen as a flirtatious relationship, as seen through the previous images. Sasuke sees Naruto as the only person to truly understand him. This, in turn, forges a strong protective sense in Sasuke for Naruto, similar to a person sacrificing their lives for their lover. Furthermore, in the Japanese airing of the show, during a flashback sequence, it shows the scene of them kissing as described above, which further implicates their queer relationship. That scene was removed from the American television release. This says that the studio set to distribute the show in America could interpret their same-sex relationship and chose to eradicate any blatant indication.

Sasuke staring at Naruto (Quora)

In the image above we see Sasuke staring intensely into Naruto’s eyes after they had a long battle. Within the context of the show, Sasuke is kneeling over Naruto due to a sustained injury from the fight forcing him to fall down. At this moment, Sasuke has the opportunity to murder his best friend to gain more power. Ito Go states that the idea of “killing your best friend to gain more power” is a double blind, that is when Sasuke is faced with this choice, he can only follow his heart (Ito Go, 2018). By queer-coding this scene it shows that Sasuke cares for Naruto deeply, and yearns to continue their friendship. However, he must break this bond in order to seek more power and enact revenge. His desire to be with Naruto and his need to justify his own strength conflict, leading Sasuke to be filled with anger, thus resulting in his intense stare. This confliction is synonymous with gay men who must separate their real self from that of their heteronormative self.

Sasuke and Naruto laying (Youtube)

In this image above we see Naruto and Sasuke laying next to each other, both having lost one arm. The blood splatter implies that they’re holding hands. Through queer-coding this image, we can see that the blood splatter symbolizes how Naruto and Sasuke must hide their desire to be with each other. Even without queer-coding the image, it critiques a common trope amongst gendered relationships, that men cannot display intimacy to each other unless it is during conflict. Outside of conflict, men must hide their closeness lest they be perceived as lesser in the hierarchy of masculinity. Thus, given that this image implies that whatever battle they were fighting in has ended, Naruto and Sasuke’s intimacy for each other must be hidden. 

Manga Cover (Twitter)

The image above shows the cover art for issue 411 of the Naruto Shippuden manga. We see both Naruto and Sasuke grinning with both of them wearing a necklace of the other. Within a heteronormative context, this breaks conventions. We see two men who are willing to show their closeness by actively displaying it. Through queer-coding this image we can gather a deeper understanding of the implication of this action. These necklaces are synonymous with a wedding ring, used to establish a connection between Naruto and Sasuke they will last until death. They are physical objects used to display their connection, a bond that has been tested time and time again but always prevails. 

Slash Fic (Wattpad)

This image represents an example of fan-created slash fiction, whose goal is to reposition the borders of heteronormativity (Bauwel et al., 2008). Slash fiction allows writers to utilize two normally heterosexual characters, most commonly male characters, and bring them together in a queer relationship. Writing and reading slash fiction is an outlet that allows queer audiences to finally be acknowledged and represented by characters of mainstream media. Relationships in the mainstream media are primarily composed of straight cisgender individuals who expectedly come together on the terms of heteronormativity in various cultures throughout the modern world. Slash fiction acts as a way to deconstruct heteronormativity and hegemonic masculinity by queering the relationships as unintended, and morphing these characters in light of creating maleness without the toxicity of dominance and superiority complexes.

Conclusion

By queer-coding Naruto and Sasuke’s relationship, we discover a new avenue to interpret these characters. This new interpretation creates a deeper understanding of the characters’ motives throughout the show and allows for greater challenges to heteronormativity. Double standards of gendered relationships prevail in our culture and can be observed in Naruto. Women are able to share intimacies and still be assumed bestest of friends, where as men sharing comparable forms of intimacy come off as homosexual in nature. Naruto inherently challenges this expectation without having to explicitly queer-code the relationship between Naruto and Sasuke.

Works Cited

Arunrangsiwed, P. (2016, January). The Confirmation Study of Mutant Being and Friendship of Slash Characters in Original Media. Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Studies (FORMER NAME SILPAKORN UNIVERSITY JOURNAL OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, HUMANITIES, AND ARTS). https://so02.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/hasss/article/view/56801. 

Bauwel, S. V. B., Dhaenensan, F., & Biltereyst, D. (2008, June 13). Slashing the Fiction of Queer Theory: Slash Fiction, Queer Reading, and Transgressing the Boundaries of Screen Studies, Representations, and Audiences – Frederik Dhaenens, Sofie Van Bauwel, Daniel Biltereyst, 2008. SAGE Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0196859908321508?casa_token=qs7B09eiq6EAAAAA%3Aey3vKsX2geGh12SZ6GLfJXek1kJ_yRT0sU8gEAMsxlCsorbJfiGLCHSXx-XjnHFEhMxt9uy5O8MTbA. 

ITŌ GŌ. (2018). Particularities of Boys’ Manga in the Early Twenty-First Century: How Naruto Differs from Dragon Ball. Mechademia: Second Arc, 11(1), 113–123.

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