Team8 is one of many Naruto fanfics that makes a simple change to canon; putting Naruto onto another team and seeing how that affects his. It's a fairly simple and commonly used concept, but it's become one of the most popular Naruto fanfics on Fanfiction.net.
Now that we've discussed the fic in question, let's discuss the author.
I was introduced to this fic a few years ago, and, as a relative newcomer to Naruto fan fiction and a Naruto/Hinata shipper, was fairly impressed by it. Fast forward to more recently, and I saw two other live blogs on TV Tropes- one by salfishfin and another by Scorpio Rat. I found what they were saying about some of the fic interesting, and now will give this fic my own approach to liveblogging, and my own brand of commentary.
First, let's discuss the concept. If you read Naruto fanfiction, you probably know the canon team- Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura are assigned to the tutelage and leadership of Kakashi, at least until some events. What I'm about to discuss is the significance of this assignment. The three genin don't get along well at all at first- Naruto likes Sakura, who won't give him the time of day and has a fierce rivalry with Sasuke, the subject of Sakura's unrequited crush- but as they learn in the bell test, they will have to put aside their differences in order to succeed. It also plays into Naruto's drive to be acknowledged; in his first assignment as a real ninja, he's put together with the two people who think the least of him, as well as a mentor who alternates between being eccentric and sternly teaching Naruto and the others about the harsh realities that come with being a ninja.
Unfortunately, a great deal of fan fiction is not kind to Naruto's teammates and teacher, in varying ways and to varying degrees, but there are some common trends. Sakura's temper and low opinion of Naruto are often exaggerated, her feelings for Sasuke are portrayed as quite shallow, and she is often mercilessly attacked for not being as strong as either (which, admittedly, she acknowledges in the canon Forest of Death). Sasuke is also often portrayed as more of a jerk than in canon, and this is not even getting into how fics set in Part 2 deal with him. Kakashi is also frequently accused of playing favorites with Sasuke, based on one time when he chose to train Sasuke instead of Naruto and Sakura.
With that in mind, one might imagine that many fanfic writers who put Naruto on a new team imagine that his new teammates are better friends than Sakura or Sasuke, and he will learn more from his new teacher than he did from Kakashi. It somewhat irks me how many writers attempt to “improve on” canon, or how many reviewers gush over fanfics, declaring them better than anything the canon author ever made. You will thus find me commenting on how the fic deviates from canon, and whether said deviations are good or make sense.
But that’s enough about the concept- let’s start discussing the fic proper, and see about the execution. Keep in mind there will be some unmarked Naruto spoilers.
The fic starts with Kurenai Yuuhi preparing to scout out the new genins at the academy, which apparently have enough to form three full teams, presumably taking into account the 66% failure rate of the Genin Exam. This is an unfortunate trend in fanfiction; authors making assumptions as to what is or is not normal based on highly limited canonical evidence, most of which would suggest that what they're proposing is unlikely. Indeed, little seems to suggest that Teams 7, 8 and 10 were the only genin graduates in a village as large as the Leaf Village, or that Iruka’s class was the only class.
Kurenai’s looking for a team on the request of the “sandaime”, despite having worked alone for 10 years since a tragedy that impacted her old team in the past, which is a good bit of foreshadowing.
On a side note, the fic has a tendency toward Gratuitous Japanese. Sometimes it can be useful when there is no equivalent term in English; for example, the very idea of having a “senpai”, but here, there is no reason not to write out “The Third Hokage”, “Sarutobi” or “Hiruzen” (although the Third Hokage’s given name was not known at the time). Additionally, the fic randomly uses "-baka" and "-teme" as insulting suffixes to people's names, in spite of the former being merely a word for "idiot" and the latter being a rude way of saying 'you', with 'neither being Japanese Honorifics.
Despite her reluctance, Kurenai takes to her task with diligence that goes beyond that of most instructors, observing the Academy students, which I can already tell is proof of a desire to set Kurenai above the others.
Kurenai’s plan, at the Third Hokage’s urging, is to revive a tactical reconnaissance unit, in spite of the unfortunate fate that befell her old one, which she suspects was more than an accident. While reviewing the possible candidates (who are, strangely enough, typically referred to by their family names, or other descriptors, rather than their actual names), Kurenai finds Shino a promising candidate, but comes to the conclusion that Ino is “an incredible shrew” and Kiba is “a bit of a braggart”. The latter seems to be where Naruto comes in, and the former seems to be a vetoed possible replacement.
Kurenai thinks back to when she first met Hinata, while giving her a tour from the academy during her preparations for the “jonin exam”(which doesn’t seem to exist in the Naruto-verse). Back then, Hiashi told her that Hinata was “hopelessly weak” and of no use to the Hyuuga clan, while in Hinata’s presence.
Compare the canon flashback, in which, Hiashi coldly says, in response to Kurenai’s warning him that Hinata might die on a mission, that Hinata is of less use than her sister (although whether he’s talking about her actual skill or merely her potential is unclear) and that the Hyuuga clan has little use for her. Hinata is waiting outside, and while Hiashi has the Byakugan, it’s never conclusively indicated that he knows she can hear him. This is cold and harsh, but he also says what he does out of a desire for the good of his entire clan.
Going back to this fic’s Hiashi, this isn’t even the worst thing that he does, and apparently, the rest of the clan of “white-eyed bastards,” save for Kurenai’s old teammate Mattai, is no better. As a result, Hinata is painfully shy and timid, which I will go into more detail about later.
Kurenai’s then attention turns to Naruto. Despite having just graduated from the academy by the time of the Demon Fox attacks (which technically contradicts the databooks saying that she graduated the academy at 7), she doesn’t bear him any animosity, but notes that most of the instructors seem biased against him. The latter observation is a piece of Fanon that unfairly and implausibly demonizes the village of Konoha while excusing Naruto’s flaws, although the fic does mention Naruto’s “poor study habits” in passing.
Whatever the reason may be, Naruto is the only ninja who doesn’t graduate, and in spite of that, Hinata is watching him and blushing. Kurenai notes that Hinata being attracted to Naruto would be a stain on her family’s honor, and is pleased.
Kurenai heads to the Hokage’s tower, and learns that only eight Genin passed the test, which blatantly contradicts the canonical testing after the teams are formed, to determine which ones are actually approved for active duty, much to Naruto's dismay. The discussion is interrupted by Naruto’s theft of the scroll, one of the events that happens in canon.
While the jonin instructors are negotiating over which Genin they will get, Kakashi insists on training Sasuke, and getting the two-Genin team. This strikes on two bits of fanon in a single paragraph- Kakashi’s favoritism and laziness. The former has relatively little basis, as I’ve said before, while the latter has even less, especially when it’s revealed that Kakashi is late because he loses track of time while visiting Obito’s grave. In any case, it’s clear that Kurenai is being set up to do a better job than Kakashi.
Iruka then arrives, with Naruto having defeated Mizuki with the Shadow Clone Jutsu. Intrigued by Naruto’s ability, Kurenai chooses him for her team, hoping to avoid the Crippling Overspecialization that plagued her last team, and ensure that they survive the next trap they wind up in.
Kurenai then asks if she is the only Jonin who takes the initiative to scout and learn more about her team, and the other Jonins’ reactions confirm her suspicion. Not only does this confirm the story’s favoritism toward Kurenai, but it also makes her come off as an Insufferable Genius.
Kurenai gives another reason for putting Naruto with Shino and Hinata- they seem to have a more favorable disposition to him than any of the other graduates. This is a valid point, but it also seems to overestimate how hostile the others are toward him. She also openly insults the policy regarding secrecy about Naruto being host of the Nine-Tailed Fox (which has some practicality after the advent of the Akatsuki in canon).
With that, Kurenai resolves to bring out Naruto’s potential, and the Hokage agrees to her request.
The fic’s POV shifts to Hinata, who hates herself for being unable to approach Naruto, and denounces herself as a “pathetic stalker.” While Hinata’s self-esteem is lacking, she also tries hard, doesn’t seem this self-deprecating in her canonical thoughts, so it’s somewhat depressing to see her like this.
Hinata’s mood does improve, though, first by seeing that Naruto has graduated, then by seeing Sakura reject Naruto’s advances, and then by getting onto a team with Naruto. Despite the latter, she feels ashamed that she’s happy that he ended up with her instead of Sakura, and can’t bring herself to talk to him.
While Hinata does have difficulty approaching Naruto in canon, she seems to, at this point, be capable of walking up to him, stammering out a few sentences, and walking away. I imagine that being on a team with him, and being forced to interact with him on a daily basis, will remedy this problem, but for now, it’s aggravating to see her like this.
Hinata eats with Shino, whose bugs are inexplicably eating his food instead of chakra. Shino wonders if Team 8 is meant to be a team where Naruto was put to keep him out of the way. Shino speculates on Naruto’s status as a pariah. After beating herself up over her inferiority and cowardice even more, Hinata concludes that one day the villagers will regret looking down on Naruto, once he becomes Hokage, which was a nice change of pace.
The scene shifts to Naruto, and the scene in which Naruto disguises as Sasuke and approaches Sakura to ask about her opinions plays out off-screen. Unlike in canon, he is crushed by Sakura’s indirect rejection of him, and decides that she and Sasuke “deserve each other.”
While I admit I’m somewhat happy to see Naruto rejecting Sakura, it seems hardly in character for him to be hurt by her rejection so much more keenly than he was by that of the rest of the village, or to give up so easily.
Kurenai seems fairly dismissive of Naruto’s crush on Sakura, rhetorically asking if she was ever that young and stupid. Kurenai then brings together the team for the standard likes, dislikes, interests and dreams for the future, which didn’t go as well as Team 7’s canon version- Sakura’s was hilarious, while Sasuke’s was a fairly dark look at the troubled person he is- no such insights come from this one.
Kurenai and the others race over to the training area, and she begins to explain the team’s purpose, and how abilities complement each other. Shino and Hinata’s abilities work well together in order to provide reconnaissance abilities, while Naruto’s shadow clones are used as a diversion to escape. Kurenai tells them that they must succeed, and if they end up getting killed as a result of not running away, they won’t even have their names carved on the memorial stone, an unusually callous statement out of Kurenai’s mouth.
Kurenai compares and contrasts her three students’ taijutsu styles, noticing that Hinata has good form but isn’t strong or fast, Shino has workmanlike taijutsu, largely as a result of increasing chakra stores, and Naruto for all his strength, doesn’t have a refined technique, which the narrative attributes to instructors not teaching him. Again, this doesn’t seem very plausible, and it’s more believable to argue that Naruto isn’t that good at school, even if he can develop strong jutsus by improvising and doing things his own way.
After the team demonstrate some jutsus, Kurenai dismisses them, announcing that their first mission will be tomorrow. Kurenai takes Naruto out to dinner, but not to ramen, saying that he needs to eat other things. It’s worth noting that in a flashback during the fight with Gaara, Kakashi tries to get Naruto to eat his vegetables.
It’s implied that Kurenai faces a great deal of sexism for being a ninja, and in response, has invented a genjutsu to make her eyes glow red to frighten the villagers. I’m not against dealing with issues like sexism here, but this is starting to read like an Author Tract. I’ve noticed a tendency to denounce Naruto as sexist, and say that “(Naruto Fanfic) does a much better job of including strong female characters than in canon”. Perhaps either of those may be true, although I’ve found people tend to exaggerate the flaws associated with female characters in Naruto, but all this seems somewhat unnecessary.
Naruto smiles in response, which Kurenai believes is the first honest smile she has seen. She seems remarkably insightful with regards to Naruto for someone who has only just met him, especially considering that in canon, she was fairly dismissive of his chances against Kiba.
Kurenai and Naruto reach the restaurant, and meet with an old friend of Kurenai’s. While Naruto gets a somewhat cold reception from the proprietor, he doesn’t get run out of the restaurant in the same way that it’s implied that he does from every place other than Ichiraku Ramen.
Kurenai asks Naruto if he plans on becoming a Hokage that will protect even the people who despise him, which is a nice look at the issues that were implied when Naruto becomes Dark Naruto, although Edo Tensei Itachi also points out that Naruto will have to be acknowledged before he becomes Hokage. Kurenai points out another preliminary step- becoming a good genin. It’s a good frame of mind to be in, but she again blames his shortcomings on people sabotaging his education.
Naruto ends up calling Kurenai “Kurenai-sama” for some reason. The use of Japanese Honorifics is a reasonable touch, one that is largely considered acceptable in the fanfic community, but it seems somewhat odd that this fic has a recurring tendency to have characters randomly switch the honorifics they use on each other with no explanation as to why.
As the meal ends, Kurenai notices Naruto’s orange outfit, and complains about it being impractical for stealth. This is clearly ignoring the many other ninjas (both in Naruto and other works) who wear bright colors- apparently, actual ninjas dressed like normal people, and the black garb was used for stage hands. Additionally, there are many other ninjas who have jutsus that make them relatively visible to an enemy, so much so that it hardly matters whether they have camouflage. On the other side of the coin, other ninjas have jutsus that naturally conceal them, so their choice of attire doesn’t matter.
As Kurenai ponders whether the suit is yet more evidence of how the village doesn’t care for him (when Naruto’s desire to stand out is a more likely explanation), she sends Naruto home and prepares to have strong words with the Hokage later, which would likely translate into yet another lecture about herself knowing what is best for him.
An Author’s Note follows the chapter. It’s pointed out that the divergence point is Kurenai taking a look at the different teams, when future events suggest that it’s actually much earlier.
That’s all for now. I don’t have a regular schedule for updates at the moment, but one goal I have is to get up to date before the next time this fic is updated; given that it’s been eight months since Chapter 22 has been posted, and two years passed between Chapter 21 was posted and Chapter 22 was posted, this seems somewhat likely.
What I liked
- Strong attention to detail.
- The possibility of going into Kurenai’s past.
- Fleshing out some of the characters.
What I didn’t like
- Naruto and Hinata being more insecure than in canon.
- Several characters being made into worse jerks or more incompetent than they were in canon; in particular, the village of Konoha's treatment strains believability.
- Team 8 being set up as being better for Naruto than Team 7, Kurenai in particular.
- Contradicting canon information, albeit some of which was after the fact or in the databooks.
- Gratuitous Japanese, particularly when it's used in a sense that shows the author doesn't understand how the terms are supposed to be used.