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Character Study: Sakura Matou

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DISCLAIMER: All right. What follows is, I specify right now, my own personal opinion. Only my opinion, and I do my level best to remain polite, objective, and tactful when delivering it. I ask nothing more of that from any commentary: polite and respectful of the fact that your opinions are just that, opinion. Debate is fine, being a jerk is not. And in this blog, you are in the Sovereign State of Moczotopia, where I am judge, jury, and executioner. Step out of line, and I will have the People's Joy Army 'educate' you. Or ban you. Whichever.

Sakura Matou. I am honestly a little afraid to write this one, simply because the character in question is so painfully complicated. Even in my own mind I occasionally can't agree on what I think of her, and as far as characters that are difficult to write, she is pretty much the top of the list. But the people have spoken, and it's not like I don't have a lot to say about her. Some good, some bad, some that's just me babbling as I am wont to do.

Since Saku is a purely canon character, the format is going to be a bit different. First, let's take a look at our base:

To understand my opinion of canon Sakura, you first must understand my opinion of Kinoko Nasu. I think he is simply amazing at thinking up plots, settings, and characters. And I think that when it comes time to use these things, his performance is... questionable.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the case of Sakura. Her past and her connection to the Grail War mean she has one of the most intriguing personal histories in the main cast, and her relationships with the other main characters, particularly Shirou and Rin, are some of the most interesting in the game and bring out sides of them nobody else can. She had (Has!) amazing potential.

And honestly? I think it ended up being largely wasted.

She is not, by any means, a bad character. But she was improperly used. The narrative of her route shoved her into a box, hampering her character by sticking her very early on into the role of 'girl to be saved'. This significantly cut down on her ability to actively influence the plot of her own route: she became a passive character, at times more like a device than a person.

To make matters worse, whenever the narrative did shift to her, either to give another character's perspective or to leave her as narrator, there was roughly a 90% chance that the ensuing scene would primarily serve to highlight some new trauma that Nasu had chosen to pile on her. We rarely got to see Sakura's view on anything, and when we did, it was most often her own pain. This was intended to highlight the best aspects of her character (willpower, determination, courage) by showing her ability to endure what would have killed anyone else. But in practice, the parade of suffering often made me dread her screen-time, rather than looking forward to the chance to learn more about her. Even when we're seeing through her eyes, we're only rarely getting to know her.

Basically? She was a character who demanded a subtle, nuanced touch, and a great deal of time to explore and develop. Instead... she was kind of left out in the cold. I stand by this: Sakura's portrayal in canon did not do her justice. I firmly believe that much.

Which is where fanfiction comes in! The same trends that made me find her so underwhelming in the game itself make her a fanwriter's dream. Such a great character, and so little genuine exploration of her. How could anyone resist?

Since Chaos Theory shares a starting point with HF, Sakura is one of the key characters. It is also my first major attempt at writing her. So how did I go about it?

Well, first, I took steps to counter what I saw as her weaknesses in canon, which is actually rather simple. My entire problem with the character is her respective lack of focus compared to the other main cast, and resolving that requires one tiny change: Let her be part of the plot instead of who the plot is happening to.

I'm not suggesting that she and Rider should go out on motorcycles and beat Zouken to death (... though someone should write that). She's not an action-y character, at least not while she has Crest Worm issues. But that doesn't mean she can't have an effect on the plot. So I am working on developing her character in two new directions: building an honest sisterly affection between her and Rin, and developing the weird love-hate corruption relationship between her and Caster Alter (Any LesYay to be blamed on Beams, since she whispers in my ear all the time). She's still not an action-oriented character, but her presence is having a colossal effect on two of characters who very much are, and she is doing it (And here is where I see the biggest difference between CT and HF) by her presence, not her situation. The characters are not driven by things that are happening to Sakura. They are driven by their interactions with her, not merely their desire to do something to/with her. And since these scenes tend to be written with her as the viewpoint character, it gives me ample time to showcase her thoughts and feelings, plumb her mind and show how she is developing too.

Really? I didn't change her character at all. Just put her in a better position, where she could show that character more freely and more often. But even that much makes me feel like I've got a much more rounded character on my hands, and I'm rather happy with it so far.

Now, if you want my thoughts on changing her...


Or, 'Happy Puppy Tourist Sakura'.

This is not as much 'Sakura' as the CT model... it's an extrapolation of Sakura. Sakura + A genuinely happy home life + time + first ever vacation with her big sis. The resulting character is happy, confident, fun, and somewhat goofy because damn she is High On Life. She wants to see all she can see and experience all she can experience. And this includes the occasional bout of matchmaker: She's happy and wants the people she loves to be happy too, and she is not shy about this.

I almost want to call her 'Sakura as she should have been', without any Matou influence. But honestly? She's probably more exuberant than that. She's not merely happy for the first time in her life: she's making up for all the years she wasn't. This is a Sakura who has known the pits of despair and got out of them. People died to give her the chance to be happy, and she will not waste it. Every day will be lived to its fullest. Happy. Puppy.

She is also, as a consequence, more prone to being used for comedic effect. But I don't think she's complaining. Too busy buying that awesome shirt she just saw. The one with the green and pink sparkles! Rin is just jealous.

And there we have it. My opinions of Sakura Matou and the method behind my madness when I write her out (And some of Beam's madness. But her madness is a lot like mine.). I like to think I'm doing the character some justice, and so far reactions are good... but then, until now, I'd never written any of this down. Let's see if the reactions turn less good!

*Goes to sleep after writing too much*


  1. RadiantBeam's Avatar
    I think we can all agree that while Nasu is amazing at coming up with concepts, characters, and plots, he absolutely sucks at the actual writing and execution half the time.
  2. Lycodrake's Avatar
    Moczo has wise words to share with all of us, here.
    Also "Happy Puppy Tourist Sakura" is wonderful. Not saying the others aren't, of course, it just...getting to read/see her being like that just kind of makes me feel..."giddy"? I think that's the right word. Hope it is. ;w;

    Anyway, glad you decided to write this out, Moczo. Props to you. ^^
  3. Kotonoha's Avatar
    I doubt too many people are going to argue with your interpretation of canon Sakura.

    Nasu didn't do the greatest job there.
    Updated March 9th, 2012 at 12:26 AM by Moczo (Removing blacktext. Too close to a personal jab.)
  4. Laith's Avatar
    Yep, I understand what Nasu was trying to do (show her situation, try to make the reader sympathetic towards her, appeal toward the protective instinct that we have, etc) but he sorta kinda over did it. In my humble opinion of course.

    Quote Originally Posted by Radiantbeam
    I think we can all agree that while Nasu is amazing at coming up with concepts, characters, and plots, he absolutely sucks at the actual writing and execution half the time.
    Wouldn't say he sucks but he is only a decent writer. His execution however, its pretty weak most of the time.
  5. RadiantBeam's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Laith
    Wouldn't say he sucks but he is only a decent writer. His execution however, its pretty weak most of the time.
    Yeah, okay, 'sucks' might be a little too harsh, admittedly. He does decently most of the time, I just think it really falls apart with the execution.
  6. Elf's Avatar

    I agree with you right there. Nasu comes up with great ideas, just kinda sucks at executing them.
  7. SeiKeo's Avatar
    I dunno, bad at execution might be a stretch. Tsukihime is quite well executed, KnK does what it's supposed to do (be confusing and vague :V)... really, I think it's Fate that he has problems with.
  8. Laith's Avatar
    Tsukihime's problem are a bit different, since its pacing is too fast or too slow, the sameness of the routes, for example. Kara No Kyoukai I have not read (add a -1 to my "true type moon fan" skill) so I couldn't tell you.
    Updated March 9th, 2012 at 01:23 AM by Laith
  9. RanmaBushiko's Avatar
    I'm actually going to have to agree, too. She wasn't used perfectly. And yet, I still use her often in my stories because she's such a good character TO use if used a bit differently, or tweaked just a little bit to make things realistic for the situation they're in. Nasu just heaped the pain on her, and the poor girl didn't deserve that.
  10. nununu's Avatar
    I have to agree. Really, my biggest gripe against Sakura is that she is too passive in the entirety on her route. HF hit too many bad notes for me, both heroine and route, that colored her negatively in my view despite being cast from my favored archetype . I actually like reading fics with a more proactive Sakura.
  11. Mike1984's Avatar
    I think that this is mostly a fair assessment, actually. Whilst I don't think Nasu made as much of a mess of her portrayal as a lot of you seem to think (in particular, her situation was very moving), it is definitely true that he fails to show off many of her good points, and her popularity as a character does seem to have suffered as a result, particularly amongst people who don't really bother to research it too deeply. Even people who I'd usually see as "Sakura-haters", like nununu, seem to dislike that particular portrayal more than her character per-se, and I suspect that this is the root cause of her being such a divisive character.

    The situation in HF is such that she can't fight back in any significant manner or be proactive, and given the situation that makes sense. Of course, since Nasu invented the situation, that doesn't really excuse him. However, in the end, it's Shirou's story, not Sakura's, and the narrative he wanted to portray did require her to take the role of "victim" somewhat. Even so, he did show plenty of evidence that she is not only very strong mentally, but also that she was capable of being "proactive" to a certain extent when she had something to fight for.

    Having said that, I do agree that his presentation of her does leave something to be desired, and that she is rather passive (by requirement) in her own route. More generally, your assertion that Nasu is far better at coming up with characters and settings than at actually using them is actually pretty fair, although I think he does emotional scenes reasonably well, in general (the end of HF, for instance).

    Further, I most definitely like seeing Sakura take a more active role (as long as it actually fits her character and the situation she's in for her to have done so). It's sometimes hard to achieve that, since her situation is one which she can do very little about, but I do agree that HF doesn't really make much effort to involve her in the main plot as a person (as opposed to as a focus of Shirou's heroic tendencies), although the scenes around the side (all the cooking scenes with Rin, her interactions with Shirou etc.) and all the emotional scenes do give her a reasonable amount of character development and involvement despire that.

    I definitely liked your portrayal of Sakura in "In the Blood", too. Whilst I'm not sure she'd be quite that goofy, the basic argument you're making is reasonable, and does seem to fit with what little we see of post-HF Sakura in HF True. In particular, it's nice to see her living her life to the fullest, and it does seem reasonable that she would do that in honour of the people who died as a result of the actions of the shadow. Plus, you definitely seem to have got her "inner Tohsaka" down pretty well, which is always good to see. As for "Chaos Theory", I'm not sure where you're taking that yet, but I can't recall seeing anything particularly wrong with it, and it's nice to see Sakura being used in the way you're describing (as an actual active driver of events).

    Honestly, for me, what happened in HF was enough to make me sympathise with Sakura, and want her to be happy, and also enough to make me respect her strength, but what made me truly like her, I think, was looking a little bit beneath that. I like Sakura more for what she could become than for what she is.

    My opinions of her are actually rather odd, because usually I don't like her sort of character (passive, seemingly "traditional" and conservative) very much (Aoi being a prime example). But, because of her circumstances, I don't see that as her true nature, and I don't see much alternative for her, at least without help (both mental help, to overcome Zouken's abuse, and practical help to escape him), hence why I like and care for her so much.
  12. Altima of the Gates's Avatar
    My two cents:

    I don't entirely see her character as being wasted in canon, but some of the potential she has, yes, I agree it was wasted.

    In F/SN, we see a very clear rivalry dynamic that she has with Rin boiling underneath the surface, which is explored somewhat later in Hollow. Much of HF was to slowly show us how she tries to reach out to Rin, despite the current situation, and how she deals with it. Her character development was not very action oriented in HF, but that does not mean she didn't interact with the plotline. I do agree that most of the time it is how the plot effects her, but this happens to a large part of the cast(Rin is pretty much Nasu's world lore tutorial, along with Kotomine, for instance), save Shirou, who is always at the focal point of the action. It doesn't however, mean that they lacked sufficient character development, or that this wasn't done for a reason.

    I'll use someone from another franchise to illustrate my point. Hayate for instance in Nanoha, for the most part, we just saw her as a sickly girl in the wheelchair in A's and her relationships with the Wolkenritter, but it was only when the Book of Darkness was pretty much formatted and became her power that she really took a place as part of the cast. Now, maybe if Nasu had done something similar where AM permanently became part of her powers, and she herself destroyed the Grail, people would be more receptive to her, but that is the cold hard truth, there were no deus ex machinas to blast all the bad guys to ash at the end. Sakura's presence was in her relationships with other characters in F/SN because of the current situation.

    Thing is, what most people forget when they write fanfiction with Sakura (though this is changing) is that she herself is still aspiring to learn magic, she doesn't want to stand still. Sure, she likes Shirou and all that, but her main thing is finding her own hopes and aspirations, and that is where we see Hollow start up. Like I said before, she has the sibling rivalry with Rin still going on, we see her working on interacting more with people. The point in F/SN is that she was afraid of getting close to other people for many reasons, and like Zero showed, her fears were in a sense, justified. When she is free, as we see in Hollow, we pretty much see her take at life like a storm, as if making up for lost time, but these character traits were explored even before then. Her stubbornness and enduring personality, and the times she can be more mischievous. You're not doing a half-bad job with 'In the Blood', but while the two sisters love each other, they'll always have that friction of sibling rivalry going on. I suspect Hollow will be very good material for everyone once it's finished, for character development outside of Grail War #23243243424234.

    The problem with Nasu is that he lays too much excellent groundwork, but then forgets those little nuggets to tie it in together. On this point, I think we agree. However, to counter that and turn her into a one-dimensional yandere on the excuse it makes her more "pro-active" is a great sin of laziness and missing the entire point of her character imho, that hasn't happened with Moczo's fic, yet. You don't have to be evil to be dynamic, and there are more than enough good and bad traits to work on from, rather than hanging onto the crutch of Dark Sakura (yes I said crutch), because it is easier to define. Her ability to endure is another side of passivity, which is sometimes a negative trait, nevertheless it is one she has. To endure is to withstand, to withstand is to stay in place. Whether this is seen as strong or weak depends on the situation and the person that views it. And even then, there were the times she stood up and tried to make a difference (like when she threatened to fight Rin when she said she'd kill Shirou, or that she used the last Command Spell to order Rider to protect Shirou till the end while she went off to stand against (and in her mind die, to Zouken).

    One thing though I do wish Nasu had done, is to explore more of her time on the magic side of things, he may have wanted her to be the girl that represents "ordinary days", and she can do that, but that doesn't mean you can forget all these gems like her training with Rider, making friends with a Bishop of the Church, a budding friendship with Caster, and gaining more notoriety as a part of the magus community. You lay such good groundwork, don't be afraid to let the girl swing her axe every once in awhile, Nasu! Hell, in the final battle in Hollow, I'm stumped why he didn't have
    Sakura ride Pegasus with Rider as they attacked the corpses from the air, before they got overrun. I guess it was to segue into Ilya saving her with Berserker and then chewing her out with comedic banter, but you lessened what could have been pure awesome Mushroom man.
  13. Laith's Avatar
    Stop spoiling things about Hollow's last battle!!! *Shakes fists*

    Meh, I don't mind it, really but there may be some that do, so spoiler it, please. (I talk as if someone hadn't read that doujin that parodies it)
  14. Altima of the Gates's Avatar
    Done, sorry about that.