“I presume that Jiraiya has the contract for toads?” Kurenai asked.
Naruto nodded, and they both jumped as Shino dropped his folder on the floor. Shino quickly bent over and began gathering up his papers, shoving them haphazardly into the folder. When he straightened up, Kurenai thought she noticed a slight tremor in his hands. “Are you all right?” she asked.
Shino nodded. Then he turned to Naruto. “That would be a very formidable technique. That being the case, I will no doubt be forced to forfeit the match if we meet in the finals.”
“Forfeit?” Naruto asked, clearly dismayed. “But why?”
“Toads are incredibly voracious insectivores,” Shino explained, “capable of consuming a significant portion of their own body mass in a single night. If I attempted to use my kikai jutsu around them, I would stand to lose significant portions of my colonies in short order. Even if I were to defeat you, I would be effectively crippled in the process.”
“Oh,” Naruto said.
“However, you should not let that be your sole decision criterion,” Shino concluded. “As this should remain between you and Kurenai-sensei, I will bid you both good evening.”
With that, Shino left, and Kurenai wondered if it was her imagination or he was walking a little faster than usual. She shook her head and turned back to Naruto. “If you’d like some more information, I’ll see what I can find at the library.”
Naruto shook his head. “No way am I signing that scroll now,” he declared.
Kurenai merely raised an eyebrow and awaited his explanation.
“The old pervert was showing off when he demonstrated the technique,” Naruto began. “Some of those toads are really big. I wouldn’t dare try using them when we’re on a mission — one of them might eat Shino, just to get all his bugs.”
Kurenai blinked. “I see,” she said. That was definitely a novel reason not to learn a new jutsu. She only hoped Naruto didn’t later regret his thoughtfulness.
After fifteen long years, Naruto has finally, finally come to an end. I used to be really into the series, but as author Masashi Kishimoto continued to drag the story on and on, I eventually lost interest. However, some of my friends did not lose interest, and gave me blow-by-blow updates of the important plot twists as they unfolded (and ignored my complaints about the Uchiha, of which there were many). Finally, the last few chapters rolled around, and, intrigued despite myself, I read them. Spoiler alert: they covered exactly none of what I wanted them to cover. Yes, all my ships came true, but none of them made any sense! What about character development? What about the advancement of ninja ideals and society? What about my favorite clan, the Hyuuga?
It was time to delve even further into nostalgia. Feeling bitter about everything, I went into my fanfic bookmarks and hunted out one of my old Naruto fandom favorites: Team 8.
Team 8 is a long, long fic, and author S’TarKan started writing it way back in 2006, so at times when I was reading the manga and the fic concurrently, it felt like a (much better) alternate reality where the girls had actual things to do and Naruto had an actual character arc and no one talked about the Uchiha at all. The fic starts, as evidenced by the title, when Kurenai, the leader of the soon-to-be Team 8, goes to the Third Hokage and asks for Naruto to be put on her team in place of Inuzuka Kiba. Kurenai’s team is meant to be a spying and reconnaissance team, and the Hokage doesn’t understand why she would want loud, boisterous Naruto on it. But Kurenai demands a combat specialist to round out her team, and she thinks Naruto will be a good one. Convinced, the Hokage lets it go through.
Under Kurenai’s careful, considerate tutelage, Naruto blossoms. Although the villagers still hate him, he learns ways to get around them, and Kurenai bullies the rest into behaving semi-properly as Naruto encounters various forms of prejudice. Naruto is never superpowered, as he sometimes is in Naruto fic—he’s shown to train hard and study hard, and when he gains new skills, it’s clear that he gains them through hard work, not through being super special awesome. He comes to terms with the demon he’s carrying, and gets along with his teammates and friends so well that he tells them, and they in turn start to challenge their families’ views of Naruto.
S’TarKan does an especially good job with Shino and Hinata, the aforementioned teammates. Because the fic is from many characters’ points of view as opposed to just Naruto’s, S’TarKan has ample room to develop every little crack and corner of the Naruto world. We learn about Kurenai’s secret past and why exactly she wants a combat specialist on a spy team; we learn about Shino’s bugs and training in much more detail than canon offers us; we get a detailed and nuanced (and plotty!) view of the inside of the Hyuuga compound, one which combines with Kurenai’s past for an explosive and original plot that has nothing to do with canon and everything to do with my favorite thing, Hyuuga machinations.
And because Team 8 is from many characters’ points of view, we can also see that S’TarKan does an amazing job with his female characters. Even though Naruto is his main character; Kurenai is his main narrator, and her plotline is the backbone of the entire fic. Hinata’s character development and difficult family life is described in full, and her relationship with Kurenai is given so much time that it really seems like the mother-daughter relationship that canon unsuccessfully tried to sell us. Although Shino’s mother is rarely in the fic, she’s the one who ups Shino’s training and teaches him to fight her way, a praying mantis-type style with two baton-esque kamas. Even Sakura, for all that she’s not on Team 8, gets some small scenes in which to grow as a person and as a ninja. And those small scenes are already leaps and bounds ahead of what she got in canon.
Unfortunately, Team 8 is still incomplete, and as its last update was back in 2013, I don’t know if it’ll ever be done. Because it was written over such a length of time, the earlier chapters are noticeably more choppy than the later ones, and include some Japanese words like ano and gaki, because once upon a time it was the done thing in anime fandom to write everything in borrowed Japanese phrases. Fortunately, those more or less disappear after the first few chapters, and the rest is excellent.
Team 8 is a whopping 250k long and can be found here on ye olde FanFiction.net. If you have a good chunk of time to see what Naruto could have been in the hands of someone who cares about character growth and female agency, this is the fic for you.
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