Deep in the Tiger’s Den is a Het Pairing: Sasuke × Sakura’s Doujinshi Popularity

When I traveled to Japan this past May, one of my activities was to visit various doujin shops such as Toranoana. I like to see what’s popular, to get a general image of trends among hardcore fans. Which titles are popular? Which characters? Which pairings? And unlike doujin events, where many artists release their own works more for passion than profit, Toranoana is about what sells.

In Akihabara, this means going to multiple Toranoana stores, each of which specialize in a certain demographic. One in particular is devoted to girls (though nothing prevents guys from entering and shopping there), and as expected it’s primarily filled with BL.

However, one major exception was actually Naruto. In a relatively small yet dedicated section, surrounded by guy-guy pairings in most every other title, heterosexual romance took to the majority of the Naruto shelf. Of those couples, Sakura × Sasuke was by far the most popular.

I’m not against Sasuke × Sakura by any means, but I have to wonder why does it hold such a special place among hardcore female anime and manga fans. Why is it to the point that other het pairings are outshone, and the normally dominant BL pairings fade into the distance in this one ninja-themed microcosm?

One thing I discovered while searching for reasons is that Sasuke × Sakura is perhaps the most popular straight romantic pairing in English-speaking Naruto fandom, and visibly popular among Japanese fans. Given that context, it might just be the case that its sheer prominence is able to overcome even the fujoshi hegemony of the girls’ doujin scene.

Perhaps one factor is that Sakura is an easy target for female readers to project themselves onto. She’s also closer to the two most important characters in the manga than anyone else. However, given that fujoshi popularity is usually based on the strength of the pairing itself than the individual characters, it makes me skeptical about Sasuke × Sakura being an exception, even if it is a heterosexual ship.

From what I’ve read, a common reason fans support Sakura is her sense of loyalty towards Sasuke. She’s willing to support him through thick and thin, and even oppose him when she feels he needs it. The scene where Sakura tries to stop Sasuke from leaving to join Orochimaru appears to have been a flashpoint for supporters and haters of Sasuke × Sakura, because the former saw Sasuke’s “thank you” and knocking Saa away as him reluctantly pushing away those he cares about, while the latter saw it as an example of Sasuke showing flat, platonic fondness at best. Given the actual outcome of the series—Sakura and Sasuke married and had a child—the fans clearly won out, with Sasuke’s behavior best described as “reliably angsty.” Even as husband and wife, Sasuke’s #1 gesture to show affection is to tap Sakura on the forehead, and then disappear for months or years on end, undergoing secret missions to protect his family Andy his village.

Sasuke × Sakura reigns strong as a premiere het pairing, and I’m not bothered one bit. If any fans would like to help me understand the SasuSaku mind further, feel free to comment!

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