The early 2000s were a time when anime started becoming popular with growing millennial kids. Sure, you had Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z for the casuals. But then you had those wanting a more mature take on things, like Death Note. Though now, nearly two decades of countless anime later, I’ve realized nothing stayed as ubiquitous in our narrative as Naruto did. And no female character stands out more than Princess Tsunade.
Tsunade Senju is often referred to as a Princess due to her impressive parentage, being from the Senju clan. Which went on to sire most of the Hokages of Konohagakure including her grandfather, Hiruzen Sarutobi, who doted on her. It also helps that she looked like one, with her gorgeous blonde hair, youthful facial features, and a well-endowed physique that betrayed her true inner strength. When people call her Princess, it is out of respect for her lineage.
On the surface, Naruto Shippuden is a pretty formulaic show. You have a perky protagonist known for his ‘Talk-No-Jutsu’. Every time said protagonist faced a challenge, he got a new transformation. Villains got bigger and bigger every time until they became (literally) otherworldly. But the one thing that people don’t discuss was its portrayal of female characters. Specifically, the impact someone like Princess Tsunade had on the anime landscape, back in the day.
But that’s exactly what we are here to do today, in a segment we call Character Analysis! Where we take some of the most popular individuals in anime and break their character arcs down to see just what made them so iconic. Today, it’s the Slug Princess herself, Gondaime Tsunade!
Tsunade Senju: A League Of Her Own
Tsunade was a fairly late addition to the first Naruto anime. One of the legendary Sanin coming from a long prestigious lineage, she was a complete mess at first. She, of course, gets swayed by Naruto Uzumaki to finally get her act together and take the Hokage mantle. And so, we get our first Female leader of the village. A Medic Nin with a fear of blood, Tsunade was known for being a force of nature, shrewd but accomplished.
But more importantly, she was known for being feminine. It was the first time I ever saw a female character with vanity as an attribute, all while being a complete badass. She was always immaculate, even keeping up a Jutsu solely to look younger. She had visible makeup on while destroying her opponents.
Tsunade was soft with children, and yet cursed and drank like a sailor when allowed. She lost nearly everyone she loved, believed herself a curse, and still went on to lead her people through an entire war. She was a multi-faceted character, one that younger girls could look at and realize that they didn’t have to choose a personality. They could be soft and strict when they pleased. They could be strong and vulnerable when it suited them. Funny and composed, all at the same time, because characters are more than just stereotypes.
The Problem with Masashi Kishimoto Writing Women
Now, sadly, that doesn’t mean Masashi Kishimoto, the mangaka, wrote women very well. ‘Useless‘ Sakura Haruno was practically a meme at this point but that would be erasing so many other female characters in this show that stood toe to toe in a time where most anime femmes were reduced to being the token ‘lead‘ female.
When girls in anime were either badass or meek and there was no in-between, you either had to be ‘one-of-the-boys‘ or the love interest. There wasn’t a lot of variety and Naruto followed that sometimes, sure. But then came Princess Tsunade.
During a period where female characters were mostly a supporting cast of stereotypical tropes, she was a full-on individual. Capable and headstrong, she was one of the first females in anime I saw and went ‘wow, I want to be like her‘. Her being called a Princess while being known for her near monstrous strength and terrible attitude was such a juxtaposition, and it made her so much cooler.
The Princess Hokage: Still An Icon!
10 years later, Tsunade is still one of the best-grown female icons in anime. Sure, you have many better-written women in manga and anime now, but Tsunade was one of the blueprints.
I often call Jujutsu Kaisen ‘better Naruto’ because of the parallels that it shares with the older franchise. But it comes with the addition of being staffed with a team of strong-willed female counterparts and it isn’t alone, in that regard. Shonen has evolved as a genre, and we are getting some great representation.
But I think somewhere we need to pay tribute to the one character that, in my opinion, led the wave for it becoming normalized. Tsunade was a gorgeous woman who frightened the people around her, survived not one but two Shinobi Wars, and was a guiding light for Naruto. The Slug Princess deserves all the accolades!