Or, A Longing For Female Pawnage of the Weapons Kind =D
Originally posted June 10, 2006
This is a character essay on Tenten, a minor character in
the anime/manga Naruto. It is meant to prove that even as a minor
character, Tenten 1) has a personality; 2) has a purpose; and 3) is not
useless, as well as define the character known as "Tenten." It is also meant to be as fun as possible, because a meta essay as long as this one needs some lulz.
Before we get into discussion, please look at: Tenten: Statistics,
Data, and Other Such Things. There, I have collected the basic
facts and statistics for Tenten found in the manga/databooks/anime. Everything I
could find on Tenten, I have collected into one handy little document. Collected,
labeled, sourced, and as detailed as possible -- trust me, if it isn't there, it never happened. ;D
So. First I will give a basic overview of Tenten, address a few subjects, and tackle a few issues. Shall we?
For some basic organization, here's an outline of this essay; if you wish, you can jump to any section but it's highly suggested that on the first read you go through this sequentially.
Finding her Place
Debunking some myths
...And some end fun
Some people believe that with the low panel count, supposed "filler lines" that Tenten says, and no direct significance to a main character or plot, that Tenten is 1) useless and 2) has no personality. The former I will discuss later; the latter now.
I define no personality to mean cardboard characters that fill in. Tenten is clearly Not That.
One can find and understand personality by what the character says, how they say it, when they say it, what clothes they wear, what body language they use, what people they associate with, what habits they have, etc. If we limit ourselves to only one aspect, such as what they say, we would say that a mute character has no personality, and Jericho of the Teen Titans would like to dispute that fact. XP A character's personality can be gauged by surprisingly very little; it may be Extremely 2D but it exists.
A character does not need to whack you on the head to tell you, "THIS IS WHO I AM." The author does not need to whack you on the head, "THIS IS WHAT MY CHARACTER IS LIKE." (Although Kishimoto's certainly trying hard enough to do so.) It need not be glaring, obvious, or stated. This is literature interpretation, looking beneath the beneath, beyond match-ups and flashbacks to defining childhood moments (Pein, I'm looking at you).
We know enough about Tenten's personality and character to know in general what Tenten is and is not.
It is obvious that Tenten is not a ditzy valley girl that says "like" every other sentence; it is obvious that she is not an oblivious tomboy that doesn't understand "girly stuff," and it is obvious that there are some things that Tenten will or will not do. She is not the hugging type, the stalker type, the angsting type, or the oblivious type. She is not going to start singing, or bandaging Lee, or bringing Neji boxed lunches.
Chouji eats. Ino rants. Shikamuru's lazy. Oversimplified, to be sure, and of course missing many important details but we know their personalities enough to describe them thusly. Hinata's shy, Kiba brash, Shino silent; Naruto loud, Sakura supportive, Sasuke brooding; Neji cold, Lee exuberant, and Tenten sane. XP
She is Tenten, the middle ground, someone who is normal, without extremes. Why some people require extreme personalities I have no idea. She is Tenten, the "neutralizing factor" of Team Gai, and there's no doubt that something of that sort is needed. XP As such she will not be any extreme personality type. But she will have one, requires one in order to simply exist in Team Gai, and that is to be the middle-ground personality character. It is part of her character design and of her personality.
We know enough about Tenten to know that when Tenten says something, there are ways she is going to say it and ways she is not. There are ways she will stand, walk, and associate; even if her lines are deemed "filler commentary" it is her commentary, in her voice. She is Tenten, and no one else can do it like her.
Tenten's personality exists. Deal with it. XP
So who is Tenten anyway? The next few sections in this meta-essay will be about various characteristics on Tenten. First up, is her general character "classification."
I used to have this long side essay going on about how I classified characters and what the difference is between a main character, a side character, and a minor side character, but unless you really did sleep through elementary school English class, I'm pretty sure you know what the difference is between a main character and a side character. "Minor side character" is a fancy term I completely made up for characters that influence/interact mostly with side characters and partly with the main characters. Obviously, a "minor side character" gets even less character development than a side character.
For some examples from the Narutoverse:
Naruto — main character
(Dude guys, I just saved you from reading a 2000 word-long essay on character definitions. THE POWER OF SUMMARIZATION!)
As a minor side character, and female to boot, this automatically puts limits on Tenten, whether we like it or not. While we can analyze with what we are given, nevertheless Tenten is a minor side character, in a guy-oriented, guy-dominated shonen manga. She will never become a main character, never kill off the main villains, never get awesome jutsus, never supersede the main character, and never get the major screentime/page time as the main characters. That is simple fact.
However, we can see what kind of character Tenten is simply through this character definition, as basic as it is. Kishimoto has given enough for us that we can understand the basic level of who Tenten is, and what roles Tenten plays, and really, that's all we need to know — as a minor side character.
At the most basic level, Tenten is a minor side character. In shonen manga, another important "category" for every character is gender, so she is a minor female side character.What does this entail for our weapons specialist?
As a female, as implied above, she will not surpass her male peers. Sad, but true. You may wonder where Sakura or Temari fits into this; certainly they have surpassed some male peers...but all? No. Besides, Sakura is a main character and is surpassed by Sasuke and Naruto (her corresponding main character peers) and Temari is two years older than the rest, meaning technically she isn't a peer in the first place. XP
Equals or a slight edge over her male peers is a possibility. But surpass completely? Not very likely. If you want to rail at this, rail at the shonen and superhero genre at large. Batman > Batwoman. >.<
As a minor side character, Tenten will mainly be used as a supporting role to side characters such as Neji and Lee, and interact less with the main characters. Her role is not directly related to the main character (as side characters are) or to the plot (the main characters). She will not receive much character development beacuse that is not critical to fulfilling her role as a minor side character. Her role is mainly related to the side characters.
Remember, this is a manga named Naruto and not Team 7 or Naruto and All of His Cool Friends. As popular as Neji, Shikamaru, Gaara, Hinata and the rest may be, the focus and main characters are Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke and will remain that way. "Naruto's Cool Friends" are meant to further the plot, to help the main characters (eithier directly or indirectly), and not steal the spotlight from the main characters (they can share from time to time XP).
Tenten exists to complement Lee and Neji. Without her, Team Gai as it is, with its quirks and balance and atmosphere, would not exist. Team Gai would be very different; it would have a very different nature without Tenten and how she fits into the team make-up (which I'll discuss later). And if Team Gai were to be "different" without Tenten or a different character, it would then affect how Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke would interact with Team Gai as a whole and the individual members of Team Gai as well, because team members affect each other.
Yes, Tenten is a minor character. Yes, her role seems almost arbitrary; that she only exists to fill this "missing hole" in Team Gai and anyone else could have done it. But that anyone else is not Tenten, and Tenten is not exactly anyone else. She may be minor, to be sure, but she has a personality, and a voice, and a reason for existing, and Kishimoto has put her there to fill that missing hole and balance Team Gai.
While it may be super awesome to get massive character development and lots of page/screen time and pawnage for Tenten, her purpose is to complement her respective side characters, not to get all that cool stuff herself. That is a basic derivation of the character definition. Of course, Kishimoto may choose to add that stuff, but it is not necessary to the overall story or to the main characters. It may be "necessary" for her and the fandom, but not to the story and not to Kishimoto.
I won't deny that I'd love for Tenten to play a bigger role. But she, as a minor female side character, is filling her niche quite nicely, and I'll not demand more of Kishimoto.
...Maybe ask him nicely with a kunai, perhaps. =D
Tenten is the (only) weapons specialist of Konoha, and that in and of itself has special connotations. By knowing what kind of battle style a character has, one can also know what kind of character and personality the character may have or even require.
For instance, the Hyuuga's fighting style, Jyuuken, automatically requires its users to be steady, flowing, and calm in order to control their chakra and sight. Lee and Gai's fighting style requires its users to be strong and resilient. Chouji's fighting style, based on calorie intake, obviously makes its users very interested in food. Of course, some characteristics blend into each other; Hyuuga's are also pretty resilient and every martial artist needs to eat (XP), but there are some things that certain fighting styles lead a user to focus or require a little bit more.
What does Tenten's fighting style, a weapons specialist, entail?
Knowledge of a great number of weapons, obviously. She has to be able to use and adapt to many different weapons. It's a great deal different throwing a fuuma shuriken than throwing a kunai; and as she does this rapid-fire she has to be able to do this in a split-second.
It's like in martial arts or swordsmanship, where you have a set of moves; but in this case Tenten has a set of weapons rather than a set of moves. And each of these weapons leads to a certain set of moves: moves used with katanas, with fans, with ball and chain, with staves, etc. Tenten has a great deal of diversity and options in her fighting style.
'Course, it seems like mostly what she does is throw 'em. But even then, there's still a remarkable lot that this requires — every different weapon has a different weight, handle position, and center of mass. Each one of these requires a different grip and throwing technique, and some have several variations. To know that Tenten does this all rapid-fire is very interesting indeed.
In the manga, she also tends to be a long-distance fighter rather than close-up with swords and whatnot.I also used to have a long-ass essay going on about fighting systems and long-distance vs close-combat, but once again I will summarize and save you from reading an additional 2000+ essay:
Sadly, we need to look at this from a cynical viewpoint. In order to draw in readers/viewers, the author/animators are purposely going to create the super-flashiest, close-combat, in-your-face battles. This is what looks cool, and this is what draws in readers. A panel of two characters snarling at each other about to punch each other in the face (Sasuke vs Naruto) will be 3000x cooler than Sasuke and Naruto attempting to pick each other off sniper-style with kunai. Even if that makes more sense ninja-wise. (Since when were Naruto characters about stealthiness? The main character wears bright orange and a so-called assassination jutsu chirps out loud. Last time I checked, assassinations aren't supposed to let the victim know they're going to die.)
Tenten is thus operating under a double handicap: she primarily fights long-distance (not cool) and she uses completely normal weaponry (not cool enough). Now, if she had a mondo-huge sword that changed shapes and sparked colors and lit up the atmosphere with a cool catchphrase, then Tenten would definitely be cooler to the fandom and probably used more in canon. Alas, Tenten can only aspire to be a badass normal -- except this will probably only happen in fanfiction, as Kishimoto has placed Fantasy Gun Control, the Never Bring A Knife To A Fistfight trope, and applies the Inverse Law of Sharpness and Accuracy on any attack that uses mere metal. (Warning: TVtropes links!)
Now, you may be wondering why Tenten would be a long-distance fighter if she has all of these wonderfully sharp pointy objects meant to cut things up. After all, kunais, ball and chains, and hand claws can all be used in close combat (do not diss twin knives weapons style; especially in close-quarters where smaller knives have the maneuverability advantage over big swords); why do we not see Tenten in close-combat?
Well, actually we do: Chapter 257, page 13 (post time-skip), we see Tenten coming in at Kisame holding large daggers in close-combat style. Then again Kisame trapped them all so we never got to see her dagger weapons skillz (XP), but she has trained for close-combat such that she would charge in with her close-combat trained teammates. So yes, Tenten can fight in close-combat, but we do know that she favors long-distance.
Why long-distance? Quite simple: you want to kill the guy before he reaches you.
It's to her advantage to do so. She's got Lee and Neji as the close-combat fighters, but she's specializes in spearing the dude 50 paces away. Still, she's not adverse to whipping out a mondo huge-ass sword and possibly chucking it at you.
It's about using her strengths and weapons to the best advantage.
I felt this was important enough to put into a separate section because No Matter What fandom, shipping exists. Tenten is not immune to this (she did comment that Sasuke was cute, after all), but it should be noted that in canon, there are no Absolutely Clear Romance moments. Of the Konoha kunoichis, Sakura has/had a clear crush on Sasuke, Ino also has a clear crush/liking for Sasuke; making the two competing love-interests and part of their personal subplot. Hinata clearly has a crush on Naruto, and Naruto has a big impact on her character. But Tenten does not have any clear romance associated with her; no romance subplot that affects her. She is strictly non-shoujo, and any plot-devices of that sort will blow right over her. =P
In a shonen manga and general fandom, the non-romance should
be noted. Characters are viewed a bit differently when romance is involved. In
the case of Tenten, romance is not part of her character.
Now, to turn towards a slightly different subject: Is, or is not, Tenten a tomboy?
The American Heritage Dictionary defines "tomboy" to be "a girl considered boyish or masculine in behavior or manner."
We know that Tenten's dream is not like the typical kunoichi like Kakashi commented; it is to become like her idol, Tsunade. We know that she wears pants (ZOMG SO BOYISH LOL, never mind the fact that so does Hinata and the other two shorts XP), that she has no "girl friends" shown to us by the manga/anime, and that she likes sharp pointy objects. XP Over the course of the manga/anime and the Naruto fandom it's generally held that Tenten is like a tomboy.
...Buuuuuut, if Tenten says Sasuke is cute, comments on Kakashi and Gai's looks, and wears lipstick to the chuunin exam, then...Tenten must not be this 100% Genuine Verified Tomboy or your money back.
GASP. She must be a girlygirl.
Yeah. No, Tenten is not a girlygirl. None of the Konoha kunoichis are. Not even Ino.
Really, as long as you note that Tenten is neither wholly a tomboy nor a girlygirl, it depends on what you want. It simply means Tenten is not 100% tomboy, and has feminine qualities. Is that a bad thing? O_o Not at all. There is no law or rule that forbids Tenten from saying Sasuke is cute (...considering Sasuke = "hot bishie," it's almost required XP). Tenten is one year older than the rest of the Konoha genin girls; that may or may not make a difference for you.
Remember, Tenten is a normal human being (with a fascination for chucking sharp pointy things). This does not mean she becomes an emotional void. This does not mean she becomes a fountain of everlasting happiness; this means that she will have her ups and downs like any normal person, except that she's not going to go into the extremes of fandom-emo-Sasuke or peppy!Naruto or OH MY GOD I HIDE MY TRUE SELF TO THE WOOOORLD. Tenten is normal. And a girl. And these are not mutually exclusive. XPTenten Is: Completely Straightforward
Or, She Says It Like It Is
From Databook 3, Kishimoto states flat-out that Tenten has the tact of a sledgehammer. Kishimoto has also stated that he purposely drew her outfit to be easy to move in and very practical.
But that's just the databooks. Where's the "real manga" proof?
Looking at how she says things, they're simple, straight-forward, and blunt. It's the sentence structure, simplicity, and word choice. I'm mixing a bit between translations to give a general view, but if you insist on just one, you can check 'em all out yourselves. ^_~
"Please let us in..." — chapter 36
Tenten points out the obvious and asks obvious questions. XP Straightforward and simple, stating the facts as she knows it. And word choices: okay, "no way," hey, totally, "check her out," "crying out loud." A very casual, carefree speech style; take in contrast Shikamru's "troublesome," Naruto "dattebayo," and Neji's "..." (except when he starts ranting XP).
And as she sees it, at that particular point, Lee can't beat Neji. Neji is a genius. It is an absolute defense. Face value and straight-forward. She points these out so bluntly that even Lee comments, (SJ English translation:) "Your words are so sharp, if I try to answer back, I'll cut myself!" (Fan translation:) "Ha ha, can't argue with you there..." (chapter 57, page 8).
Being straight-forward and taking things at face value, Tenten does put an emphasis on first impressions and appearances. She comments on Sasuke being cute in passing, and compares Kakashi and Gai's looks on first look. She wears lipstick to the chuunin exam, a bit more than the other genins younger than her. Nevertheless, her carefree nature makes these observations in passing; she never looks at Sasuke twice afterward and doesn't resent Gai being her sensei (we never get grumbling or whatnot, although perhaps a bit exasperated XP), still supports Lee, and doesn't favor or fawn over Kakashi. The comments themselves, like her carefree nature, are like amusing thoughts to oneself. Oh come on, don't say you have never done that before: just seemingly think, "oh wow, that's cool" but you don't immediately change your ideals/plans/shopping spree/run/whatever. XP
Based on the personality chart from the first databook, Tenten's a pretty centered character between impatient, passionate, tolerant, and calm, although leaning very slightly towards passionate and tolerant.
Tenten is not some deep well of wangst, or some profound
philosopher on Life and Fate, or someone wholly clueless. Even if she asks the
questions of Team Gai, she's able to interpret and explain Neji's attacks. ...And
no ditzy valley girl plays with sharp point objects on a regular basis. XP
Look at the quotes in the above section. She'll yell when she wants to, speak when she wants to, stare in the classic "WTBBQ" without compunction, have the standard "...." speech bubble as needed...she's normal, for pete's sake. She's not "waaaaah waaaaangst" or "ZOMGHYPER" or "..." 24/7 or "I-must-become-stronger-in-order-to-reach-my-goal-screw-the-world."
Hardships and troubles? Where? XP Like I said, no angst here. Even after her crushing defeat to Temari, we see no saddened reaction except for a comment in Temari's chuunin finals, "This is it; all my weapons were knocked away by this attack." (chapter 107, page 7). Wangst over Sakura getting to be Tsunade's apprentice? Where? Heck, not even "waaaah waaaaangst" over Lee and Neji.
Of course, since it isn't shown, one could go by "since it wasn't, it could be" and have Tenten be all depressed and stuff. *shrugs* Take your pick and go have fun writing fanfiction. =D
But overall, she's normal. A very healthy, not psychologically-screwed up individual, with clear goals and not afraid to be herself. If she thinks it, she says it. If he's cute, he's cute; if he's stupid, he's stupid; what is, is. If she wants it, she's gonna work for it, but she's not going to be insane and go overboard and run around Konoha five hundred times (even if it does produce remarkable results XP).Tenten is a normal, carefree and straight-forward girl who takes things at face value; a girl who naturally speaks in a casual, informal style but knows how to shape up if needed.
What Do You Mean, Tenten Has Character Development???
Or, I Can Has Flashback?
Some people bemoan/laugh/jeer at the fact that Tenten has no obvious character development.
Well, she doesn't.
She's a minor side character and as such, will not get obvious character development nor anything speshul, nor is it required for her to "get" character development in order for Kishimoto to write his story.
...Well, did you notice how she was drawn differently post-timeskip? I could talk about her development that way—
I'M KIDDING FOLKS.
Like most minor side characters, her development is pretty subtle, and most of it could easily be blown away by some lofty philosopher saying some fancy stuff, and then some other dude can retort back saying otherwise, and...bah. She's Tenten, she throws sharp pointy objects, and you want more?
...Why of course! XDXD
Most of Tenten's character development is naturally done off-panel. It basically goes like this:
1. Tenten thought Lee was weak, but was wrong after Lee learned the lotus.
We know from Lee's flashbacks that Tenten used to look down on him, with the line "Oh, Lee! Don't you know when to quit? You don't stand a chance here, not against Neji. He's a genius...and you're not." Tenten is exasperatedly stateing the truth as she sees it: Lee can't beat Neji, no way, no how.
[But wait! We never saw what happened afterwards, so Tenten could have bent down and helped Lee up! ASDFGWTWBBQ...I'm kidding...]
Remember when I said that Tenten is a very straight-forward girl? She made her judgements on what she saw. And at first, she thought that Lee=you idiot and Neji=cool! But behold, for enlightment came down through the shining smile of Gai-sensei and the power of Naruto's fist.
And thus afterwards, we see Tenten valuing both of her teammates equally -- she's grinning as she watches Lee and Gai exercise after Lee's surgery, and she's trying to help Neji out of his shell by dragging him along to see Tsunade. She's learning that perhaps...not everything remains as straight-forward as she once thought.
...Much like the readers. Because Lee needs love and Neji taken down a notch.
Okay, so I've implied here and there that Tenten is indeed important in Team Gai. But just exactly how and what value, purpose, and role does Tenten have in Team Gai?
Whatever is required.
Tenten serves as the balancing force of Team Gai, the middle ground between two males, two close-combat fighters, two opposite personalities, and two very big side characters. As stated in the databook, Tenten is the "neutralizing force" of Team Gai. She iz teh Force. =D
Some say Tenten serves no purpose on Team Gai. Well, Kishimoto created 3-man cells/4-man groups for a reason. I think there's some interesting points made in the interview he had in the Naruto: Uzumaki Artbook [found here]
So, Kishimoto wanted to make teams balanced with relatively equal abilities or at least such that no one's power outshines the others. He wants everyone to put their roles together.
We have Lee and Neji, seemingly polar opposites (energetic and...not.) And where does he stick Tenten? Smack dab in the middle. This is where her normal, casual personality comes in. Lively enough to accentuate Lee and calm enough to work with Neji.
And yes, she does care about and believe in both of her teammates. For all that she calls Lee an idiot, she worries for Lee in the forest of death and believes that Lee could have taken the sound ninja by himself if he had no distractions. She helps Lee during the chuunin paper exam, and she helps Neji train his Kaiten. She obviously thinks very highly of Neji, calling him a genius and pointing out his absolute defense. She smiles at Lee and Gai training again after Lee's successful surgery, and tries getting Neji out of his forest clearing and into a bit of social life to see Tsunade.
If you think that Lee and Neji can do it all by themselves, eh, probably they could. But they'd probably argue a whole lot more, and poor Neji might be overwhelmed by Lee and Gai's liveliness.
You see, a really funny thing happens when you stick guys and girls together: both sides calm down. You know how it is: the classroom is totally divided and the girls are either giggling in the corner or doing their work quietly and the boys are rowdy and yelling and whatnot. The fraternities are Really Loud and the sororities (relatively) quiet. The automatic awkwardness of assigned partners of opposite genders. There's a story a teacher once told me: second grade; all the girls were sitting at one table, the boys on the other; the girls were working on the project as they were supposed to and the boys were throwing markers and whatnot. The teacher exasperatedly asked why the boys couldn't settle down, and one boy piped, " 'Cause there aren't any girls sitting with us!"
And if you note, virtually every shinobi team or organization has at least one girl. Even the sannins. The only one that doesn't (that I know of) is Kabuto's team for the chuunin finals.
So, by virtue of being female, Tenten balances Team Gai, just like how Hinata balances team 8 and Ino balances team 10, etc.
Eh, but that's probably not enough for you.
Well, along with Team Gai, I also like to call them "Team Taijutsu." All of them specialize in taijutsu, with slight differences: Lee specializes in breaking opponent's bones, Neji specializes in plugging up chakra holes, and Tenten specializes in skewering and/or exploding. =D One short-distance, one-medium/short-distance, and one long-distance, forming a team that can rotate between fighting strengths, as shown in the Kisame battle, where all of them had correlated movements that interchanged each person's strengths (it didn't degenerate into a free-for-all).
As a long-distance fighter, Tenten's fighting style complements her teammate's close-combat styles. Neji and Lee can do the close-combat work and at the same time cover for Tenten while Tenten covers for them over long-distance and is protected from close-combat fighters.
Again, as a minor side character, Tenten is made to fill in and accentuate her respective side characters. Since all of her teammates are short-distance fighters, she is the sole long-distance fighter. She can smile along with Lee as well as frown with Neji.
In relation to Neji: Tenten serves as a "normal" training partner and the sane person on Team Gai that he can rely on. You can see that in chp 253, when Neji comments to Tenten on Lee and Gai's excited conversation in trying to reach their destination in half a day...when it takes two days...XP
In relation to Lee: Tenten serves as a "worthy opponent," someone who can put Lee back into reality (well, some of the time) and someone who can join with him in the glories of youth. =D So Lee makes friends with everybody, Tenten and Neji included. XP
Let's stipulate that Tenten wasn't on Team Gai. What are the ramplifications of this?
First off, we'll likely see a much more rough relationship between Neji and Lee. See, if there ain't no girl to worry about, there ain't no worry about manners and stuff that you have to deal with when a "lady" is around. XP
But since Kishimoto said he wanted three man-teams, let's stick in a dummy-team member, and since I discussed above that practically every team has a girl, the dummy-team member is also a girl. What would Team Gai be like if Tenten weren't on the team and some other character Kishimoto created were in her place instead?
Well, we would have a different character with a different personality reacting to the "same" things. So we'd get a different reaction to Neji's fate. We'd get a different reaction to the Neji vs Lee rivalry. We'd get a different team dynamic. Neji would react differently to a "Sakura" on the team, someone who is chasing after him romantically. Lee would definitely react differently if the girl on the team liked (as in romantics) him. Heck, he'd react differently if the girl supported him in his futile fights against Neji. If the girl were particularly loud, like Sakura or Ino, Neji would probably be even more reclused in Team Gai. On the other hand, that may only accenuate Lee's "fire of youth." (On the assumption it could blaze any higher. XP) If the girl were particularly shy, like Hinata, Neji may feel uncomfortable with a person that didn't know herself. Neji happens to like strong characters or characters that believe in themselves (he may distain those that fight fate, but he distains even more a weak-willed one). Lee would probably be uber-protective of the shy girl, and perhaps not so Sakura-obsessed.
We can see that it would definitely change the team dynamics. Would this be better or worse? It depends on Kishimoto. We are not the author, as much as we may like to think. We can say that it may need a change, a more "lively" team dynamic, but that's us and not Kishimoto.
But as I described, you can see that a team member that is a bit more extreme in some way would change how Neji and Lee would react. Neji may react differently to Fate if someone had early confronted him on it and told him he's flat-out wrong. Then what would the Naruto vs Neji fight be like, a fight that Kishimoto wanted the theme of "fighting fate" to permeate? Lee would not have felt so alone and his past of "being all alone and no one liked me and wah everyone's so much stronger ARGH I TRAIN ALL ALONEZ" would've been lost if dummy-team member supported him.
It changes the team dynamics. It changes Team Gai's focus. It changes to something Kishimoto does not want because if he wanted it he would've written it. (This is the power of the author. BOW BEFORE AUTHOR POWERS. XP)
So put Tenten back in and the "old" team dynmaics again. You see? Everything is different, everything is shaped by the other characters around them. Tenten is a minor side character and her purpose in existing is in her relation to the side characters. Changing what that "third team member" of Team Gai is like changes a great deal. You may think Tenten does "nothing" but she serves to hold Team Gai in the team dynamics that Kishimoto wants. He wanted someone that could support Neji's strength and Lee's liveliness. He wanted someone who can accenuate who Neji and Lee are. It's not about Tenten, it's about them (they're the side characters, she's the minor side character).
Neji and Lee get a lot of focus in Naruto; take a look at their panel counts in the statistics page. To have Tenten be in a major role as well in Naruto would make it more like Naruto and His Amazingly Cool Friends or Naruto and Team Gai. Which is probably not what Kishimoto is going for. ^_~
From a writer's perspective, Tenten serves as the middle-ground character, and thus there she can fit in situations where the extremes of Lee and Neji don't fit. Asking questions where no one else would ask, reaching out when the other won't, and stating the facts, in her own blunt way.
Tenten has a role, and a value, and a purpose. It relates to her role and value and purpose on the team and to Kishimoto and not particularly at you because Kishimoto wants you
to focus on Neji and Lee. And Neji and Lee would react differently if a
different character were in Tenten's place. Tenten is part of the
"force" of Team Gai that makes Team Gai what it is and what Kishimoto
wants to emphasize.
Well, by the polls she's certainly able to get into the top 30, but yes, she is the most unpopular of the 12 genins in the 4th poll, and second most unpopular genin in the 5th polls (Chouji was unable to be ranked into the top 30 in the 5th poll).
And yes, Tenten can be easily underrated because as stated before, her fighting style isn't very suited for long, dramatic battles (although possible) or even Narutoverse.
But if she were the bottom of the pits in popularity (which she is not), she most definitely would not have a serious fanclub. And as a minor side character, she is not meant to have the spotlight.
Does it matter if Tenten happens to be unpopular or underrated? Orochimaru isn't very popular eithier XP. Again, as a minor side character it is not critical that Tenten is popular or unpopular to the readers. It is only important that she serves her role in complementing the (more popular) side characters Neji and Lee. Which she does just fine, otherwise Kishimoto wouldn't have created her. XP And in any case, Tenten is only the second most unpopular genin of the popular characters of Naruto, so there. XP
Tenten, weak? ...Please say that again when she throws twenty sharp flying projectiles with exploding tags at you. And no, you are not Neji, or Sasuke, or Naruto.
Setting jokes aside, no Tenten is not completely and totally useless. She may very well be useless to you or to the fandom because it may seem like there isn't anything popular or exceptional about her; very well. However, she is not useless as a shinobi, and she is not useless to Kishimoto.
Why Tenten is not useless as a shinobi
Guns rule the modern world. That is fact.
The same would apply to a logical Narutoverse: it makes sense to kill your opponent before your opponent can kill you (duh). It's even better if you can kill him from a distance. And it's a double bonus if you can do this a lot, consistently, and accurately.
Not only is Tenten a long-distance fighter, she is also a weapons specialist. She, of all Konoha, trains to masters the use of Every Single Weapon. Most people specialize in one or two weapons, plus the basics. But Tenten strives to master them all. An opponent may know how to counter a sword, or a tonfa, or a stave, but what of fans, of yaris and zanbatous, of three-part bo staves, of hand claws and knuckle daggers? All of these have varying lengths and sharp edges and counters; not every opponent knows the counters to Every Single Weapon on Earth. The sheer variety of weaponry that Tenten has at her disposal makes her a very dangerous opponent indeed, for one can never know what Tenten may counter with or fling towards your eye. XP
Logically, Tenten would be an Incredibly Dangerous kunoichi. With the ability to know and use virtually any weapon and how to throw it accurately and consistently, no matter what, she'd always have an option. It's like knowing how to use every single gun in the world and having it on you (with those nifty scrolls XP). The only worry is running out of weapons, and with the scroll thing, that's not likely. Even though Tenten may be primarily a long-distance fighter, that doesn't mean she fails at close-combat; it's natural to stay as far away as possible and try killing your opponent while he's far away before said opponent gets close enough that you have to fight in close combat and risk getting hurt. With long-distance sniper-like capabilities, Tenten is also suited for assassination, should that ever arise.
(Remember: in a logical Narutoverse. The Narutoverse of the manga/anime is not.)
And is Tenten weak? Not at all.
First, she has Gai as her sensei. And Lee and Neji as teammates. And she spars with them. On a regular basis. And doesn't routinely come to Sakura all beaten up and half-dead. XP
In battle, she is not one to stand in the back, shriek, and look appalled. She acts, fighting with her teammates. When Team Gai arrived and Neji revealed Deidara, Tenten was the first to attack (chapter 277, pages 15-16). (And come on. She has bombs. =D)
Team Gai is like, the holy team of training or something.
Looking at the win/loss dossier: [quoted from and complied by Tezuka Kunimitsu on Narutofan forums]
So, weak? Naw. Weapons pawnzor. =D (In, of course, a more logical world where plot no jutsu does not exist. XP Remember, Kishimoto has enforcing the Fantasy Gun Control, Guns are Worthless, and Inverse Law of Sharpness and Accuracy tropes.)
Why Tenten is not useless to Kishimoto
The world is made of normal people. In general. Thankfully,
the world is not stuffed with crazies. There may be a lot, but I'm fairly
certain a good proportion of the population has their head in more or less
logical order without major angst concerns.
Tenten is normal, without Huge and Major Concerns Bearing Down on Her. This allows Kishimoto to have a normal person react to situations, echoing the reader's thoughts. He is able to explain things without having an extreme personality "leak into" the page. Tenten, as a middle-ground character, is very malleable and if not easy to work with, certainly not impossible.
In regards to writing, Tenten serves as an option for Kishimoto to accentuate situations or emotions: strengthening the character design of Temari to be cold and heartless (to an extent), to emphasize Lee's fight against Fate, to emphasize Neji's genius status, etc. In a way Tenten is like the "unpredictable" member of Team Gai, as while Neji and Lee are set in firm molds, Tenten is not bound to one character archetype. She, as a "normal" character is able to react to various situations that may otherwise not have that critical emotion that Kishimoto requires. As the third member of Team Gai and the "normal" character of the group, she is able to be partnered with eithier of them without strict character dynamics ruling the partnership. A story that consists of lone characters would be very boring.
In any case, no writer creates a character meant to be useless to him or her. If they create a character, they have a purpose and value. Whether or not the writer chooses to use the character is their purview. It's about using one's options. As a plot device, Tenten is one. So is Neji. And Lee. Depending on the mood and situation, some things may be better situated for Neji, some for Tenten, some for Lee. Team Gai is a complete set of extremes all the way from exuberant to casual to stoic. Yes, it may be fun to have a super awesome character, or a super-strong character, but honestly? Sometimes you need a plain, normal character. And sometimes, that's the most fun.
So What If Tenten Doesnt' Have A Last Name/Background
Does her character suffer because she doesn't have one? Is it required that she needs one? Will Tenten cease to exist if she doesn't get one Right Here and Now? Heck no.
Tenten serves her purpose as a minor side character just fine without a last name. In fact, part of her background may be that she doesn't have a last name. Or she may simply be so "normal" that it isn't worth mentioning in the Narutoverse. Not everyone has to have a wangsty past. Perfectly normal people can exist in the Narutoverse, contrary to what emo Sasuke may have to say. XP
It is not required that Tenten have a last name. Gaara, Temari and Kankuro, among others, do just fine without one. But wait -- Gaara and the rest are the children of the Kazekage, and perhaps a reason why they don't have one; maybe Tenten happens to be the LONG AND FORLORN DAUGHTER OF AN UNKNOWN KAGE LOLOLOLOL. XP
She may simply be Tenten of the Leaf (like Gaara of the Sand); she may have a last name that Kishimoto has not bothered to name; she may not have one due to her background or heritage. In the Edo era, commoners did not have last names, only nobles and samurai. It was in the Meiji era that last names for the Japanese people became commonplace. (For example, Sano of Rurouni Kenshin was able to take the last name "Sagura" after the revolution.) In relation to Tenten's possible Chinese background, it's said that Chinese females did not have last names but took on their husband's last name after they got married. (It's pretty confusing, since apparently there's a difference between surnames, last names, and family names and something called a "generation name" in Chinese ancient culture. XP) In relation to Tenten's possible character design being similiar or based on Chun-li from Street Fighter (see the Tenten statistics page), Chun-li doesn't have a last name eithier and she happens to be very popular and a constant in the Street Fighter games. But all in all, it's not a bad thing for Tenten to not "have" a last name or for it to be unmentioned.Saying that Kishimoto must not care about Tenten because he hasn't shown Tenten's background is a faulty statement because we're assuming that there's something "interesting" about Tenten's background that merits pages in Naruto to reveal. But what if Tenten had a perfectly normal background? Or say, Tenten's background has nothing to do with the plot of Naruto? Remember, this is named Naruto and not Naruto and Friends. All side characters and minor characters, whoever or whatever they may be, relate to the main character eithier directly or indirectly. For Kishimoto to put Tenten's past in Naruto there would first have to be a reason for it to be revealed, some reason that ties to Naruto, the plot, or something. It's not like Kishimoto is going to go, "hey I need to show a background for every single character I write!" That's called "stupidity" and "meaningless" in writing. When you write, you want it to have purpose, and thus far there hasn't been a purpose or reason for revealing Tenten's past, assuming that there is something in her past that could relate to the plot.
Why, yes it is. Has this incredibly long essay of 20+ collected pages not convinced you yet?
Nevertheless, I have tried to keep my bias out of it as much as possible and if I had it, I probably made a joke of it. XP
Please remember that only Kishimoto knows what he's doing. The rest of us enjoy the ride. I may say that Tenten is thus and thus, and you may say no, Tenten is such and such, but really, Kishimoto is the one controlling the ride.
[...Because no fan-created character essay of this length shouldn't have a section like this. XP]
*points to secondary title* And there you have it.
I love archery and I have a fondness for characters chucking sharp pointy things at each other. Gun fights are awesome. I have also taken tae kwon do up to a decent belt rank, and I have to say that I enjoyed my archery time much more than kicking the living beans out of my opponent in the training ring (okay, not the living beans, but you get the idea). I love it when, in the very rare occasions, sequences of long-distance fighting are done. Sweeping camera shots that whip back and forth in split-second slides take me to the edge of the seat. Martial arts are interesting, but they just don't grab my attention as well as two gunfighters shooting each other.
And she has Sharp Pointy Objects. And Bombs! Go bombs! AND BIG HONKING SWORDS LIKE WHOA. =D
I also like her casual, carefree style. Oh come on, don't say you didn't laugh when Tenten shook Lee awake in the forest of death. That was hilarious.
And as always, fanfiction. It's always the fanfiction with me. I first entered the Naruto fandom through an OC-heavy fanfiction (a miracle indeed) and a Tenten-centric fanfiction. I'll always have a soft spot for her character for that reason, because I like that fic so dang much.
But again. Weapons pawnzor. The End.
[Secondary heading taken from the LJ ten_squared community banner. Because it rocks.]
This essay was done as a challenge to define my favorite character and to dig a little into her character that so many people like poking at. It was fun to look a bit deeper into a character a lot of people brush over in their rush to awe over Neji and Lee. And yes, it was done in defense of her character as well, after seeing thread after thread calling her useless or that Kishimoto didn't care.
Maybe, maybe not. I'll not beat you over the head and make you bow before Tenten's awesome weapons skillz. Nevertheless, I hope that at least I made a few good points and at least made you, if not convinced, laugh a little. Because laughing is a good thing.
So. Tenten? A girl with a dream, two good friends, and a bunch of weapons at her side. A girl that is carefree, casual and direct, and if she happens to make a few crack judgments...well, she's learning. Perhaps a background character, perhaps just filling her niche, but she's a part of Team Gai and like a team they stick together. Tenten, Konoha's weapons mistress, "firing speedily, a lively and magnificent kunoichi."
This essay currently stands at 9,561 words. I think that's a lot of weapons in Tenten's name. I'll bet not all of them hit their mark dead-on, but at least I gave it a shot. A lot of 'em. ^_~