I'm also going to wind up babbling about the themes of the series, and deeper meanings behind the characters and their relationships, and...all that.
The cut is there for people who know they disagree with me about Naruto and don't want the aggravation of a probably useless argument. Also this is really spammy. On the other hand, I'm not really going to talk about pairings in this rant; that's for the next one. So there's less stuff to offend here.
What pisses me off the most is when people ignore obvious themes and character aspects because it violates their personal biases. I see the most of this with team 7, so let's start with them. This part's also going to wind up delving into the sannin, because they're inextricable from team 7, thematically and characterization-wise.
The big one, of course, is Sasuke. First point: his characterization is consistent. It may not add up to the type of character you find particularly appealing, but this is not a reason to hate him. Rock Lee's characterization adds up to a type of character I'm not particularly interested in, but he's a well-written character all the same, and you don't see me going around talking about how much he sucks. Now, let's go down the list of Sasuke misconceptions.
#1: Everything revolves around him.
Guys, Sasuke is the antihero. In a series that also has an actual hero, that means that more often than not, he's going to be the hero's foil. The SasukexBucket story arc may have been triggered by Sasuke's actions, but it mostly provided opportunities for side characters to be badass.
But yes, he does get a lot of attention. Why? BECAUSE HE'S ONE OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS. Of course large portions of the plot are going to be about him. But they're also going to be about Naruto. Honestly, if any of the main three got neglected during Part 1, it's Sakura.
#2: Sasuke is immature and self-centered. He only cares about himself, and he epitomizes irresponsible selfishness.
--Sasuke no longer understands how to relate to other people as anything other than something to measure his own power against*. He took his brother as a role model, and when this exploded on him, he was left completely adrift in terms of emotional maturity and relationships with other human beings. So, yes. He is immature, and to an extent he is self-centered. But there's a reason for it, and it's certainly not because he represents everything bad while Naruto represents everything good. (He does represent everything dark while Naruto represents everything light, but that's another story.) He is profoundly broken--he was easy for Itachi to manipulate at the time his family was killed. It actually says something for his strength of character that he manages to resist completely succumbing, and that now he's seeking power in his own ways. Of course, the fact that he's obsessing over power and vengeance even now means he's still got issues to work out.
#3: Sasuke is a coward.
--Sasuke is a child. He has serious trauma. This hardly explains away everything he does, and it certainly doesn't excuse it, but it makes his moments of fear easier to understand. In any case, he's shown considerably less of this as the series progresses. He's been willing to sacrifice himself at least twice prior to meeting Itachi again. In other words, this is now a null argument. Characters change. Get over it.
#4: Sasuke never thinks about anything but Itachi!
--To an extent this is true. The driving need to kill Itachi consumes Sasuke nearly to the point of insanity. This is as Itachi intended. Before the massacre, Itachi was Sasuke's role model. Having your role model turn around and tear down your entire life is not going to leave you with much room to develop into a normal and well-adjusted young man.
But before that, Sasuke had other goals. He wanted to help protect Konoha. (See my discussion of the toad-slug-snake types and their different purposes, below.) This has been mostly clouded over in the present continuity, but in the early series, we still see plenty of instances for it in his willingness to sacrifice himself for his companions. We see him with normal fears and a normal sibling-like clash with Naruto.
Even after meeting Itachi again throws him back into vengeance mode, we can still glimpse the other motivating factors in his life. He is gentle to Sakura when he could have been far crueler to her, if he truly cared only about killing Itachi. And when he fights Naruto, he finally understands that he has options other than being Itachi's puppet.
#5: [NARUTO or LEE or SOME RANDOM CHARACTER] IS SUPERIOR TO SASUKE.
--I'm sorry you feel inadequate about the size of your favorite character's ninja dick in comparison to Sasuke's. Although Naruto's is probably bigger. Kyuubi influence and all. Maybe Lee's, too. But guess what? They're different types of characters entirely. Now go away.
#6: SASUGAY SUX
--I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to take the Internet away from you now.
#7: Sasuke is an arrogant asshole.
--Actually, this one is true.
I don't care how much you hate him. If you think he's meant to be the ultimate villain of the series, that he's unredeemable, that he sucked as a good guy but now that he's with the bad guys like he should be everything's okay, then guess what? You're almost certainly wrong. The boy's an asshole, but he's been given clear opportunities to demonstrate true villainy. He didn't kill Naruto. He's not gone yet. And saying the series is better off if he just dies without ever being redeemed is a knock not just on Sasuke, but on Naruto and Sakura's characterizations as well. It'd fly against every theme that's cropped up in the series so far. Why? Well, many reasons, but primarily because Naruto fixes things.
Look. The series comes in threes. You have the sannin. You have Yondaime's team. And you have team 7. Now that the gaiden has introduced Yondaime's team, I think we're going to get references to them more (we've already gotten a reference to Kakashi's father, so the gaiden was more than just a throwaway sidestory/quick bit of backstory explanation that will never be discussed again), especially in regards to how they parallel the sannin and team 7.
The first two generations (that we know of; I can't say anything about Yondaime's generation yet) are broken. In the second case, obviously, they're broken because two of them are dead and the remaining one is fundamentally broken by this (but not as broken as he could be, but I'll get to that). The first generation is more complex in its breaking.
There are three types: the toad, the slug, and the snake, or, less precisely, the hero, the heroine, and the antihero. I'll just use the former classification. The toad-type's job is to bring light to the world, to be a hero when people need one. The slug-type's job is to heal and support the others, hold them together when they threaten to fall apart. The snake-type's job is to go into dark places to acquire the power necessary to defend the others.
Each sannin has a sin, a way they fail at what was intended to be their duty. In Orochimaru's case, it's obvious: he forgot that there was a reason for getting power. He failed to be a defender.** Tsunade's sin was becoming so absorbed in her own grief that she pushed away her duty to help other people. Jiraiya's was turning his back on what could have been. Jiraiya's my second-favorite character, but I think a lot of the fandom cuts him too much slack. We don't really see just how much he failed until we compare him to Naruto. Jiraiya gave up. The hero should never give up. If all things had gone right, Jiraiya should have been able to accept when he was asked to be Godaime--being the Heroic Leader is the toad-type's job. But he had fallen far enough from the ideal that he had to seek out Tsunade. But I'll save the more detailed rambling on this for when I write my Jiraiya fanfic.
Now we get to team 7, and they clearly parallel the sannin in some ways. But there's a key difference: where Jiraiya turned his back on his duty and Tsunade fled into her grief, Naruto and Sakura are determined not to let Sasuke go. Were Sasuke to be truly unredeemable, that would defeat everything Naruto stands for. He fixes things.
Sakura has one advantage over Tsunade, and indeed over her own teammates: she has a normal life. She has both parents (as far as we know, but I think it's implied that they're both still alive), and she's never lost loved ones. This makes her less experienced in such matters than the others, true, but it also means she has a viewpoint neither of her teammates have.
Yes, at the beginning of the series she's quite immature--but what makes her as a character is how clearly everything about her matures. The flower analogy that runs through her character is not coincidental--she blooms as the series progresses.
I generally see her bashed for five main things:
#1: All she ever thinks about is Sasuke.
--...okay, to be fair, she really does think about Sasuke a lot. He's her main motivating factor. Where vengeance drives him, love drives her. The timeskip has proven that time away from him doesn't turn her into a well-adjusted young woman
#2: She was cruel to Ino.
--Yeah, Sakura didn't handle her relationship with Ino as well as she could have. But here's the thing: she didn't break everything off with her out of spite. It wasn't just about Sasuke. It was because she'd always felt herself to be in Ino's shadow. Sure, she appreciates what Ino has done for her, but she can't hide behind her forever. She had to find a way to establish herself as her own person--and while it wasn't the best way, pushing Ino away wasn't done out of malice.
#3: She's a Mary Sue now! Where did all those powers come from, anyway?
--Look. Throughout Part 1, she had nobody who knew how the hell to teach her. For the entire timeskip, she's been training under someone who does know how to teach her--and she has talent. This much was made clear at the end of Part 1. Second, she still has flaws. I think we'll get to see more of them--but we've seen already that she's still broken over Sasuke. Mary Sues do not methodically obsess over their (mostly) unrequited love; they just have every male within range falling instantly in love with them.
#4: She's a whiny, immature little bitch. Get her out of my sight.
--The problem, see, is that when Sakura was introduced, she was a whiny little bitch. She was meant to be. The whole point was seeing her grow out of that--turning from someone who could have been an ordinary, shallow girl into a talented and caring ninja when circumstances brought out what had been in her all along.
The turning point, of course, was when she cut her hair. She'd started to change during the Wave Country arc, but the big moment didn't come until the chuunin exams. That was when she cast aside the majority of her immaturity in favor of pursuing a higher calling in life: the support and protection of her loved ones. Unfortunately, she was sufficiently well-depicted as being immature and annoying early on that some people haven't managed to shake off that image of her.
#5: SHE CAN'T HAVE SASUKE! HE'S MINE ALL MINE
--Please, seek help.
And then there's Kakashi, the remnant of Team Yondaime
--anyway. Kakashi's issues are less immediately apparent than Sasuke's, and because he's so popular and he doesn't interfere in anybody's pet pairing, he rarely gets bashed. I've seen it happen, though. The reasons generally given are as follows:
#1: He's a TERRIBLE teacher.
--...no. He's not a great teacher. Team 7 was the first team he allowed through all his twisty mindgames. I doubt this was entirely because they were so very good. More likely, he was just a little bit easier on them than others because they reminded him so much of his old team--and somehow they slipped past his defenses. But just because he's finally teaching instead of failing everybody doesn't mean he's going to get everything right the first time.
But all things considered, he's not that bad a teacher, either. Given the state of team 7 by the chuunin exams, he's got to be doing something right. And he certainly cares about all of them.
#2: He's so mean to Sakura!
--Yeah, he tends to ignore Sakura and focus on Sasuke. I'm not excusing that. But, well. Even leaving aside the obvious fact that Sasuke's the one he can teach the most...it's not like he's cruel to Sakura, either.*** He specifically thinks of her before the chuunin exams when he neglects to tell them that they need to enter as a team. He knew they'd pressure Sakura if he told them that, and he wanted it to be her decision.
But yes, he does neglect her. He doesn't really know what to do with her--which is probably as much a symptom of his issues as anything. He only does the defending, and he only does that through killing--he doesn't understand the slug-type's role very well (which is part of why I want to see more of how his relationship with Rin turned out after Obito's death, but I digress). He doesn't know how to teach a potential healer like Sakura. In other words, he's not a bad teacher, just not the right one for Sakura--and he doesn't handle that as well as he could have.
#3: He's incredibly irresponsible.
--This one baffles me. Responsibility is what keeps him going. He doesn't live for himself anymore; he lives because he feels he carries whatever's left of all his lost loved ones in his heart. He has very little self anymore (still more than he wants to have, I suspect--although his time with team 7 has made him more capable of appreciating life and himself). It's for other people, and what he believes are his obligations to them, that he exists now.
So I figure the complaint refers to him not being "responsible" in the sense of following the rules. Yeah, he blows off the rules plenty. Sometimes he blows off what other people would consider important obligations. Running off to train Sasuke without a word to the others first? That kind of sucked. But he's not irresponsible--he just has strange priorities.
#4: Kakashi is an arrogant asshole.
--Actually, this one is true.
And now for some opinionated ranting about other characters:
#1: Temari is a total bitch.
--Well, yes. Temari is a bitch. But she has reasons for it. She's the former Kazekage's oldest child, and I get the impression he expected his kids to be warriors. On top of that, she has Gaara for a little brother. She feels she has to protect him--but she's also terrified of him. In fact, I suspect he's the only thing she's scared of. So in an attempt to protect what she holds dear despite being so afraid of her own brother, she's hardened herself. It doesn't do to show weakness in her position.
#2: Tenten has no personality.
--...actually, this one is true. But I hate it anyway. The anime does give her some personality; it makes her hard-edged and devoted to her training. But in manga canon, she really doesn't do all that much. That doesn't stop me from wishing it could be different, though. She has so much potential to be cool. Weapons are shiny.
#3: Shizune is a whining nag.
--Come on, how long has she been putting up with Tsunade for? Of course she's going to whine sometimes. Tsunade's a pain in the ass.
#4: Kisame is some coarse, thuggish shark dude.
--I saw this portrayal once, in an otherwise beautifully-characterized fanfic, and it burned. Read the damn dialogue, people. Kisame is a scary bastard, but he's polite. That's what makes him cool.
#5: Kimimaro has no personality.
--Yeah, but he makes up for it by having the coolest powers ever.
Well, that was pointless and spammy. Stay tuned for next time, when I really piss everyone off by talking about pairings!
* Actually, all the main snake-types have trouble relating to people. Orochimaru only sees other people as something to use; Kakashi has trouble seeing people as anything other than something to protect; Sasuke, thanks to Itachi's influence, doesn't quite know how to relate to people as anything other than targets against which to measure his own strength.
** Yet another note about the snake-types: when they fall, they go down the hardest. They also have the most likelihood of breaking of any type, I think. The implication may be that in order to protect something, you also have to be able to destroy it. The choice to protect instead of destroy has to be that: a choice. And people don't always make the right one. The future of the Uchiha clan was in Itachi's hands: he chose to destroy it instead of rebuild it. It's also possible that this is the reason Kakashi failed as a defender: because he never saw it as a choice, rather than simply something he had to do as an emotionless human weapon, until it was too late.
*** Except during his initial test. He was a complete bastard to her then. But he would have done the same to anyone in her position.