You assumption is totally pertinent. Kishimoto just might have blighted narusaku. And NS as a couple won’t transform the ninja society without radical grassroot reforms. But why do I ship them? Because of my personal history with Naruto. I didn’t particularly ship them when I first became acquainted with Naruto - their dynamics just made them appear to be the most plausible pairing. Romantic love felt to be the perfect logical conclusion to their character evolution as depicted. A reasonable prediction of romance - this much was my involvement with canon narusaku.
After the Sasuke retrieval arc i watched Naruto pretty much sporadically and eventually lost interest in the anime. The concepts were intriguing though, so i almost exclusively retired to fanfiction. At that point of time, i wasn’t bothered by the problematic issues handled by the story, instead i was infatuated with a particular character. Exploration of core issues was secondary to my fave’s status as the protagonist. Anyways all my updates were sieved from fanfics and were not too thorough either. Gradually I cut back on my fanfiction consumption which had become too very addictive and hindered my studies. All i retained was the skeleton of the premise and the vague outline of characters. If you can believe it, I came to know about shippuden’s conclusion last year only.
You see, Naruto had been so much like opium that I had consciously refrained from getting involved with it a second time. Once in a while i would peruse my favourite fanfics and that was that. When i finally learnt about chapter 700, i was shell shocked. The thing i had been most curious about was not any pairing but Sasuke’s fate. And it was fucking anticlimactic to know about the resolution of the series.
You see, according to my past knowledge, NS had felt like a given. So my anticipation was all about Sasuke. Did he die at last? If yes, under what circumstances? If he lived, how did he manage to achieve closure about the Uchiha massacre? What was the final ethical stand of Konoha? Were all the troubling clandestine operations finally banned with punishment meted out for past offences? Where did the Konohans finally draw the line? Did group morality triumph over the personal? How was the ambivalence about good and evil finally settled? Ironically, Sasuke was the epicenter of all these questions and my interest was specifically arrested by his ultimate fate and its implications for the ninja world as a whole.
Needless to say, i was disappointed. No true resolution of the vexatious issues and the epic showdown monopolized by an overpowered duo and the main villain disposed of so erratically to introduce Deux ex machina style another supervillain. Madara’s philosophy actually merited consideration - sacrificing reality for freedom from pain. It deserved to be scrutinized and answered, even if ambiguously. But no. All it got was a simplistic appraisal before going altogether moot with Kaguya’s superfluous entry to the scene. God-like powers, a flimsy character background and sudden attribution of the shadow supervillain crown - it was a classic bullshit move.
And then came the pairings. It was the last straw. Not only the Byzantine intermeshing of NaruHina but also the fucking travesty done to my favourite character. The person she ended up being - it was a damn nightmare. And the person worst implicated in this sabotage was, most ironically to my consternation, Sasuke. As for Hinata, she went from being an almost invisible speck to the cynosure of it all.
For Sasusaku to be, NaruHina was needed. And the final product of this infuriating algebra was one parody of a Sakura Haruno. Which couldn’t have been possible without the undermining of Narusaku relations, a pathetically concocted sasusaku and Hinata appropriating and subverting the main story. Thus not only was the ending terribly contrived with no real closure, but my precious character was mutilated beyond recognition.
The lack of a mature resolution was disappointing, but THIS was aggravating like hell. I hadn’t felt so outraged for a fictional character all this time and this discovery was like a fucking cataclysm to my imagination. So from being complacently convinced about narusaku as an inevitability, i went to become a NS shipper with a vengeance.
And now without my childhood naivete, all that was invisible to me then became glaring enormities now. Thus I came to have two axes to grind but Sakura will always take precedence over the bungling narrative. Turns out it’s an attachment i can’t exorcize myself of despite the passage of time.
So yeah, NS wouldn’t have made any difference on its own while the status quo remained essentially unchanged with a cosmetic gloss over. But all the shoddy development leads inexorably towards the canonised pairings, making it the most obvious target for criticism. The tip of the iceberg, if you will.
For example, Kaguya was completely unnecessary if not for the intention of protracting the series with a new treasure mine of antagonists. Neji’s death was gratuitous as well, a preposterous contrivance to propel NaruHina. Remove the couples and new gen characters from the equation and you get so much space for a worthy denouement.
Now pairings were only necessary for a sequel featuring the next gen ninjas. Eliminate the pairings and you can instead concentrate on the immediate aftermath as well as the gradual reordering of the society. For this to have happened, no ludicrous change in the NS dynamics would have been needed, thus naturally culminating in romantic love.
Alternatively, instead of placing emphasis on conjoining them romantically, attention could have been paid to the new dialectics of Team Seven which could be considered as a microcosmic portrait of human impact of the ninja business with all its ambivalence.
The central canonised pairs are as static and complacent as the new Konoha. If you think about it, the lack of structural reform is mirrored by the stasis in personal relationships. There has been no substantial growth, both character wise and society wise. In Shippuden, private issues were inextricably linked with systemic iniquities in Konoha. Gaiden is all about children with daddy issues in a vaguely defined commune of the ninja with extraterrestrial dangers since issues endemic to their society got resolved magically.
Erasure of canon pairings could only be a small prelude to the radical restructuring of the ninja business, if not its complete annihilation. For me, narusaku embodies a shift from sentimental romance to a holistic revolution in the ninja universe that includes nuanced exploration of love. It is a pair that could be easily assimilated with the canon developments until the shinobi world war while functioning as the centre of the divergent narrative.
Such are the reasons for my ardent Narusaku love. Canon remains unaltered for the major part, the facile resolution is substituted with realistic (and consequentially arduous and protracted) measures that bring about genuine transformation and my precious character evades an abrupt, uncharacteristic and altogether debilitating transition.
It goes without saying that with Sakura eliminated as a romantic candidate for Sasuke, Hinata not playing usurper and continued emphasis being placed on team seven, Narusaku emerges as only one of many possibilities in the resultant tableau. It just happens to be the one I’d rather prefer.
P.S. Hope this suffices, dear anon. If not, feel free to enliven my sad, empty inbox:)
P.P.S: I didn’t dwell on Sakura’s character in a hypothetical tryst with Naruto since canon Narusaku is mostly impeccable as it is and doesn’t do Sakura an egregious disservice like another pairing. Sakura Haruno stays Sakura Haruno, not an emasculated shell of her essential self.