Now for something I should really dig through my archives and re-read more of: Good self-insert fanfiction.
In this case, Dreaming of Sunshine by Silver Queen.
The story starts when our heroine gets reincarnated as Nara Shikako, twin sister of Nara Shikamaru.
On the whole, the story’s strength is finding a balance between novelty and the strong currents which drive canon events while also doing a good job of making the OC main character an interesting person to follow and explore in her own right. For example:
She winds up on Team 7, but only after she concludes that displacing Sakura from her “destiny” is the best of a bunch of sub-optimal options. (Others she considers include dropping out, which the culture would make as attention-getting as refusing a lottery prize, and going into the medical corps, which wouldn’t give her the self-defensive training she desires.)
She saves Haku and Zabuza, but in a way that follows naturally and in an unremarkable way from the simple detail that she has different skills than Sakura. (Unpredictable, but obvious in hindsight… like all good writing.)
At the same time, it has an excellent balance of “This is an OC who watched Naruto” and “This is her life now, and her old memories have faded”, which leads to foreknowledge noteworthy in-the-large by how consistently the individual events draw minimal attention.
That said, it really feels like the first novel or so worth of text is significantly better than what follows, so I think it’d be best to review the story in two parts:
For the first novel worth, it’s got some really elegant twists to its writing, such as the way she gets Naruto to stay interested in playing Shogi with her, and some memorable but characteristically unassuming-yet-sharp quotes like this one:
To a civilian bright, blinding orange wasn’t an appropriate colour for a ninja. Therefore, it was actually a perfect colour for a ninja. Oh, sure, it stood out like hell in a forest, but the fact was, most of our time spent hiding wasn’t among trees – it was among other people. The best ninja is one you can’t tell from a civilian.
It confounded their expectations. A tall guy dressed head to toe in black carrying a small armoury? Ninja. Small, loud blond kid in orange? Are you kidding? Ninja were invisible not because of jutsu (most of the time) but because they looked just like normal people.
(Also note the clever way in which that quote counters the fanon cliché that the orange Naruto wears is part of some plot by the villagers to get him killed by only selling him “kill me”-coloured clothing.)
I don’t want to make this review too quote-heavy, but it also has the most elegant explanation I’ve ever seen for the Naruto-verse’s schizo-tech.
It does have the occasional flaw, such as the OC drawing attention to the difference between short names like “Suna” and “Konoha” and formal names like “Village Hidden in the Sand” and “Village Hidden in the Leaves” because the author didn’t recognize that “Suna” is a shortening of “Sunagakure no Sato” (Japanese for “Village Hidden in the Sand”) and likewise for “Konoha”. That said, it’s quite uncommon for me to find a fanfic based on a Japanese source which has this few mistakes like that.
However, after the first novel worth of it, the insight, snark, and clever world-building really fade away, leaving a story which feels decent, but not exceptional. If it weren’t for Shikako’s occasional acquisitions, discoveries, and creations in the field of sealing, I’d probably have lost interest for the same reason I lost interest in Detective Conan. (The subplots I actually cared about progressed far too slowly.)
According to TVTropes, this fic has “attained legendary status among the Self-Insert Fic community” for how well it achieves this balance of familiarity, originality, and insight. (specifically, through the mixture of snappy dialogue and having the OC remain focused on her inner struggles while mostly relegated to the role of observing canon events) That said, I seriously wonder at what point in its development that status was earned, because I only see that within the first part.
Still, I certainly do agree with that assessment for that first bit. When putting in the effort, Silver Queen is very good at fleshing out what canon tells you of the Naruto setting in ways which you then want to mix back into your headcanon and Shikako definitely feels like an engaging character.
All in all, I’d give the first part a 4.7 out of 5 and the rest a 4.0 out of 5. Read it up to when the anime filler arcs come in, then decide for yourself whether it’s still interesting enough to keep going.
Admittedly, I still have about a third of it left to read, but, given how long the story is, given how long it’s been since my impression changed, and given that I don’t see how future chapters could significantly affect what I’ve written so far, I’m willing to risk having to revise this review as I continue to work my way through it.