Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Analyzing Sakichy's Shocking Graduation Announcement

So it's been nearly a day since we learned about Ogawa Saki's fate.

At the time it was shocking. Even now it's still shocking. Very few people could have imagined that Hello! Project's youngest full-time member (excluding Eggs and the new sub-members) would be leaving - in 3 days no less. It's natural to question it. I definitely did and I like to think of myself as a pretty loyal fan. Thankfully, Takamaruyo swiftly put up translations of the official article/blog post from the S/mileage website, which cleared up a lot of confusion and revealed so much that us fans had no idea about. In this post I'm going to take a look at the official statements and logically analyze it to try and clear up any questions that appeared from yesterday's news.

Read on or not - it's your choice.

First let's start with the actual announcement (and again, thanks to TKMR for the translations),

We have an important announcement about S/mileage’s Ogawa Saki.
Following the Uchouten LOVE Live Event on August 27th at Higashi Betsuin Hall in Nagoya, Ogawa Saki will be graduating from S/mileage and Hello! Project.
There are three surprising pieces of news in that statement - the obvious first one being her graduation, the second being the location (at a hall which most likely is a lot smaller than the venues they normally perform at), and the third is the date (four days from the time of the announcement). To be honest, that short paragraph managed to raise more questions than it answered. Why is Saki graduating? Why is it so sudden? And why at a release event, of all places?

To attempt to find answers to those questions, we must read on to Tsunku's comment in the same article.

Early in May this year
“Earlier, I have been contemplating and consolidating with staffs, about returning to being a normal middle school student. I feel very strongly about this, please let me quit.”
she has made this request.
That's pretty interesting. So, as far back as May, Saki was considering quitting the idol business. For the actual reason, we must skip down to Saki's comment,

However, somewhere down in my heart, I felt there was a gap between myself and the S/mileage me.
I think that is one of the most important lines in the whole article. To put it simply, Saki grew tired of living the life of an idol.

In the case of someone like Aichan, most H!P fans are more understanding, citing the fact that she's (along with Gakisan) have been in Morning Musume longer than anyone in the group's long history. But, let's not forget that Saki has been a part of Hello! Project (and thus, an idol) for seven years (she joined the H!P Eggs in 2004 as one of the original members). That means that Saki has been a part of H!P for just as long as the Berikyuu members and almost as long as Morning Musume's 6th generation members. It's really easy to overlook that fact simply because she is so young, but don't discount Saki; she's a veteran to the idol business.

And what a business it is. Excuse me for being blunt for a minute, but let's face it, being an idol means living a lie (at least partially). One of the most important features of an idol - any idol - is their personality. Real or fake, they need some way of standing out in a crowd of seemingly never-ending girl groups.

Whether it's playing the role of boke, tsukkomi, or something entirely different (such as Sayumi's poison tongue character), they all have some sort of appeal to their fans. But, not all of them are completely real. Sticking with the Sayumi example, I'm sure that she actually does think she is the cutest thing in the world (and she'd be right~), but the poison tongue thing is definitely for show. Repeatedly, her fellow idols have exclaimed how nice and kind she is (look no further than Morning Musume's appearance on Mujack earlier this year) and mention that she is the complete opposite of her black-hearted TV personality.

Constantly putting on a show for fans (always smiling, showing a personality that may or may not be real, being careful to not show true weaknesses, etc) is draining on anyone; not to mention a fourteen year old girl like Saki. Is it their dream to sing, dance, act, and do all of the many other things that idols are expected to do? Sure. But that doesn't change the fact that it's not easy.

We ask (actually, demand) that the girls not fall in love or date. We must have every second of their life documented (despite H!P members/idols appearing on various TV shows, radio shows, magazines, etc, there are still many, many stalkers who obsess over their every move). And, we ask them to push their bodies to their limits (for H!P idols at least, they have a minimum of four full concert tours a year, 3-4 singles, multiple FC events, photo shoots, plays, TV/movie filming, etc) all the while juggling school in a lot of cases. Most of that is borderline inhuman, especially considering how much they actually make (we don't really know official, up-to-date numbers, but it's obvious they aren't filthy rich like virtually every American celebrity that does a lot less is).

What I'm trying to say is that I know you're all sad that she's leaving. I am too (Raffi is a living witness to this; we shed many manly tears last night). But, we should respect Saki's wishes. All too often these graduations seem suspect - like there are other, hidden reasons. However, what H!P has revealed for this particular case changes everything. They've (well, Tsunku mainly) revealed so much more than they have in the past.

Yes, there are still some questions left unanswered, but they can't (aren't) going to put everything out in the open. Some things can and should be left private - after all, that is the whole reason Saki is leaving in the first place. So, I say let her have her privacy. Let her be a normal middle school girl.

In the meantime, continue to support S/mileage as they go through a rough patch in their careers. Imagine how they feel, after being together for seven years. Don't quit on S/mileage just because Saki is leaving. They've worked so hard up to this point to debut to throw everything away. Their coming off of their highest selling single to date and although Saki will be greatly missed, there are five sub-members waiting to show what they've got. S/mileage can and will overcome Saki's graduation and has all the potential in the world to get better. They just can't do it alone. Keep supporting them in whatever way you can and cheer them on as they continue living their dreams.


  1. Thank you for this whole post. Actually, every single thing you wrote is similar to my own opinion about the subject, even if I'm still pretty.. I don't know, it's a mix of feelings. Anyway, we never know how an Idol really feels, what she really wants to say, I think it's a part of the "show" that they have to give to us. I think Saki understood too much (because for me, she's really mature for someone of that age, which is also mine) what the future as an Idol means and that everything took too much importance. I think it's better for her to leave now and having a great experience than feeling fake outside and exploding after.


  2. Thanks senpai for writing this ^^

    I was shock too... I can't think of many things... But think again, it's her choice to graduate so we can't help right? :D

  3. What you said is very true.
    You really just throw away your life for your career, and especially for a young woman constantly singing about unattainable love - it's got to be rough. Sometimes, rarely, there are peopel that are built for it. Look at someone like Takahashi Ai. She seems totally content to live for her career. I believe it was an episode of Hello Pro where she was eating a dinner with another girl, and the other girl read her palm. She said something about Takahashi-san not being lucky in love, and that men won't be able to handle her devotion to her career, and very matter of factly, Takahashi-san replied "Oh I already figured that. I'm prepared."
    So for most average girls, being an idol must be incredibly rough. It seems like Saki-san wanted out, but maybe because of the actual contract/legal stuff, she couldn't jsut get out and this was the soonest opportunity. Godspeed to her, I say. Sad, but good luck.

  4. Interesting read that definitely sheds some more light on the subject. However if they knew that she wanted to quit as far back as May why didn't they plan a graduation ceremony for her instead of abruptly giving her the boot in 4 days. Perhaps Saki wanted to leave after all but these were definitely not the terms and conditions she wanted to leave under. We probably will never truly find out what happened since all we are getting right now is the sugar coated, sanitized version. R.I.P Sakichi's HP career.

  5. Good post. Concise & rational.

    The only thing bothering me about all this is the lack of a real graduation concert. Graduating at an event? That's even worse than Ogawa Makoto graduating at the Ribbon no Kishi Musical.

    I do hope people will keep supporting S/mileage (I know I will). I've already seen at least one person who cancelled his order of the next single.

    I'm glad I'm mainly in it for the music although I must admit that a few tears (manly tears) were shed yesterday.

    She'll be missed.

  6. *just found out* See, I warned you all that there was gonna be a graduation! I just thought that it would have been with Ayaka or Yuuka because of their age. And I could have totally seen Yuuka (or even Kanon) transfered to Morning Musume.

    Personally, with the timing of "Saki's contemplation" I am thinking she didn't like the idea of having to vie for attention when the new members come. I'm kinda pissed at the announcement and the quickness that this will all happen. It really doesn't make sense. All I can imagine when I think of this is C-ute's Megumi. It doesn't make sense. When you think of the amount of time Saki has spent in H!P I can't help but think that she had all the time in the world to develop her idol-self and to actually become that person without knowing it. It's not like the Momusu girls who just joined and wasn't raise by the idol life, they have to develop their characters quickly.

    I don't know, I'm still hurting over it. Perhaps I'll think differently after she's gone. This doesn't change how I feel about S/mileage, we've had plenty of practice with all Mumusu graduations.

    So much for the best idol-laugh in H!P, Cinderella will just have to take that role.

  7. I agree with what you said, but I'm still confused and suspicious about the whole graduating in four days thing. I am completely fine with her wanting to leave, I understand that it's a difficult life to work and get decent grades at school. But it seems weird that after working so hard to debut she would suddenly decide it's not for her. I want the full explanation as to why she's leaving but I know we'll never get it. Oh well...

    btw I don't like the way that their company handles graduations. It's like they want to kick her out of the group as fast and quietly as possible which seems very disrespectful and annoying considering how hard they work. These girls deserve more than that imo...

  8. @Natalie

    That's the entertainment business for you. If you don't work AND produce results, they pretty much don't care about you. And it is even worst when they don't care about you in the first place (look at AKB and how they treat their popular/unpopular girls).

    Well about the post...
    Yes, sometimes being an idol is a lie. But I think groups like MM, BK and C-ute have the girls being who they are. However S/mileage is a different story. UFA think that there is a formula to success for S/mileage, implemented it and failed hard. That's why the girls have these persona. They got them when S/mileage was created but never got them when they were in Eggs (or didn't care about them). It all depends if the girls like how S/mileage is going right now. Saki didn't like it and wanted to leave.

    I'm going to say this again... S/mileage, imo, was a fail. Tsunku made a group that wants to be the next MM. They will never be as popular as them. Even right now, their popularity (off of their highest selling single) is no where near MM's popularity when it is at the lowest (before Daite Hold on Me or during Mikan). And this goes to all H!P acts, UFA/Tsunku only puts the effort into making products and hopes people will buy it. They don't try to get people outside the fanbase to get it and they don't try enough to even make the product more attractive to casual fans. Concerts are meh and doesn't have extra footage. Singles only have 2 songs. Image DVDs/photo books are only for wotas. The list goes on and on... I think UFA should stop being overly protective and get the girls pied, talk about sex, touch gross things, and w/e.

    At this rate, all H!P acts will never bring H!P back to the top. Imo, auditions are there right now just for Tsunku to hope to find the next idol to skyrocket them to the top. But that's never going to happen if the producer/management doesn't try. Love Machine wasn't that popular because of Goto Maki's entry. It was popular because all of Japan loved the song, sang them in karaoke, and danced to it.

    Now, it really doesn't matter how good of a song we think H!P has. It is never going to sell well comparing to all of Japan. People have expectations when they join groups. If it doesn't meet their expectations, they leave.

  9. Sakichy Smile Campaign! Give her a warm send off with a smile, just like how S/mileage has been giving us theirs all this time. Send in a 150x200 photo of your smiling face to by Saturday! Please continue to support Saki and S/mileage. More information can be found here:

  10. long comment incoming

    @Chobi: lol, it's pretty rare, but Raffi and I couldn't help but cry manly tears together

    @Ai-chan: Yeah, like Tsunku said, it wouldn't be good if they forced her to continue when she didn't want to.

    @Anon1: Definitely, being an idol is a very special skill that not many people are capable of (especially for seven years like Saki). In his comments, Tsunku did mention the reason why the announcement was so sudden was due to something in her contract so you're right.

    @KJ: Later in the statement it says, "Due to various conditions of the group, herself and other parties involved, as well as terms and conditions on contract, it was not until today that this information about her could be reported..."
    Saki was still under contract and that contract had to be broken. No doubt her parents had to be involved (they couldn't just hand a 7-year-old Saki a stack of legal documents and have her sign them alone, back in 2004). Does that take 3 months? Probably not, but yes, this is a complicated situation. I don't blame them for "sugar coating" it (as you put it), because Saki and her family deserves some form of privacy. Especially considering the amount of information that they've told us is more than they usually give us.

    @tommyvd: Yeah, although I always hate graduations, I at least enjoy the graduation ceremonies. If they have to go, might as well do it in a memorable fashion. Many manly tears were shed around the H!P community the other day lol

  11. @Hidders: One of the most revealing things (which didn't make in my post above) was Tsunku's statement that the auditions were in reaction to Saki's plans. We'll probably never know exactly when Saki made up her mind, but it seems like she did so before the auditions were even being considered.

    I'd actually compare this situation to Fukuda Asuka (as Cyane mentioned in one of the other posts). Megu's situation still makes me sad because of how good she was (or at least could become), but she was caught red handed by a stalker and his findings were then published by a magazine, forcing UFA's hand. Although it is hard to grasp why Saki would, after a year of relative success and finally reaching her goal to debut, want to quit. But, we don't know the whole story. We know she wants to return to being normal, but we don't know what brought her to that breaking point.

    @Natalie: Like I said to KJ above, UFA cites that a lot of people were involved and a lot of things had to happen (contractual stuff). That is pretty vague, but like you said we'll never get exact details. To be honest, I prefer it this way.

    For something like this to happen, there had to be something negative involved (maybe a personal issue or something more complicated, who knows). I don't think it's fair for Saki to "air her dirty laundry in public", so to speak. Especially if she didn't break any rules.

    I'm wondering what would you want them to do? The only girls who didn't have elaborate graduation ceremonies (a whole concert pretty much devoted to them as well as some form of goodbye messages from their group members) were those caught in scandals (i.e. breaking the rules of their contact, like Kago) as well as a few exceptions (all former C-ute members, actually).

    Umeda Erika was the first, but she said she didn't want a ceremony. C-ute did express their feelings after the concert, however (and the concert itself did feature Erika quite a bit, if I recall). Kanna didn't either, but like Saki, there is a lot that we don't know (though in Kanna's case, she did have a previous boyfriend scandal, which probably swayed their decision). And finally, Megumi didn't have one because she blatantly broke the rules.

  12. @SFG: If what you said is true, and S/mileage was modeled after Morning Musume (which I probably would agree with; they are pushing them hard and with the audition aspect, they are somewhat similar), I think it's a bit harsh to say they are a fail.

    Yes, they probably will never see Morning Musume's success from their golden era. And yes, if you compare them to Morning Musume's golden era they don't match up, but neither does any other idol group (AKB has a ton recent success, but I'll wait until they have years of dominance like Morning Musume). S/mileage has won awards, are invited on TV shows constantly, and has pretty consistent sales.

    To be honest, I wonder if H!P even cares about being at the top anymore. Of course, they wouldn't complain if it randomly happens, but I think we all would agree that they have been giving a lackluster effort. They definitely know how to succeed since they've done it before. Their main problem now is promotion and thinking outside the box, but there is a risk involved. We all saw how much promotion Ai no Dangan got (at least, much more than usual), which didn't help at all. Why spend all of that money to promote when it results in a small increase (or worst case, none at all)?

    With multiple concert tours a year, 4 singles, DVDs, FC/release events, photobooks, albums, and merchandising, they make a lot of money even if their singles don't sell 500,000 copies. Yes, they would make even more if their singles sold well, but they aren't exactly hurting for money like an indie idol group/company. UFA is being safe, which has helped them survive for over a decade. As long as the groups exist, there will be wota that support them. And as long as wota support them, they'll make a lot of money on the above mentioned items. And as long as that happens, I'm happy.

    @Anon2: I'll pass on that, but it's a good idea, so I'll promote it in another post later.

    /long comment over