Saturday, September 2, 2017

Azumanga Analysis -- Sakaki

 Y'know, if I weren't such a slacker, I could have had these past two posts up a year ago.

*sigh*  There's a reason why I stopped updating this blog.

Anyway, I'm at least going to finish off the Azumanga analysis.  Only two left, after all.

There's something I recently realized about Sakaki that I haven't heard anyone mention.  She's rich.  That's right.  In the Chiyo episode, Chiyo mentions that Sakaki lives in her neighborhood.  As shown by the first summer vacation episode, Chiyo lives in a wealthy neighborhood.  Thus, we know that Sakaki's family is wealthy.  This is almost confirmed by the fact that Sakaki never questions her ability to get her own place in the final year, nor talks about a job to keep it.  This of course isn't full confirmation, but it's a good speculative detail.

And it's also pretty much irrelevant to Sakaki's conflicts.  Just thought I'd mention it.

Sakaki is the introverted protector of all things cute.  She's also the one character whose talents are not a prime determinant of her future.  As athletic as Sakaki is, she has no interest in pursuing those fields.  Though her will is generally weak -- she can't fend off digs at her physical attributes -- her will is very strong when it comes to the specific things she wants.  She wants to pet a cute thing?  Then nothing will stop her in her quest to pet kamineko.  She wants to remain peaceful and calm when Kagura insists on a lunch-eating contest?  She does.  Not a thing Kagura can do will change Sakaki's mind.

It seems like Sakaki thinks she's weaker than she is.  Because Sakaki so desires to be like the cute things she loves, she never gives her athletic prowess much thought.  Also, she seems disdainful of competition.  Unlike Kagura, Yukari, or Tomo, Sakaki can't be motivated by competition.  She doesn't even show her test scores to other girls.  The only way to get her to work hard in sports fests is by reminding her that she's doing it for someone else.  More than protecting Chiyo, I think Sakaki is also motivated by not letting her class down.  Granted, that seems to be speculation, but I really like the moment where Kagura is telling her that they can't rely on Chiyo, Osaka, and Tomo.  The two athletes both know what they have to do, and that's why they're good as friends.

As I said before, Kagura and Sakaki are close friends.  They're both sensitive, athletic girls who show protective tendencies.  Sakaki is clearly the more sensitive of the two, given that she can't actually make friends in the sledgehammer way that Kagura goes about it.  At the same time, despite Kagura's blunt nature, Sakaki never gets exhausted of being around her -- which's she's fairly likely to do if someone is too boisterous, given her extreme introversion.

When I was talking about Kaorin, I mentioned a lot of reasons why the two can't be together.  There's one I haven't said yet, because it applies only to Sakaki: she's not ready to date anyone at all.  Sure, Sakaki is level-headed, good looking, and knows in general what she wants, but she's also socially repressed.  If you notice, Sakaki never once goes out of her way to make friends with someone who isn't an animal.  Her reaction to Kaorin's almost invitation into the astronomy club illustrates in one moment how Sakaki feels on the matter: she wishes someone would befriend her, and feels helpless to make someone do so. 

Someone of that social insecurity shouldn't date, or else they'll be vulnerable to guys who will take advantage of her lack of social knowledge -- they'll think something is normal or fine, when it's really a sign of some unhealthy behavior.  Also notice that Sakaki watches her friends from the sidelines a lot -- instead of enjoying being with them, simply watching them seems to fill her social need enough.   Being a quiet watcher is not attractive to men.

While Tomo inviting her to a race helped, the one who really pulled Sakaki into the Azugirls was Chiyo.  By means of the career essay, Chiyo learns that Sakaki really isn't scary at all.  Notice, however, that despite the fact Yomi, Tomo, Osaka, and Chiyo are forming bonds at this point, Sakaki is still on the outside.  When everyone is trying to deal with Osaka's hiccups, the other three are trying methods and Sakaki is nowhere to be seen, not until after school when she can put in her two cents.  This implies that Sakaki didn't feel close enough to the girls to hang out with them at lunch, where Osaka got her hiccups in the first place. 

In fact, Sakaki's place within the Azugirls isn't confirmed until their first summer vacation together.  The other girls meet at Chiyo's place, where they decide to go to the beach, and Sakaki, absent, isn't in until Chiyo sees her at the library and invites her.  Then, afterwards, Sakaki smiles over her first vacation pictures with friends.  Clearly girl hasn't had much success making friends up to this point.  Heck, even afterwards, Sakaki doesn't always insert herself into the group.  When Tomo is dissolving the bonkuras, notice that Sakaki is still sitting at her desk, away from the others. 

We can guess a little about Sakaki's past.  I don't think anything too bad has happened to her (or any of the girls, really), but because she's so sensitive, she feels even minor things very strongly.  She nearly dies of shock when discovering that the person in the cat costume was Kimura.  Though any of us would have reacted in that position, most people wouldn't burst into tears and run away.  Likewise, I don't think most people would say goodbye to a stuffed animal or cry over a fake cat getting hit by a cork. 

It seems Sakaki's past was dominated by her inability to be cute.  Twice in the anime Sakaki compares herself to Chiyo's cuteness, once concerning ribbons and the other concerning being dressed like a cat.  In both scenes, Sakaki feels herself a failure and even ugly.  Sakaki probably doesn't think she's unattractive, but since she can't be cute, she knows that any attempt to try will only make her look awful.  I'm suspicious Sakaki knows this by experience.  Like, when she was a little girl, she tried to be cute like all the other little girls, and it worked out about as well as it does in her musings.  One doesn't become socially repressed without reason to do so.  Sakaki's fear of not being accepted is more than likely provoked by not being accepted when she was in her previous schools.

The audience likes Sakaki's cute side with good reason, but I kinda wonder why Sakaki is trying so hard to escape who she is.  She's a tall, attractive girl with athletic prowess, and she should like these things about herself.  Instead, she's the anti-Tomo, where other people's attention frustrates and shuts Sakaki down.  Heck, that's another reason why she and Kaorin don't work.  When other girls admire Sakaki, Sakaki is shown sighing in exhasperation (see: beginning of 2nd year).  And then Kaorin treats her like these same girls by squeeing from afar.  That's exactly what Sakaki doesn't like.

Because Azumanga isn't a drama, we don't know the real source of Sakaki's identity issues.  All we know is that she very much likes cute, yet defies the parameters of cuteness.  Sakaki's shyness and reluctance to be around others creates around her a barrier of aloofness, one that people falsely interpret as being cool.  Sakaki doesn't appear to know how to control this exterior, or why people choose to view her this way.  At the same time, it's something she does on purpose -- when she is caught playing with Mayaa in the last year, Sakaki immediately sits up and pretends nothing happened. 

Like Yomi, Sakaki is clearly trying to shelter her inner self from outsiders.  Unlike Yomi, Sakaki's inner desires are fairly weird.  As much as people like cute stuff, Sakaki's internal monologing and melodrama over cats is super strange.  Imagine how you'd feel if someone talked that way about cats in front of you.  Granted, maybe you're the sort of person that would get over it quickly, but when everyone else thinks you're cool, and you start creating a fantasy about a kitten named Marco travelling 3,000 miles to find its mother, that's bound to be taken with a raised eyebrow.  That's not even mentioning Otou-san.

Likewise, it's also kind of annoying.  Sakaki is so obsessed with cats that if she continually talked about them, people would get tired of it pretty soon.  It's easy to imagine middle grader Sakaki telling the other kids about her cat fancies, and then they start making fun of her for it.  Seriously, 13-14 year old girls are the worst.  At that age they think they know normal, but they really don't.  Poor Sakaki-san is too sensitive to stand up to the intolerance of pre-teen girls. 

At the same time, her outer shell is still a part of herself.  She's not particularly cool because "cool" implies a certain degree of social savvy, and any social savvy she appears to have is simply the result of her not talking to people.  Silence is golden, and prevents people from knowing that Sakaki imagines that a flying orange cat-creature is Chiyo-chan's father.  But other than the "cool" moniker, Sakaki is athletic and attractive.  That is a part of who she is, whether she wants it or not.

So in terms of will, Sakaki doesn't know her own strength.  In terms of talent, she's averse to exploiting her talents for her own benefit.  Which is a bit iffy,  given that we don't know if she's talented in shopkeeping or veterinary medicine. 

Well, if she wants it enough, she'll get it.  We know this because while Sakaki fears not having friends, she's relentlessly bold when it comes to animals.  She'll accept being repeatedly bitten in the hopes of winning over kamineko.  She'll buy cat merchandise, show up an hour early to pet Tadakichi, include herself stalker-style when Chiyo walks her dog, watch cat-themed tear-jerkers and bawl her eyes out, and willingly risk being attacked by an iriomote mountain cat so that she can meet one.  There is no extent to which Sakaki won't go. 

Sakaki's closest friends are Kagura and Chiyo.  Kagura I've already thoroughly discussed; she's the partner that provides an alternate perspective to Sakaki's approach to cats.  Chiyo, of course, is Sakaki's idol, in a sense.  Chiyo is who Sakaki wishes she could be, to the point where she can't stand Chiyo being unhappy.  During the sports fests is the only time Sakaki appreciates her talents, because that's the only time she knows she can put a smile on Chiyo's face. 

Also, Chiyo is Tadakichi's owner, so Sakaki has to befriend her if she wants to be able to pet the dog.  Despite the fact that Chiyo is the only one she ever tells the truth to about her obsession with cute things, Sakaki's friendship with her is primarily to her own benefit.  She wants to hang out with Tadakichi and she wants to be near a cute person, so Sakaki hangs out with her.  There's a mild selfishness to it.  This selfishness is demonstrated perfectly in Chiyo's episode, when Sakaki is walking with her to school, and rather than listen to her friend, Sakaki chases after kamineko for another chance to pet him. 

Sakaki repeatedly drops out of conversations while walking home with others for the sake of cats, and takes finding the alley of cats so seriously that she brushes off Chiyo when they meet.  She is also completely disinterested in Yukari's box in another episode, until she discovers that the box holds a kitten.  All of this indicates that Sakaki likes what she likes, and is very straightforward in prioritizing it.  She's very willing to drop something she's less interested in, despite the fact that Chiyo is far more important than trying to make a mean cat like you. 

So as much as we all like Sakaki, she's selfish in her own way.  While her introverted nature makes her look cool from a distance, the other Azugirls can know (if they're perceptive enough) that Sakaki contributes far less to their social interactions than anyone else in the group.  Even Osaka, whose introversion is worse, manages to be more involved.  At the same time, everyone likes Sakaki for who she is.  Her disappearing act makes her interesting, and since she doesn't spend forever talking about cats, it's not a steamrolling obsession.  That, and the other girls seem open enough to new ideas to want to learn more about cats, the few times when Sakaki is able to share with them.

The thing that sets Sakaki apart from all the other girls is the fact that she's the only one with a real arc.  At the beginning, she starts with no friends and is enemies with kamineko.  She slowly becomes part of the Azugirls, and after many cat mishaps gains an ally in Kagura, then finally discovers a cat of her own.  The denoument of this arc is Sakaki apologizing to kamineko, because she never considered that maybe he didn't want to be petted.  And then it tricks her one final time, because it's just a jerk.  This is a marvelous arc, and the reason why Sakaki can be considered the main character, if you want to argue that Chiyo isn't.

Also, thematically speaking Sakaki's cat solution is also her cuteness identity solution.  That is, Sakaki is not a normal cat.  Sakaki spends all her time pursuing the love of regular cats, just the same way she craves the standard definition of cute.  However, she can't have cats or cuteness.  But then she encounters an Iriomote mountain kitten, which is not only cute, but also dangerous.  This symbolizes Sakaki's self.  She's someone whose sensitive side makes her endearing, yet at the same time she's a person who is more than just a powerless cute thing.  Sakaki is yamamayaa, the cat that can't be normal.  Because it's better than normal, and so is she. 

The ultimate lesson to this is that Sakaki needs to stop judging herself by the standards she's artificially forced upon her person over the years.  She needs to stop thinking she's a failure because she's not "cute."  If cute were the only standard by which people were judged, think how many failures would fill the world.  Sakaki isn't cute because she's not supposed to be.  She's supposed to be awesome, the defender of the cute.  This is probably what helped her apologize to kamineko at the end.  Because she was desperately reaching for something she couldn't have, she wasn't regarding other people's (cat's) feelings.  But now that she has Mayaa and is more confident in herself, she realizes that she doesn't have to chase cuteness.  She's already who she's supposed to be.

My favorite Sakaki moments are hard to straight out say.  I prefer all the moments where she's dealing with a person one on one, whether that be discussing the Japanese language with Osaka or playing with cat dolls with Tomo, or any time she's hanging out with one person alone, Sakaki adds a lot to every moment.  When everyone's there, Sakaki tends to recede into the background and just enjoy everyone else's company, so she gets less focus.

I'll pick when Sakaki says who she really is to Chiyo.  I like when Sakaki is being bluntly observant.  I also like that she's finally opening up, and going from the closed shell she was at the beginning to more of an equal friend.  Granted, to the others, Sakaki was equal.  In her own mind?  She's the weird one.  Granted, her obsession with cats makes this somewhat true, but Tomo and Osaka pretty much blow her oddities out of the water.  Even the more normal girls like Sakaki just fine, and Sakaki telling Chiyo how much she likes cute things is the moment when she finally begins to trust, believing that she is the friend that everyone else already knew she was. 

My second favorite Sakaki moment is when she's accepting the baton from Chiyo in the third culture fest.  Seeing that someone was mocking Chiyo, she had an epic tie-back-the-hair transition, and then she's smiling happily to encourage her friend.  That's Sakaki's way, a combination of awesome and adorable.  She always does her best when she's helping someone else. 

Bearing all this in mind, let's talk potentials.  Sakaki -
- becomes a veterinarian. 
- becomes a stuffed animal shopkeeper.
- becomes a florist.
- becomes a kindergarten (Japanese equivalent, of course) teacher or daycare worker, then quits because she overestimates her own ability to deal with wild younguns.  Cute =/= well behaved.
- gets a sports job to support her way to getting her own vet practice.
- accepts her talent for what it is and becomes a professional soccer or basketball player.

While all these potentials could happen, probably the biggest determinant of Sakaki's future is Mayaa.  She has to make accomodations for having her exotic pet, particularly if people find out about Mayaa. 

Sakaki's ending:  ----- Taking the Long Way -----

So despite Sakaki's personal ambitions as concerns being a vet, she still has issues with cats.  Having Mayaa doesn't stop other cats from mistrusting her.  So as well as she does in school, her first experience working as a vet ends up being rough.  While most animals are nice to her, the urban nature of Tokyo means that a lot of pets will be cats (though Sakaki is very fond of the hamster patients).  Her boss, concerned with the way cats treat her, thinks she's doing something wrong and tells her to shape up.  Sakaki, unable to explain her strange cat conflicts, decides it's worth the risk to smuggle Mayaa into the vet's office to make the visiting cats behave.  Her boss catches her, scared out of his wits that his employee has an Iriomote cat in his office.  He scolds Sakaki, telling her to bring Mayaa back at once. 

Sakaki considers this, realizing that her boss is right.  She was thinking about it anyway, because Mayaa's species is endangered, and she wants Mayaa to have a chance to have kittens.  So she enters a letter of resignation into her boss' office, then goes back to Okinawa to return Mayaa.  She does, but neither she nor her cat much like the idea of separating, especially since Mayaa's survival skills are dulled by pet life.  Given that she's already resigned from her job, Sakaki finally gives in and stays in Okinawa, getting a job at a flower shop.  She does what she can to visit Mayaa every week, and eventually lands a job as a nature preservationist and wildlife veterinarian.

Note that during this time Sakaki doesn't date much.  She thinks about it, but with her extremely introverted nature, men feel that she's too hard to get to know.  Sakaki's protective shell sends subconcious signals to those around her that she would rather be alone, and most guys who approach her are the ones too socially inept to notice her cues -- and are hence clumsy in their approach.  Sakaki dates one guy, but he ends up breaking up with her because she's "boring."  Sakaki wonders if her life is really that boring, and she and Chiyo discuss it online.   Sakaki finally wonders if her obsession with cats is too much, but Chiyo insists that she should keep her own interests, and find a guy who shares them.

About this time, Mayaa's mate has kittens, and Sakaki counts them as part of her job.  As the babies are being born, she suddenly thinks about Chiyo's words, then glances at her dorky male coworker.  She finally realizes that he's been trying to do all the grossest parts of their job, despite the fact he's more squeamish than she is.  Sakaki thinks about it, suddenly realizing that he's probably been crushing on her for as long as he's known her. 

Sakaki meets with him later, uncertain, but determined to find out if she's right.  Not knowing how else to approach it, she suggests they walk through town.  They have awkward conversation for a while, and he buys them pork buns.  That's when Sakaki gets to the point.  She asks if he likes her.  He says yes, and asks her the same.  Sakaki says she doesn't know, but she likes that he's an animal person.  He nervously suggests that they hang out more together, and then see what happens over time.  Sakaki agrees.

After a couple of years, the two marry quietly (or as quietly as they can with Tomo witnessing).  They struggle financially for the first few years of marriage, and this causes some arguments.  Sakaki wants to try competing in athletic events to make them more money, but her husband protests, knowing that she doesn't want that life.  He takes matters into his own hands, then gets an office job in Okinawa.  He insists that he has to, because no one else he knows loves cats as much as Sakaki, and he's going to do everything he can to keep Sakaki happy.  Sakaki doesn't know that the company he's working for is Chiyo's, and that he asked Chiyo for a job.

The arrangement works out well.  Their money woes peter out, though they are never rich.  They have two girls, and Sakaki raises them to be especially good with animals.  It helps that Chiyo gave them two of Tadakichi's grand-puppies.  And they all lived happily ever after, with all the men they meet wondering how such a dork ended up with a gorgeous wife.

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