A couple things to note before I begin:
- This is not a review of the series this character accompanies, nor is it everything I find right or wrong with the series as a whole. There are a lot of parts that go into a series outside of one character, and my opinion of such is not based on this one character alone.
- This piece will focus on Sakuta as a character, and not what the general plot dictates in each episode. Everything will (I hope) be analyzed from their perspective.
- There will be spoilers ahead.
There has been an enormous wave of praise for this particular season of anime, with titles such as this, Sword Art Online: Alicization, and the fifth season of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. With this title, however, it came as a bit of a surprise hit, with its average ranking on MAL slowly rising as the series continued, eventually nestling within the top 100 all-time (currently #67). Among common praises such as “good writing” and “great character chemistry” comes the adoration of one character in particular: the male lead, Sakuta Azusagawa.
This horny, witty dude is not like other male leads in his position. His conversations with others and general outlook on situations are tremendously different from the stereotyped, pre-packaged, altruism-or-bust male hero cheat sheet that’s become a given with anime series. Aloof, analytical, and more sarcastic than Seth MacFarlane and Ricky Gervais’s love child, he’s become a hero in his own right, a hero to anime enthusiasts clamoring for anything new and refreshing from the role of male lead. It sounds perfect, both the way he’s written and for the stagnant situation (in terms of creativity) the anime industry has found itself in.
There’s little room for argument that he’s different, and that he has the flair of distinguishable dialogue from his peers. But does this make him a good character? It would depend on what one is looking for. Here’s what I think of when I watch Sakuta onscreen every week:
Unsure of how prevalent my criticism of this particular position is, I always find myself putting down the negative drawbacks of the self-indulgent nature of writing out of habit. I even made my own post about it a few months prior. Self-indulgent writing is amateurish to me, and does little to accommodate the viewer in the feeling of empathy or insightful development. With self-indulgent writing, people are given the opportunity to imagine fantastic situations that cannot happen in a sort of “What if?” scenario, often providing an image of self-inflation or triumph. This is, of course, not 100% set-in-stone, but more prevalent than not from my perspective. Sakuta Azusagawa is a catalyst for self-indulgent writing, and his character thus becomes too perfect to empathize with on a personal level.
This may be a niche thing or reservation with people, but browsing the internet for a while, I’ve come across some negative criticism concerning people who always take the middle ground. People who never take one side on any position, never taking responsibility for the cons (and alternatively, the pros) of adhering to a certain idea, which is exacerbated by more confrontational topics, such as political affiliations or beliefs. Azusagawa gives off this vibe from me, with his aloof, know-it-all attitude that has him clumsily placed in both the driver’s seat and the backseat in an observational position. The situations that occur with his friends and loved ones have him only placed in situations where he cannot be directly affected or having him do what’s “right.” Either he’s mum on a conflict or strangely calm in his own resolution to justice—frankly put, he’s never in the “wrong.”
Take, for example, the entire arc concerning Tomoe Koga. Scared of the repercussions to her reputation by declining to date a boy whom her friend is infatuated with, Koga inadvertently has time repeat the same 24-hour period so that she doesn’t have to face the future. Coincidentally, Sakuta is pulled along within this loop, self-aware of the repeating of time because, well, he’s the lead. Eventually, he confronts Koga about the situation, and the two end up pulling out of the loop by pretend-dating, with Koga’s reputation remaining intact and Sakuta rationally explaining the situation to his current girlfriend, Mai, who trusts him almost unconditionally.
With the formation of the pseudo-romantic relationship, Sakuta is in little position to lose (other than trivial situations, such as along time with Mai). Going along with it to help someone in need (and self-preservation), his playful banter has him smooth sailing throughout the entire thing, which leads to the inevitable conclusion of their break-up. This, in turn, re-triggers the repeating process, where Sakuta knows almost immediately from previous experience that Koga doesn’t wish to face the future, a future away from playing with him. This sets the stage for Sakuta to perform a dramatic confrontation, where he tells Koga exactly how she’s feeling and what she needs to hear to move on, putting him in the right despite the hurt it may provide. This isn’t just an isolated case—Sakuta always seems to know exactly what to say, do, or think when the situation is right. And when it is, he’s right. He’s never wrong. He cannot do any wrong.
Only in moments of sexual tension, shared with his girlfriend, Mai, does Sakuta ever show any sense of weakness. While in general conversation, where neither are taking each other too seriously, the more intimate moments—such as Mai visiting Sakuta while he’s sleeping on the floor of his room in the middle of the night or holding him close while out in public—elicit reactions that have him break his aloof, seemingly-omniscient character. In these moments, his reactions and attention becomes that of all other male teenagers in his position: the nerve-wracking promise of indulging in “sexy stuff.” These are the only moments where I go from an entertained, but non-caring consumer to immersing myself within the character of Sakuta Azusagawa, who has weaknesses and insecurities just like me. These moments are not often.
In the end, a lot of this may not matter to people. It’s enough that Sakuta is a refreshing, and perhaps ironic, experiment by the author to get a new type of “hero” out there. His conversations and relation to others is an enjoyable, albeit distant foray into an unknown venture, at least in terms of industry standards. For me, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword: while the difference stimulates some good, I fear it may be trying to be different while still adhering to the escapist intentions that are a popular method of storytelling. Almost like being shown the same image, but in multiple colors. Sakuta Azusagawa may be a fan favorite for the moment, but to me, he’s just another character that doesn’t do much for my tastes.
Where does Sakuta Azusagawa rank among your favorite characters this season? Do his “strengths” bother you in terms of story or character development?