Did you know what you were going to do for the rest of your life when you were 14 years old?
I didn’t, and I’m guessing Saki Ogawa doesn’t either.
That may be the best way to rationalize the unexpected announcement that Ogawa, one of the “original four” of idol unit S/mileage, is dropping out of the group and TEH Hello! Project altogether.
Even more shockingly, Ogawa’s last day will be on August 27th—just days after the announcement, rather than the half a year that Morning Musume fans were given to say farewell to Ai Takahashi. (Of course that also gave Up-Front half a year to build up a massive wave of hype billing Takahashi as the MOST IMPORTANT MEMBER IN MOMUSU HISTORY, if the special-edition releases and commemorative events are anything to go by, but that’s an argument for another time.)
So commence the usual fan outcry of SHE JUST GOT HERE HOW CAN SHE BE LEAVING BAAAWWWWw. ;________; And cue all the second-guessing and ex post facto analysis of events leading up to the announcement. The “clues” to Ogawa’s departure were there, we like to tell ourselves with 20/20 hindsight: the summer auditions for new S/mileage members, the miserable faces she kept making at publicity events, the “At first I didn’t like the idea of new members” remark when New S/mileage was unveiled to the world. Why would she make a pessimistic, career-suicidal comment like that? Because she knew she was leaving, it’s easy to say, now that we know what’s going on.
But unless you are one of those asshatic fans who claims to be a JAPANLAND EXPEART on ERRYTHING, you have to admit that no one will ever truly know what was going on. Not unless you have magical psychic powers that can read Saki Ogawa’s (and Tsunku’s) mind. From the announcement and its translation, we know this much: Ogawa had been thinking of quitting since May and talked it out with the staff, and then at the end of that month New S/mileage auditions were announced. Whether she had finalized her decision at that time, or was still wavering during the audition period, it doesn’t say—only that, for contract reasons, the announcement had to be held back until just days before her scheduled departure.
((ftr, I disagree with Tsunku’s comment about a working adult walking out on a half-finished job. I did exactly that a year ago! LOLOLOL! At-will employment laws ftw!))
Ogawa’s personal comment is just as nebulous and cryptic; only she can know when, how, and why she decided that S/mileage was not the right career path for her. Frankly, having to even contemplate a “career path” when you’re still finishing up middle school is almost too much to ask. The “gap” that she talks about, between her true self and S/mileage self, is a reminder that every idol puts on a persona when the camera is on them. Even the most SERIOUSE FANS cannot hope to know the deepest reaches of her heart, which is why stuff like this happens.
Between this and the arrival of New S/mileage, it has been an incredibly tumultuous time for TEH Hello! Project’s youngest group. I was originally going to write a post stanning Meimi “Fangs” Tamura with her loli face and loli voice, but obviously there is a much more dramatic change going on, especially once you take into account the “sub-member” system wherein some of New S/mileage may stay on, while others may leave, or head off into Hello! Project Eggs for further incubation. To put it simply, the original S/mileage I knew has gone forever.
But the memories will stay on, and I hope Sakichi treasures all of them and takes them with her wherever she goes. The Original Four may be young yet (Ayaka Wada, the eldest, just turned 17), but their friendship runs deep: it’s been a year since their major-label debut, two years since their formation as an indies group, and almost half a decade since they first signed on with the H!P Egg program. That’s a lot of time for a 14-year-old.
And, you know, sometimes you realize you’re 14 years old and you’ve been performing publicly since you were a kid and all these old-ass creeper guys keep yelling your name and every week you go on a kids’ morning TV show and you just start to wonder if there’s something else out there for you.
That is the frame of mind I imagine Sakichi to be in right now. I sincerely hope she can find the direction she wants to go in. And imagine how this must affect those around her: Tsunku, the instructors, the new girls, and most of all, Wada, Maeda, and Fukuda. I hope that they, too, can sympathize with Ogawa’s situation and understand that sometimes you just have to pack your bags and go figure stuff out.
The only constant in the idol world is that everything changes. If you want pretty singing starlets that will stay the same forever, go be a Vocaloid stan. As for me, I look forward to the New Age of S/miles, of neckmoles and fangs and foreheads and droopy eyes and fresh legs that go on forever. But I won’t forget what has come before, because it was that foundation that has allowed them to come this far. As Saki Ogawa continues on her own way, I wish her all the best. Here’s to the memories. To Old S/mileage. Forever 4.