So there’s this show where just about everyone in it is kind of a wacko. They do the weird, quirky things that only anime characters do. But what makes them stand out from the typical cast of anime characters is that they’re all artists. They’re all creative people trying to express themselves by doing what they love.
Let’s take a closer look at the Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo characters and see if we can identify a bit of ourselves in all the crazy shenanigans.
If it wasn’t obvious from the header pic on this blog and the numerous times I’ve babbled on about the show in various posts, I’m a huge Sakurasou fan. What drew me to the anime is how it’s about art, about expressing a deep part of yourself, about that feeling of wanting to put yourself out there even if it’s going to hurt you time and time again. To me, the characters all represent different ways of approaching artistic creativity, and while there are points when I disagree with Sakurasou’s portrayals, it does work within the context of the show. I think if you are a creative person there is at least one character in the show you can point to and say “Ah, yes, I think like that too!” And that’s what this post is about.
This isn’t the perfect anime, however, and I think I should make that clear from the outset because it’s going to affect the way I choose to dissect the characters. The story’s preoccupation with the conflict between HARD WORK vs TALENT is frustrating, to be blunt. Yes, it’s a theme we can all relate to in some way, which makes it good fodder for drama, but the problem is that the story never tries to resolve it. It keeps recycling this particular dilemma whenever the plot requires a conflict. It makes as if to face the issue head on but ultimately skirts around it completely. For a coming-of-age story that’s ostensibly about Sorata discovering his own talents, irrespective of his potential waifu, it’s obsessed with comparing him to her and beating him down. Even at the end, the same old shit happens.
I take issue with this because it seems to portray the creative arts as some kind of competition. The story never fails to make it clear just who is the “better” artist. The hierarchy looks something like this:
Mashiro > Misaki = Ryuunosuke > Rita > Jin > Nanami > Sorata = Dog Shit
What an awfully truncated way of looking at people and at the world. The narrative itself enforces the kind of bleak, immature thinking that is the downfall of many a prospective artist: namely, this idea that there is always someone better than you and that you have to “catch up”. Isn’t Sorata supposed to learn that he shouldn’t compare himself negatively to others and that he should focus on what only he can do for himself? The story ends when it is really just beginning.
But this is really just the fault of the need for contrived drama. The basic theme remains singular and powerful: that we should live up to our own potential, and we can do this by being with others who are also living up to their potential.
Since Sakurasou was the number one anime that helped me achieve self-awareness as an artist, I’m hoping I can share some of that same feeling with others. To that end, I’ll be breaking down the Sakurasou characters into “types”. What type of thinker are they and how do they approach being creative? Most of this post is going to be speculative in nature and I’m going to be forcing a lot of my own personal observations and values into my analysis, so if you take issue with my ‘headcanon’, that’s fine. These things differ between people. Hopefully, however, you can relate.
We’ll kick things off with the so-called ‘everyman’ you’re meant to relate to. For some viewers, this has backfired, and there is some general agreement that Sorata is kind of a dick.
At heart, Sorata always seems to be uncertain about what he wants. This shows in his wishy-washy attitude in the beginning; it also shows in how he handles his romantic entanglements. He avoids commitment because he’s frightened of his own ineptitude. Naturally, his hesitancy shows in his creative style. He’s not sure of what he wants to achieve, therefore most of the things he creates will end up seeming very generic by most standards.
Nevertheless, I think Sorata has a strong appreciation for creativity. He’s captivated by Mashiro’s art, for a start, and knows how refined her style is especially when compared to his own. Like most people, he has the artist’s soul in the sense that he can be moved powerfully by other people’s art. He knows what’s good but has trouble reaching for it.
I think there are a lot of thinkers out there who are like Sorata. He’s a harsh self critic. He’ll start, realise what he’s creating is utter garbage, and immediately shut down. He has perspective but lacks experience, mostly due to being so negative on himself.
Sorata also takes rejection and criticism way too seriously. Even after discovering that he wants to make games, he lacks his own inner compass, and this leads him to implementing any suggestion others offer him without thinking about his own vision first. Because he thinks of his own ideas as worthless, he latches onto constructive criticism, thinking that all of it is valid.
The Nyaboron project is probably the only part of the anime where we get to see the full extent of Sorata’s current potential. This is when, after pissing around for a bit, he actually forms his own all-encompassing directorial vision: he makes the game revolve around the Power of Love.
Now this is cheesy, I know, but there’s a genuine earnestness to Sorata that would make him a good creator if he had more confidence. I would say most creative people who are also successful are very much like this at heart. They know how it feels to lack confidence. They know how it feels to be the one with all the character flaws and with little to make up for it. And that’s why everyone who feels “normal” has it in them to create something that can touch the heart of countless others.
It’s clear that Mashiro has an aptitude for art of no matter what form it takes. And this aptitude has developed largely through immersion – she’s been living and breathing art since the moment she was practically born. She was sent to a posh art school and her art’s been constantly exposed to critical eyes. Under these circumstances, there’s no doubt that Mashiro would gain the raw skills that would make her exceedingly precocious for her age, but even by professional standards she’s pretty damn good.
Why is this? Because for Mashiro, art isn’t something she does. It’s a way of life.
For her, art is something that’s deeply personal. She sees the world and she attempts to transcribe it. Her early works were quite abstract, which indicates her rather unorthodox way of perceiving things. I think she sees everything in terms of colour. Bright, dark, strong, weak. Primary, secondary. Multitudes of shades. For her, everything is vivid and abstract and people, too, are moving works of art. You can see how Mashiro views Sorata in particular in this way from the question she asks him early in the series: “What colour are you?”
Her lack of social skills is also linked to this. She sees people in the abstract, as just another aspect of the scenery to be conveyed on the canvas. This is why her manga fails at first – her storytelling skills are weak. I think the uniqueness of her artistry and her awkwardness are linked. She cuts herself off from direct contact. Sights and sounds wash over her. She has piercing insight into what she’s interested in – because that’s what artists do when they’re trying to frame a subject in a painting.
The interesting thing about her approach to creative thinking isn’t just that it’s so intuitive, however. She is adept at every style. The artwork for Sorata’s game, her manga and her paintings are all so different it feels like they were drawn by a different person. She’s constantly trying to evolve, attempting new things in her art. The reason why she’s so good isn’t just because of the long hours she’s practised – it’s in her willingness to push her skills to the limit in each and every composition.
Not many people are like Mashiro. But I don’t necessarily think Mashiro is better. I don’t think she perceives herself as talented any more than you or I would perceive ourselves talented at breathing. Anyone who has ever felt completely immersed in what they are doing is like Mashiro to some degree. It’s not in her skill, it’s in her worldview.
Bombastic and full of frenetic energy, Misaki’s creations are a direct product of her outlandish personality. It’s interesting comparing her and Mashiro. Where I think Mashiro immerses herself completely into all art forms, I feel like Misaki is the type of person who has only really attempted one style of animation – but she can do that style extremely well.
In her backstory, we’re told that Misaki is the kind of person who can easily pick things up. She is naturally interested in things, and this is what makes her so adaptable. She’s probably also the type who feels bored after she has mastered something to a reasonable degree, which is what makes her constantly on the lookout for new and exciting things.
What probably draws Misaki to animation is that there is no such thing as perfection in that area. The techniques and technology constantly improve at a rapid rate, forcing Misaki to improve along with them. Unlike other skills, where the benchmark is more easily defined, the standards for good animation are different in every project.
I think of Misaki’s type as essentially being rather flighty and grandiose. She aims high and overlooks details if they get in the way of her grand vision. The reason why she picks things up easily is because she’s a conceptual thinker, not a hands-on learner. Everything she learns she applies to her own big theory of everything, meaning that while she gets the job done, her logic often seems quite skewed to other people.
By the way, as an anime director she reminds me a lot of Shin Oonuma of Silver Link (Baka and Test, Watamote). She puts so much of her own personality into her directing that while it’s quirky and it stands out as visually creative, there are others who would probably reject her work as gimmickry. If you’re like Misaki and you feel like you have a completely idiosyncratic approach to creating stuff, there’s really not much you can do if someone criticises you in that vein. You are who you are.
We’re told over and over again that Jin’s scripts are not good enough for Misaki. I have a different interpretation of this.
If my interpretation of Misaki being a very idiosyncratic director is correct (and there’s nothing in her personality and what we’ve seen of her work that would go against this) then there would be certain writers whom she would be compatible with and certain writers whom she would not be. Jin falls into the latter.
We don’t get to see a single script of his, which is a real copout. Going by his general personality, though, I would say he is a calculating type as a writer. He’s self-aware and full of deft insight about a lot of different topics. He’s smart enough to sweet-talk women. A guy as outwardly intelligent as him would know how to construct a proper story.
But this is also where I think he stumbles. I think he is the type who plans every scene well in advance and who hones and refines each script until they’ve lost his stamp of individuality. In short, he overedits. He probably does this because he does not think his writing is good enough for Misaki, causing a vicious, self-deprecating cycle. His scripts are probably decent in their own right (they’re good enough to win runner up prizes in competitions), but when you put that kind of clinical, overly refined work next to Misaki’s “Heart Over Common Sense” approach, you get a story that doesn’t match the animation and fails to bring out the best in it.
If that’s true, then there are many writers out there who are like Jin. To use anime industry examples, I think of him as a less polished version of Tsugumi Ohba (Death Note, Bakuman) and Gen Urobuchi (Fate Zero, Psycho-Pass). I think his mind naturally goes to dark places and he likes to think of unique, plot-driven stories. There’s a certain level of emotional detachment in his craft. Unlike Sorata, he probably knows what he’s doing, but his writing fails to achieve real poignancy because he’s hesitant to put his own soul into it. As long as he thinks it’s just a matter of skill, he thinks, “Well, I can just fix this one aspect for next time.”
Bakuman talked about these kinds of writers at length. People like Jin might have to work hard to carve out their niche, but once they do, they can consistently write hit after hit. People like him are self-aware; they just need to be comfortable about themselves.
When I was in school, I knew a Nanami. I knew many of them, in fact. I was put into an accelerated class for academically gifted students, and three quarters of them were girls like Nanami.
You are probably intimately familiar with the type: neat handwriting, always hands up the work on time, does well on projects. The goody two-shoes. Teachers love this type of creative thinker. Nanami is a motivated type and, most importantly, she works to please others as much as she works to please herself. That takes real empathy and understanding of others’ needs and to take it to such lengths is a talent in and of itself.
But here’s the thing: Nanami might be driven but her approach to becoming a better voice actress is to work more, not smarter. She doesn’t prioritise her time effectively. She tries to do everything at once; she wants to be Little Miss Perfect at every single thing she sets her mind to.
When I was in junior high school, these Nanami-type girls kept scoring higher than me. But that didn’t last. As you get older, life (and exams) demand you to specialise, and while I succeeded in doing that, the Nanami-type girls didn’t. They kept trying to do everything at once and it overloaded them with commitments.
So if you’re a Nanami-type and you believe there’s something creative you’re passionate about, whether it’s voice acting or not, the trick is prioritising. It was never Nanami’s lack of talent that made her fail her audition. It was the fact that she wanted to work for her schooling, be the perfect student, be a supportive friend and somewhere, caught up in all those string of commitments, was her voice acting. If you’re wondering why, as you get older, you notice people who weren’t as good as you before beginning to overtake you in that regard, then now you know why.
Ryuunosuke is the pragmatic thinker of the cast. He’s not really an “ideas” person – but he’s extremely good at getting things done.
I feel like pretty much everyone who has ever corrected me on the Internet is a Ryuunosuke thinker, heh. He has perspective. He can easily sit back and judge others because he emotionally detaches himself from pretty much any given situation. Unlike Nanami, he is insanely good at prioritising his time and his thinking to get the most done according to his needs.
What makes Ryuunosuke (and people like him) so efficient is his selfishness, which is a good thing. He’s only doing it for himself, meaning he’s not trying to tailor his work to please anyone else. If it’s good, it’s good – he’ll be the judge of that.
I find that with Ryuunosuke type thinkers is that they’re quite egoistical, again in a good way. They know when to reject criticism, especially when it has nothing to do with what they’re trying to achieve. Ryuunosuke’s frustrations with the pettiness of other people’s comments is reflected not just in his general attitude but in the fact that he makes a computer A.I. do all the social interaction for him. He gets frustrated by other people piddling around not knowing what they want. While he slowly gets friendlier over the course of the series, his natural disposition is not to follow others, especially when he doesn’t agree with their creative decisions.
The problem with Ryuunosuke is, ironically, that he also lacks perspective. His work is esoteric to the eyes of most people. He confines himself to just one way of thinking by being concerned with standards. He’s as harsh a judge on himself as he is on anyone, but if something he sees isn’t “good”, he won’t have the patience for it. So people like Ryuunosuke are rather prone to overspecialisation, not to mention a hefty dose of cynicism.
What separates the Ryuunosuke type from the other calculating type, the Jin type, is that the Ryuunosuke type already thinks that his method of doing things is the right way. If anything, he just thinks he needs to refine that.
So that’s 3000 words already I’ve poured into analysing the Sakurasou residents. If you’re curious about what “type” I am, I do think of myself as a Sorata-type in the sense that I am nothing that special and I frequently compare myself to others, often to my detriment. When I was a child, though, I was constantly told by my teachers and relatives that I was talented at writing. And like I mentioned before, I was put into a class of high academic achievers. What this gave me was confidence in my ability to express myself, which I ultimately think is more important than this nebulous idea we call “genius”.
Enough of me blabbering on about myself, though. I hope this post could give you some perspective not just on the characterisation in Sakurasou but also about yourself. I think it’s important that people should know themselves for who they really are because it is only then that they can bring out their full potential. So what kind of creative thinker are you? Do you see yourself being like one of the Sakurasou characters?