Masaki Sato Announces Her Graduation From Morning Musume.
The lack of content out of the Hello! Project since the release of Angerme’s 29th single back in June finally pushed me into one of my extended breaks last month. Even the afterglow of SoloFes! 2 was short lived for me, and while the announcement of a new Tsubaki Factory single piqued my interest, it took Masaki Sato’s graduation announcement to pull me back to the blog.
It’s taken a couple of days of reflection to really gather my thoughts, because my gut reaction was mostly frustration at Maa’s run being cut short due to health concerns. She always struck me as an idol who truly loved Morning Musume, and was aware of her stature both inside and outside of the Harowota bubble. To put it bluntly, Masaki Sato was the face of Morning Musume. She’s been the undisputed most-popular member among fans for years, both in Japan and overseas — a rare occurrence when both fan bases agree — and on the occasions that MM got exposure in front of the general public, it was Maa who people noticed, and about whom they’d go to social media to ask for information.
Sato was not always so beloved, though, as her younger version was often a loose-canon in front of the public and an annoyance to both senpai and management alike. But her natural charm and stage presence — not to mention her adorable relationship with 10th gen mate Haruka Kudo — won fans over to a point where public displays of Sato grapeshot were simply seen as “Maa being Maa.” As she matured into adulthood, Maa became more outwardly professional and developed a cool confidence while retaining a healthy amount of her impish charm. Along the way her singing voice blossomed into one of MM’s better and most distinctive ever. If I were to rank all of MM’s members in terms of singing ability, Maa would place somewhere in the top-third, maybe even top-quarter all time. If I were to rank my personal favorites to listen to, though, she’s top-ten for sure and maybe closer to five than ten. Maa’s combination of ability, personality and electricity as a singer is matched by only a handful of other Musume’s (off the top of my head: Fujimoto, Kago, Takahashi, Nakazawa). You knew when Maa was singing, even if you couldn’t see her.
It’s hard to overstate how much of an impact Maa’s graduation will have on MM going forward. As I write this, just two days removed from the announcement, I’m inclined to call it the most consequential H!P retirement since Sayumi Michishige’s. I think it will be even more important than when Mizuki Fukumura eventually packs it in, because H!P leaders are chosen, but force-of-nature idols with the innate charisma and magnetism of Masaki Sato must be born.
On the positive side, Maa has made it clear that she wishes to keep performing as a soloist, possibly in Up-Front, which seems like it has the potential to be more intriguing than the usual ex-H!P solo career. It will be interesting to see how she’s able to balance it with the IBS that ended her idol career, but UF seems to be fine with letting their former idols work at their own pace. With few exceptions, they also seem to give them fairly safe material, and I’m praying that Maa is another one of the exceptions to that rule.
The other positive news is that we’re getting one last MM single with Maa, and a legit grad concert at Budokan, both in December. I’m happy she’s getting both of these, but especially the grad concert, as I’m still salty over Sayuki being denied the chance to give and receive a proper goodbye. Enjoy the final three months of Morning Musume with Masaki Sato, because the hole in the group that her loss leaves behind is going to take a long time to fill.
This post edited from the original to reflect the fact that Sato has not yet committed to remaining with Up-Front as a soloist.