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Monday, January 14, 2013

Sasuke Rising Aftermath

Now that I've had time to digest the happenings of Sasuke Rising and the state of Sasuke as we speak I wanted to do a blog on my thoughts on this new season.  I'll try to break it down like I before on the State of Sasuke in Japan Blog that I wrote a couple years back.  My initial thoughts on the show are as simple. I liked it.  However, there are a few things that bothered me about the current incarnation and the direction it seems to be going. I'm not going to talk about obstacles in detail.  Overall there were hits and misses and some seemed.. "awkward" but that's a design issue and is a huge discussion between hard-core and casual fans.  If we followed everyone's suggestions on that no one would be happy as some are diametrically opposed. I for one encourage obstacle changes and wild ideas.  Some of our favorite obstacles came from ideas so I don't like discouraging that at all. Even if some didn't live up to fan expectation. It's part of the show.  So I'm going to deal with things that SHOULD change either "back" to what it was, change from the current and even support some change for the sake of progress.

Sasuke Champions!
Sasuke All Star Kazuhiko Akiyama 秋山和彦, 2-Time Grand Champion Yuuji Urushihara 漆原裕治 (Cliffer #3) and Sasuke All-Star Makoto Nagano 長野誠  ©Yuuji Urushihara

Ratings dissection for Sasuke Rising:
First thing is first: The ratings were not spectacular.  They weren't terrible either.  However, they were the 3rd worst of all-time. The overall number was 9.3% (Technically in the Kanto Region but that's the one they use for documenting overall ratings).  The number dropped significantly after the First stage (after the All-stars left) as more people just switched channels to watch the other 2 variety shows that Sasuke was competing with all night.  The numbers were clear where the audience went and so the debate goes as to why knowing that information.  One clear thing though, the night was not a heavy viewing night and the ones that won (even if by double digits) were not colossal winners as it was in the past match-ups.  So while the number was dismal, TBS looked at where they were overall and they were solidly in 3rd place for part of the evening.  I believe for a short time it was actually 2nd though they concede it wasn't for an extended period of time.

Twitter trends during Sasuke Rising (during Nagano's run - end of First stage)

Sasuke Rising's impact on Twitter Trends:
I was monitoring Twitter trends all night during Sasuke and a took a few screenshots to see how they compared hour by hour.  Even despite TBS incorrectly using #SasukeSG (which is for Singapore..) and SMF users using #SasukeRising like we were told.. During the All-stars segment #Sasuke became the #1 trend topic in Japan solidly for about 45 minutes to an hour.  Before that it was ranked about 4th or 5th place.  During the time I screen-capped this Nagano was running the First Stage.  Seems Twitter was talking about Yamada 山田勝己 (who just finished running) and after this Nagano's name started to rank (around 7th place), Yamada was still ranking just above him and #Sasuke was still 1st.  I noticed something very troubling after that.  Immediately after the first stage and they went back to that awful room (more on that later) the trends literally stopped.  Sasuke stopped being #1.. in fact it wasn't even in the top 10.  Yamada's name lingered for another 30 minutes and then nothing about Sasuke (not even obstacles) were discussed ever again.  The top two shows that everyone ended up gravitating towards (and beat Sasuke in double digits ratings-wise) for the rest of the night ended up taking precedent in Twitter as well.

Sasuke All Stars Kazuhiko Akiyama 秋山和彦, (Mr. Sasuke) Katsumi Yamada 山田勝己, Toshihiro Takeda 竹田敏浩, Shingo Yamamoto 山本進悟,  Makoto Nagano 長野誠 (with his son Kaiou 塊王)

Perceived TBS project for Sasuke Rising:
I know TBS' project of forced retiring the Sasuke All-stars was controversial however I was not sure how this was going to be accepted in Japan.  On the surface I knew "why" they wanted to go in this director.. however it was apparent the project failed. (Thankfully) It wasn't the only thing that failed though so I wanted to break it down into sections.  First I'll deal with the overall project TBS was trying to do.  "Trying to exorcise the demons created by Monster 9."  That was the theme of Sasuke Rising.  Rising from the ashes created by the crash and burn of the Monster 9 regime.  In an effort to get rid of everything that reminded people of Monster 9 they inadvertently alienated their fan base. And not just the hard-core base.. we were the ones watching the show. The casual is what makes the "higher" ratings.  Part of what makes Sasuke work all of these 15 years it's been on the air.. is familiarity.  Sasuke Rising "felt" like a different show.  Almost like "Viking" where some familar faces were there but it was a completely different show.  Fans attach themselves to PEOPLE and follow their career through Sasuke.  The obstacles will change.. but the people is what MAKES Sasuke enjoyable.  It's not an Olympics, it's not all celebrities.. it's a host of regular men and women that make the fabric of society as diverse as it is.  It's evident by how many complaints there were this time around by who was NOT invited.

 Yoshiyuki Okuyama 奥山義行, Ryo Matachi (Cliffer #2) 又地諒, Kouji Hashimoto 橋本亘司, Yuuji Urushihara 漆原裕治 (Cliffer #3) and Kenji Takahashi 高橋賢次 ©Kouji Hashimoto

More Appreciation for former Third Stage Competitors and Finalists:
There were quite a few inexplicably omissions of notable competitors.  Notably absent were a large number of returning veterans and Finalists! In the past Monster 9 invited anyone who passed the first stage (even if they did it only once) back to the show as a measure of respect for that difficult task.  Common courtesy if want to rephrase that.  If you made it to the 3rd stage you were basically invited for life.  TBS now trying to get rid of Monster 9 tradition also got rid of a lot of fan favorites that frankly shocked a lot of hard-core fans like myself.  No one can adequately explain why Finalists Okuyama and Kongu were NOT invited.  The only "argument" that I heard was that they were the same age as the All-stars and therefore would not look good if they did better than them given that they are retiring the All-stars because they are "old".  Okuyama being the same age as Nagano is one most consistent competitors Sasuke has today.  I was angry that both of them were not invited even after jumping through the hoops of that stupid "audition". Why does a Finalist need to "audition" to be on the show they carried?  That also includes Kouji Hashimoto 橋本亘司 who inexplicably was demoted from the New Generation roster. I was happy he was invited, but I was not happy he lost his title. ESPECIALLY coming in as one of the handful of competitors that can say they were in the final AND coming in from Stage 3 in Sasuke 27.  TBS must really hate him.  If wanting to get rid of "Monster 9" elements.. don't use the same titles and expect people to ignore the difference.  They used Shin Sedai and that is the same term that already has a history and about 6 people. It's okay to ADD to the list.. however it is NOT to delete from the list for no acceptable reason.

 Top Row: New Generation: Kazuma Asa 朝一眞, Hitoshi Kanno 菅野仁志, Ryo Matachi (Cliffer #2) 又地諒, 2 time Champion Yuuji Urushihara 漆原裕治 (Cliffer #3)
Front Row: Sasuke All Stars  Kazuhiko Akiyama 秋山和彦, Shingo Yamamoto 山本進悟, Makoto Nagano 長野誠 and (Mr. Sasuke) Katsumi Yamada 山田勝己 ©Yuuji Urushihara

Internal politics getting in the way of the show:
I know I'm probably going to anger him but I have a couple thoughts on why this happened.  For the record, I like the old/new director of Sasuke (He directed Sasuke 1-13) Masato Inui 乾雅人.  His communication with fans through his Twitter account was awesome.  Still is!  He's patient and answers even the most mundane questions imaginable.  He painstakingly answers questions for hours on end about Sasuke day after day after day.  I should know. I ask him a LOT. However, the topic of who was invited or snubbed lies on his shoulders.  He had made a comment that since he was gone for 8 years and didn't follow Sasuke during that time he didn't keep up with the "new" people of Sasuke.  That included the current new generation and even the current champion.  He also didn't want to hark back to the Monster 9 days so he decided to try something new by injecting new people to the Sasuke lineup.  In his attempt though he automatically failed rule #1 when taking over a show that's struggling.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK.  People like us who have followed the show through thick and thin follow PEOPLE not obstacles through a show's ups and downs.  It was common courtesy that you keep your veterans (especially when they are doing well) as a show of respect of their contributions to the show.  When Inui left the Sasuke All-stars carried the show along with the various people who came out of the shadow and made it to the final.  When the All-stars struggled it was people like the new generation stars including Kouji and vets like Okuyama that made it to the 3rd stage over and over.  When Kane Kosugi left, gone with him was the idea that a celeb can go far so it fell to the non-celebs to carry the show.  Fans wanted to continue seeing how they did as the tournament obstacles changed and evolved. When Inui admitted his ignorance for the new generation and to who people watched he left the show.. he threw the baby out with the bath water.

Sasuke All-star Toshihiro Takeda 竹田敏浩, Kunoichi All-star Mika Izumi er.. Mika Watanabe 渡邉美香 and All-star Makoto Nagano 長野誠 ©Toshihiro Takeda

TBS inadvertently throwing out the baby with the bath water:
For those not familiar with that phrase I'll quote wiki:  "Throw out the baby with the bath water" is an idiomatic expression used to suggest an avoidable error in which something good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad, or in other words, rejecting the essential along with the inessential.  In this case Inui in his zeal to remove all Monster 9 elements throw out key elements of the show that the fan base needed to keep the show alive.  It's PEOPLE.  He may have forgotten what Sasuke was like or knew why people watched the show.. but we never left. We've been watching the 8 years he's been gone.  We've grown to love the New Stars and usual competitors that existed in that time frame.  We love the joke competitors like Mr. Octopus (Tako Tencho) and the vets like Kongu and Okuyama and Lee Enchi from Taiwan.  And most of all .. we adore the Sasuke All-Stars. Which brings me to my next point.

Sasuke All-star Toshihiro Takeda 竹田敏浩 staring down Sasuke Rising ©Toshihiro Takeda

Forced Retirement of the All-stars:  This was a HUGE topic.. even before the start of the Sasuke tournament.  Ever since we found out it was going to happen (again thanks to Inui posting about it)  This was a hot topic not just on the forums or my blog but even on Twitter and Facebook.  Continues even until today.  I didn't know how the All-stars were going to react. At first I honestly thought most would be relieved it was over (Akiyama/Nagano/Takeda/Bunpei) while I feared for those who didn't want it to end (Shingo/Yamada). I was surprised by the aftermath.  I believe the one positive thing that came out of the whole "graduation ceremony" was the lighting of the fire of competitiveness within the All-stars.  I was frankly surprised at what I saw and subsequently read. Not the results themselves (though I expected they would all crumble under the ridiculously enormous pressure) but HOW they reacted at the tournament end and after it aired.  They didn't like it. I mean.. they REALLY didn't like it.  It became apparent to me that Inui didn't like it either.  The editing of the show was important in that respect.

All-Star Toshihiro Takeda 竹田敏浩

All-star Rising Back:
Point blank I was shocked at the editing.. specifically the inclusion of Takeda's speech at the end of his run.  It wasn't a "thanks for the memories and I'll happily go back to retirement".. it was a defiant "I sucked I'm not happy and I want to come back and make the final stage" speech. I literally was floored that not only did he SAY it on camera but that he even FELT that way.  Takeda knows his history.  Akiyama was forced retired after Sasuke 17 for saying on camera he was done then when he was lured back by his friends and fans Monster 9 shut him down for a few tourneys because he was "retired".  So when I heard Takeda remember what he says on camera is repeated and quoted for all eternity I was shocked at what came out of his mouth.  For people who follow this show we know that Takeda had initially retired because of his job with heavy rescue.  It wasn't that they didn't want him to compete but he felt the need to retire to avoid unnecessary injury that would hamper his performing his job at the top level.  Given how important his job is now it was accepted why he decided against doing it.  So.. given all that I was happy that he came back to Sasuke even if it was to retire again at the end.  I didn't anticipate what he said after he failed (and in such a fluke fashion).  What I found interesting was that the interview was RIGHT after he failed.  Unlike the other All-stars that went back to the bleacher section and spoke to the crowd.. he avoided it altogether and went away from the crowd.  He spoke only to the sidelines reporter and spoke his mind.  He was quite firm with his desire as well. There was no mistaking his meaning in his speech.  I'm so proud of him.  It takes guts to do that knowing it was going to be aired to thousands around the world.  I finally saw a fire in Takeda that wasn't present for a number of years.

All-star Makoto Nagano 長野誠

Let the All-stars return if they desire:
So while I was digesting Takeda's defiance to being forced retired I was shocked to see Nagano's retirement speech deleted from the broadcast. I mean.. it wasn't even there. He didn't say he wanted to come back or retire.. it was just.. Poof.. gone.. All of this was edited by Inui.  So the question remained.. so.. are they gone?  So a flicker of hope began the night of Sasuke Rising's airing.  Soon the "flicker" became a roaring flame when I started to get reports about the All-stars clamoring to return to Sasuke on their Personal Facebook pages.  Leading the charge was Shingo (whom I did not expect) after Takeda's speech went on air.  Takeda himself had not even bothered to watch Sasuke Rising until a full month after the broadcast (in fact he saw it a couple days ago...) but he decided to post a message to his fans a day or so after the broadcast to continue to support his endeavor to finally make a serious run at the Sasuke Final Stage Tower.  Shingo immediately chimed in going "if you are going back I'M GOING TOO!"  A couple days later you had Nagano hoping to come back if the other guys are going back.  All citing a renewed spark to continue pushing THEMSELVES to exorcise their own demons they have been carrying around like albatrosses around their necks.  So if anything, the project TBS went out to force retire them actually had the opposite effect.  Now the All-stars want to come back in force.  My suggestion is.. LET them come back.  Don't focus the show on them but let THEM decide if they want to return or not.  So if some want to stay retired.. let them.. but if they want to return.. LET them.  Fans appreciate THEM deciding their own fate. It was clear to me that the All-stars were uncomfortable in that "room" knowing that they were being shown the door... which brings me to my next point..

Sasuke All-stars bored out of their minds in "The Room"

Celebrity room pointless/boring:
Point blank this was the SINGLE most HATED portion of the show.  What I call "The Room". I would not have minded it so badly had it been relevant and appropriately spaced and not so disruptive!  Case in point.. why was it there?  What purpose did it serve?  Not only did it add useless minutes to the broadcast that could have been better suited to actually showing fan reaction at the tournament.. But, they invited the All-stars to sit and watch a show for 3 hours and didn't interview them ONCE.. not even once.. meanwhile we were treated to clueless celebrities that hadn't even watched the show in the past and had a camera up their face to monitor their every faked reaction.  They didn't even recognize and therefore appreciate it's stars and 15 YEAR history.  If it was relegated to "between" stages as I was lead to believe.. I wouldn't be as furious.. But it was a "device" used throughout the ENTIRE show.. This is not Sasuke. If they want to show up as competitors and promote their upcoming shows.. do so as a competitor otherwise they are not appreciated.

 The infamous "box girl"

Why was it shown on EVERY RUN?  Even in the past when they had stage reviews with Ichiro speaking to a couple people.. it as BETWEEN stages.  They didn't cut to his reaction.. and they didn't INSERT themselves in each and every shot.  The disruption was so jarring that the Forum kids came up with phrases like "box girl".  If I took a drink every single time I saw her gawking like a blithering idiot, I'd be dead from alcohol poisoning within the first hour..  Every time Fukiishi Kazue  吹石一恵 came on the screen I literally screamed back at her to go away. It broke the flow of the show and killed whatever tension existed in the air watching the show.  It was so apparent it was staged and the celebrities were paid to be there that all you had to do was see the bored faces of the actual competitors in the background watching the show THEY WERE JUST IN..  

 (Mr. Sasuke) Katsumi Yamada 山田勝己 defeating the Jump Hang Kai

While I hit hard at the parts they got wrong.. I have to commend them for the things they got RIGHT!  I've noticed as I get older I've become a creature of habit. The things I had the most problems with were the small things like familiar competitor theme songs missing (like Yuuji (my favorite), Kanno, etc.).. competitors I've grown accustomed watching (All-stars, Veterans, New Generation, etc.) I was happy with some things TBS did this time around.  Unlike when Monster 9 was completely in charge of the show.. TBS promoted the show A LOT.  We knew there was a tournament 2 full months before TAPING.  We knew the names of all 100 competitors BEFORE the tournament aired.  We saw commercials and entire MONTH before the tournament aired.  And you were allowed to ask questions to competitors and even the director without fear of being blacklisted.  Communication was wonderful. Monster 9 was the antithesis of that.  I want to encourage that communication to continue into the future.  The current plan to tape Sasuke 29 hopefully between Spring (at the earliest) and Fall (at the latest) is still not confirmed, however it's still more hopeful as it has been in the past.

Akiyama finally succumbs to tears

Rambling Rican's hope for the future of Sasuke:
Overall I am happy Sasuke is back.  That said, I'm very protective of the ONLY show on television in any country that I have such a strong opinion about. I will defend the honor and history of this game show with fervor and unapologetic voice.  I don't want Sasuke to become another clone of other failed shows.  I don't want Sasuke to "look" the same as other Japanese variety shows with their inserted fake reactions.  Sasuke has endured in people's hearts because of it's unique mantra. It was a show where the "ordinary people do extraordinary things". I don't want it to become a Sports show (we have hundreds of other sports shows with athletes with no jobs other than to train for their sport) or another celebrity show where people are paid to do stupid tricks for people to laugh.  I want the tradition of a show where someone sitting on their couch watches and says "yeah. I can do that" and they legitimately have a chance to pursue that dream.  They don't have to tear down anyone else to be the best.  They don't have to have their own backyard course.  They don't have to be someone "famous" to be a Sasuke Champion.  THAT is what I want to continue.  Watching Sasuke for the 6 years I've been watching (and blogging for 5 years) has endeared me to the normal hard working men and women that have graced Sasuke's start-line.  I want to continue watching their journey until they can't do it anymore.  Feel free to tweak the course.  Feel free to invite famous celebs to fail the first Stage for ratings.  Don't try to rewrite history in an effort to exorcise a perceived handicap.  We came to watch the people we have been watching.  We don't care who produced the show. Monster 9 may be gone but the competitors who have no control over that are still there and willing to compete.  Don't make the fans and competitors pay for the mistakes made by a few who no longer are with us.  Feel free to bring crazy obstacles and try out things that may or may not work.. but never forget that Sasuke is famous worldwide for it's PEOPLE: Not inanimate objects.  THIS is why I watch Sasuke.


Chaki said...

Thanks for articulating and summarizing what many of us feel and giving background on the "politics" of the new version.

VenusHeadTrap said...


Unknown said...

Thank you very much for that article. I feel the same way about Sasuke now.

Arsenette said...

Thanks guys :) Wasn't sure how anyone would feel about my opinions on the show as they are now.

ad uk said...

This sums up every fans opinion perfectly. I'm very surprised that Takeda speech was kept in good on him .Here's hoping for the future if they are fit enough let them compete we love them .

band97 said...

Yes! Great blog!

Arsenette said...

I appreciate the kind words :)

I am hoping they do come back too!

Jelena said...

Hi there! I was a bit behind with your blog, so today I've had a 3-hour Sasuke session -- almost felt like watching it myself ;) My overall impression is bittersweet -- hat off to the new guys, but it's the old guys that we grew to love. And yeah, time flies and all... And,of course, hat off for your coverage, as always!

VenusHeadTrap said...

NO! Don't throw out that perfectly good bath water, I'll get rid of that dumb baby for ya!

Arsenette said...

Doh sorry Jelena I totally didn't get the notification you wrote something :(

LOL Venus.

Jelena said...

No worries! :D Anonymity works for me!

mchiii said...

For the last couple years, we've been getting a big gang of people together to watch SASUKE. None of us speak Japanese, and a lot of first-time watchers are completely perplexed at the start; but this show breaks all boundaries about halfway through the first round. This is a show about your "everyman" taking on an EXTRAORDINARY physical challenge - and beating the odds! The way we can forge an emotional connection with the competitors in such a short period of time speaks volumes about the incredible niche that SASUKE holds; that being said, you really can't replace the familiar faces that keep coming back. It's one thing to have competitors bow out, but they really shouldn't be forced out - especially if they are able to complete the obstacles! Here's to hoping that Takeda leads the charge and makes coming back a possibility!

Arsenette - thanks again for keeping us well-informed about all of the SASUKE-related updates the world over! Your hard work is really appreciated, and we'll definitely be tuning in for SASUKE 29 - hopefully soon!

Arsenette said...

Theehehe I'm happy to share my goofy passion with people with the same passion as me. Honestly if you asked me 5 years ago where this blog would be now I would have laughed.. even so I still find it amazing it's lasted as long as it has.. LOL Then again.. that's why I keep loving Sasuke now. I'm a bit more protective though than I ever was. I don't want that passion to go away because of changes.