I reviewed an excellent freeware visual novel called Collage on June 9, 2023. While my review was overwhelmingly positive, I did have a few complaints. One issue that I highlighted in my review was how it used a 6-year-old girl named Maria Sakamaki as a sort of oracle capable of dispensing adult wisdom in conversations with adults. In addition to her not being written credibly for a six-year old (even a precocious one), Maria’s wisdom occasionally helped move the plot forward – which only compounded my issues with it. I subsequently referred to Maria in other reviews (including of anime) when I ran into characters who exhibited similar issues. For simplicity’s sake going forward, I have coined the term “Sakamaki Syndrome.” Below, I will follow the example I set in writing an article defining my use of the term survive and advance in the context of visual novel choice structures explain the meaning of my own term and how it can be applied to characters with similar issues to little Maria.

A character has Sakamaki Syndrome when he or she speaks authoritatively about something without the story having established a credible basis for his or her authority, and the character’s authoritative statements materially affect the progression of the story in question.

Nicholas A. Ferrell

(Before continuing – do note that my issue with Maria is relatively minor in the grand scheme of Collage and that I ranked the novel as second best out of the 31 localizations that had been contributed to the 2005, 2006, and 2008 al|together festivals. My issues with Maria were among the issues that kept it from taking the top overall spot on my ranking – but all things considered it is an excellent piece that is well worth your time to read.)

The Problem With Maria Sakamaki

I will describe my issues with Maria without unnecessarily spoiling Collage since I hope that at least some people who read my review of Collage actually will read the novel for themselves.

Collage as a whole is about several young adults (late 20s-to early 30s) in an urban Japanese setting in the early 2000s. The story is told from the perspective of these three adult characters. Collage defies easy description, but I will give it my best stab. The most significant character is Yuuko Sasaki, a capable woman who has just quit her job and is not quite sure what to do with herself. A woman who had gone to the same high school (Yuuko’s underclassman) finds a slightly drunk Yuuko at a bar and takes her home. That woman has in her care Maria Sakamaki, whose mother had died but had left behind a message for Maria’s father, whose identity was at that point unknown. This encounter inspires Yuuko to reconnect with one of her friends from high school who livesclose by. Collage continues in this vein, with characters reestablishing connections and forging new ones. As the characters take initiative and try new things, we gradually discover some connections between them and their stories that are not immediately obvious.

Maria’s plot, which ties into the plots of a couple of other characters, is just one of the many intersecting story lines in Collage. As I noted, her mother, who was friends with the woman who brought Yuuko home, had recently died. It is strongly implied that Maria’s father, whoever he was, does not know he hasa daughter. Maria has a letter from her late mother for her father.

Scene in Collage visual novel where Yuuko Sasaki describes hugging a 6-year old girl, Miki Sakamaki, as being better than hugging stuffed animals at home.
Scene in Collage where Yuuko describes hugging Maria during their first meeting.

From the start, Maria is not excitable. I would rate Maria in the early going as slightly odd but understandably so given her depressing and peculiar circumstances.

My issues with Maria pop up as the novel moves into the middle part of her story and she interacts with the adult cast. There are multiple instances where Maria has a conversation with an adult character who is indecisive and waffling about whether to do one thing or another. The waffling in and of itself is fine – one theme of Collage is taking the initiative to try things and meet people. Most instances of waffling do not involve Maria and show the adult characters working through their own problems. However, in a few cases connected to, little Maria Sakamaki, this childsuddenly, unexpectedly, dispenses profound wisdom to a conflicted adult wherein she provides an accurate assessment of what is bothering him or her and a straightforward quip that serves as a catalyst for helping the adult see his or her issue from a new perspective.

A scene on a Ferris wheel in the Collage visual novel where the six-year old Maria Sakamaki says that someone is being constrained and not able to be himself.
I understand what they were trying to do with Maria. The idea is that she has some keen insights as a kid and is able to pick up on things that adults miss. But she expresses things in a way that seem off for someone of her age.

I have two issues with this Oracle-Maria.

Firstly, she is not written credibly for a six-year old. It is not easy to write a six-year old character who is both interesting and credible – and one can forgive an author taking some liberties with the latter to make a child character interesting by giving her an above grade-level vocabulary. But there is a line – a point beyond which a child character’s language and thought level is too far above his or her age. Wherever the line is – Maria is way over it. Very young children do not talk like Maria does in her sharpest moments. The novel betrays that it somewhat aware of the problem when Maria does, in a couple of instances, indicate that she is repeating something her mother had told her. But even this does not solve the problem. It is one thing to remember what her mother told her, but entirely another for a young child to interpret an adult’s internal mental state and then apply what her mother had told her in order to analyze that adult’s mental state and produce a keen insight.

Secondly, Maria’s oracle-moments are not minor asides or curiosities, they actually affect the behavior of important characters at certain points of the novel. It is one thing for her to not be written credibly for a six year old, but another when that turns out to have actual significance to the story. While one could uncharitably accuse Collage of using Maria to get out of difficult plot jams, I think the more likely reason Maria was written oddly was because the authors wanted her and her memories of her late mother to play an active role in the story. That end is more than acceptable – it just would have been better achieved by writing Maria as a six-year old possessing above-average intelligence, but above-average intelligence in the context of having just six years of development and life experience.

Defining Sakamaki Syndrome

I found the case of Maria Sakamaki to be interesting enough to create my own house phrase to describe her particular character issue: Sakamaki Syndrome. But what precisely is Sakamaki Syndrome? I propose the following definition: A character has Sakamaki Syndrome when he or she speaks authoritatively about something without the story having established a credible basis for his or her authority, and the character’s authoritative statements materially affect the progression of the story in question. In Maria’s case, the novel fails to establish a credible basis for my believing that a six year old – even a smart one – could understand the problems that specific adult characters were having and apply things that her mother had told her to offer advice to those adults. The definition is completed because Maria’s statements play a role in motivating the adults she talks to to take actions that they may not have taken without first talking to Maria.

Sakamaki Syndrome is distinguishable from the author using a character as a mouthpiece for his or her own views – even in cases where this misuse of characters comes off as unnatural or clumsy. For example, in my 2023 anime review, I complained that Oshi no Ko occasionally misused my favorite anime character of the year, Kanna Arima, as a vessel for the author. There were multiple instances where Kanna would go on a relatively long and excessively detailed lecture about how the entertainment industry and fans in Japan mistreat young talent. One of my issues was that these lectures sounded forced and stripped Kanna of her natural charm. However, while I am convinced that the writers used Kanna to drive home commentary that they could not figure out how to express in the natural progression of events (or, alternatively, they did not trust viewers to pick up on nuance), this was not Sakamaki Syndrome because,while the scenes were unnatural, Kanna, a former child actress-turned-disillusioned teenage actress, speaks about things that she would have had some knowledge of. Moreover, while I found her lectures to be wooden, Kanna is intelligent and consistently introspective throughout the show, so I could not say that the lines she was given were beyond her intellectual level. These Kanna scenes were a problem for an otherwise very good anime (Oshi no Ko was my first runner-up for anime of the year) – but the problem was not Sakamaki Syndrome.

Kana Arima sitting in fetal position and looking gloomy in Oshi no Ko.
Kana Arima in Oshi no Ko.

I decided to make materiality a prong of Sakamaki Syndrome because minor niggles that ultimately do not effect the plot of a book, show, or other form of media may be annoying, but they do not threaten the integrity of a story. I would have had less of a problem with Maria’s oracle moments if they were merely out of place and did not affect the story. That they had a small but meaningful effect on the story made them hard to over-look.

Another Anime Example

I reviewed the first and second seasons of the Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki anime. I generally liked the anime well enough, but it does not measure up to its anime peers as well as Collage does to its freeware visual novel peers. One reason I decided to write an article defining Sakamaki Syndrome is because I thought of it in a few scenes of Tomozaki.

A short introduction is in order (read my review of season one for the longer introduction). The central set-up for Tomozaki is Fumiya Tomozaki, an 11th grade boy who begins the anime as an anti-social gamer who does not take care of his appearance or engage with those around him at school, taking social lessons from Aoi Hinami, the most popular and socially adept person in his class. Like many anime of the type, Tomozaki becomes involved with the problems of his classmates – usually girls – while completing the tasks that Hinami gives him. One character he befriends is his classmate, Fuuka Kikuchi – who also serves as a potential love interest in both of the first two seasons.

Kikuchi smiles while holding a book at her desk as she talks to Tomozaki.
Kikuchi in a rare scene where she talks in the classroom.

Kikuchi is a shy girl who loves reading books and is trying her hand at writing her own book. Like Tomozaki at the beginning of the anime, she does not appear to engage with any of her classmates . However, unlike Tomozaki at the beginning of the anime, she is not a disheveled mess.

Tomozaki and Kikuchi come to rely on each other. Kikuchi shares her draft novels with Tomozaki to receive his feedback (she had not previously told anyone about her hobby). Tomozaki turns to Kikuchi for advice about how to navigate some of the social situations he becomes involved with and sometimes seeks her take on specific classmates. The latter point is where our minor case of Sakamaki Syndrome arises.

Kikuchi is different from Maria. To begin, she is 16-17 years old instead of 6. The show never makes a point of discussing her academics, but my own take is that Kikuchi is portrayed as being of above-average intelligence (albeit not uncommonly intelligent). She has the quintessential introvert trait of being very good at observing people around her while being less adroit at assessing social situations that involve her. That last point is key because in order to believe that Kikuchi can credibly provide accurate assessments of her classmates to Tomozaki in the manner she does, one must accept that there is some reason to believe that she is perceptive when it comes to understanding why people behave in the way they do. To the show’s credit, it references Kikuchi’s strength in observing people to her perspective as someone who wants to be an author.

But even granting the above paragraph about Kikuchi in its entirety – I still had an uncomfortable feeling when I watched her analyze her classmates to Tomozaki and Tomozaki’s ensuing eureka moments. Specifically, even though I think the show gave a credible account of why Kikuchi is good at observing and understanding people as a third party, almost all of her scenes in the first season of the anime consisted of one-on-one conversations with Tomozaki outside their classroom. I will venture that an absolute majority of Kikuchi’s scenes in both scenes involve her sitting across a table from Tomozaki in the school library having a conversation with him. A decent number of the remaining scenes feature Kikuchi talking to Tomozaki outside of school. It is little to no exaggeration to say that we do not see Kikuchi have any meaningful interaction with a character other than Tomozaki until early in the second season. Some of that can be charitably attributed to the fact that Tomozaki is the sole view-point character, but we are never given any reason to infer that Kikuchi is secretly having conversations with the characters she talks about. One can try to write off the issue by opining that Kikuchi would naturally have plenty of time to observe her classmates given that she spends many hours each day in the same room, but it still feels off to have her rattle off on-point assessments of them without a firmer foundation – especially in light of the fact that Tomozaki, who consistently interacts with others , has similar strengths and weaknesses in perception to Kikuchi. The second season handles Kikuchi a little bit better to the extent that she is actually seen talking to people other than Tomozaki in both of the season’s major story arcs, but the problem still exists to a smaller degree since the majority of Kikuchi’s scenes still feature her having one-on-one conversations with Tomozaki in the library.

Kikuchi’s particular case of Sakamaki Syndrome is of the too much telling and not enough showing variety. A character should have to earn his or her keen insight – we should see why the character can enlighten us about their world before they tell us their enlightening thoughts. Kikuchi is far from the worst or most extreme case because the show does establish both why she is good at observing people and why it is something that interests her – but Tomozaki would have benefited from engaging her character more often in scenes where she and the characters she would go on to assess were in the same place.


I have cited to the case of Maria Sakamaki in multiple articles and my writing about Tomozaki, which prompted another Maria cameo, inspired me to write an essay defining the essence of my issue with Sakamaki that I could point to in future book and media assessments and reviews. However, while Sakamaki Syndrome is something that is best avoided, Collage stands as proof that it is not necessarily a fatal issue for a work of art. The same can be said of the Tomozaki anime – both seasons of it are above average in my book despite the fact that one of its most important characters has a minor case of Sakamaki Syndrom . If anything, I hope my essay defining my house term for a specific character writing issue inspires readers to ask one question when a character in a book, story, game, movie, or show says something insightful: Did the writer establish a firm basis for that character having and expressing that insight?