Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend
Saekano is a charming harem-style comedy that combines a heaping helping of amusing meta-humor with a well-rounded cast. Despite its decent writing and good production quality, the show suffers from a distracting amount of the genre’s flaws that no amount of self-depreciating can remedy.
Tomoya Aki is a passionate teenage otaku who spends most of his free time playing video games, reading light novels, watching anime, and posting on popular blogs. He shows little to no interest in anything (or anybody) that he considers “3D” – until, one spring day, he has a fateful encounter with a mysterious girl, whom he describes as beautiful. Inspired, he delves into the adventurous dream to create a visual novel based around his encounter. He is unbreakably determined and begs for the help of his fellow otaku – Utaha Kasumigaoka, a calm, collected senior who moonlights as a hugely successful light novel author, and Eriri Spencer Sawamura, a textbook tsundere childhood friend that secretly heads a popular 18+ doujin circle on the internet.
To top it all off, he’s discovered the identity of his mysterious heroine. A problem arises, however, when she is not who he expected her to be. Megumi Katou, a normal girl in his same class, lacks the distinctive characteristics that he had envisioned, but he is bent on bringing the perfect heroine out of her.
Saekano is an interesting take on the harem genre. It does nothing particularly new, but it tries to deviate from the norm and treats itself with some relatively great quality. There is a lot of comedy mixed with a decent service of ecchi elements, but it carries itself quite wellThe most stand-out (notice my care to avoid the word “outstanding”) trait that the series feeds its viewers is its constant attempts to break the fourth wall. It makes frequent references to its own clichés and trespasses, with its characters openly mocking each other for being too archetypical. This is actually often successful, quite funny, and makes Saekano appear to be better written than most harem stories – though this, as a fact, can be questionable. This being said, the comedy is very good, whether it panders on top of sexual perversion or not.
Although, in and of itself, the sheer “meta” of this anime does end up lending to the story quite a bit, whether you realize it or not. Nearly every character is a common archetype and follows very common tropes in the romantic comedy genre. You have an intellectual senpai, a fiery tsundere, a sweet loli, and a spunky cousin surrounding the main character. And then we get to the namesake of the anime: Megumi.
Megumi Katou shines among the cast, being special by simply not being special. Utaha and Eriri get some emotional moments with the main character, but Katou steals the show more often than you would expect, even in episodes in which the other characters take the spotlight. Her dry, sarcastic humor combined with her character development (or rather, opening up) make her an appropriate foil to all of the shenanigans that take place. The main character often relies on her for motivation and support, but struggles throughout the story to explain why she is even part of his game-creation circle in the first place. In terms of the anime, it’s unclear where this lack of certainty will take Tomoya and Megumi’s relationship, but it seems as though her characteristic “lack of presence” hinders the other characters from truly appreciating her at face value.
The other main characters, despite the clichés that they perpetrate, are also quite well-written in general. Utaha’s unadulterated obsession with the main character is creepy, but she contributes a sense of trouble-making and intellect to the plot. Eriri rounds out the main three girls well, as she is often a point of contention. In fact, she seems to grow the most, as her tsun half often drops flat as she develops relationships with the others. Because of the sheer greatness of these characters, it’s often unclear (even to light novel readers) who the true main girl is, despite the title obviously describing Megumi.The supporting cast is average, to say the least, but they aren’t terribly forced or unlikable. Izumi, the gentle loli aspiring to be a great doujin artist, comes into the plot as a catalyst for conflict between Tomoya and Eriri. Her general characteristics, young sister-type with large… assets, are devastatingly uninteresting and even detrimental to her image, but she is quite pleasant. Michiru, the musician of Tomoya’s circle who also happens to be his cousin (and another member of his harem…), I found to be the opposite of Izumi because of her strong first impression, but I grew to like her a bit more despite her entry falling just two episodes before the end.
Production QualityIn terms of visual and audial quality, Saekano pulls itself above the majority. The visuals are great – which is to be expected from A-1 Pictures, the same studio that produced the incredible gem that was Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso this season as well. It does slack at several points towards, but I feel that this is often the case for romantic harem comedies. In general, the animation fits the bill, and the great illustrations of Misaki Kurehito, illustrator of the light novel, do well to supplement the show with Eriri’s artwork.
The soundtrack, in general, is rather forgettable save for a few tracks (Megumi’s theme, Deai, and Main Theme come to mind first), but it’s never out of place and always fits the image. The opening and ending songs, on the other hand, are catchy with fluid visuals. Luna Haruna, who is rapidly gaining popularity in Japan, sings Kimiiro no Signal, while the ending, Colorful, is provided by the talented Miku Sawai.
There are a couple major gripes that I do have with the series.
I wish there was a lot more to the anime than harem antics. There is an adequate amount of drama, but none of it particularly struck a chord with me. Utaha and Eriri get their own conflicts with the main character resolved, but that’s mostly all we get in the drama department. Sure, there are small bits of emotional moments, but there is very little conflict. In fact, at this point of the story, the main antagonist seems to just be the protagonist himself, who is constantly unable to realize his own dream despite all of the help that he gets. Megumi is such an excellent character, but she is in the background for many of the episodes, and never gets any meaningful conflict – though she does get nicely emotional scenes with the protagonist and, on just one occasion, Eriri.
Also, episode 0. Not much needs to be said about it, but I’ll say it anyway.The episode, as an introduction, was terrible from a critical point of view. The characters were introduced well, but none of it made sense for somebody just starting to watch the series. Sure, it’s a fanservice episode (the word itself is in the title), but the episode was, ironically, a blatant turn-off for me. In fact, I had dropped the series entirely for 3 episodes until I picked it up again out of curiosity – which was actually a great idea, as I did end up loving it.
Episode 0 takes place several months after the finale, but was aired as the first episode as one of those awkward, flash forward-type introductions. There is a lot of fanservice and bantering, but in all fairness it does give a little bit of context. Watching episode 0 after the end of the series, however, actually made it not only bearable, but actually good. Releasing the episode as an OVA special after the fact might have been a better option for Saekano, as I know more than a couple people who have dropped it right from the get-go.
In general, Saekano is great. It’s a fun title to watch and the characters, for the most part, are quite likable – something that can be difficult to find in many romance anime these days. The author of the light novel wrote quite a well-rounded story, and it translated beautifully to television.
However, as somebody who enjoys a serious plot and excellent conflict, I couldn’t fully enjoy the series despite its wittiness. There was far too little tension and little-to-no suspense. The entire ride was… just not exactly a ride. During most major episodes, we’re facing challenges caused by the main character himself, which are tidily resolved by the others. Although the Eriri drama was a fine exception to this, none of it struck me as particularly emotional to me.
It does succeed at its purpose though, so it’s difficult to knock points off for being what it was intended to be. Because of this, I’ll have to give it a pretty decent score. Good quality, combined with a fun cast and rather clever humor, does well to distract from the overt lack of drama and motive.
Obligatory 10-scale score:
7.5 boring girlfriends out of 10
The Future: On a second season and the light novel series
I do have to give the series the benefit of the doubt. As a light novel reader (more accurately: a person who has read a few detailed summaries from other hard-working translators, as well as having translated a grand total of roughly 4 pages himself), I have a lot of hope for the series. For those who have no idea what’s coming, or for those who didn’t even know that there’s more, Saekano is an ongoing light novel series that recently came out with its seventh novel, while the anime ended on the fourth volume. In short, we’re only about halfway through the story.
For a little bit of encouragement to those who are writing off this series as a harem show akin to Henneko or Zero no Tsukaima… Well, it is, for the most part. However, we’ve drudged through a lot of it and we have a lot of great drama coming up with some sharp character development and dialogue. By the end of the seventh novel, it’s difficult for me to even call it a harem-style story anymore, though it does retain some of its most harem-like features.
So for Saekano fans, look forward to the next season! For Megumi fans, you’ll get your fill of her!
Considering that we get a second season at all, that is…
Although DVD/BR sales are quite good, Saekano has made no announcements of its plans to continue. Tomoya’s cryptic words at the end of the last episode (“Our battle has just begun.”) is a running joke in the anime/manga industry that indicates the cancellation of a series.
However, he is interrupted by Eriri – so perhaps A-1 is just teasing us.