The first season of the Saekano anime may not have gotten unanimous rave reviews, but I think it’s worth staying tuned for season 2 next year. The slow-moving, slapstick plot is deceptive, betrayed by its own charm: Things in the world of Blessing Software are crawling along, and development comes in increments. As we saw in Volume 7, however, the oddly complex characterizations in Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata are prone to random explosions, and these kinds of sudden developments are becoming more frequent and imminent as the new novels chug along.
This is where I unnecessarily analyze the plot of otaku trash.
(WARNING: Novel spoilers up to “Girls’ Side 2”, which is the most recent volume as of the creation of this post.)
This “second act” of Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata begins in Volume 8 (or “Girls’ Side 1”, which is a side story that takes place around the events of Volume 7), where the turbulent events of Volumes 6 and 7 have left a sea of the debris of uncertain and even outright broken relationships for our main characters.
As Utaha and Eriri have left Blessing Software to work with the legendary producer (and Tomoya’s perceived antagonist) Kosaka Akane for a promising new game project, Tomoya and Megumi (and Michiru, who remains completely untouched by the conflict of the preceding volume) are the sole remnants of the shattered Blessing Software, which has lost its illustrator and main writer. With Tomoya determined to bring his original vision to life in a new game, Megumi takes up the responsibility of picking up the pieces. However, her destruction of her friendship with Eriri has created a cloud looming over the fate of the circle, and her growing relationship with Tomoya may prove an obstacle to finally burying the hatchet with her best friend once and for all.
Key Plot Points
- Tomoya and Megumi take complete center stage, as Utaha, Izumi, Michiru, and even Eriri are forced to watch from the sidelines.
- Eriri provides much needed conflict to Megumi’s developing character arc, and Megumi’s closeness to Tomoya is expected to create yet another void between the two friends.
- Blessing Software is reconstructed from the ground up: Izumi is recruited as the new illustrator, Tomoya takes on the task of primary scenario writing, Iori agrees to help run the circle as a business in Tomoya’s place, and Megumi (in her “vice-representative” role) has essentially taken on a majority of the producer’s role.
- Blessing Software is hindered by the tension between Megumi, Tomoya, and Eriri, and its members are often uncomfortable with Megumi’s naturally passive-aggressive leadership.
- Fields Chronicles, Akane’s new game, completely blows Blessing Software away with their production preview. Izumi is completely intimidated, and Megumi is demoralized by the work of her former friend.
- Tomoya and Megumi become exponentially closer, as Megumi often spends nights over at Tomoya’s home and they have begun to use each other’s first names.
- Eriri and Megumi find solace in their desire to continue their friendship, but Eriri seems to be overtaken by her suspicions about Megumi and Tomoya’s friendship.
- Eriri implies, by hypothetical chatter, that her love for Tomoya hasn’t weakened whatsoever, while Megumi seems to imply that she might have fallen for Tomoya. Although Megumi does not explicitly admit her feelings, her words noticeably bother Eriri.
Note: Obviously, this analysis is mostly subjective and consists of my own interpretation of events. Feel free to share your own if you’d like!
Conflict is quickened by the introduction of an antagonist
Akane has always been a background character in Saekano prior to Volume 7. Instead of being something that Tomoya directly intended to defeat, she seemed more like an obstacle in Tomoya’s goal to overcome the shortcomings of his circle. Above that, she was a goal that Tomoya strived to achieve. However, the first Girls’ Side novel showed us the real Akane: the heartless woman that could drive even the stoic Utaha to her knees. Moreover, in Volume 7, she’s the primary catalyst behind Tomoya, Megumi, and Eriri’s plight.
Tomoya now has an adversary. He sees Akane as something that must be beaten, or at least challenged, because if this doesn’t happen, then Blessing Software’s hardships would overcome his ambition. In an odd way, Megumi is even more adverse to Akane. Despite her grudge against Eriri and Utaha, she sees the hell that Akane’s vision could lead Eriri to. It also doesn’t help that Iori has started making connections between Megumi and Akane, as her deceptively aggressive style of leadership and hidden dark side start to come through during times of peril. One can only hope that Megumi is able to hold onto her resistance against Akane’s competition.
Whether Tomoya truly defeats Akane in game creation has become rather irrelevant at this point, despite his optimistic bravado. Blessing Software has already accepted the possibility that victory is impossible against Akane, Eriri, and Utaha. They are the amateur underdogs aiming their guns towards a formidable giant. What matters is what the conflict means to Tomoya and Megumi: by resigning their battle, they lose the little dignity they had left after their abandonment at the hands of Eriri and Utaha.
New interactions and characterizations
Iori and Megumi make for interesting conflict.
Iori can see past Megumi’s façade. He sees that Megumi’s not only intimidating as the others think, but outright aggressive and forceful. Beyond that, Megumi is smart and ambitious. She is playing Akane’s game, whether she would admit it or not. She is battling a monster, and bits of that persona are slowly seeping from her characteristically flat personality.
Meanwhile, Megumi lacks any trust in Iori. She outright dislikes him and snubs him out of conversations that he is even active in. It’s unknown if her perception of Iori is justifiable or merely out of spite, but with two leading voices in the circle in constant disagreement, we can see nothing but in-fighting in store for Blessing Software.
Utaha and Michiru also have an interesting dynamic, introduced in Girls’ Side 2. Although their chapter in the novel is almost a fond flashback to the volumes in which sexual tension and erotic humor ran rampant, it’s clear that Michiru somehow has an edge over Utaha in this interaction. As a disinterested sidelines character, Michiru has shown Utaha that her perspective is one of value, similarly to Megumi in earlier chapters.
She sees the effect that Eriri has on the circle, and that Utaha has become her de facto caretaker (which is seen in the first Girls’ Side novel). Previously, she’s even commented on Megumi’s tendency to drive the circle into submission, and believes that, along with her conflict with Eriri, could cause another major breakdown. Michiru, who was previously a disposable comic relief character outside of her music role, is beginning to show her worth as an ever-seeing audience.
Beyond the title: Megumi’s development
“How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend/Heroine” is a fondly misleading title, and has been such ever since Volume 6 or even earlier; Megumi is no longer a heroine for Tomoya to play around with. She’s become an independent, influential part of his life and would-be career as a creator. If anything, she’s ended up raising him in certain ways.
The most prominent theme in Maruto’s “second act” is Megumi evolving from a mere “muse” to an independent character who makes decisions for herself and others. Tomoya has absolutely no control over Megumi’s personality, and he indeed stopped trying to do so early on in the story. What makes Megumi a fantastic character is that she develops into the primary driving force in the plot. Nearly every major event since Volume 7 has been an overwhelming or direct outcome of Megumi’s influence: Tomoya’s drive to create a new game, Eriri’s decision to rely on Utaha, and the various complex emotions that swirl around the Tomoya, Eriri, and Megumi centered plotline.
From Harem to Love Triangle: A subjective look at Megumi vs. Eriri
Although Saekano may, technically, never become anything other than a harem anime, it’s quite obvious that there are only two girls that matter when it comes to romance: Megumi and Eriri. In reality, Michiru and Izumi never had a chance in the matter, as first cousins and “little sister complex” characters are generally looked down upon in the romantic entertainment industry. Moreover, Utaha herself has declared herself out of the race. She could always make a comeback, but we’ve been given three novels of minimal interaction with her, so it would be foolish to expect anything from it.
Eriri, from Volumes 6 through 7, had quite a significant lead, and it surely seemed as though the childhood friend would come out on top. However, Maruto pulled a fast one on us: Volume 7, which would have presumably contained the resolution of Blessing Software’s efforts, was not the end, but more of a beginning to a new story that involved Megumi more deeply as a protagonist and drove Eriri into a messy spot.
While Eriri had the advantage of being a childhood friend, being obviously closer to Tomoya, and having the infamous “first name basis” down from the beginning, Megumi seems to have negated everything by Girls’ Side 2. In Volume 6, Tomoya’s stubborn visit to the Nasu Highlands was misunderstood as a choice between Megumi and Eriri gone the latter. The next volume cleared the decision up as what Megumi would agree was “the right choice”, as she would have done the same.
And now Eriri seems to have self-destructed. Although she made an admirable decision in putting her future before Tomoya, much of the stage has been left to Megumi.
She’s closed the gap in several categories. Eriri no longer is the closest to Tomoya – Megumi spends not only most days, but many nights over at Tomoya’s house, while Eriri is limited to random banter at school and over the internet. Even the Japanese entertainment holy grail – first-name basis – has been rapidly snatched away. Much to Eriri’s chagrin, both Tomoya and Megumi have hesitantly, yet comfortably broken the name barrier, which is Japanese-romance-plot-speak for “not looking good for Eriri.”
The floodgates open: Megumi’s incidental confession
Finally, the final barrier: Megumi’s ambiguous feelings towards Tomoya.
The novel series has always painted Megumi in a neutral light. She has repeatedly denied any romantic interest in Tomoya, even though their relationship was often referred to as “more than friends.” This is what kept Eriri in the running: Megumi could still be Tomoya’s best friend if Eriri won his heart, and that would make for a happy-enough ending.
And then, Girls’ Side 2 happens.
The problem with assuming that Megumi has no feelings towards Tomoya is that the plot is heavily seen through Tomoya’s spectacles (or lack thereof). “Girls’ Side 2” offers some fundamental changes in atmosphere thanks to narration by Megumi.
Firstly, it appears that a driving motive for Megumi to confront Eriri is that she had promised Tomoya she would do so. Even as she is on the verge of sending Eriri a long-awaited text message, she considers returning to Tomoya for help. By the end of her bit of internal conflict, she ends up coming back to stay the night at Tomoya’s place anyway. She repeatedly mentions Tomoya in her thought process, which reveals that she is much more reliant on her relationship with him than we have seen at all in the past.
Beyond that, we also can see small indications that her flat attitude towards Tomoya is at least partly due to her fear of others’ perceptions of them as a pair. She even hesitates before using the words “Tomoya-kun” when texting Eriri, wary of the implications of Eriri finding out that she no longer refers to him by last name.
Later on, we see that Megumi has bright expectations for the future. She declares to a “sleeping” Eriri that her circle won’t lose (in some ways), but also admits that she would be happy if Utaha and Eriri would return to her and Tomoya someday. Unbeknownst to her, Eriri hears her monologue, and responds to a sleeping Megumi, “Why are you assuming you’ll always be with Tomoya?”
And then the story flashes back to a conversation they have about love.
“Feelings keep on changing, Eriri. […] Like, there’s someone who you had never felt anything towards before, but one day, that all changes. […] Who knows? I can only say this. […] At the very least, that’s happened to me once.”
Eriri seems to know what this means – she even responds rather bluntly by implying that her feelings for Tomoya have never weakened. It’s rather clear to the reader as well what Megumi could only be referring to at this moment: At some point, somehow, she had fallen for Tomoya. Judging by Eriri’s reactions, we seem to be in for a love triangle in the upcoming novel(s).
However, Eriri seems to be fighting an uphill battle, especially if Tomoya’s interrupted line from Volume 8 is what some fans believe it to be: “俺は、加藤が…” (“ore wa, Katou ga…”) – a typical opening word sequence for a confession of love in Japanese.
I’m looking forward to Volume 10 and beyond. As more and more revelations come to the surface of Megumi’s shell, we’re finally reaching the endpoint of contention between the childhood friend and the “flat heroine.” All I can hope for is that the romance doesn’t bog down the game creation element, as I feel that the underdog story of Blessing Software is set up to be just as worthy a tale to tell as the dynamic relationship of Tomoya and Megumi.
Detailed volume summaries often referred to in this post, as well as scans used, can be read and seen at the following sources:
Volumes 6-7, Girls’ Side: msnkkan.blogspot.com
Volume 8: magnavalon.wordpress.com
Volume 9, Girls’ Side 2: saekanosummaries.wordpress.com