It’s an oft-used quote, but apt: “And now for something completely different.” Though Saekano’s zeroth and first episodes aren’t quite completely different. Let’s slightly modify the quote: “And now for something mostly different.” In anime, you must Slightly Modify or Die, be it existing stories, settings, characters, or all of the above.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’ve watched high school rom/coms before. Dozens, spanning the entire spectrum of quality and seriousness. So if something hasn’t been slightly modified enough to be worth watching, believe me, I’ll know, and probably not watch.
So believe me when I say Saekano has got it goin’ on.
Episode 0 can be seen as collection of delectable hors d’oeuvres, but also a taste of dessert, as it takes place in the future, once Tomoya has already gathered his team. Here in episode 1 we backtrack, but all of our “first encounters” with the characters come with built in knowledge of who they are, thanks to Episode 0—and thus built-in interest.
Saekano already sold be the characters; all of them, and it did so with admirable efficiency. Last week we saw the shiny, completed Lego project on the box; this week we see the foundation bricks being set into place.
Like last week, the super-moe, light-and-dark, blonde-and-black Eriri and Utahu dominate the frame throughout the episode. They are objects of universal worship at school, and are elevated even higher when Tomoya so passionately asks them to join them, and being the tsunderes that they are, refuse, out of some unsaid past between them.
Still, I like how Tomoya is neither wimp nor suck-up in the face of such intimidating beauties, because, well, he has dirt on them both. And yet, he’s not a manipulating prick, either. He comes to the two girls because he needs an artist and scenario writer, and they’re both at the top of their game. There’s no blackmail, only respect and enthusiasm. Eriri and Utahu are the two who can realize his dream.
But like I said, these two girls are front-and-center. Last week they, along with Michiru essentially canceled each other out, allowing the calm, quiet, barely-visible Kato Megumi to swoop in and steal the show. That happens here too! This week we learn that a chance summer encounter with the noise-cancelling Kato was the genesis of his desire to realize his dream, and thus recruit Eriri and Utahu.
And what an encounter! In romantic anime terms, it’s about as cliche a meeting as you can get; chasing down the girl’s beret and an explosion of cherry blossoms as they meet face-to-face. And yet, we don’t see the face. Tomoya says he’d never be able to capture its beauty with his own paltry rendering skills; it appears even his memory was somewhat overloaded or inadequate. Such is the power of Kato.
Eriri and Utahu make it seem like they’re doing Tomoya a huge favor by showing up where and when he tells them to, and when they meet each other there, they attack each other for what they are: an artist and an author, respectively. And yet they are the ones stood up by Tomoya, as he happens to bump into Kato in the hall and forgets about the other girls completely.
The episode’s camera does a phenomenal job keeping Kato’s face out of sight right until Tomoya lays eyes on her himself. Even he didn’t notice he was the girl with the beret at first, assuming it was just some random classmate. The camera’s reluctance to center or focus on her built tension for the FLCL-style 3D fly-around and ultimate reveal of her face in all its serene glory.
Meeting Kato and catching her beret wasn’t just the start of Tomoya finally coming up with an idea for a game. That alone isn’t the “destiny” he spoke of. While he’s been a 2D girl kinda guy up until now, Kato authoritatively pulled him back into the third dimension, just by being the girl she is. She is his destiny and his muse. And after just one prologue and one episode, I think I’m in love too.