Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 12 (Fin)

sae121

This final episode of Saekano that we know of had the air of a show that was merely saying “see you later down the road” rather than a full-on sayonara. So while it crossed its Ts and dotted its Is for the (remote, IMO) possibility that it wouldn’t be back, it made the right move by not trying to do too much in its finale. Mainly, it focused on sealing the deal on Michiru joining the circle.

sae122

Tomoya got Michiru and her three bandmates their first gig, and while it’s not much, they’re glad to have it. Kato is on her way to the venue with a still very dubious Utaha and Eriri, and finds herself acting as mediator between the bullying Utaha and the sensitive Eriri. Both are still sore from their experiences with Michiru and are acting out in their own ways, but Kato is confident in Tomoya’s ability to achieve his objective. Michiru’s going to come on board and the game’s going to be great.

sae123

It’s interesting that Utaha and Eriri grudgingly accept Kato as something resembling a friend, not the threat they may have perceived her as when she first came on the scene. Heck, they even agree with one another in their little faith in Tomoya, but one can hardly blame them for being so unenthusiastic; it’s like they’re well aware they’re dealing with two very potent competitors in Kato and now Michiru.

sae124

For her part, Michiru doesn’t disappoint in proving she’s by far the most overtly physical member of Tomoya’s harem, essentially mounting him out of shock and anger that she has to play her set in cosplay. She’s too ashamed of one thing—having to play with cat ears—than she is about being on top of her cousin, moving up and down rhythmically just as the others enter.

sae125

In what is definitely a forced, unnatural plot twist (Eriri’s words, not mine), Michiru’s three band-mates fess up to being otakus themselves, and all the music she’s played with them have been anime cover songs. They agreed to let Michiru make the music for Tomoya’s game if he gave them the opportunity to come out of their shells and declare their otakuness to Michiru.

sae126

Tomoya then proceeds to offer a still-uncertain Michiru a heartfelt pep talk (while she’s on top of him the whole time), convincing her that they’ll do great things together, and that her affinity for the anime music she’s already played is proof enough of her respect for the world of otaku that she’ll do fine in front of a crowd of same. He even reverses her past insistence grow out of otakudom by assuring her one day she’ll grow into a fine otaku.

sae127

She takes the stage, and suddenly there’s a tinge of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso in my Saekano. But Icy Tail (which when said with a Japanese accent sounds like “aishiteru” or “I love you”) breaks the ice not with piano or violin, but with Soairo Days from TTGL…nice choice!

sae128

I didn’t catch Michiru’s seiyu Yahagi Sayuri (whom I also loved in Bakuman and Sankarea) being credited for the insert song performance, but whoever did sing it did a decent job, even if the band sounds rather polished considering it’s there first time on stage before a crowd. More than anything though, the episode really captured joy and fun of the concert. Everyone other than Utaha and Eriri looked like they were having a blast.

sae129

And Tomoya’s plot, assisted in no small part by the rest of Icy Tail, works: Michiru agrees to score Blessing’s game. When she draws in far closer than first cousins should for what could be a deal-sealing kiss, then bends over for something even more improprietous, it turns out she’s just pulling one of her patented wrestling moves on him, like her lakeside suplex in the prologue, she’s an athletically gifted girl, and wants to let Tomoya know he doesn’t hold all the cards here, and she hasn’t completely forgiven him for ambushing her with the cosplay.

sae1210

From there, the episode starts to wind down, but not before Megumi and Eriri have a nice little talk. Before she knew it, Eriri had Megumi over for all-night game work, so they can’t very well refer to each other so formally anymore, so they agree to start addressing each other by their first names. This is a pretty big gesture for Eriri, who calls Utaha by her full nine-syllable name on purpose.

sae1211

After a look at the happy ending of the seemingly completed dating sim, and then the credits, we jump forward to the assmbled group admiring their work, which gets close to Aku no Hana levels of plot compression. But it turns out they’re only done the first route, with two months left till Summer Comiket. So there’s still much work to be done.

It’s as good a stopping place as any, but I’ll gladly join the chorus of voices who look forward to a second season where we see those other routes unfold, both in and out of the game. Throughout its run, Saekano was a smart, sexy breath of fresh air: cheekily self-aware, but never obnoxiously so, and full of so much witty banter and laughs that I wouldn’t rule out a full re-watch as I await a sequel. Until then, matane, Saekano.

9_ses

Advertisements

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 11

sae111

It sounds like Hannah was pretty disappointed about her show squandering its promise…though that’s partly on her for even remotely thinking that show was going anywhere daring or compelling.

Not to be smug, but didn’t have that problem with this latest Saekano. Last week focused heavily on the wild card Machiru, setting her up as someone who could genuinely challenge Tomoya, who was in need of some challenging in the midst of all his ladykillin’.

sae112

What last week failed to do was show us what would happen when his harem came into direct contact with his purple-haired, skantily-clad cousin. The results were momentous; everything I hoped for and more. Utaha hawkishly defends otaku culture, while an initially flabberghasted Eriri even finds some common ground when Machiru mentions that, on some rare occasion, Tomoya can be cool and come through for you.

sae113

We also find that exposing oneself to Michiru isn’t enough to convince her to compose your dating sim’s soundtrack; far from it. In fact, part of what gets Utaha so steamed is Michiru’s outsider-looking-in perspective of Tomoya, and his obsession with otaku culture, is something to mature out of rather than cultivate. When Michiru disses Tomo, she disses everyone in that room. Except for Kato…who is definitely in that room…watching and waiting.

sae114

Michiru’s reasons for not jumping into Tomoya’s project go beyond her semi-maternal dubiousness with his present course in life. She’s got her own dream of being in a band, after all. When she says she needs a manager to appease her dad, Tomoya is eager to step in, but when she tells him it won’t be a part-time job, it becomes her dream versus his. That’s right: Michiru isn’t perfect; she’s selfish too.

What’s so awesome is how much sense her selfishness makes. She’s known Tomoya all their lives; and she has an idea what he could and should be that just doesn’t jibe with what he is and wants to be. But it’s her affection and concern for him, not merely her own self-interest, that comes through when she says this manager job could be just the excuse he needs to drop this whole gamemaker charade.

And she calls it a charade because she had a good look at his fellow circle members. While she’s well aware that they all have their reasons for being in that circle (calling Tomoya a sly dog in the process), she doubts their commitment to making the game is anywhere near Tomoya’s level.

sae115

Of course, we know better, and so should Tomoya, but Michiru’s words create genuine conflict in his heart. Suddenly he’s not just the fumbling leader of a haremy doujin circle, but a guy trying to find out whether his dream is really as quixotic as she says. But Kato is up all night at Eriri’s working on the game, knowing Tomoya is a week behind; and Utaha is up too. They’re all working their pants off while he worries.

He then makes the best decision of this episode and calls Kato early in the morning, and they have this lovely, natural boyfriend-girlfriend phone conversation, in which he voices his anxieties.

sae116

Yet again, Tomoya luxuriates in the very thing he has no idea he has with Kato, yet simultaneously must know on some level he has. Kato gets him out of his house, where he’d been worrying all night rather than working, and gets some breakfast into him, ever the practical mind. But in an ingenious gambit, she talks through the game prototype to comfort and reassure him.

sae117

And in an even more ingenious and somewhat diabolical scheme, she keeps her hand firmly planted on Tomoya’s and the mouse as the dialogue starts going to places Tomoya rather wouldn’t; things about having feelings for attractive cousins, something to which she can relate.

While Kato claims the dialogue was simply random, let’s get real: there’s no way it was random. This was calculated payback for Tomoya “steppin’ out” on Kato, and it was absolutely glorious. For the first time in a while, she’s able to make Tomoya squirm as much as Michiru.

At the same time, she proves how good she is for him by picking up his slack without even being asked to, and not feeling forced or obligated to. It’s a brilliant dynamic.

sae118

His confidence in the project thus restored, and his apology delivered, he shares an earbud with Kato so she can hear Michiru’s music, and she agrees that she’d be perfect for the soundtrack. And it could be that Kato’s little piece of mischievousness also inspired Tomoya to come up with a plan to snag his cousin.

sae119

As he is a man of wide-ranging otaku means and connections, he’s able to get Michiru’s band a slot at a live performance, a gesture he uses to prove to her he can be an effective manager. In turn, Michiru lets him see her get teary-eyed for the first time since he carried her on his back when she twisted her ankle years and years ago. She also apologizes, admitting she was being selfish.

sae1110

Thus, Tomoya has his cousin right where he wants her: in his debt. Tomoya looks awfully proud of himself as the episode cuts to black, but I’m certain more compromises are in store for him, and managing both Michiru’s band and a circle full of girls competing against each other won’t be a cakewalk either.

Still, I’m willing to come out and say these past two episodes cemented Michiru’s place as my second-favorite girl after Kato. As she demonstrated quite emphatically, there’s simply no beating Kato!

10_ses

P.S. I’ll be watching Saekano’s final (for now) episode later tonight and hopefully have a review of it up not long thereafter.

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 10

sae101

AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR. Or FIVE, if you count IZUMI. OMG, WHY AM I SHOUTING AT YOU WHERE ARE MY MANNERS?!

Anywho, everyone’s favorite purple-haired tomboy Hyoudou Michiru is here, and her timing couldn’t have been better. Why? Because after a seemingly long string of episodes in which Tomoya is fawned over by one girl after another for various reasons, this week Tomoya is the fawner—perhaps not by choice, at least at first—and not the fawnee.

sae102

Tomoya is content to bury himself in Blessing Software, as he holds teleconferences with his staff and make progress on the dating sim (though Kato’s line deliveries either need more work or none at all, bwahahaha). Then his only cousin Michiru appears, topless, in his bathroom, having run away from home after the latest disagreement with her dad (Tomoya’s uncle).

sae103

Whether she is oblivious to her power over her cousin of the same age (who was born on the same day in the same hospital as her!) is having fun torturing a horny teenage boy, or is herself into Tomoya (the truth is likely a combination of the three) calling Michiru a disruptive force in Tomoya’s little otaku world would be a grim understatement.

The sudden 3D onslaught nearly drives Tomoya to insanity. The camera reflects his uneasy but utterly-unable-to-avert gaze, and it’s all over the voluptuous, scantily-clad Michiru. This episode features the most fanservice since the prologue; possibly more.

But like that promising if totally out of chronological order start, the fanservice is never tiresome because a.) it’s also character-service and plot-service, and b.) it’s very well-done, right up there with Monogatari. For example, animators are notoriously bad at feet, but not here.

sae104

For one reason or another it’s a long night for Tomoya, so in the A.V. clubroom, he’s all but asleep at the laptop, causing him to spout supportive dialogue that gets Utaha all hot and bothered—and forces Eriri to quarantine her in the broadcast booth, where she nonetheless continues to participate in the discussion via the P.A. system.

sae105

I like how the show clearly isn’t interested in such tedious minutiae as why Tomoya’s circle has such unfettered access to such slick digs. You’d think the A.V. Club would be in there, or at the very least some paperwork and lobbying would be required to gain access to the facilities. But this isn’t that kind of show. Saekano doesn’t care, and nor do we. They’ve got a place at school to work, and that’s all we need or care to know.

sae106

Just as the circle’s topic of discussion turns to determining who will score the game, a very big oversight to this point, considering the awesome power of music (cough-Violin Girl-cough), Tomoya gets a cheerful text from Michiru asking when he’s coming home and stating she’s ordering pizza (or possibly four pizzas in one).

It’s innocent enough, reflecting Michiru’s unique position as friend, family, and love interest. Kato, possibly exercising Stealth Mode, “can’t help” but glance at Tomoya’s phone and read every word.

sae107

That maks Eriri curious, which in tern makes Utaha curious, and Tomoya has a full-scale riot on his hands. He’s tied up in caution tape and interrogated, and each girl stays true to character: Utaha remains her seductive self, but is clearly annoyed and maintains a certain intentional unpredictability to put Tomoya that much more on edge.

Meanwhile, Eriri recedes to the very edge of the room, flustered and on the brink of panic. Kato is just Kato; meaning she kinda stays in the background and lets the two heavies do all the outragin’.

sae108

When Tomoya tells them who Michiru is and why she’s in his house, it hardly assuages their anxiety. On the contrary, it sets these two creatives types’ imaginations ablaze, as Utaha writes a scenario about the cousins on the spot, one so troubling it just about does Eriri in, which may have been Utaha’s intent all along.

But it’s true that while Utaha teases, often very seductively so, she can’t touch the inherent intimacy of Michiru, nor her fearlessness and utter lack of inhibition regarding Tomoya. Eriri, meanwhile, may be a childhood friend, but Michiru, who was present at Tomoya’s birth, is the Ultimate Childhood Friend.

sae109

What I didn’t think I’d see was so much of the family side of Michiru. I’d thought all along that she was at least a little older than Tomoya rather than the same age, but even so Michiru lives in a more “normal” world than Tomoya, and takes immediate (and unsolicited) attempts to make him grow up, first by tossing all his otaku crap and replacing it with her own, more sober musically-themed room decorations.

sae1010

This means that in addition to having Utaha’s seduction and Eriri’s longevity beat, she also gives Kato’s domesticity and practicality a run for their money. Keep in mind Michiru is not being mocking, but giving her honest opinion as someone who’s known Tomoya longer than anyone, when she tells him he could easily get a girlfriend if he stopped acting like a weirdo. The fact that Tomoya wouldn’t be interested in that kind of girl is irrelevant; Michiru is looking out for a family member. One has to think about marriage at some point!

Similarly, when Tomoya is finally able to segue into telling Michiru his dream of creating the ultimate dating sim, Michiru couldn’t be less impressed. In fact, she finds it ridiculous that Tomoya would try to make a living off his childish hobbies. She even strikes a concerned parent/wife pose…which wouldn’t look bad painted on the fuselage of a P-51.

sae1011

Tomoya has always had a blind spot for the non-otaku Michiru, who has flitted from passion to passion, always abandoning something when she’s bored, while it’s in his nature to stick to one thing like stink in a Basset Hound’s un-groomed ear. But here’s the thing: Michiru is really good at everything she tries. Of late, she’s been in an all-girl band, which was the cause of her argument with her dad. So we know she’s good at that too.

sae1012

So good, in fact, that when she decides to defy Tomoya while he’s taking a bath by plugging her guitar into an amp and playing a piece she’s working on, Tomoya sees the same cherry blossom petals that flew by his face when he first saw Kato on that hill. Not only that, he sees the entire dating sim story unfold to Michiru’s stirring tunes.

He’s so spellbound, he forgets he’s in nothing but a towel when he enters the room, a reversal of their first encounter this week. Michiru is about to apologize, but Tomoya isn’t there to hear one. He’s there to ask her to join his circle as composer.

sae1013

Then his towel slips off, and Michiru gets the Full Aki. She neither accepts nor declines. She simply stares. Having been built up so much recently by the fawning of Utaha and Izumi and Eriri, Tomoya has come back down to earth and stands before Michiru, as naked as the day they were both born in the same hospital.

9_ses

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 09

sae91

At some point after Eriri ran off, Tomoya returned home, went to bed, and dreamt a painful memory. While he was asleep, Kato, concerned that the circle was in trouble, called Utaha, who came running and then let herself into Tomoya’s bed.

Utaha’s excuse for why she’s there—that she had zero screen time in the last episode—is one of the more brazen punches through of the fourth wall since the prologue, and I laughed.

That would only be the first taste of an episode that was a veritable buffet of witty banter, much of it courtesy of Utaha, who does seem to be making up for her absence last week.

sae92

That absence actually served two purposes, to my mind: it made the heart grow fonder for Utaha, and also gave Eriri the space and isolation she needed for her current falling-out with Tomoya to resonate properly.

Utaha knows about the falling-out, and she’s here to help. More specifically, she’s here to slap Tomoya out of his wimpy indecisive protagonist mode and set making up with Eriri his top priority, over all other considerations, including her own pursuit of his heart.

Make no mistake, Utaha is not about to lose to Eriri—or Kato, for that matter, whose sudden regular presence in Tomoya’s house irks he. But she’s also not about to let the circle fall apart over a squabble that can be easily fixed (from her perspective, not Tomoya’s).

Plus, if her main rival in love were to forfeit so easily, it reflects badly on her…not to mention be less fun!

sae93

Speaking of Kato, she doesn’t get a lot of time this week, but what time she does get feels significant. Kato has stealthily all but moved in and made herself quite comfortable as a steady “spouse” figure for Tomoya.

Utaha wouldn’t even be there if it wasn’t for Kato, and Kato summoned her knowing she’d know better how to deal with both Tomoya and Eriri in their current state. Tomoya thanks her for that, and more, and Kato can’t help but blush a tiny bit in response.

This show has a knack for making me want to route for Tomoya and…whichever girl he happens to be interacting with at any given moment, in part because they interact with him in such unique ways.

sae94

The increasingly wife-ish Kato and seductress-ish Utaha have been the best so far, but Eriri has proven she’s no slouch in these past two episodes. Unlike the other two (and the acolyte-ish, “hidden savior” Izumi), Eriri can claim she was Tomoya’s first.

As plans are made to win her back, capitalizing on the fact (which Utaha is well aware of) that she is a hopeless romantic waiting for a prince to ride in and sweep her off her feet, Eriri acts very much like the wounded princess in the tower.

Utaha is also quite right that she isn’t able to draw in this state. Heck, she can’t sleep and can barely dress herself for her parents’ fireworks soiree either.

You can really feel her pain and paralysis of the results of Tomoya’s harsh words. Little does she know he and her nemeses are plotting the lifting of those clouds.

sae95

In a very goofy but also very adorable romantic gesture, Tomoya dresses up like Eriri’s favorite player from the game and re-enacts a scene from Rhapsody that moved them both to tears years ago.

Tomoya is on his best behavior as per Utaha’s instructions as he admits he could die of embarrassment, but refuses to die until he’s made up with her. It works, and he’s able to coax Eriri off her balcony.

sae96

Hearing Utaha, Tomoya, and Kato plan this stunt in voiceover as it’s happening in real time was a shade disorienting at first, because we weren’t sure if this was simply an idealized dramatization we were witnessing, but it’s soon clear this is no simulation.

Despite that initial doubt that the scene was real, I still enjoyed the VO, because they were approaching this the way you’d expect members of a fledgling dating sim—members with little real-life romantic experience—to approach it: like a dating sim. It’s also more deliciously meta this way.

sae97

Tomoya and Eriri visit their old elementary school to find a new building that wasn’t there when they attended, ruining what had been a pleasant night of nostalgia thus far. Eriri rememebers why she’s mad and demands an apology. Utaha pressed Tomoya to use every childhood friend advantage at his disposal to raise Eriri’s flags, but he cannot abide Eriri’s righteousness, and goes off script.

The fireworks are soon drowned out by increasingly heated exchanges of verbal volleys. Tomoya tells Eriri she has no right to be made about not being “picked”, because it was she who abandoned him when rumors started to surface about the two of them way back in grade school.

Eriri fires back that she felt just as much pain as he did when she did that, and that she dedicated herself to her craft to get back at those who broke them apart. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that she ran away.

Tomoya also refuses to flatter Eriri by telling her what she wants to hear, contrary to his supposed role as charming, accommodating prince. He doubles down, telling her flat out that her Comiket work wasn’t as good as Izumi’s, and challenges her to dig deeper and become even greater.

sae98

The two don’t totally make up by the end (a fact for which I’m thankful; no neat tidy bows here), but a path forward is forged in the midst of all the fireworks and yelling. Tomoya’s tough love is able to shake Eriri out of her stasis, and she re-commits to making herself Tomoya’s #1, rather than simply expect to be #1 and whining when she discovers she isn’t.

To that end, she gets back to work in the circle; but not before having Iori deliver a double-sided illustration to Izumi: one an autograph from Kashiwagi Eri; the other a declaration of war by Eriri Spencer Sawamura.

And lest we forget who’s actually Tomoya’s #1, at least at the moment (even if he doesn’t quite see it that way) he finally gives the circle a name: Blessing Software. Blessing translates to 恵み, or Megumi, as in Kato Megumi. Nice touch!

9_ses

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 08

sae81

Eriri is gorgeous and talented, but she’s also a very sensitive soul. Way back in episode 0, we see that she’s a “sad drunk”, too bashful to participate in torturing Tomoya, and going on about how “mean” he is. At the time, she’s echoing her fellow female doujin circle members’ grievances about him working them too hard without any praise, but this week, we get a clearer picture of just the kind of “meanness” she’s on about.

sae82

But it doesn’t start off that way…or does it? Tomoya is helping Eriri finish up her work; it’s a “nice guy” thing to do, but when Kato comes over and for once, becomes the center of his attention, it’s Eriri in her training suit who fades into the background. Worse still, Tomoya and Kato get all comfy playing a game Eriri let Tomoya borrow eight years ago and never gave back. Kato even uses Eriri’s favored knight archetype: the childhood friend, natch.

sae83

In the flashback to the exchange of that game, Tomoya and Eriri only have eyes for and interest in each other. Tomoya is excited by her drawings, and Eriri enjoys the attention and praise drawing gives her. You see, even back then, in Muppet Babies land, a very similar dynamic to the one we have in the present; the major difference being Eriri is no longer his one and only. She’s only one of many within twin circles of creativity and romance. Tomoya’s attention is divided.

sae84

Still, when she comes to a good stopping place, Eriri can’t wait to play the game, while Kato is away. Notably, we don’t see her leave, but she’s downstairs making dinner, and for a few glorious minutes it’s just Eriri and Tomoya playing video games, the way it used to be. Remembering those good times, their history, and the fact Tomoya is helping her out, she assures him she won’t be poached away by Iori. She’s his; for the duration of the game project, and beyond, as long as he likes.

sae85

In this assurance, Eriri is actually responding to an issue Tomoya brought up but she put off so she could play the video game. Bolstered by nostalgia and with a little time to think while playing, she gives him her decision. But the fact he sounded like he wouldn’t stop her if she did decide to sign with Iori to send her career into the stratosphere was a troubling sign that Tomoya just isn’t properly attuned to his childhood friend who wouldn’t mind being more.

sae86

When Tomoya takes Kato to the first day of the Summer Comiket, well, it’s another case in point of the increasing division of Tomoya’s attention. Even Kato is somewhat edged out when they bump into Izumi.

Kato demonstrates great patience throughout the episode, and also fires off some truly awesome comebacks to Tomoya’s comments about their surroundings. But between Izumi and the spectacle of Comiket itself Tomoya pretty much ignores her, which is kind of shitty.

sae87

Kato plays things far cooler than Eriri, but you can tell she’s pissed, and that there’s even some sincerity in the words above, despite the fact they were delivered intentionally devoid of emotion. That deadpan is more than just a charming virtue of Kato’s. It’s also a shield, though as we see, even though they’ve just met, Izumi can kind of tell she’s mad Tomoya is going so far out for another girl.

The reason for him going so far for Izumi is that she’s actually pretty damn good for someone who’s only been in this game for a year. Tomoya is drawn to one page that was clearly hastily drawn, but also well-drawn; the result of the story changing at the last minute, forcing Izumi to discard the finished art and draw new art.

sae88

Her devotion, dedication, energy, and integrity put a spark in Tomoya, who proceeds to orchestrate a simple but effective marketing program that gets all 100 of Izumi’s books sold, a genuinely amazing feat, as artists on as low a rung as Izumi rarely sell more than 10% of their stock.

One of her customers was Eriri in disguise, pulling off a fairly good facsimilie of Kato’s Stealth Mode. But she clearly wasn’t just there to shop; she watched Tomoya go nuts for Izumi’s sake, then read Izumi’s book and saw it the same way he did—as pretty decent stuff. And that’s the problem. First Kato played her and Tomoya’s game, Izumi is moving in on her and Tomoya’s other special connection: his passion for her artwork.

sae89

While her perspective is obviously skewed, we and Eriri both saw Tomoya exhibit a ridiculous amount of joy and passion, and the fact that she’s not the source of it cuts her to the quick. Tomoya really digs his hole deep by refusing to give Eriri a direct answer to the question “Is my stuff better than hers or not?” It’s an unfair question, but one could argue that it’s being asked to an unfair person by a girl in an unfair position.

Also, Tomoya has known Eriri for years now. Even if they’ve only just reconnected as friends in earnest, he should know of her sensitivity, and her need to be validated. Dodging her questions in her vulnerable state, so soon after she witnessed him fawning over Izumi, veers toward the cruel. But I’m not saying humoring her would have turned out any better, as the damage had been done throughout the episode.

And now, even after halfway through Eriri’s place in Tomoya’s circle seemed secure, the possibility of being poached is back on the table. I leave this episode liking Eriri more and Tomoya less. Here’s hoping he makes things right.

8_ses

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 07

sae71

A big reason why I’ve enjoyed Saekano so much isn’t just its knack for cleverly inserting commentary about the genre in which it dwells while telling a unique story all its own that benefits from that self-awareness and self-critique. It’s also the show’s knack for getting us to forget all about the future and simply focus on the now, and the wonderful dialogue and interactions between Aki Tomoya and the varied girls in his life.

sae72

This episode was off to another great start. After spending all of his time with Utaha last week, this week it seems to be Eriri’s turn, and she makes the most of it by making Tomoya role-play a sex scene with her. Both of them are well aware they’re merely reading lines to one another, but since both of them put in such good performance., they end up arousing one another, something Eriri probably hoped for.

sae73

I personally wouldn’t mind if that was the whole episode, but there are big changes afoot this week, and in the process of introducing those changes, the show suddenly turns its gaze away from the now and towards the horizon, which I must admit is a little unsettling.

Just as Tomoya is chastising Kato for suddenly sporting a ponytail (my take is that Tomoya really likes it, otherwise he wouldn’t notice it, but he won’t admit it). A discussion ensues, into the cultivation of well-established and time-honed “core traits”—like a blonde twin-tail or long jet-black hair—versus “cheat tricks” like the sudden change of hairstyle.

Those two core traits are brought up by Kato and clearly meant as a commentary on the two other girls chasing Tomoya around. Kato is establishing that she is unique and goes against the grain of the tropes.

sae74

That leads to Tomoya bringing up another time-tested trope: the “little-sister-type kohai”, and hey-presto, Hashima Izumi appears on queue. Of course Tomoya also had, and now has, this kind of girl in his life as well. It’s something that was missing to this point; now all he needs is an attractive relation, which we know to be Michiru from the prologue.

Izumi was prominent in the OP and ED and had the look of a younger, devoted-kohai character, so I knew she was coming. Better yet, she’s voiced by the bright and ever-exuberant Akasaki Chinatsu. Also true to her type, a lot of what she says in praising Tomoya did for her could be taken entirely the wrong way due to her particular phrasing. But her sudden appearance, bereft of a single prior word about her existence in the show itself, is a little problematic.

sae75

Be that as it may. Izumi is definitely a disruptive force that unsettles the status quo, and not surprisingly pisses Eriri off, since she’s already had two other stout competitors to contend with to that point, and she was the only one with a long past with Tomoya. No longer.

Speaking of a past, Izumi’s introduction is paired with her brother Iori, who is Tomoya and Eriri’s age and has a sorted and arguably more interesting history with him. Tomoya rejoiced when he learned that Izumi, the class prince, was just as much of an otaku as him. But their friendship was dashed on the rocks by a clash of otaku philosophies. Tomoya valued the sheer enjoyment and sharing of things he liked; while he saw Iori as “riding the coattails” of creators.

sae76

But in that professing this, Tomoya exposes his hypocrisy. He’s an amateur running a doujin circle, ; by his logic, he’s also guilty of depending on two of the brightest rising stars in the industry in Eriri and Utaha; even if they are his friends.

I think the distinction lies in what Tomoya does offer his creators, though not knowing enough about Iori’s relationship with his famous circle members, these two may be peas in a pod after all. We may see Iori through Tomoya’s eyes as a greedy freeloader, but what if Iori inspires his creators the same way Tomoya inspires Utaha and Eriri?

sae77

It’s probably a coincidence, but it looks like Iori shares a trait with one of his seiyu Kakihara Tetsuya’s more famous roles, that of Simon in Gurren Lagann. Both are good at digging and burrowing, and eventually dig themselves out of obscurity and into the spotlight.

Tomoya often conceals his true feelings about things by discussing them through a protective prism, namely his collective dealings with the girls he’s working with, but also courting, particularly Kato. By that same angle, Tomoya purports to spit upon the way Iori does things, but his own motivations and actions could be construed as just as selfish.

sae78

More than anything, this episode makes me hope there will be a second cour of this show, and not just because I love it. I feel we’ve really only scratched the surface here. The Kato, Utaha, and (semi)Eriri-centric episodes are all to establish what Tomoya means to those girls and what they mean to him. Izumi and Iori are introduced to break up the love-in and create an external conflict that will drive the remaining story.

This is no longer simply about making a dating sim; Iori has officially declared it a battle, and he won’t hesitate to poach Tomoya’s talent, if he can. But after what’s gone down in the last seven episodes, the four remaining are not nearly long enough for a satisfying conclusion. So for the first time I can remember, I’m actually hoping for a second cour when I’m not sure if one is coming. And I’m also hoping that hot spring prologue was only the midpoint of this increasingly complex and entertaining story.

8_ses

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 06

sae61

An ongoing theme in Tomoya and Utaha’s friendship has been mutual inspiration. In their first encounter (they’re classmates, but hadn’t interacted before) Tomoya expresses how much Utaha’s work inspires him the moment he steps up to her table at her book signing. His remarks leave an instant and lasting impression. Fast forward to that “fateful” snowy day when Tomoya declines to read her latest manuscript.

Utaha, you see, never come out and told Tomoya inspires her as he did with her. Offering him the manuscript is her way of showing it. But he rejects that approach, and even though it’s for perfectly understandable reasons—he’s a fan, and doesn’t want to influence her creative process any more than he wants a sneak peak at an unfinished work—it still feels to Utaha that he’s rejecting her, which wounds her deeply.

sae62

Utaha had never quite forgiven him for that…until this week, which is another showcase of Saekano’s knack for placing its characters in relatively confined, intimate places. Even Tomoya’s date with Kato at the mall felt like it, since the crush of people made them have to stick that much closer together, and the mutual fun they were having made that crush blur and fade into the background, until it was just them.

The confined space here is more concrete: a hotel room, where Utaha was going to spend the night, but invites Tomoya in when he drenches himself in the rain in the act of what she deemed as chasing after her. It’s an assertion he can’t and won’t deny, though he wasn’t expecting to end up on a bed with Utaha, both of them in bathrobes and nothing underneath. The optics are a constant source of nervous titillation, but I frankly like how it puts the two on the spot.

sae63

Bathrobes concealing nakedness and nervous joking aside, Tomoya cut his date with Kato short because he now knows what doesn’t sit right with him about her first scenario draft. He didn’t like how they left things in the club room, but at the same time, were it not for his date with Kato, he wouldn’t have been able to express his reservations anyway, which ironically reflect the positions Kato and Utaha occupy with regards to Tomoya’s life.

Utaha’s plot is much like her plot with Tomoya thus far: seemingly bound by fate, or from a past life; something sprawling and dramatic and epic, like spending the night in a hotel room (but this is all-ages, so…) And Tomoya likes that, but he’s found he also likes what Kato brings to the table: a steadfast decency wrapped in utter normality; the beauty of the mundane; the way a flat character can draw a reader when suddenly big suddenly happens. Kato isn’t bland; she’s universally relatable.

sae64

God, the timing, framing, and sound effects of this little sequence were so deliciously awesome. Utaha types away in this new direction, but she’s clearly upset by it; it’s as if the romantic ideal she represents has been suddenly usurped by Kato. Reality and the fiction being discussed and created is inextricably linked in this show. But she and Tomoya do work all night, and the fact that she was able to summon this much passion and belt out something both of them can be proud of is a testament to the mutual inspiration I mentioned earlier.

sae65

When Utaha gets dressed and prepares to set out for her busy day, she doesn’t hesitate to make a joke about post-evening afterglow, not to mention the fact she wickedly took a picture of her in bed with Tomoya while he was asleep and made it his background.

But while there wasn’t any of that kind of action last night, it was still a night Utaha will cherish, because it showed her, just as it showed us, that Tomoya is not only her muse, but has the makings of a great creator in his own right. She leaves that hotel room feeling a lot better about the two of them, but not just because of the progress they made with the plot, but in the battle for Tomoya himself.

sae66

Rewinding to yesterday, Eriri “bumps into” Kato at the mall and sketches her, which is clearly her way of commiserating over the fact that Utaha is off somewhere with her Tomoya. Misery loves company, so it gives her great solace to see that when properly stimulated, she’s able to pull back Kato’s stoic mask just that little bit. Like Utaha’s “coup” this week, this not only makes Eriri optimistic about developing a good heroine from Kato, but also that she’s still in the running for Tomoya. Kato is adorable, but she’s not invincible.

10_sesRABUJOI World Heritage List

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 05

sae51

Tomoya’s promising dating sim circle is in place and hard at work, but progress is slow. Eriri is frustrated by Kato’s noncommittal expressions (noting that if she was expressionless, they could pass her off as an Ayanami Rei-type), while the only things Utaha types are orders for Tomoya to feed her Pocky sticks.

sae52

What ironically (but also very fittingly) gets things going are Tomoya’s off-the-cuff prods to Eriri regarding what she’d do in a “hypothetical” situation where she’d be on a shopping date. Eriri offers advice—very good advice—and when Tomoya says it sounds boring, it’s because she offered advice for an “away game”, that is, an otaku on a date in the normal world.

When Tomoya inadvertently lets on that the date in question isn’t really hypothetical after all, it’s a creative spark for Utaha, borne out of her intolerance of any such non-hypothetical date not involving her. She begins to fill the white space with words.

sae53

But even as Utaha found inspiration in an unexpected place, Eriri notes how difficult a subject Kato is; perhaps her toughest yet. But it’s precisely because she is a challenge that Eriri won’t give up, especially when it’s looking more and more like her beloved Tomoya is taking a liking to this Kato girl.

In a quiet but extremely sweet scene on the rooftop at night, Kato shows that despite the seeming noncommittalness in her words or expressions, she’s as serious as the other two, and practicing to be the best heroine she can be.

sae54

Tomoya betrays something else when Utaha arrives at school with a thick scenario drawn up, the product of an all-nighter for the sake of the circle. When Utaha falls asleep as soon as her head hits the desk, Tomoya gives her a lingering look of pride and affection the other two girls pick up on: Eriri is suspicious, while Kato is bemused.

sae55

The scenario itself is full of exciting twists, turns, and tropes, and it’s presented exquisitely in a slideshow-and-commentary format. I especially liked when Tomoya would periodically call for Kato to pipe up and say the heroine’s lines, which actually don’t sound half-bad even in her dry-run deadpan.

Also note that the handsomest guy Eriri could think of closely resembles Tomoya, but isn’t quite him, while Kato is Kato even in the scenario, because she is the heroine. It’s as if Utaha and Eriri applied their respective crafts to the basic template that was Kato Megumi to create “Kano Meguri”, through which Kato still manages to shine.

sae57

And yet…while he can’t explain why, Tomoya’s not quite satisfied with the draft, to Eriri and Utaha’s consternation. (Eriri: “Subjective, feelings-based criticism like that doesn’t get us anywhere!” That should be RABUJOI’s slogan!) Utaha’s is deeper, seeing this as another case of indecision and inability to give her a straight answer.

On that note, the show helpfully flashes back to a moment still fresh in Utaha and Tomoya’s memory. If what I think happened happened, “no straight answer” is as good (or bad) as “rejection.” But Utaha seems to be hovering around Tomoya to this day, waiting for a straight answer anyway.

sae58

Tomoya actually seems to become rather down by Utaha making that indecision connection to their past, to the point Kato tells him it’s okay if they postpone their date to the mall, but Tomoya isn’t having it; the date is on, and it’s yet another case of Kato really shining once out of the shadow of the other girls.

The huge, unruly crowds of “normals” throw Tomoya off, especially the proportion of couples (even though like it or not, he and Kato are one of them). In a brilliant turnaround, he decides to treat the shopping trip like a visit to Comiket: he plots the most efficient route to Kato’s stores, avoiding the longer-wait ones until things die down. When the crush of people grows thicker, Tomoya keeps Kato from falling and takes her hand without a second thought.

sae59

While his otaku approach is hardly “normal”, it’s actually a boon to the otherwise normal date. Kato is duly impressed with Tomoya’s ingenuity, and decides to buy him a pair of glasses she thinks he looks good in (she thinks). 

Here, with her tender and very girlfriend-like gestures, all pretense of any kind of “practical experiment for research” falls away. This was a date, plain and simple, and a damn good one. Both parties had far more fun than they’d bargained for, and neither had to be anything other than themselves.

sae510

Somewhat distressingly, the episode doesn’t end there, but pulls the plug on the good vibes when Tomoya laments he must ditch Kato without seeing her home, saying “there’s something he has to do” as we see Utaha waiting along, presumably for him. But whatever could he be leaving Kato for Utaha mean here? I think it’s a matter of obligation. It comes back to him not having an answer for her again.

Even in the midst of his lovely date (which he may or may not have gone into as an empirical and dispassionate exercise but definitely ended up falling for Kato’s charms once again…and who the hell wouldn’t?) perhaps Tomoya found an answer. Not to the past question Utaha asked, but to her scenario proposal. He owes her at least that much for her hard work.

9_ses

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 04

sae41

We open in Utaha’s room, where she’s on the phone with her editor Machida, who tells her something so surprising, Utaha moves too quickly and smacks her foot against her desk, hard. This is a mishap that befalls me all too often, and that visceral bang really brings both Utaha and the scene to life. It’s also nice to see that like “Mr. Ethical”—and myself!—she spends much of her creating time…staring at a blank screen.

sae42

Following the credits is a live taste of her work, in which Sayuka chooses her dreams over tearfully clinging to Naoto, even though she truly love him and always will. It’s a nice segue to Tomoya on the train with Kato, who has just blasted through Utaha’s five-volume Metronome in Love series and is impressed with it.

Tomoya couldn’t be happier, as he utterly worships Utako Kasumi, and isn’t afraid to profess it emphatically on the train (Tomoya does a lot of emphatic professing in this episode, all of it good). Notably, he seems capable of separating Utako from Utaha, with whom he shares a past we only see in brief flashes; a past that may have inspired Utako’s work, as well as the Mr. Ethical moniker.

sae43

Utaha’s foot-stubbing shock was a reaction to the news the inteview she didn’t want to do will be performed by none other than Aki Tomoya (I love how diverse his part-time jobs are). Initially, Utaha comes in and puts up a Beast Mode-esque wall, but Tomoya is able to get her to cooperate (sorta) by telling her he took the job so he’d get a chance to learn more about her next book before anyone else.

The interview takes many twists and turns, including Utaha’s assertion that it wasn’t her that made her books take off, it was him. Machida qualifies that by saying Tomoya’s review caused a spike in interest and increased sales at a crucial time for the novel, but I heard Utaha loud and clear: she wasn’t just talking about the publicity or buzz Tomoya provided. I like to think the novels are based, at least in part, on her experiences with “Mr. Ethical”.

sae44

It’s for that same reason that Utaha agrees to show up for their first official circle meeting to talk about the details and responsibilities. Eriri repeats a misstep by going all tsundere at Tomoya before seeing who’s actually in the room with him: Utaha, as well as Kato. Though Kato is mostly out of the frame, I’ve trained myself to keep my eyes peeled for her.

sae45

That’s the last we see of Kato for 90% of this scene. The rest is dominated by Utaha and Eriri alternating between teasing or torturing Tomoya and fighting each other tooth and nail. They turn Tomoya’s lovely whiteboard diagram of the project schedule into a piece of modern art, while Utaha offers to provide funding in exchange for “favors” from Tomoya, which earns Tomoya some twin-tail slaps from an irate Eriri.

sae46

Eventually, they literally toss Tomoya aside and simply start bickering nonstop, with neither girl prepared to give an inch, although Utaha’s calmer demeanor means she’ll have more stamina. Tomoya breaks them up and gets them to work by again appealing to their vanity. Utaha will write up the plot, while Eriri will get some character designs going.

Tomoya asks them if they’re capable of that, and both girls put down their dagger for each other and grab a laptop and a sketchbook. The success of Tomoya’s dating sim depends on how well he can manage/juggle these two undeniably talented but just as undeniably prickly and emotionally needy artists.

sae47

Of course, it also depends, at least form Tomoya’s perspective, on his ability to transform Kato into the ultimate dating sim heroine. Of course, considering she was in the a/v club room that long without any of the other three noticing her, as well as the substantial talent of said artists, I’d argue Kato isn’t really needed for the circle to belt out a decent dating sim. The one who needs Kato, rather, is Tomoya.

At the end of the day, this dating sim is a way for him to make the world care about and worry about and love Kato Megumi just as much as he does. He’s not going to come out and say it, but his actions and demeanor speak louder than words.

The way she affected him when he first “met” her on that hill (and their other encounter, for that matter); the fun they had simply hanging out in his room all night; the way they talk on the phone; and the jealousy he feels when she walks into the restaurant he’s working at with a tall, handsome young man; it’s all there, plain to see.

sae48

I must admit my heart sank a little when I saw Kato with that guy, but it turns out to be her cousin, and they were simply going out to eat because their parents were at the theater. Being an otaku and thus a consumer of media in which blood is not always an obstacle to romance (his voice actor Matsuoka Yoshitsugu also played Kirito in SAO, whose sister liked him), Tomoya is still worried, but Kato makes it clear in her passive way that this is his problem, not hers.

That means, if he feels threatened by the fact she hangs out with her tall, attractive cousin, it’s up to him to step in and take the cousin’s place. So he does: he asks her he can accompany her shopping instead of her cousin, and she accepts instantly.

At that point Tomoya seems worried that it could be construed as a date. As ever, he’s in surface denial about what he has with Kato, even as he embarks on an incredibly tough road to create a dating sim from scratch in time for Winter Comiket that will essentially validate his feelings for Kato to the rest of the world.

9_ses

Stray Observations:

  • “What’s with that reaction, like you’re reliving past trauma?” Kato, hitting the nail on the head
  • I was immensely pleased by the fact that Utaha and Eriri drew on each other off-camera.
  • I also enjoyed how they scared Tomoya by telling him just how much they make off their work, with the actual yen figures censored by tweeting birds and gunshots.
  • “I’m gonna take that utterly moe-less heroine and raise her into the ultimate main heroine that everyone will worry about!” Tomoya, not realizing that if Kato wasn’t moe-less, he wouldn’t care about her so much.
  • “Kato, do you understand your position here?”
    “I’m a second-year high school girl with absolutely no agency who was brought into a game circle by the biggest otaku in school?”
    “That’s your pre-transformation, assumed identity! The real Megumi Kato is a pure beautiful dating sim heroine who makes everyone’s hearts beat faster!”

    All of this.
  • Tomoya’s classmates occasionally stopped talking and looked over in his direction, possibly worried that he was raving at himself, due to Kato’s inconspicuousness. Remember Tomoya himself didn’t know she was in his class for a year!

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 03

sae31

Tomoya needs to deliver an awesome game proposal to the tentative circle if he’s to convince them—and himself—that he’s serious about his dream. But as an otaku in a room filled with media to consume, Tomoya finds himself easily slipping from his task of creating.

sae32

The three girls in his circle lend him support in their own ways. Eriri simply stops by unannounced (she literally sneaks in without him knowing) and draws in his room as he works. It doesn’t take Tomoya long to learn his childhood friend’s intent, and her textbook tsundere act only adds fuel to the fire. He’s grateful to her, but he’s also keen on surpassing her one day.

Eriri doesn’t laugh this off, because she’s not sure it’s something to laugh about. Neither do we. Tomoya may be procrastinating, but he’s definitely trying. His heart is in it…his brain and body simply need to catch up.

sae33

To Eriri’s horror, Utaha shows up at Tomoya’s house, first to pretend she’s there to mess around, but then fesses up that she’s merely “visiting a soldier on the front.” I’ve really just met Utaha, but that just sounds like such an Utaha expression. Once she learns how little Tomoya has accomplished (he’s honest, because she’s a creator, but also because he’s serious), Utaha tries to discourage him from continuing and advises him to return to a life of consuming media.

What’s great about this tack is that condescension, while present and accounted for, is not her primary intent. When she goes off on a passionate rant, seemingly channeling Eriri’s energy for a moment (only more frightening since she’s usually so calm), she admits she likes having consumers like Tomoya read her work without trying to attack her with it or analyze her to death. He’ll analyze her work, sure, but not her. He believes she’s at the top of her game, and is above such pettiness.

(Oh, and I was mindful of the fact that a large chunk of the second straight episode was taking place in Tomoya’s room. I was also mindful of the fact I didn’t care in the slightest. After all, think about the rooms you inhabit throughout the day. You’re in those rooms a lot, right? Why should it be any different for Tomoya, especially with the task before him?)

sae34

Once Salt & Pepper peace out, Tomoya gets a call from Vanilla, her second to him in the episode. The first one was quite obviously checking in, albeit in the casual, semi-involved way Kato does most things. Her second call is also checking in, but neither call feels the slightest bit out of obligation.

sae35

It feels like Kato and Tomoya want nothing else than to be talking to each other, here and now. The conversation flows so easily, it almost drizzles like warm honey into a cup of piping hot tea. It’s very much a routine boyfriend-girlfriend chat, right down to Kato being in a loud place where it’s hard to hear, but not hanging up or calling back later.

But it also happens to be extremely well-written and nuanced boyfriend/girlfriend chat, with double significance, as they’re also talking on the level of artist and muse. Saekano likes to joke around with the tropes of its genre, but it is also perfectly capable of being dead serious and sincere when it’s called for.

sae35a

Here’s just a taste of the honey, which starts with a few seconds of silence by Kato, indicating even she must steel herself to say certain things:

Kato: What was it about me that appealed to you, Aki-kun? …You know, like, “Boy, it sure was fun when we did that,” or, “Wow, I sure love that about her,” or even the opposite, and something that you didn’t like.
Tomoya: Have you contracted a fatal disease and you won’t live to see me tomorrow?
Kato: It’s nothing that dramatic, but, well, is there?
Tomoya: Let me think…Well, everything was fun. Really fun.
Kato: Then there’s no room for improvement?

Tomoya goes on to say he maybe wished she had been a little more overbearing, though not mean-spirited like the other two girls. Kato doesn’t get the difference, but in any case, signs off for the night. The phone call strikes a perfect balance of honesty, bluntness, relaxedness, and excitement.

sae36

Tomoya proceeds to sit at his laptop and then hastily waste another day, and then a fair chunk of another, and then the voices of self-doubt start to ring in his head.

Returning to the hill where Kato dropped her beret in a desperate search for inspiration, Tomoya finds only a hill, and the doubt continues to build until his eyes water, feeling helpless to stop this whole enterprise from ending before it began…

sae37

…Then a white beret floats into his field of vision, almost like a flying saucer in the sky. The alien before him is only Kato, but she’s been…transformed. The cherry blossom petals return at the sight of her in her super-moe dating-sim heroine outfit. Not only that, Kato is talking and acting precisely the way such a heroine would in a game. Every word; every gesture.

sae38

Before Utaha left Tomoya’s place, she told him if he’s truly serious about this dream, it’s not enough to merely convince her and the rest of the circle of his plan’s merit. He must bring them into it, and get them to want to give it their all, through the sheer force of his will and charisma. Utaha, not surprisingly, wants him to be forceful.

sae39

In her motivational heroine act, Kato is already being pretty forceful. Turns out she went to Eriri and Utaha and begged them to lend her their strength. Eriri perfected her wardrobe, while Utaha handled her dialogue and mannerisms. And by God, not only do they prove they’re the real deal, but Kato proves she’s the ideal blank(-ish) canvas upon which to paint Tomoya’s dream game.

sae310

And while I know part of her is simply putting on an act to inspire him to press on, that act, and the desire to carry it out, comes from a place of genuine affectionate concern for Tomoya; a place of love, just as his legitimate, if not overtly-stated, affection for her is what started him on this path in the first place.

sae311

And there’s no better ‘cover’ to say the things they say and do the things they do with minimized embarrassment, than under the more detatched guise of creator+heroine. It’s not just a guise I see through, but Eriri and Utaha as well. Any girl who can kick Tomoya out of his disappointing sedentary existence to this extent is a girl to be taken seriously.

But the bottom line is, Kato makes everyone around her better. Individually, she, Eriri, and Utaha had a slight motivating effect on Tomoya. Working collaboratively increased that effect exponentially, which in Tomoya’s case, meant he eventually did write something down.

sae312

While negotiating when Kato will be able to leave his place Tomoya agrees to 6 AM rather than 7, not just because “girls take longer to get ready”, but because “it would be crazy to end the same way two episodes in a row!” The meta moments of earlier eps are still here, but they’re more smoothly integrated in the narrative, and when they do pop up like here, they’re a pleasant and hilarious surprise rather than a distraction.

Naturally, Eriri and Utaha lambast Tomoya’s proposal for being too overt and indulgent, which makes sense, considering he’s really telling the story of how he met and fell for Kato Megumi…who he worked so hard last night, she’s asleep beside him in the cafe booth. Those facts alone guarantee Salt & Pepper’s criticism will be tinged with resentment. This show is just too frikkin’ good.

10_sesRABUJOI World Heritage List

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 02

sae21

Aki Tomoya is in a tough spot. He finds himself at a cafe with the girl who inspired him to finally start his grand dream of creating the ultimate dating sim, but while just about everything about Kato Megumi is perfectly fine, he is confounded by her utter lack of presence. The camera continues to be shy with her, focusing on just about anything but her, while her seiyu Yasuno Kiyono gives her a soft, measured wisp of a voice.

sae22

Kato is utterly unremarkable, but so utterly unremarkable that an incredulous Tomoya simply can’t stop obsessing about her. But while she doesn’t have braids, glasses, or freckles like Tomoya’s fantasy, what’s so great about Kato’s character is that she’s really not as “normal” as Tomoya deems her to be; otherwise, she wouldn’t react so calmly to his many outbursts at the cafe. Dare I call her…meta-moe? Para-moe? A more attractive Ann Veal?

sae23

Kato even assumes Tomoya is dating Eriri or Utaha (or both), since she sees them both through the window, looking none too pleased. They’re even more outraged to find that Tomoya ditched them for someone so…Her. This is the circle (sans Tomoya’s cousin) together for the first timebut neither of the two school beauties can behave themselves in front of Kato, and start leg-sparring under the table.

sae24

In other words, she fades away and lets the louder girls take over the scene, to the point where she disappears completely without them (or me) even noticing, demonstrating her Stealth Mode for the first time. By golly, that girl can get lost in a crowd! And she didn’t even leave out of disgust; she just wanted another drink! Nothing fazes her!

sae25

Still, as awesome as you and I already know Kato to be, Tomoya is still under the misguided impression he needs to “fix” her by imbuing her with moe conventions. The next day, a Saturday, he invites her to his house for “Dating Sim Heroine Boot Camp,” apparently completely unaware what he has on his hands here is a relationship with a 3D girl in the works. Naturally, Kato agrees to come without any reservations.

sae26

Kato is further unflustered by being in a notorious otaku’s room (it’s exactly what she expected) and dutifully plays a dating sim he highly recommends all the way through while enduring his constant spoilers and commentary. That means they’re alone together in his room all day long. It’s astonishing how quickly time passes, and yet the amount of fun they’re both having simply hanging out together doing not much of anything is clear to see.

sae27

Fueled by the fun he’s already had and the complete passivity Kato has exhibited (albeit a passivity laced with quick, sharp deadpan retorts), Tomoya decides to be a little adventurous and see just how far that passivity goes, by asking her to spend the night and play the sequel to the game she just finished.

His proposal, complete with him eliminating any need to worry about the ramifications (there’s no school tomorrow, his parents are out) plays both like an innocent request to keep hanging out, and something a little more adult. Kato, of course, is fine with whatever, though we do see her finally blush at Tomoya’s choice of words.

sae28

Of course she is. Nothing fazes her. Perhaps that’s because, well, she simply likes Tomoya. Tomoya clearly likes her too. What Kato is, then is a very “boring” girlfriend in the making, but a damn good one, too. His night with her gives him the clarity and inspiration to know precisely what to tell Eriri and Utaha what he envisions for the game, next time he sees them. More importantly, gets a sleep-deprived Kato (and the change in her voice in this state is priceless) to agree to join his circle.

I foresee big, exciting things on the horizon for the game, for the relationship, and for this show, which, a prologue and two episodes in, has been above reproach. Kato may not stand out in any conventional way, but so far she’s the shining light bringing warmth to my Winter.

9_ses

Stray Observations:

  • I don’t want to understate just how well the show kept things interesting through character and dialogue in the most humdrum settings: a cafe and a bedroom.
  • n ongoing joke is the fact Tomoya is constantly acting like he’s just met Kato, while he’s actually known her more than a year.
  • Depsite his low opinion of himself, her opinion of him is quite high, naming him one of the school’s three celebrities, along with Eriri and Utaha.
  • One of the reasons for his popularity is the fact he screens anime at school…and we see that anime includes the prologue of the very show they’re in! Nice.

sae2e

  • Tomoya’s “Fantasy Kato”, who acts in all the ways he expects an ideal dating sim heroine to act, is also a nice cutaway touch.
  • Kato isn’t just a great character in her own right, but a symbol of the show’s raison d’etre, presenting all the conventions but subverting them wherever they can. It’s immensely refreshing
  • Throughout her long Saturday with Tomoya, Kato starts occupying more and more real estate in the frame until she’s sharing pretty much equal space with her host, and gets a lot more close-ups.

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 01

Morning, alarm clock, slow to rise, quick to leave, Ittekimasu!
Morning, alarm clock, slow to rise, quick to leave, Ittekimasu!

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

sae12

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.

sae13
TWIN TAIL ATTACK!

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.

sae14

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.

sae19

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.

sae15

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.

sae16

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.

sae17
So cute

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.

10_ses

Ya'll been stood UP.
Ya’ll been stood UP.

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 00 (First Impressions)

sae01

Man, considering Violin Girl had a down week, I kind of regret not watching this last night instead. Saekano is rip-roaring fun, a show that has the audacity to analyze and review itself as it’s going on. I know what you’re thinking: “It self-references itself? Zane, that sounds awful!” But here’s the thing: it just isn’t. It’s glorious. 

The episode begins with character decrying a “lame harem anime with loads of panty shots and nudity”; the anime’s advocate praises its consistent artwork, fluid motion, and cute characters; then the first girl says “it’s the people who worship any anime with good artwork as a classic who are behind the decline in the anime industry”.

I don’t think I have to point out that this is a harem anime with good helping of fanservice, but also looks frikking fantastic, as A-1 anime are wont to do. But it’s not lame. Saekano has LEGS.

sae02

What so great about this show is its LAYERS. There’s the standard harem surface layer; there’s the fact that they’re all very talented members of a doujin circle that have come to a remote, serene hot spring for inspiration; there’s the layer of all the girls going after him (or not) in very different ways; there’s the fact that their intricate discussion of the dating sim they’re working informs anime they’re in.

sae03

Saekano isn’t just throwing skin at you (though the skin is plentiful and lovely), but it’s also reaching through the screen into your brain and heading off whatever reservations you may have for it. It also lays bare its process, and yet wields a kind of inscrutable magic in entertaining you. This is a show that wants you to love it. And I do.

sae04

But my love extends far beyond the bones of the show or its deliciously meta technique, to the brilliant cast. We have the half-British loli childhood friend (Eriri Spencer Sawamura), an exacting painter; the elegant raven-haired maiden (Kasumigaoka Utaha), the scenario writer; the athletic, flirtatious cousin (Hyoudou Michiru), the musician; and the rather plain, quiet one (Kato Megumi), the heroine.

The episode shuffles the protagonist Aki Tomoya’s encounters with them nicely, fleshing their specific personalities, roles in the doujin circle, and particulars of the harem dynamic with a seemingly effortless deftness. Not a single line of dialogue or scene is wasted.

sae05

The four girls express their hots for Tomoya in different ways: Eriri by pining for her one true love, stolen by the interloper Utaha; Michiru gets super physical, but in a teasing way; and Utaha hides her sweet nothings behind the conceit that she’s only using him and her in order to come up with scenarios, and can thus be forthright and fearless in going after him.

These three girls are certainly the loudest and most flirtatious through most of the episode, essentially cancelling each other out when they accidentally get drunk on alcoholic chocolates and in their shameless state, prepare a sexy prank for Tomoya.

sae06

And even this has a practical purpose: they’ve been worked to the bone for six months without a kind word from Tomoya, the game creator, and they’ve come to collect their due, ignoring his impassioned speech about his dreams for the doujin circle as they play rock-paper-scissors to determine who takes what position (though Eriri is a sad drunk, and so just watches and broods all the more).

sae07

Eventually, it’s the calm, sober, sensible Kato who saves Tomoya; a character who had so nimbly lurked within the background of the frames, not making a bit production of her presence. Machiri calls her “stealthy”, which is apt, especially since she shares her name (if not the spelling) with the Pink Panther’s wily assistant.

Kato is the titular “Boring Girlfriend”, and Saekano’s secret weapon. She’s is the heroine of the dating sim because, well, she’s Tomoya’s heroine. He never looked as natural or comfortable as he does strolling down a gorgeous bamboo grove, their wooden shoes softly clop-cloping, complimenting her longer hair.

sae08

These two are on an entirely different wavelength as the other three, and they both like it there, Kato is also patient, not really paying the other three girls any mind and even letting them have a bit of fun with Tomoya, knowing when the dust settles he’ll want to walk and talk with her and her alone.

This just a brilliant, funny, and touching twenty-two minutes of rom-com goodness…and it’s just the damn prologue. I assume episode 01 will rewind to the time Tomoya first assembles the doujin circle. If it can keep up the quality in its less secluded school setting, I will be a very happy camper.

9_ses