Hinamatsuri – 04 – Unfit to be Homeless

“I’m disowning you.” Those are the three words that suddenly upend Hina’s cushy life at the top, after she upends nearly everything Nitta owns. While decent parents sometimes say things like that in moments when they might be nearing their limits, they never mean it.

Only Nitta doesn’t see himself as her parent, merely a caretaker of heretofore bottomless generosity and patience…and now that Hina has exhausted his supply of those qualities, she’s out.

To the show’s credit, he has a well-established good reason not to feel like her parent—she showed up in a metal egg!—but Nitta eventually learns it doesn’t really matter how bizarrely she entered his life, only that entering it changed that life forever.

Surely a part of Nitta buried by his anger in the moment immediately regretted kicking Hina off, because it knew just how useless she’d be in the real world after the cushy life she’s been used to since arriving.

That uselessness is demonstrated when she immediately spends 10,000 yen on junk food and plays video games until her battery runs out, then latches on to a concerned Anzu, whose limits are quickly tested.

Nitta’s lack of thinking his plan through is also exposed when Hitomi comes to his front door with printouts for Hina. And because Utako is such a good person, she works at a soup run in the park and discovers what Nitta has done. None of the people in the bar who judge Nitta know where she really came from, and that she’s no ordinary defenseless kid who you couldn’t dream of kicking out of your house.

When Nitta tries to defend himself and they run him out of the bar like the one kid all the other kids agreed was Bad News, he gets a harsh lesson in how unimportant details like what Hina is and where she comes from really are. By kicking Hina out, Nitta is a bad guy, at least in the world he wants to keep living in—a world of conscience, selflessness, and kindness.

Kicking her out means Nitta not only has his cushy apartment to himself, but his own world; even Sabu is not having it. Meanwhile, Anzu learns what it’s like to be Nitta, only in accelerated form, as Hina reaches her bike gang-coated friend’s limits and is kicked out after just three days.

Mind you, he’s right that Hina isn’t entirely hopeless. She does befriend some buskers and uses her telekinesis to pep up their show, and is able to make money on her own for the first time. Like the homeless people Anzu befriends, Hina is lucky not to end up with bad people who might to weird things, and even if they tried, she’s be more than capable of fighting them off.

Would Hina have been fine with the band indefinitely? In terms of money and food, perhaps, but where would she stay? And what if she hits the band’s limits like she did Nitta’s and Anzu’s? As Anzu tells Nitta when the two cross paths, Hina simply isn’t fit to be homeless, a devastating line to behold, in no small part due to its blinding accuracy.

But the main reason Hina wouldn’t make it out there is because she doesn’t want to. She liked being with Nitta the most, and so waits outside his door with a newly bought 2900-yen vase and a sincere apology. Nitta, having been banned from Utako’s bar until he makes up with Hina, makes up with Hina.

Yes, it’s a really nice bar, but also Nitta had reached a new limit: he’d gone as far as he could go without Hina, and vice versa, and so the two are back together, and he proudly displays her cheap vase beside the pricey ones, because like HIna, it doesn’t matter where it came from.

Hina’s expulsion from and eventual reinstatement in the good life takes up three-quarters of the episode; the balance is made up of another Hitomi portrait, cementing Hitomi’s role as without doubt the Best and most fascinating character on the show.

While Hina needs to learn the hard way the value of hard work, “half-assed” is not and has never been in Hitomi’s category. She knows she’s good at bartending, and continues to perform that job with pride. Not only can she mix drinks like an adult pro, but she’s now able to dispense advice and say just the words her customers need to hear, whether it’s Nitta’s superior or her own homeroom teacher.

Most importantly, her advice comes from her own experiences, which are numerous despite her modest age. She tells the yakuza boss that a bar is where you can come to be your honest self and not worry about their “real life” outside the door because that’s exactly what she’s doing.

And Hitomi won’t stop doing it, not just because she gets paid, but because she enjoys it, even on the weekends when she works through the night.

It’s in that exhausted state after an all-night shift that Hitomi comes upon Anzu in the alley, and learns that she collects cans. Hitomi, going all out in all things, directs Anzu to a windfall of cans (and gently blackmails a fellow bar employee to gain access to them. She learns fast).

Things get “heavy” in a hurry when Hitomi learns the extent of Anzu’s destitution, and feels bad about even eating the 200-yen ramen she’s offered, especially after learning Anzu usually makes 600 yen a day; the same amount Hina can make in a half-hour.

Suddenly confronted with someone living what appears to be a much tougher life with much smaller rewards weighs heavily on a Hitomi already physically taxed by her dual life. And so, during a protracted game of tag through the forest, Hitomi finally reaches her limit, and falls asleep standing up. If Hina is unfit to be homeless, Hitomi is unfit to be idle…or apathetic.

 

Saekano 2 – 04

Maybe it was because I was so tired, but I was off in my assessment of Tomoya’s assessment of Utaha’s script. It’s not that he demanded perfection; his true qualm lies in his exact words: “It’s a crap game.” Meaning, the script is written like a novel, and is thus unsuitable for a dating sim. This is why, as compelling as it is, it must be re-worked.

Of course, Tomoya delivers his criticism with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer through a plate glass window, and he and a still-stunned Utaha have a little shouting match in the maid cafe of what is otherwise, mercifully, a completely in-the-background school festival.

Tomoya is a rude ass about it, but he’s not wrong, and after making Utaha cry, Tomoya is contrite and assures her she did nothing wrong; it was he who failed as game director, getting sucked into the text without considering how it would fit in a dating sim structure.

As he attempts rewrites, Utaha sleeps in his beat, deflated from the rejection of her new arc, which, by the way, was an arc in which the character most resembling her gets the guy rather than the character resembling Megumi. Megumi calls Eriri to report Utaha’s whereabouts, but Eriri is unconcerned.

Eriri’s been in the boat Utaha’s in right now, and can relate, and in any case, she’s got a mountain of her own work to do, surrounded as she is by crumpled balls of art that don’t meet her standards or vision. Eriri isn’t even interested in entering the Miss Toyogasaki Pageant, despite being the reigning champ.

From there, it’s almost a purely Utaha-and-Tomoya episode, with the two combining forces in a creative odyssey during which Utaha gets so exhausted she falls asleep wearing only an open dress shirt and panties, much to the painfully oblivious Tomoya’s shock.

They re-work the Ruri path, then Tomoya gets it in his head he needs a third arc as well: one in which everyone lives happily ever after, which also seems to match what he wants in real life with Utaha and Megumi. While initially frustrated Tomoya wasn’t responding to her feelings, by the end she comes out confident they’ve made a stronger, more fun game by working together.

On the evening the festival ends, when the bonfire is about to be sparked, Megumi asks Utaha, her writing duties now complete, if Ruri is based on Sayuka from Metronome in Love. And she is; of course she is, because both of them are actually Utaha. And Utaha makes it clear she still hasn’t given up on the ending in which her character is chosen by the protagonist.

Megumi straightens out and her eyes focus upon hearing this, before bowing and heading down to the bonfire, where she romantically approaches Tomoya. Megumi tells him she’s not Megumi right now, she’s Ruri, Sayuka, and also…then takes his hand, and dances with him, as Eriri draws them and Utaha looks on. Lovely stuff.

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Tomoya and Eriri find themselves suddenly confronted by the Hashima siblings, whose Rouge en Rouge game company put out a demo of a game very similar to their own.

While Megumi does her best to keep things diplomatic, it isn’t long until Eriri and Izumi are coming to blows.

Sure, they’re low-impact blows, and each seems to want to empower the other to do their utmost to beat each other (at art, not physically), but then there’s the fact that, at the moment, I don’t much care particularly how well Blessing’s game does relative to Rouge’s.

Isn’t it enough that the team works hard and puts out a game they can be proud of, into which they put their blood, sweat, tears, and passion?

In between acting like she and Tomoya have been married for years, irking certain male classmates, Megumi is preoccupied and fired up by Utaha’s surprise story revision.

But the only way they’ll know whether it works or not, and which script to choose for the game, is by implementing it. That means a lot of work just to catch up to the Rouge demo, with no guarantee their output will surpass their rival’s.

When one all-nighter involving Tomoya and Megumi only nets 20% of the work, other measures need to be taken. When Michiru suddenly arrives, appalled that Megumi spent the night, Tomoya sees an opening, and asks his cousin to recruit her Icy Tail bandmates into doing the gruntwork necessary to plug Utaha’s new story into the game.

They pull a second all-nighter, and considering how late I’m writing this on a Thursday night, I can’t say I don’t relate to their exhausted state when they’ve completed their task.

All that work makes it that much more harsh a slap in the face when Tomoya meets with Utaha and utters the line above. Apparently, after story, art, music, and programming have been combined, neither of Utaha’s stories cut the mustard; at least not now that Tomoya is convinced Iori has a better story up his sleeve.

He requests a complete rewrite—certainly his prerogative as game director—but I assume Utaha is dismayed by his blunt assessment, as I was. In an attempt to outdo Rouge, could Tomoya be overplaying his hand? By demanding perfection when perfection may be unattainable, will he only end up driving his partners away one by one?

Shokugeki no Souma – 20

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With just four episodes left after this one (barring a second 26-episode season, not outside the realm of possibility), Food Wars will likely dedicate them to the Autumn Elections, meaning it no longer has the luxury of spending an episode focusing on one, two, a handful, or a smaller group of students.

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It must focus on all of them, including quite a number of recently-added newbies, all from diverse backgrounds and with diverse goals. One uniting factor is that a lot of them either admire Souma and want to see what he can do, or want to beat him…or both. Still, the character sprawl and the necessity of checking in on everyone both before and during the big preliminary round results in a somewhat breathless, unwieldy affair.

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If, for instance, you like what Alice is up to in her futuristic sci-fi kitchen, or what Nikumi is carving up, that’s kinda too bad, since the episode can only afford occasional peeks at each chef in order to cover all of them. New characters like Hayama, Hojou and Nao (whose late introductions are another hint that this show could keep going after this first round of 24) eat up some of that time.

Everyone’s jockeying for space and attention, and the episode gets a little whiplashed. At the same time, that’s part of the appeal: variety of the spice of life, be it real spices, or characters and methods of cooking, and there’s plenty of it here.

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The main rivalry in this preliminary three-hour curry cookoff seems to be Souma vs. Hayama, and both have been preparing for months, pulling many all-nighters in the process. But while Hayama seems on top of his game and is already attracting the attention of the prestigious judges, when we check in on Souma for the first time, he’s asleep. Looks like he’ll have to come back from behind one more time.

Let’s face it: We know he’s going to be one of those eight finalists to move on to the elections proper, but knowing that is neither as important nor all that detrimental to our present anticipation and future enjoyment in watching how he succeeds, as well as who the other seven will be. There are so many great chefs to root for and choose from.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 14

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SnS delivers its second masterpiece in three episodes both by putting Souma further up against the wall than he’s ever been, as his souffle omelettes are falling before customers take them. Meanwhile, Erina and Takumi have already dished out 200 servings. But there’s no conspiracy or sabotage behind Souma’s plight: it’s his fault; he effed up, and now he’s got to figure out a way out of the hole he’s made for himself, with time dwindling.

Another chef who finishes well before him is “Snow White”, whose name we finally learn is Nakiri Alice, Erina’s cousin and life-long rival. What Erina brings to the table with her talent, ability, and knowledge of the classics, Alice is on the cutting edge of molecular gastronomy. My face lit up in glee like a Christmas tree when it was revealed Alice’s “eggs” weren’t just eggs.

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As viewers we have the luxury of checking in on everyone as they near, or struggle to near, 200 servings, but Souma has no time to lose. Erina is frustrated that her gloating fails to reach his ears, as he works out the calculations to how he’ll get to 200. It involves lots of eggs, lots of cream, lots of pans, and lots of burners, and his mastery of all of those things at lightning speed in order to lure all those customers.

He moves on from his failure and starts over, getting enough people to his stand so he can serve omelettes as soon as they’re ready. Once the people try the jiggly, fluffy, bouncy delicacies, they can’t contain their enthusiasm and praise, which attracts even more attention.

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I’m not sure where Souma got all those burners or eggs (the logistics of this camp would seem to hinge upon an “Unlimited Food Works” skill someone at Totsuki possesses), but he manages to reach his target of 200…with two seconds remaining. He also impresses the alumni brass like Doujima, as well as the backhanded compliments and a formal introduction by Alice, who is really mean and cool and adorable and a great foil to Erina and new rival to Souma. She can clearly back up her big talk (and then some), and I look forward to seeing more of her.

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And as it did with Alice’s molecular eggs, the show gives us one more surprise, with Doujima summoning all 600-some survivors thus far into the hotel lobby for a big pep talk about how the unpredictability of the camp is a microcosm of their impending careers as chefs, and how they must learn how to deal with surprises and how to adapt when things don’t go their way.

Just when we thought another challenge was in store, the alumni burst out of the doors with a wait staff to reveal that the final challenge isn’t a challenge, but a meal, prepared by that same alumni. Not only is this a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the ultimate reward to the survivors of the camp, but another complete surprise. It really was a beautiful, heartfelt way to wrap up the arc.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 13

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Despite the very dreamlike imagery, I was pretty convinced for some reason that the training camp was finished and this thirteenth episode, bridging the gap between the first and second halves of this show, would take it easy. That misunderstanding only lasted until we learn Isshiki really was just having a dream.

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The first years have a long way to go: Chef Doujima has arranged a challenge that will surely thin the already thin herds: having to create an innovative breakfast dish using eggs worthy of acknowledgement by a huge cross-section of diverse customers, from the growers and producers of the Totsuki resorts’ foodstuffs, to the resorts’ service staff, all of whom are extremely keen, experienced food critics. They also have to serve 200 servings of their dish—which they have all night to devise and prepare—in order to complete the challenge.

This episode does a good job rendering an incredibly tense and difficult situation being tackled by people who are already exhausted from the day’s challenges. But the intent is clear: the chefs who pass the training camp have to have ample backbone and endurance to go with their talent, taste, resourcefulness, and speed.

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The episode also branches out, affording us dozens of little mini-stories happening to all of the various characters, none of whom are as simple as enemies or friends anymore. Even Erina has multiple facets, and the personification of one of those is a mysterious new character I’ll call “Snow White,” whose looks and air of confidence suggests she’s quite a chef to be reckoned with. Naturally, Souma treats her like he’d treat anyone else: with courtesy, friendliness, and respect, irregardless of her hidden motives for him.

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For the second straight episode, Food Wars doesn’t simply focus on Souma. Everyone gets a chance to show off their breakfast-innovation skillz: there’s Takumi’s “Insalata Frittata” (which is almost so corny it almost comes all the way around to being cool); Megumi’s delectable looking “bite-size oden” (which capitalizes on her nurturing cuisine); Nikumi’s “loco moco donburi” (I loved her look of nervous anticipation as the judges tasted), all the way to Erina’s exquisite Eggs Benedict (made with a dried mullet roe-infused muffin that shimmers like gold and tastes like million bucks).

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Erina is the first to pass, with Takumi right on her heels, and Megumi doing particularly well, still flush with confidence after her near-as-makes-no-difference win against Shino. But Snow White has an odd dish made up of various plain-looking eggs, which doesn’t seem to be popular. And that brings us to Souma, who by episode’s end has served less than ten of his “souffle omelette”, which showed promise but may have fizzled out, as some of his ideas sometimes do (peanut butter squid, anyone?).

Could the pressure of wanting to get better be negatively effecting Souma’s focus and ability to power through the challenges? Is that constant worry he’s not yet good enough stifling his creativity rather than stoking it? It looks like he’s in a very bad way, and he’s on his own. While I’m sure he’ll pull out of it next week, it isn’t the “whether” but the “how” that I’m most interested in; along with what Snow White’s game is.

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Nisekoi 2 – 06

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Ah, the Valentine’s Day episode. When girls torture themselves over when and where to give chocolates they slaved over to the one they like, and the guy worries about not getting any chocolate at all when we know full well the bastard’s getting chocolate from multiple vectors.

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Don’t get me wrong: watching Chitoge squirm and kick herself for not being honest about the situation at all, and watching Kosaki actually muster the courage to present her one-in-a-million delicious chocolate to Raku, only to accidentally fall on it, it all very great to watch, because I’ve been invested with these girls for a while.

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But there were moments during this episode when I earnestly wondered whether, in an anime world where Saekano, Oregairu, and Ore Monogatari exist, I’m actually outgrowing a show like Nisekoi, where romantic progress is always either tentative, temporary, or outright forgotten from week to week.

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At least this was an episode in which every girl had their moment to shine (save Kosaki’s sister, who is still AWOL halfway into the season). But there was a distinct Wile E. Coyote-vs.-Road Runner mentality to their actions that eroded the seriousness and the heart a bit. As amusing as a giant chocolate Michelangelo’s David is, Marika’s angle in particular was a bit too jokey.

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Best girl she may be, but Chitoge’s tsundere-speak reaches new levels of insufferability when she finally deigns to supply Raku with the friggin’ chocolate she spent all night making. To put so much effort and devotion into something for someone you love, only to present it as an act of charity and coincidence, isn’t just dishonest; it’s tiresome at this point in their relationship.

Then again, due to the increasingly episodic nature of this season, it’s hard to pin down exactly where they stand at all, which is a whole other problem.

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Still, one character shows some backbone and perseverance in Kosaki, who at the very end of the day is finally able to present chocolate she can be proud of, which Raku doesn’t have to pretend tastes good. But where Chitoge pretended she was doing Raku a favor, Kosaki is so afraid of making progress that she almost immediately retreats, calling her chocolate “obligatory.”

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Even so, she qualifies her statement to “a special kind of obligatory”, which transcends mere obligation into something more like, her love compelled her to give Raku the chocolate. Such obfuscation will only undermine her desire to make her feelings known to him, however, as even a direct declaration of her intentions may have flown over the painfully dense Raku.

Nisekoi still offers some of the best close-ups in the business. But the emotions those close-ups would be more potent if I knew they were leading to anything other than a dead end.

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Nisekoi 2 – 05

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Maybe it’s part and parcel of the whole harem milieu, but Nisekoi has a tendency to stop a girl’s arc on a dime and pick up another girl’s, whether we particularly want it to or not. Maybe Chitoge’s reconnection with her mother with Raku’s help was a good stopping place as any, but that doesn’t mean you have to kill all the momentum built up between Raku and Chitoge to that point.

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For better or worse, that’s what happens here, as this is a strictly Marika-centric episode. While Asumi Kana’s Marika is button-cute, affectionate, and charmingly crafty, the fact is Marika has a tough act to follow. Marika came in very late last season, and while we fell in love with her in her first appearance, since then she hasn’t brought much to the table besides her brand of kindergarten puppy love complete with gloming and somewhat childish schemes to get closer to Raku.

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In the first half, Marika ranks by far the worst out of the circle of friends (everyone else is 88th or higher, but she’s 185th), but she uses it as an excuse to ask Raku to tutor her for an upcoming math test. Of course, he obliges, and he’s glad to have Chitoge around as chaperone/third wheel. They end up pulling an all-nighter, during which Raku puts blankets on both dozing girls (though Marika only feigns being asleep) and in the morning whispers another confession to the dozing Raku.

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The day of the test, she knows she’s scored enough to not need to re-take it, but erases and changes a couple answers so she does have to, so she has another excuse to ask Raku to tutor her. Her bodyguard warns her that she can’t keep pulling all-nighters what with her inherent frailness, and Marika acknowledges this—which actually puts a darker, more melancholy spin on her schemes. Is Marika simply trying to make the most of her time with Raku while she can? It’s like she knows her shortcomings in the war for Raku’s heart, but keeps fighting anyway.

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Unfortunately, what could have segued into something more interesting turned into a glib farce involving Marika’s pet parrot “Raku-sama”, whom she trains to not only impersonate herself and Raku “up to no good”, but also how to break out of his cage so Raku has to shout out “I love you Marika!” in order to lure him back (while she records it from her limo).

While all the parrot-training explains why Marika’s grades have been suffering, and the bird’s voice is kinda cute, the gag grows tiresome, and Chitoge, Kosaki, and Tsugumi are criminally underutilized, and their reactions to the bird’s amorous vocab are predictable.

We even see Kosaki’s sis for the first time, but they do absolutely nothing with her. She’s so prominent in the OP I know she’s coming, but that was a weird intro. The more heartfelt parts of the first half keep this from descending into “fine” territory…but but only just.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 06

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 05

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 04

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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?)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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…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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 02

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • 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.