Saekano 2 – 07

It’s been two months since Winter Comiket, and Cherry Blessing has done well in both sales and critical reception. But with their first game released, Blessing Software is at a crossroads. Utaha is finishing up her newest novel, while Eriri is still blowing past art deadlines (what she’s painting, we never see).

Tomoya’s rival Iori surmises that Cherry was able to surpass his game in reviews (if not in sales) because both writer and artist grew and surpassed themselves. Now that the trio has been through it all together, the girls are far less careful about how they act at school around Tomoya.

Tomoya, Eri, and Utaha are all getting along swimmingly post-Comiket, but Tomoya has been unable to make any progress whatsoever in making up with Megumi. She gives him a listless “good morning” and doesn’t answer her phone when he calls her.

That ignored call is the beginning of Tomoya starting to actually stop and carefully consider everything Megumi had done for and with him, and the manner in which treated her in return. Because he took her commitment lightly and shut her out at a crucial moment, she’s not picking up now to discuss with him the pros and cons of a new, second game.

Valentine’s Day arrives, and when he brings up the possibility of giving her more work, Eriri simply wants more time to relax, not worry about such things, give him chocolate, take his arm and walk with him.

To her chagrin, he has lunch with Utaha, who also gives him chocolate, and offers to sign her real name (not her pen name) “all over his body”, in a classic Utaha tease that’s probably more sincere than Tomoya is willing to realize.

Utaha also released her latest novel, and plans to start another soon. Since she’s already in university, she won’t be coming to school anymore after today. So Tomoya asks her, almost desperately, if she’d write for him again.

Despite her resentment of Tomoya’s protectiveness with Eriri, she bashfully admits she wants to make another game with her. Eriri, out in the hall making sure Utaha doesn’t make any moves, hears Utaha’s warm tone.

If Tomoya can come up with an idea, it looks like Utako Kasumi and Kashiwagi Eri are all on board. Which leaves Megumi (sorry Hyoudou, you’re not a main!). Tomoya makes an effort to track her down, but she slips out just as school ends. He spots her eating alone in a cafe, texts her a request for a circle meeting, and watches her not ignore it, giving him hope that maybe their friendship hasn’t “run its natural course” quite yet after all.

Then he goes home, and late into the night, he plays Cherry Blessing through. Playing it brings up all of the memories he has of Megumi working tirelessly by his side to make the game such a success, and how little appreciation he showed in his words, actions, or lack thereof. So Tomoya curls up in shame. At last—a glimmer of self-awareness from the guy.

Thinking of her also inspires Tomoya to come up with a title for the upcoming game he’ll aim to release in time for Summer Comiket: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend. Meta! Here’s hoping he can make proper amends—and Megumi is willing to take the fool back.

Saekano 2 – 06

Both the immediate (Eriri collapsing) and long-term (finishing the game) crises are resolved this week, with one major caveat: to rescue Eriri, Tomoya gave up on a full Winter Comiket release, even though that’s the reason Eriri ended up in such a state (that, and her obsession with quality with the threat of Hashima Izumi looming).

Ironically, it’s Izumi’s bro (and Tomoya’s chief rival) Iori who comes to Tomoya’s aid, offering a ride to Eriri’s villa. Tomoya finds Eriri really did get everything done, and more to the point, he believes it’s her best work and the best work he’s seen all year.

That brings a smile to the gradually-recovering Eriri, but she’s even happier to hear him say, categorically, that she’s his “number one;” that her new art is better than Izumi’s. She doesn’t mind that he doesn’t go so far as to tell her she’s beaten Utaha and Michiru, but she happily infers it.

After that, the two settle back into the same routine as when they were little kids: staying indoors, playing games and watching anime, which Tomoya both notes was because Eriri was so sick so often, but also doesn’t complain about.

He goes further in wanting to apologize to the others in Eriri’s stead, as he’s the director and all, but Eriri insists: if she can’t apologize properly, she can’t keep moving forward. So she does so, and the whole crew is on hand for Winter Comiket…albeit with only 100 hastily burned copies of Cherry Blessing.

It’s shocking how quickly all the work they’d done suddenly becomes a finished product, which sells out within 30 minutes due to lots of buzz about a new game with studs like Kashiwagi and Kasumi collaborating. At the market, Eriri also apologizes to Izumi for how she treated her, and explains why she did (fear of being surpassed).

Yet in the midst Eriri dispensing all of her apologies and the team dispensing every last copy of their game, something seems off. The camera uncharacteristically lingers on Megumi too often, and she seems to be hiding something that will certainly rain on the parade of the big release.

Content to quietly skip the post-release party and go home for the time being, when Tomoya forces the issue, she finally has a very Kato-ish “outburst”, one that cuts Tomoya to the quick, far more than if she had yelled or cried. In his haste to save Eriri, he neglected to tell her about anything that was going on, during the precise days she said she’d make sure she was available for him, no matter what.

Tomoya took her earnest promises and commitments lightly, and ultimately ignored them altogether and took everything on himself, keeping her in the dark until everything worked out. That is something Megumi cannot forget, nor easily forgive.

As happy as I am to see Tomoya and Eriri on such good terms again, I can’t say I blame Megumi. If getting out of the doghouse is even possible, Tomoya, with his famous lack of awareness, may find doing so even tougher than making a dating sim from scratch.

Saekano 2 – 03

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?

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 09

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 08

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 07

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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