Saekano 2 – 11 (Fin)

Megumi and Tomoya go on a date, not just because it seems like the thing to do after the rest of the harem has cleared out, but to cheer one another up. It’s clear it’s not a one-sided case of Megumi cheering Tomoya up from the look of a soundless flashback in which she reacts dramatically to Eriri’s news she’s moving on from the group.

Megumi also seems to take great joy in shopping for clothes and shoes with Tomoya around. Even if he has no fashion sense or money to speak of, his company is appreciated and their instincts—like the one to hold hands in the crowded section—are often in sync.

By the end of the trip, Tomoya is feeling much better, as is Megumi, and the former makes sure they stop by a hat store so he can get her the same white hat she was wearing when he first envisioned her as his main heroine, as thanks both for her company and for getting him glasses last time.

Megumi is touched by the gesture, and when they return to that fateful hill, she tells Tomoya “she’s not giving up”. It strikes me as having dual meaning, as she intends to move forward with the doujin group even without Eriri and Utaha…and intends to make Tomoya fall completely for her.

Tomoya agrees they should move forward, but when his laughter turns to tears of loss, she reaches out to embrace him, only to then pulls back.

Now sufficiently cheered up, cried out, and ready to move forward, Tomoya takes it upon himself to see Eriri and Utaha off, surprising them both on the platform of their train to Osaka. Their looks say it all; Eriri in particular can’t believe he’ll forgive them.

But it’s not about forgiveness at all for Tomoya; it’s about wishing his two dear and wonderfully talented friends good luck on their exciting new venture. And I don’t think he’s putting on airs—one doesn’t turn down something like Fields Chronicle, and he thinks their “god-tier” talent can make it the best ever.

This sendoff, complete with a Megumi phone call with the same positive, concilatory intent, is enough to bring Eriri, Tomoya, and even Utaha to tears. It’s a bittersweet moment, one perhaps made a bit more silly when after Eriri removes Tomoya’s glasses, intending to keep them, then leans in to kiss, it’s Utaha who steals a big, long smooth with Tomoya, and Eriri is forced to whip out her twintails for the first time in a long while. They also miss their train in the excitement.

But no matter; they’re on their way. Post-credits, Tomoya and Megumi are both on first name terms, now seniors in school, chattering away with their usual excellent chemistry and bonhomie. Then, to their surprise, Hashima Izumi appears, a recent transfer, and Tomoya understands Iori’s words about sending his sister to a place where her talents can be put to best use.

Will Izumi be the artist for Tomoya and Megumi’s game? Perhaps, but it’s a certainty that Michiru will score the music once again. Hey, remember Michiru? The show makes sure to let us know it’s in on the joke regarding her absence for the back half of the season (which, frankly, was fine).

But notably, Michiru is conversing with Eriri and Utaha, who are watching Tomoya from afar. Eriri is still enrolled in the school, but the graduated Utaha is there because “it’s a free country.” The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Saekano 2 – 10

It’s very rare indeed for an episode to come around that gives you everything you wanted; everything you held out hope would come to pass but didn’t dare expect. And yet, well, here we are.

The completion of Cherry Blessing was an arc closure at an odd time in the run of a season, but the groundwork that was laid thereafter pays off wonderfully here, as Kashiwagi Eri decides to Take Her Talents to Rouge Beach, thus enabling Kasumi Utako to come along for the ride.

We start in the aftermath of that hellish meeting with Akane, still shaken from the abuse they were forced to endure. Utaha is no less honest and upfront as Akane was: she’s steaming mad that she’s being treated as an afterthought; a James Jones, if you will.

But as much as she hates Akane for doing so, she still agrees with the producer that Eriri is many years too early and too green to presume she’s “in a slump.” If Eriri agrees to do Fields Chronicle, Utaha will strive to crush her, even as they collaborate.

Of course she does. Competition, even outside one’s own field, drives a creative like Utaha. She wouldn’t be who she is if she didn’t treat Eriri as a rival; and when such a massive job comes around such as this, her’s is the name she’ll want spoken first in praise of the game.

Eriri laments that Utaha is dumping such a huge decision on her alone, but Utaha points out she’s not the one doing the dumping; that’s Akane. Utaha never had a choice. But if Eriri says yes, she’ll work with her, and not just because she’ll be able to as part of the deal with Akane, but because she believes the two of them can move forward together.

Not long thereafter, Eriri calls Utaha out of the blue, inviting her to join her back at school, where Eriri announces she’s defeated her slump and has her drawing touch back.

She forgot to bring the sketches to prove it to a giddy, over-the-moon Utaha (who curses Eriri for being so damn useless), but Eriri doesn’t need them, and instead proves it by sketching then coloring a gorgeous portrait right before a stunned Utaha.

She is indeed back, and Eriri responds to Utaha’s approval with smiles and laughter, but those turn to bitter tears when Eriri thinks of the reason she can draw again. As much as she wanted it to be because Tomoya wanted her and because of his support and love, she can draw again because of the less-than two minutes Akane spent insulting her.

Akane’s tirade did what it was meant to do, whether Akane meant to do it or not: Rattle Eriri’s cage; rattle it until the latch slips loose and Kashiwagi Eri can be fully released from behind the iron bars of Tomoya’s safe, comfortable doujin group.

That place is no longer conducive to the creative growth required for Eriri to be as amazing as she can be—and as Tomoya said she could be. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but Eriri does so, and Utaha offers a comforting hug in the process. You heard right: Eriri and Utaha hug. 

In return for her empathy, Eriri warns Utaha not to let Akane look down on her. Utaha had seemed thus far to be taking Akane’s words as gospel because she’s so experienced and successful, but Eriri, staunch Kasumi Utako fan, offers a different view: Akane “isn’t anything special” if she would so blithely underestimate Utaha’s talent.

That, in turn, elicits tears from Utaha, but she wipes them before bumping fists with Eriri, the first step on their new and exciting journey that is almost asssured to make them a part of video game history.

That leaves Tomoya Aki, whom I half-expected to blow his top and throw some kind of temper tantrum at the news that not only would Utaha be backing out of his group, but Eriri would too, thus “betraying” him for the second time in their long years together.

But I found that such a half-prediction was selling Tomoya short. He’s certainly not elated by the (off-camera) defections, but he’s a big boy, and he’ll get over it. I was pleased with how mature he acted, while Hashima Iori, who left rouge en rouge with Izumi for, presumably, the same reason Eriri and Utaha left Blessing (to grow), urges Tomoya not to quit game developing and creating just because he lost his two “golden geese.”

And I totally get why: Eriri and Utaha were just as much training wheels as geese; he’ll now have to test his producer mettle other people; creatives who may not be as hugely talented, and people who won’t be lured into working for him by the feelings they harbor for him!

But there’s another reason Tomoya will be just fine: his harem has been shattered, and with it all the myriad routes he could have chosen to take. Now there is one route, and it leads him up the same sakura-scattered hill, where a familiar figure seems to be waiting for him…

That figure is, naturally, Kato Megumi, the girl who is best suited for Tomoya, and always was; a girl he won’t be stifling creatively, because they work so well together. She’s returned to the short hair that first inspired Tomoya into making a video game about a nice, astonishingly ordinary, “boring” girl.

Tomoya, in turn, drew Eriri and Utaha into his orbit. Normal as she may sound and appear, without Megumi there’s no Blessing Software, no Cherry Blessing, and no Fields Chronicle offer. She was their heroine, the heroine, and now he’s his. And like any good heroine, she makes the first move, suggesting they go out on a date at once.

Sounds good to me! Well done, show: Satisfying resolutions, character growth, and so many feels.

Saekano 2 – 09

After the high spirits attained by watching Tomoya and Megumi finally reconcile last week, the angst and despair prevalent in this latest installment of Saekano presents a stark contrast. It’s a place we know the show is as comfortable with as the goofier comedy, and it’s fairly apparent by the end of the episode that whatever happens, things won’t be the same…or at least they shouldn’t easily revert back there.

After meeting Utaha after her graduation and presenting his proposal, which she reads and gives high marks, Tomoya asks if she’ll be on board for the new game, and Utaha says she can’t. She can’t for precisely the concessions Tomoya offers to persuade her to do it: he will only ask her for as much as she can handle when she has the time.

Essentially, Utaha cannot work for a producer who won’t push her to make sacrifices and challenge herself. Because of Tomoya at its head, Blessing Software is no longer a place where Utaha can feel she’s being the best creative she can be. That realization was probably reached on her own in some form, but it was certainly helped by the meeting she had one month ago.

In that meeting, the famous, ultra-successful and popular Kousaka Akane offers Utaha the task of writing the story for the newest in a celebrated, 20-year-old line of RPGs, Fields Chronicle. Not only that, Kousaka offered Eriri the job as character designer. In fact, she wanted Eriri more than Utaha. And Tomoya is just now hearing about this.

As Tomoya stews in despair and wonders if this is all really happening, we rewind one month. Utaha talks with Eriri about her slump, and about the same issues with Tomoya she brings up with him a month later.

Ever since her art from the winter villa, she hasn’t been able to draw anything as good, but takes comfort in knowing Tomoya will give her all the time she needs, and forgive and stick with her if she never draws anything again.

Utaha can relate – she once “lost herself to a guy” and it negatively affected her ability to be the best creative she could be, but Eriri won’t admit that’s what’s going on, even as she states Tomoya will never be the asshole producer-type he actually needs to be to get the most out of his creatives.

Then Utaha’s editor tells her about the meeting Kousaka wants with her, and Eriri comes along, not because she’ll be willing to hear anything Kousaka wants to say, but to try to stop Utaha from being drawn into Kousaka’s web and agreeing to the RPG project.

But while Eriri ostensibly came to provide a stronger front against the older, more experienced, and more successful (and therefore seductive) Kousaka, neither she nor Utaha come out of the meeting unscathed.

Kousaka may be drunk when they arrive, but she’s perfectly lucid in her no-nonsense approach. She’s makes it clear it’s Kashiwagi Eri she wants more than anything, and if Kasumi Utako can’t bring her on board, she isn’t needed. Eriri tells Kousaka it’s too big a job and she’s in a bad slump, but Kousaka laughs in her face and calls her trash.

While one could easily dismiss Kousaka as a horrible person, there’s no doubting her passion for her work and the work she spearheads, and it’s clear this is a knock-down, drag-out cage-rattling. Eriri’s piddling excuses are of no consequence to her; no doubt she had the same excuses before she came into her own as an artist.

It’s also a big deal that after watching Eriri and Utaha go at each other as near-equals for nearly two seasons, the proven pro Kousaka considers Eriri the superior talent, the end. That’s gotta sting for Utaha, who hasn’t always felt superior but has rarely hesitated to push all of Eriri’s inferiority buttons in their interactions.

So I don’t think she’s wrong in trying to get both Eriri and Utaha to give up on silly little small-potatoes doujin work and really push themselves. That being said, it wasn’t fun watching the two get put through the ringer like that.

As for Tomoya? I can’t say I feel bad for the guy. For one thing, it was presumptuous enough to ask a writer and artist of Utaha and Eriri’s caliber to help him make one game. For another, he doesn’t have the proper producer mentality (in part because they’re all friends) to properly push them.

Even if the final two episodes deal with Tomoya getting them back, I’m not sure it will feel like a victory to me. A second game might be an accomplishment for Tomoya and Megumi, but it would be stagnation for the creatives. They’ve already proven themselves. Time to move on to bigger things…provided that’s what they really want, of course.

Saekano 2 – 08

~Revised from an earlier review~

Here it is: the much-anticipated episode in which Tomoya tries to make up with Megumi. He, and we, spend the entire episode with Megumi and only Megumi, for what feels like the first time in a long while. He ultimately succeeds, and she even ends up in his bed (get your head out of the gutter)!

I know full well no matter how “far” Tomoya seems to get with one girl or another, he may never actually choose one. And yet I can’t deny that one of the reasons I’ve stuck with the show is that there are episodes like these (and the previous ones with Utaha and Eriri) in which Tomoya comes very close to choosing, to the point where the featured girl is his choice of the week, and all others fall away.

Megumi straight-up dismisses the possibility she might like Tomoya, which is discouraging both to me and to Tomoya. But the truth is, Megumi’s dismissal of the possibility feels more and more hollow as the two to share a night of food (and underwear) shopping, cooking, talking, bathing, and finally sleeping over, that wouldn’t be out of place for an old married couple.

Megumi is reliably adorable throughout, and Tomoya is lucky to be in her presence. Entering his house first (where his parents are away), giving him a taste of her curry, wiping food off his face—this is the Tomoya and Megumi I love so much: glorious in their mundane domesticity.

The longer we spend with Tomoya and Megumi in such intimate environment, the less certain Megumi’s earlier rebuff of Tomoya’s “tentative” theory about her feels. I mean, if these two aren’t a couple, then nobody is, right?  I’m not taking crazy pills here.

While quick to reject Tomoya at the mere mention of being jealous of him and Eriri, Megumi couldn’t help but show her hand both then and throughout the episode. Tomoya is his usual dense self in accepting the rejection, but the evening he proceeds to share with Megumi surely have him questioning the finality of that exchange in the A/V room.

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.

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 12 (Fin)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 11

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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