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.

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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 – 04

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Saekano 2 – 02

Utaha has finished her script, and to celebrate has Tomoya take her out for a day of shopping, dining, and watching films that aren’t poorly-received (i.e. ghosty, shelly) live-action anime adaptations.

It’s a date, no doubt about it, at least as far as Eriri is concerned, observing the couple’s interactions from afar like, well, a stalker, with Megumi forced to tag along for plausible deniability.

But Utaha doesn’t merely toy with Mr. Ethical: she makes it a point to bring up the fact that now that the script is complete, her job with Blessing Software is also done, and she’s looking to the future.

She asks Tomoya his opinion not only on where she should attend university (out in Kansai or fifteen minutes away) as well as to pick which script should be used: she wrote two. She’s basically telling the director to choose a direction; not unreasonable.

When Eriri and Megumi meet with Tomoya (thanks to Megumi having a key to his place!) they see the ending and see Tomoya’s dilemma. Eriri both acknowledges Utaha’s artistry, comparing it to the Metronome of Love series she claims to have never read, while complaining that it’s a lot more work.

Still, she doesn’t automatically reject this new ending, nor does Megumi: they, like Utaha, leave it up to Tomoya. Sorry dude, gotta make some hard choices, and not everyone is going to be happy. Especially with Izumi’s doujin game already out there in demo form, living in the same genre as their game.

Saekano excels when Tomoya is one-on-one, as he is with the lovely Utaha most of this episode. But I also liked how their interactions were shadowed by Eriri and Megumi (especially the difference in Utaha and Eriri’s reactions to the movie, which chose a “childhood friend-friendly”, and thus Eriri-friendly, ending).

I can’t say whether the script of Saekano is cliched per se; all I can say is that it is unafraid of commenting on the very genre and medium it exists in, or of being almost self-back-pattingly self-referential and irreverent of those institutions.

But the dialogue is expertly delivered by the actors, and the character design is strong, so even if this show’s ‘weakness’ is its script (which I’m not saying is the case), it’s more than capable of making up for it in other areas, which makes this show enjoyable to watch on any given week.

But I don’t think it needs a live-action adaptation.

Saekano 2 – 01

“Why are things so bad between them?” asks Mr. Awful Thick-Headed Deaf Protagonist, AKA Aki Tomoya, referring to the near constant bickering and fierce competition between Eriri and Utaha. Cue a flashback to a year ago when the two rivals first meet, and Eriri learns Utaha is not only the author of the “Metronome In Love” novels she enjoys with Tomoya, but that she’s trying to snatch her Tomoya away.

Eriri tries in vain to steer Utaha away from Tomoya, while Utaha is irritated to learn how well Tomoya knows his childhood friend Eriri. Utaha brings Eriri up to Tomoya because she’s “interested in knowing more about her”, meaning she’s eager to gather info on a foe.

For all the contempt Eriri and Utaha have spewed at one another throughout last season, they are nonetheless connected by a strong underlying mutual respect. They’re not just foes, but worthy foes. And however much they may differ in creative philosophy, neither can deny the other’s obvious talent, or even be a bit envious of it, considering they excel in different areas (Eriri art, Utaha words).

Utaha learns that Eriri’s motivated by revenge for all the frustration she’s suffered having to hide her talent away beneath a pristine social facade; while Eriri believes she has the haughty Utaha figured out as a cold, calculating ice queen who looks down upon and manipulates her fans with her technique. Neither is wrong!

So back in the present, while they’re still bickering as fiercely as when they first met (with Tomoya as the totem of their rivalry), they can still acknowledge one another’s skill and passion for their craft, and can agree with Tomoya when he says theirs could be a collaboration for the ages.

The praise and enthusiasm of the guy they both like makes it easier for them to look past their surface hate for one another, and the value in working together, even if it’s not always, or ever, smooth sailing.

When Tomoya requests an illustration by Eriri autographed by both her and Utaha as Kashiwagi Kazumi, Eriri, Utaha, and Megumi also requests autographed illustrations. The apparent mortal enemies proudly hang them in their homes, proving their respect and admiration for one another beyond any doubt, even if they’d never ever say it to each other’s faces.