Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 04

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stray Observations:

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

    All of this.
  • Tomoya’s classmates occasionally stopped talking and looked over in his direction, possibly worried that he was raving at himself, due to Kato’s inconspicuousness. Remember Tomoya himself didn’t know she was in his class for a year!
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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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