The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend Flat
How would you rate episode 0 of
Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend Flat ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Ah, Saekano. It feels a little odd to review this sequel premiere, because frankly, it is more or less an exact copy of the first season's premiere, and left me with basically the same exact thoughts. As I said back when the original premiered, Saekano embodies a style of self-aware apologism that I find both abrasive and antithetical to good storytelling. Simply pointing out that you're a mediocre harem story focused mostly on fanservice doesn't make you any better - it just makes you feel less earnest, less committed to your own narrative. Lampshading your cliche tropes doesn't improve on them. In fact, it generally just makes your narrative that much more frustrating, because it makes your show seem proud of its own mediocrity.
Just like the first season's episode zero, Saekano Flat opens with the main girls discussing the failings of mediocre anime while the camera pans incessantly over their boobs and butts. For the first few minutes, the only joke is “we're talking about bad anime while reveling in fanservice like a bad anime,” so unless you're here for the fanservice, there's not much to be here for at all. But even as a fanservice spectacle, Saekano doesn't really impress. The character designs are attractive enough, but the sexual framing is so in-your-face and tonally flat that nothing really feels sensual at all. Fanservice isn't supposed to be boring, but Saekano's simplistically tongue-in-cheek contrast of flat, worked-over dialogue and random boob shots is exactly that.
Eventually we learn that all the girls are in swimsuits because they're attempting to get reference material for their visual novel's swimsuit scene. The narrative ultimately moves the party through a variety of group shenanigans, but even the less aggravating scenes here fall prey to Saekano's truly fatal flaw: the fact that its characters really do belong in the genres they mock. It's possible to make a show that's savvy about cliche anime storytelling without embodying those cliches, as stuff like Genshiken demonstrates - but Saekano's characters are too one-dimensional to rise above the gimmicks they scorn. As an occasionally funny harem with a focused premise and attractive character designs, Saekano would probably be a better show if it ditched all the self-awareness. Mocking its own mediocrity does the show absolutely no favors.
Few anime franchises revel more in being “meta” than Saekano. We saw this throughout the first season, and it looks like that's not going to be any different with this season. In fact, it even pulls the same opening stunt as the first season does by blatantly putting its heavy fan service episode up front and making absolutely, positively sure that everyone realizes that the production team is taunting the viewers. “Hey, you already know that this isn't really a heavy fan service series, but you already bit on that once, right?” That it's actually pretty alluring fan service, and not just a total tease, is part of the joke.
Beyond that, though, the series quickly returns to business as usual. Tomoya is still the romantic and project linchpin even though he actually isn't doing that much directly, Eriri, Utaha, and Michiru are still romantic rivals for Tomoya to one degree or another, and Megumi still represents the perplexed ordinary person's viewpoint on the whole bizarre procedure involved in bringing the game to fruition. Izumi also gets inserted into the romantic loop because, well, why not have another cute/sexy girl in a bikini? Whether or not that means that she's going to continue to play a prominent role this season is up in the air, as the first season's episode 0 also had in it one character who wouldn't appear until much later in the series (Michiru).
And for all of the early shenanigans (including Utaha's news frisky attempt to bed Tomoya), the episode does eventually get back to its focus. Megumi doesn't fail to notice how suddenly and intensely the girls get to business on fine-tuning their sides of the game when they are inspired by one of the themes that Michiru has written for the game and how they can quickly forget their romantic differences and work collaboratively when sufficiently inspired. Tidbits like that are what sustain the series much more than any romantic attempts towards Tomoya, who, annoyingly, still clearly can't handle girls in a romantic sense – especially if he's not in control of the situation. The technical merits also maintain the fairly high standards set by the first season, including the peculiar idiosyncrasies of the character designs.
So basically, the simple review here is “more of the same.” This definitely isn't one of the better episodes to date, but it does its job well enough (or at least doesn't screw up badly enough) that it shouldn't drive away any established franchise fans.
This is the third sequel I've taken a look at this season, and it earns the same basic praise as My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan: Saekano is back, and its defining qualities are still intact. In this case, that means fanservice. So much of it, in fact, that this episode acts as the same kind of fanservice-focused prologue that we got at the beginning of season one. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing will likely depend on your reasons for watching the series.
The self-referential humor also returns in full force, launching into a thinly veiled debate over whether or not the show deserved a sequel in the first minutes of the episode. Other topics of discussion include the importance of swimsuit scenes and the value of the “childhood friend” status to a character's appeal. If you enjoyed this style of humor in the first season, this return to form should be good news. If it made you want to pull your hair out, then it doesn't look like life will get any easier going forward.
The show's production values remain a consistent strong point, even if they are focused primarily on girls in bikinis. Characters stay on model, motion is fluid, and the background art boasts a respectable amount of detail considering that most of the audience's attention will likely be directed elsewhere. The animation quality is a bigger deal than it would be in many shows, since you can't make sex appeal a central pillar of a series without strong visuals to back it up. The direction does get a bit leery at times, so take that into account if overly suggestive camera angles are a deal-breaker for you.
For one brief moment, this episode does actually venture into less frivolous territory. When Eriri and Utaha jump straight into drawing and writing upon hearing the game's background music, we're reminded that this is also supposed to be a show about creative people working together on a project. That's the key piece that's missing from the rest of the episode, and it's what makes this series worth watching for me. If you're looking for a fanservice show that isn't completely brainless, Saekano looks poised to be the best option of the season. It might be best to wait until the “real” first episode, though. This one is a little too single-minded for its own good.
Saekano Flat is not kidding around with the name of this first episode: “Fan Service of Love and Pure Heart.” Okay, maybe not the “pure heart” bit, but they mean it about the fanservice – if you're looking for an episode that shows the girls’ breasts, thighs, and stomachs more than their faces, this is the episode for you. It's a game Saekano has played before; the first episode of season one pulled a similar trick, although there were yukata as the primary garment in that one. This feels much more in-your-face, even as it tries to offset the initial scenes with a meta conversation about how they're getting a second season despite the faults of the previous one. Eriri remarks several times that people who criticized season one are “losers who have forgotten how to enjoy life,” and I guess we're going to have to count me among them, because I truly did not like this episode. (Or season one.)
In part this is almost certainly due to the fact that it is simply not intended for me, but that doesn't always need to be an excuse for not liking something. Instead what the problem is is a combination of dehumanizing the girls while simultaneously using the excuse that they're female to make Michiru's and Utaha's predatory behavior okay, basing it on the assumption that guys will always welcome it – and despite the fact that Tomoya asks them to stop and is clearly uncomfortable, especially when Utaha, upset that he's planning to go home for the night while the girls stay at the hotel, makes up an excuse to lure him back for the express purpose of getting him to spend the night in the room she's secretly reserved for them. Not that this is unusual behavior for the character; when the other girls figure her out and she wonders how, the answer is “because you spent all last season doing this.” Clearly her rivals are not as dim as she thought.
On the plus side, the girls’ bodies are very nicely drawn, and I always admire it when a series recognizes that not everyone has the exact same body type. Megumi is also uncomfortable with the poses Eriri asks her to take, and it seems clear that she's not happy about being objectified, and she points out twice that the fact that she's the “main heroine” is not an excuse Eriri should be using to try to get her to do things. There's also a nice moment of irony when Eriri tells Tomoya to stop staring at the girls because it's gross, when arguably her own gaze has been much more troubling to Megumi than Tomoya's is to anyone, if only because they're actively seeking it.
This really isn't a fair episode to judge season two by. It's called “Episode 0,” and if season one's similar foray into fanservice is any indication, this isn't going to be the norm for the rest of the series. It's too early to say that it's safe to skip this and just start with episode one, but if fanservice of bikini babes isn't your thing, it isn't worth the meta jokes to sit through this.
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