Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend Flat
Episodes 0-2

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 0 of
Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend Flat ?

How would you rate episode 1 of
Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend Flat ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend Flat ?

After two full years off, Saekano is back in anime form with a sequel that I never expected we would actually see. The first season definitely left room for a continuation to be sure, as the whole gang was finally assembled but the story definitely wasn't complete; the game production that had been driving the plot still had yet to be completed, and its Winter Comiket debut was still a couple months off. However, I guess I never got the impression that the series was that successful. Just goes to show how enamored the Japanese fanbase still is with otaku meta-commentary, I guess.

I generally had a high opinion of the first season, but upon revisiting the series and all its peculiarities, I've found that my appreciation for its style had soured a bit over time. Some of that is doubtless because there have been other excellent “meta” series to come out since then, ones that managed to tell a strong story without being purely about their “meta” appeal (Re:Zero, for instance), but I also think that this second season suffers from hugely unfortunate timing. It's coming out in the same season as Re: Creators, another story indulging heavily in the “meta” world of otakudom in a much more creative, cutting-edge, and accessible fashion. Watching these two develop side-by-side should be interesting indeed, but it's a comparison that heavily favors Re: Creators at the moment.

That's partly because the second season of Saekano falls back on established tricks rather than doing anything fresh. It once again pulls the stunt of starting with what would otherwise be a fanservice-laden OVA episode, even if this pool scenario is the next part of the story chronologically. (The trip is supposedly to get suitably sexy images for Megumi, although it naturally leads to all kinds of swimsuit shenanigans.) The next episode then spends the bulk of its time flashing back about 18 months, when Eriri and Utaha first encountered each other in high school. Much of what happened here has already been implied to one degree or another, but this episode gives a fuller picture of how their rivalry got started, and how it's mostly been over Aki to some degree. For all of their sniping at each other, both girls have recognized each other's talents from the beginning. This episode also more firmly establishes how Utaha came to be attracted to Aki; he could talk to her openly and enthusiastically about her writing, something she apparently hadn't really experienced before. Then episode 2 (the third episode) primarily concerns a day-long date Utaha drags Aki on to to celebrate finishing the game's writing, which agitates Eriri to no end. The alternate path she provides for the ending gives Eriri even bigger fits, because it would require wholesale changes in the art if Aki decides to accept it.

Whereas these first two episodes are mostly unremarkable, the third one is where the first season's better aspects start to show. There's still plenty of self-aware dialogue in the first two episodes about standard stereotypes and tropes playing out, as well as several bitingly cynical potshots; “even if our works were created out of revenge or calculation, if [the consumers] are moved by it, they lose” speaks to some running commentary about manipulating the audience with fiction, for instance, and a separate debate could probably be had about that conversation alone. However, the third episode is where the real story movement takes place. Aki never seems to appreciate that his day on the town with Utaha is a date, but he does finally seem to be understanding that Utaha and Eriri are trying to force him to make some very difficult choices. They aren't going to let him be wishy-washy anymore, as battle lines are being drawn about the future, and Aki's desire to maintain the status quo isn't going to be feasible for much longer. I'm happy to see the story push in this direction, though I'm not going to hold my breath over the hard choice actually being made. Besides, we still have Megumi in the picture to make her cutting commentary, and Michiru is still theoretically around, though she doesn't appear at all in the episodes after the fanservice premiere.

The artistry is still up to its same tricks, for better or worse; if the gimmickry involving the red eye lining and occasional texture shifts irked you in the first season, you're in for more of it here. The camera's avoidance of showing faces during conversations to obsess over the girls' hips and other parts instead has also returned; if some other artistic point is intended with that choice, then I'm missing it. At least those lower angles do allow us to see that while Utaha might outwardly project calm, she tends to let her frustration show in her leg and foot movements. I would also swear that the overall artistic quality has taken a dip since last season, as incidents where the artistry degrades seem to be much more frequent. But it's been two years, so perhaps I'm not remembering the flaws in the original clearly enough.

Fanservice aside, this second season is off to a decent but not especially exciting start. The “flat” in the title is a musical note reference, but unless this season picks up more, it could be an unfortunately accurate label in another sense.

Rating: B-

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend Flat is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.

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