Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend
by Theron Martin,
Since its first regular episode Saekano has regularly been flirting with greatness, but through episodes 1-5 it wasn't quite getting there. With episode 6 everything finally clicks into place, and the results are marvelous. The series does it with an episode where all but the last minute or so focuses on just two characters, but that last minute featuring the other two main characters puts an extra gloss on what was already a shining achievement.
At the end of last episode, Tomoya abandoned Megumi towards the end of his date with her after realizing something important about Utaha, whom he eventually finds in a hotel in this episode. (She is out promoting her newest book.) Circumstances result in him spending the night in her hotel room – with the full approval of Utaha's editor, who is swiftly becoming a great supporting component in a bit part – but despite a lot of sexual tension in the air, the two wind up just talking and going over game plot threads most of the night. In the process we also get some flashbacks into the backstory that Tomoya has with Utaha, including how they met and became acquainted.
As simple as that description sounds, the way it actually plays out is far more loaded and meaningful. The flashbacks lay out a compelling and surprisingly cheese-free case for how the two could have met in such a way that Utaha could have come to value Tomoya: he showed up at one of her book signings, and the intensity and thoroughness of Tomoya's passion for her writing caught her interest, to the point that she started tweaking her writing to seek his approval. The reason she has been upset with him for the past few months, which is also the reason why she has been scathingly calling him Mr. Ethical, is connected to that: he turned down an opportunity to offer his approval on a manuscript tailored with him in mind because he wanted to see her pure vision for the world, not one written just to pander (even if it was to him). That is a view that I can deeply emphasize with, as I also would rather see a writer produce something that I might not be able to conceive of than a work which exactly matches my expectations, and that seemed to be an eye-opener for Utaha, too. While that scene would seem to make ironic a later scene where Tomoya is talking about what changes he wants Utaha to make to the game scenario, I am not convinced that irony was actually intended, as the writing is careful to delineate a project like a novel from a more collaborative effort like a game. Instead it feels more like a rebuttal of a trend of fan commentary and reaction having a deep effect on the creative process in light novels. The metafictional aspect also comes through, albeit a little more subtly this time, as a discussion at one point about the merits of a character in the game remaining tied to the past vs. only looking to the future is also clearly intended to mirror Tomoya's own relationship statuses. Utaha's unvoiced frustrations over Megumi seeming to steal Tomoya away from her also come out in one amusing scene of Utaha's frenzied irritation over the character that she is writing.
All of that is handled so well that it almost completely overshadows the return of the fan service. Baiting audiences into thinking something sexy might actually happen is a long-time harem ploy, but this one pursues the baiting more earnestly than most, which combines with a judiciously absent musical score to create some real tension; in fact, her teasing aside, there is a very real sense that Utaha would go through with stepping up their relationship if Tomoya was ready for it, too. Between that, a shower scene, and spending close to half the episode in a bath robe, Utaha gets to show off a fair amount of skin and figure, even a brief panty shot. What little of it comes off as pandering is timed in such a way as if to be symbolic of the way Tomoya is trying to infuse pandering elements into his game.
And then there's finishing touch, a final post-credits scene with Eriri and Megumi. What makes it special? Simple: it's the first time we see a genuine reaction that shakes up Megumi's placid personality. As much as she takes everything else in stride, Tomoya ditching her clearly breaks through her mundane shell.
Still no sign of the final couple of cast members yet, but with quality at this level, there's no rush.
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