Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend
Sub.Blu-Ray - Set 1
Tomoya Aki is an all-around otaku and proud of it. He is devoted to his 2D girls to the point where he ignores the live ones throwing themselves at him until the day he has an encounter with Megumi Kato, a classmate he had never noticed before. He realizes that she is the perfect heroine for the gal-ge he aspires to create, and he recruits her to his cause, along with childhood friend (and secret yuri doujin artist) Eriri and cool upperclassman Utaha (who is a secret light novelist). Tomoya knows just how he wants the game to go and how Kato should be acting, so why is everything suddenly so complicated?
In some ways it would have been better had Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend, adapted from the light novels of the same name by Fumiaki Maruto, saved episode zero for the end of the series' run. The plot of the series is how otaku Tomoya Aki desperately wants to create a tear-jerking visual novel (in the specific gal-ge genre) but his projected heroine and helpers just don't seem to share or understand his vision for it…or he doesn't understand at all what goes into actually creating such a game. It's all very metafictional, and episode zero, which presumably takes place closer to the end of the series, as it is mentioned that six months have elapsed since they got together, plays hard with the idea of life mimicking games. Unfortunately it can also be a turn-off for some viewers, since a large part of the metafiction is established by the girls talking about ridiculous objectification or misunderstandings while the camera hugs their bodies and they are put into a variety of sexual situations much more explicit than anything that happens in the five episodes of the main story that make up the rest of this two-disc set. Add to that a very uncomfortable scene of one of the staple fantasies – being (sexily) assaulted by multiple amorous females – and you have an episode that not only doesn't really reflect the show, but also risks driving viewers away. While it does have its place in the metafictional aspects of Saekano, it also does more harm than good for the overall series.
Not that the series is without its issues, but it generally handles the idea of life vs game better than the introduction does. The story follows Tomoya Aki in his quest to not only make the visual novel of his dreams, but also to make the girl he has pegged as his heroine, Megumi Kato, fit into his mold of the perfect heroine. While this certainly has its disturbing aspects – why must Megumi actually be the heroine instead of just being the inspiration for her? – it also allows for some amusing commentary about how game heroines act and the disconnect between fiction and reality for Tomoya. Megumi is not only the voice of reason in the show, she's also the one character who refuses to play to type. Tomoya embraces his role as the obsessive otaku, loudly proclaiming his loyalty to 2D women as he ignores the girls in front of him (and making up important childhood promises on the spot, which is one of the funnier aspects of the show), while his pig-tailed blond half-British childhood friend Eriri denies her tsundere status like a true tsundere; even her denial is a sign of her espousal of the type. Meanwhile upperclassman Utaha maintains her “cool” attitude at all times, filling her dialogue with sly insinuations that perfect reflect her role as the beautiful but slightly mature and mysterious older woman. The only one who keeps acting off-model, so to speak, is Megumi, whose dry statements combined with her virtually unnoticeable presence keep Tomoya, and the storyline, off balance.
This may, of course, be why Tomoya is both attracted her and denying that attraction in the first place. Megumi forces him out of the otaku mold he has devoted himself to, so in remaking her as a perfect (boring?) heroine, he is desperately trying to hold on to the identity he has crafted for himself. This does appear to be borne out in episode zero, when he becomes vastly uncomfortable with the antics of the other girls and escapes with Megumi. Within these episodes, however, we really only get hints of that, and the loudly self-aware nature of both the show and the characters detract from any actual character development and, indeed, any real plot advancement.
Fortunately the series does look very nice, with care taken to animate everyone's distinctive way of moving and attractive character designs. There seem to be a disproportionate amount of crotch shots, where the camera just rests on a character's lower torso for no apparent reason, but that may just stand out because there is far more talking than action in the show. Nice care has been taken with background details, and many familiar faces can be seen on posters and figures in Tomoya's room, to say nothing of the reference to Kimagure Orange Road in the scene where Tomoya first meets Megumi. Subtitles tend to switch from the top to the bottom of the screen much more frequently than in other shows, and while it is fairly certain that this is to avoid obscuring characters' mouths when they're speaking, it does get disconcerting, and if you're not a fast reader, it can lead to having to rewind or pause to see the full line if there's been a sudden switch. Some of the best lines, however, don't need subtitles – Tomoya's voice actor, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, does a tremendous job with weird gasps, grunts, and other bizarre noises.
As is usual for an Aniplex of America release, there are only six episodes on two blu-ray discs included in the box set. The box itself is one of the better illustrated ones, with very little blank space and a nice shine to the images, and the six postcards included as a bonus, mostly illustrations but with two anime images, are also lovely. That's it for extras, however, as the only on-disc bonuses are the original web previews for the next episodes (which are a bit longer than average previews) and clean versions of the opening and ending. Of course, if you like to keep your sets pristine, then AoA's habit of putting the entire set in a re-sealable plastic bag is a nice bonus.
Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend's first half is a combination of hit and miss. Parts of the metafictional aspect are amusing, but others are far too heavy and drag the story down, and the story itself really doesn't go anywhere in these episodes. It looks nice, yes, but the endless talking and playing to character type can get grating, and I really feel like there should have been more plot advancement with only six episodes to go. Saekano is nice to look at, but in terms of storyline and holding interest, it leaves something to be desired.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : C+
+ Generally attractive art, some fun metafictional commentary. Nice background details and references to both other series and things like the stock answers authors give to basic questions in interviews.
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