Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend
Sub.Blu-Ray - Set 2
Tomoya is still determined to get his game made, but the arrival of two new girls from his past complicates things, especially with Eriri, who sees herself playing the “oldest childhood friend” role and hopes that Tomoya will ultimately will choose that “route.” Meanwhile, Kato remains as ambivalent as ever about the whole thing (or is she?), Utaha takes every possible opportunity to sow discontent, and they still haven't figured out what to do about music. Will Tomoya manage to get his dream off the ground?
There are risks inherent to making an anime about the creation of another anime-like product. One of them is becoming too absorbed in the intricacies of the process, which Saekano manages to steer clear of. They are not so lucky in dodging a different pitfall: playing with the very tropes they are attempting to recreate in their in-world story. In this case, that's a gal-ge, a specific type of visual novel. Sometimes this works, such as when protagonist Tomoya comments that his male friend hasn't been around for ten episodes and the friend responds with “Six months may be easier to understand,” an amusing reminder to Tomoya that he's playing the protagonist in the anime of his life. Episode six's choppy feel (as opposed to the more typical anime flow) gives off the sensation of being lifted wholesale from a visual novel, which makes the dialogue particularly entertaining. It is less successful when it gets into typifying its characters, with Utaha and Eriri being particularly egregious examples. They're really too textbook in their tropes, particularly Utaha's spiteful-and-sexy attitude where she takes her enjoyment of making people uncomfortable too far. Add to this Eriri's by-the-numbers tsundere schtick, and scenes involving either of them can get irritating very quickly.
Of course, Eriri's tsundere nature is part and parcel of her own otaku persona, which she basically created back in elementary school after she and Tomoya were “outed” as otaku. While he chose to embrace the pejorative, she split herself into two personalities: Eriri the otaku and Eriri the normal girl. Whether or not this led to her tsundere personality by the time the show begins is up in the air. Perhaps this is answered in the source novels, but it certainly gives her an understandable reliance on tropes as a character. For example, when Izumi, a younger (bustier) girl who was also Tomoya's childhood friend and fellow otaku shows up partway through the series, her reaction is to be upset. However, she justifies it by feeling that her “route” with Tomoya has been disrupted. Previous to Izumi's entrance, and later Michiru's, she saw herself as the “best/oldest childhood friend” character. If you've seen much harem anime, you know that this is one of the leading candidates for the hero's heart. At the prospect of Tomoya having older friendships with sexier girls, Eriri feels her role in his life has been usurped, thus lowering her chances of winning him in the end.
This kind of play on genre tropes works in Saekano's favor, but it becomes troubling and far less enjoyable when things turn to Megumi Kato, the girl who inadvertently started all of this by being Tomoya's “ideal” heroine. Since she's the inspiration for the group's game, Tomoya is resistant to her being anything but what he expects; when she changes her hairstyle, he complains because the ponytail no longer works with his image of her. At this point, it becomes very clear that everyone in the show may be working together, but they are all manipulating each other for their own ends. Those ends may be romantic, they may be game-related, but the end result is that who everyone is becomes somehow less important than what they do. Megumi is the only one who appears to actively resist this, quietly learning how to script and going about her own business regardless of what the others are doing. Her insistence on continuing to stick around and actively support/manage the circle implies that she is, in fact, invested in creating the game; she's the voice of reason getting things done in the background despite the rest of the characters. She's not above letting them know when they're being rotten, as we can see when she writes some special dialogue for Tomoya to read or when she reprimands Utaha for harassing Eriri, but by and large she keeps to herself. This gives her the feel of a character who wasn't supposed to be in the otaku parody story but ended up there anyway, and that dynamic works.
This makes one of the show's issues all the more glaring. There is a tendency not to show the girls' faces when they are talking, or at least not to stay on them, in favor of presenting them as a collection of sexualized body parts instead. Once or twice might have been acceptable, but this stylistic choice both persists and grows worse as the series goes on, and by the time Michiru comes in with her preference for skimpy attire, the camera stays glued to her breasts and crotch. Perhaps this is intended to mimic Tomoya's own line of sight, since Michiru's total lack of modesty is surprising to him. Whatever the case, it feels like a way of devaluing the female characters and turning them into sex objects with clichéd personalities instead, less present to help move the plot along and more to be objects for our gaze. It also makes the decision to have Eriri's fang be flesh-colored, as if it were an extension of her lip rather than a tooth, particularly puzzling – why take so much care on everything else about the girls and then cheap out there? Given the high standards to which the art and animation generally adhere, this can easily become a random point of annoyance when everything else looks so beautiful. You can appreciate the artwork even more in the collection of eight postcards included with the seven episodes, four illustrations by Kurehito Misaki and four anime stills. Apart from this, the only other extras, unless you count the lovely box, are the web previews, making this a little scanty for its high price tag.
While there is a conclusion to this series, the finale still leaves plenty of room for a second season and doesn't underplay the amount of work that goes into creating a game. It feels final enough for satisfaction, while not just giving the impression of being an advertisement for the original books, which not every series can pull off. When it's playing with the genre tropes it seeks to mock, such as a fabulous reversal of the old bathroom walk-in trope, Saekano's second half can be a lot of fun. It runs into trouble when it adheres to those very tropes too closely – a pitfall the series isn't quite clever enough to avoid, even as it tries its hardest.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Can be very clever at times when playing with genre standards, good references to other series, great awkwardness between Eriri and Tomoya when it isn't overplayed, looks great
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