I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hyped for Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata (Saekano for short) at the start of winter 2015. It’s a shiny new adaptation of Fumiaki Maruto’s light novel series – the same Fumiaki Maruto who wrote White Album 2, which got an anime around a year and a half ago. He also wrote Parfait and Sekai de Ichiban NG na Koi – both of which I’ve seen glowing reviews of. Naturally, I’d expect Saekano to be something close to his work in eroge.
I probably should’ve listened to the warning signs. Certain Maruto fans on Twitter had already panned the show and the LN for being self-gratifying otaku humor. People who have watched the first two episodes called the show obnoxious for having snarky commentary on its clichés while also indulging in them.
But let’s give credit where it’s due: Saekano isn’t complete trash. I would probably be more forgiving of the show if it were: it’s easier to let go of a show that’s a total failure than a show that flubbed with its great ideas. There are two things that Saekano did well in portraying: the relationship between consumer and creator, and the character of Katou Megumi. Let’s start with the former.
Episode 6 of Saekano is the first episode where I thought the show was being genuine. The episode frames Utaha as the creator and Tomoya the consumer, and the show asks: how far should an author go to in trying to please their readers? And I feel that the show gave a good answer to the question: fans want something that the creator wrote, not something that would go with their expectations. The framing of the scene was even reminiscent of White Album 2: two high school kids throwing their emotions at each other under the snow might be a clichéd scene, but if there’s anyone who can make it work, it’s Fumiaki Maruto.
Episode 9 is another good episode that gave Eriri much-needed characterization past her generic tsundere shtick. This time, the show asks why a creator, well, creates works for fans – for whose sake are they putting out content? Again, the show frames this question with Tomoya as the consumer and Eriri as the creator: does Eriri draw so she can get better for her fans, or does she just draw to satisfy herself and stay where she is? Eriri finds her foot forward when she decides to get better at drawing to win over Tomoya and satisfy her fans. The show doesn’t give a complete answer, but it gave her character a push forward.
Ultimately, I think Saekano’s best point is Katou Megumi’s character: the deadpan non-otaku who joins the group as the “main heroine”. There’s no mistaking that the title’s “boring heroine” refers to Katou: the show keeps referring to her as having “no character” and a “half-assed personality”. On the contrary, her character doesn’t conform to the show’s pre-established archetypes: even though she doesn’t stand out within the show, Katou is perhaps the most memorable character because she’s not a generic archetype. And this is what I think the show was trying to accomplish with Katou: characters should be people, and not just generic archetypes.
Tomoya: “But I just want to always be myself.”
Eriri: “That’s impossible. Everyone has a secret side to them.”
Tomoya: “But… Katou doesn’t, does she? She’s a non-otaku, but even when mixed up with us otaku, she stayed exactly the same as she was, right?”
It’s an insightful conversation, only to be cut short by Eriri acting like the stock tsundere archetype. Saekano knows that Katou stands out the most among the characters, and it knows that characters that follow archetypes like Eriri need to have more than their shallow character traits. The show demonstrates a degree of awareness of its clichés – it knows that its characters are generic archetypes, and Katou serves as a direct contrast to them. But that’s where it stops – it’s satisfied at being aware of its clichés, but never does anything to rise up above them. Even worse, the show’s title and all of the show’s characters want Katou to become one of them: a generic character who talks and responds to situations with nothing but stock phrases. It’s hypocritical and obnoxious – in short, it’s a show that gives advice and chooses not to follow it.
But I would’ve been okay with the show if it had stopped there. Instead, Episode 10 onwards indulges in all the trashy tropes that it comments on. Episode 10 throws all subtlety out of the window and pours male gaze all over the show, not to mention indulging in classy humor such as flashing a girl. It’s not even the more sensual kind of fanservice like episode 6’s Utaha scene where she puts on her stockings. It’s the point where the show stops trying and just revels in all the trashy LN tropes we all “love” and “cleverly” comments on all of them. This show is completely in love with itself and all of the trashy things that it comments on.
The bottom line: if you’re watching this because you heard it was by White Album 2’s author, don’t bother. If you’re watching this expecting a trashy, fanservice-y show, you’re better off watching an actual trashy, fanservice-y show, because shows like those don’t bother pretending that they’re not trashy, fanservice-y crap. Saekano is obnoxious, hypocritical, and pretentious. Avoid it like the big, stinky turd that it is.