Japanese Title: Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata
Related: Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend .flat (sequel – included in review)
Similar: The World God Only Knows
The Pet Girl of Sakurasou
Watched in: Japanese
Length: 25 episodes (2 seasons)
- Episode 0s.
- Proper challenges in creative professions.
- Can’t focus.
- Too much harem filler.
- Becomes what it parodies too often.
It’s no secret that trash overwhelmingly populates the harem genre. It’s also common knowledge that harem is mainstream among anime fans, as a harem entry hits the charts each season. Fans also forget them just as quickly when the next season throws a new batch of waifus to pick from.
Harem anime is the easiest genre to make and thus floods the new release list every few months. To stand out from the orgy, studios select series that can bait the reader in, whether through an all-monster-girl cast, picking up girls in a dungeon, or making every girl be the guy’s teachers. A-1 Pictures’ gamble to go meta-harem with Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend paid off, wedging it between the breasts of fellow harems The Testament of Sister New Devil (what is this name?) and Absolute Duo in that season’s top 10. Parodying the genre elevates you above the genre, yes? Well, let’s find out.
Saekano follows high school otaku Tomoya in his dream to make the most compelling harem visual novel. To this task, he recruits illustrator Eriri, bestselling author Utaha, and boring girl Megumi as model for the main character. However, to tap into the emotions required for a compelling visual novel, he and his ‘super team’ must experience these emotions themselves.
So, the excuse for a harem this time is the creation of the visual novel, where 99% of harem anime come from, which is a better excuse than most. The characters comment on the harem – get down with the meta – in the process of crafting the game characters, writing the story, and designing the illustrations, often to comedic results. Episode 0 is full meta, as it assigns each character a role in the harem anime – think of a harem LARP. This Episode 0 deceptively sets up the idea that Saekano is a meta harem, which is not the case, as it’s more of a workplace anime like Shirobako and New Game before it then becomes an ordinary harem.
Giving the characters jobs that drive their progression is a nice addition. (Ever notice how most harem characters do nothing in life?) Even so, Tomoya isn’t much more interesting than your average harem protagonist. He’s about light novel protagonist level. The greatest missed opportunity lies in Megumi. It would have been much more interesting if she were nothing like the ‘boring girlfriend’ archetype required for the game. Instead, make her the opposite but have to act like the generic harem main girl. What we have is an unironic bland girl with no arc, whose main purpose is to create the clickbait title of the anime.
The third act of season one introduces Tomoya’s cousin, a musician, whom he recruits to compose music for the game. Up to this point, most episodes focused on each character’s role (Saekano still uses the harem structure of ‘let each girl have their turn’). When the cousin enters, it’s her turn to jump Tomoya and there’s nothing meta or ironic about the cousin-cest. The usual accidental flashing, towel drops, no boundaries, and shallow titillation fill the screen time. Saekano becomes the cliché it’s supposedly parodying. Season one is a bore.
Funnily enough, season two opens with new meta about the first season, mocking it as boring and clichéd. “How did such a generic anime get a second season?” And Saekano sees a marked improvement from there. Work takes centre stage with serious conflict. The team struggles with finding the answers to what will make for a compelling game in the face of deadlines. Eriri and Utaha also receive an offer to work on a professional project. This creates Saekano’s best moment, when Tomoya has to face the reality that he isn’t cut out to lead a team of professionals. Eriri and Utaha aren’t amateurs, yet he treats them as such, not demanding of them the same quality as you would of a professional. For the first time in a harem, the protagonist is punished for being too nice. Progress!
You may be asking yourself about what happened to the meta. Saekano’s core failure is a lack of focus. Is it a harem parody? No, it’s a romance. Wait, no, it’s about finding success in life. Saekano needed to choose one and relegate the others to subplots instead of giving each one main plot time in turn (ironically, just as harem does with its girls). A symptom of this failure is no more evident than when Tomoya fades as protagonist in season two. He becomes a supporting character in his own story! (Not a great loss, if I’m honest.)
Saekano is still above most harem, but only average by other standards, which is far better than anyone should expect.
Art – Low
Saekano uses the style of coloured lines instead of black for character outlines – as seen in Bakemonogatari – but at random, giving characters an off-putting neon glow. A-1 Pictures tried copying Shaft without purpose. Bad CG intrudes at odd times, such as when the author is typing. No artistry either. It really wants you to find these girls sexy with how it pans across anywhere but the face.
Sound – Medium
The acting is fine with nothing outstanding. Music is forgettable.
Story – Medium
A visual novel aficionado convinces a bestselling author, a respected illustrator, and a random girl to join his project of creating the best harem visual novel. A lack of focus holds this story back, though still succeeds in parts.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For harem fans only. Saekano’s meta humour and effort at conflict make a more interesting anime than the usual harem. Its faults still confine it to the genre.
Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)