Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend – Anime Review

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

Welcome to the NHK

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Harem Ecchi Comedy Romance

Length: 25 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Episode 0s.
  • Proper challenges in creative professions.

Negatives:

  • Can’t focus.
  • Too much harem filler.
  • Becomes what it parodies too often.

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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.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Incoherent

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11 thoughts on “Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend – Anime Review”

  1. I would use the typical “YoU jUsT dIdNt GeT iT” argument, but I’m not a spiteful asshole. : ]

    As much as I liked the series, the emphasis on a lack of focus is definitely prevalent. The biggest flaw to the series in my eyes is how fluctuating its quality from episode to episode is, never really focusing on one central theme. The last few episodes of the second season are probably the most consistently good batches.

    Like

  2. While I have to say that I quite enjoyed this series, especially most of the characters (Tomoya was by far the least interesting), I can certainly understand your criticisms of the show as it is tough to pin down really what type of series it wants to be. I would disagree on minor point I do think Megumi actually does have a character arc culminating when she tells Tomoya off in season 2. You see her slowly becoming a member of the group after being just along for the ride in the beginning and by the end she really cares about what happens to everyone. Overall though a nice review, thanks for sharing your thought son this series!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did think of Megumi telling Tomoya off in the end, but it serves to advance him more than it does herself. She needs something of her own, perhaps finding a meaningful goal such as training to become a voice actress (keeps in line with her role on the VN team) or some such. A good supporting character will convey a sense that they have a life even if the protagonist doesn’t exist.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is indeed a fair point, I hadn’t really thought of that scene quite in that way before. Maybe that scene does something for both characters- for me Megumi certainly did change from the beginning to the end of the series. I certainly saw her differently after that scene. Maybe that was the author’s goal for her character- she hadn’t really had a voice in the beginning but by the end she was one of the leaders of the group in my opinion. I will agree though that the scene does benefit Tomoya and is turning point for him.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Damn I really do wish that I can spoil you but your hunch is exactly right. By the 12th volume Megumi is no longer a flat girl. The story also goes to touch on Megumi’s missed opportunity that you have pointed out. While she doesn’t obviously become a seiyuu, she does “something” Tomoya never asks of her.

        And yes, it also becomes more romantic in every way for Megumi but absolutely the other way around for Utaha and Eriri…

        Liked by 1 person

      1. They are ONA released on the internet haha!

        I’m glad you picked up on its flaws. I love this show very much (given by how much I’ve written about thus show) but even then I don’t go out to recommend it to anyone; just rom-com and harem fans in general.

        Liked by 1 person

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