For those unaware, I do actually have posts on both seasons of Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata (or SaeKano), as well as its movie finale. This is why I marked this as a “re-watch” in the title and didn’t for Sakurasou before this.
This is a series I remember being rather fond of. The way it played with the tropes of its genre and the spirit of its character roster were a cut above the rest upon first viewing. My younger mind was impressed by the self-awareness of the script and how it seemed to poke fun at itself with most situations, even if it was also heavily indulging in sexual fan service all the while.
I am no longer a “noob” with anime. I’ve seen close to 500 series at this point in my life. Plus, I’m no longer as cynical (I hope?). If anything, the expectation would be that I can appreciate the series all the more upon re-watch, right? …Right?
“The life of Tomoyo Aki, a highschool otaku working part time to support his BD hoarding. With remarkable luck, he bumps head-first into Megumi Kato, the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. Naturally, the meeting twists his life into a complicated torrent of relationships. Eriri Spencer Sawamura, his half-foreigner childhood friend who’s always valued her relationship with MC. Kasumigaoka Utaha, a cold, composed renowned literary genius who shoves everyone aside from our protagonist. What is this? An eroge introduction?
“The tale of a small not quite doujin circle, but not quite indie studio’s journey through the tough territory of comiket and beyond.“
If the title wasn’t clear enough, I viewed both the first and second season of the series (though did not re-watch the sequel film). As such, I will be discussing both intermittently throughout, though I’ll specify when I’m addressing which.
To make my opinion known without further delay, this ended up being a fairly poor re-watch. Much of what I was initially fond of now only gives off a very hollow and narcissistic aura. Unfortunately, SaeKano suffers quite a bit from being just self-aware enough to poke fun at itself without being self-aware enough to really say anything in the meantime.
In my initial impressions of the first season in particular, I stated that the quality fluctuates wildly as it continues, eventually settling into a groove past the halfway point and becoming enjoyable by the end. This time around, it is the opposite trajectory: quality still fluctuates, but past the halfway point, it continues to sink. For me, it all boils down to a single obsession with doing exactly what you’re poking fun at.
Indeed, the ol’ “You cannot have your cake and eat it, too” perspective. SaeKano makes it fairly clear early on that it has enough knowledge of otaku culture and the negative attributes behind stereotypical obsessives addicted to dating sims and how they view the world. The male lead is very much an archetype as much as he is a driving force. Essentially all characters are archetypes, even the “normal” character in Kato is “normal” in the sense that she’s a propped sort of “normal” that still seems unrealistic.
Yet it doesn’t really do much with this outside of vaguely acknowledging that it’s all been done before. Great, you have a scene where the male lead goes on a possessive rant over the “normal” girl changing her hairstyle—laugh at how absurd he’s being. A couple characters break the fourth wall by saying things like, “I was hardly in the last episode, so I’m here now.” How witty!
And of course, since this is a harem, those interested in the male lead keep making cryptic hints at their interest, hoping he’ll eventually pick up on it. He never does. In one scene, the “normal” girl asks him to read out a line from a script that goes something like, “You dense-headed, oblivious protagonist!” Wow, an acknowledgement that the writer is aware of tropes! Please award them with their trophy for writing.
Antagonistic as I sound now, this is more a result of having to sit through an anime with writing that gives off “:^)” energy occasionally, only to then try and create an emotional environment one can take seriously that seems… unearned. For clarity, most of the interpersonal drama comes from the effort and stress necessary to make a game… which is sort of glossed over. (Shirobako, this is not.) This series is definitely not afraid to become dramatic, oft times overly so.
To almost go against what I’ve put thus far, the characters of SaeKano aren’t really terribly written as people. They’re archetypes, sure, though they have enough ambition and personality to make them at least likable. I liked how straightforward Kato was, and Utaha at least tries to be a fairly complex person. Though with the harem nature of the series, a lot of the time they devolve into a sort of “I do everything for this person so they will notice me” trap that reeks of adhering to what it tries to poke fun at.
Remember with Sakurasou a few days ago when I said the series was pretty gross for sexualizing a middle schooler? SaeKano‘s like, “Sup.” Ohhhhh, boy, does this series like showing off the skin of its characters. (It even shows the male lead naked.) After a certain point, too, (roughly halfway), it goes super over-the-top with it. What was initially subtle (shots of legs in stockings, various “interesting angles”) evolves into outright showcasing teenage girls in the bath, in loose clothing, underwear, etc.
While one can debate upon the genuineness of poking fun at otaku culture, I believe it pretty clear that the sexual fan service is there to be there. Nothing about it has anything to say about the nature of Japanese media sexualizing underaged girls or adhering to various gender roles. It’s a “feature” of the series, because that’s just how it is. So please enjoy these multiple close-up shots of a young teenager’s developing breasts underneath her tight school uniform. You’re welcome.
I’ve been speaking pretty generally for a while. Note that a lot of the things I’ve been addressing can be attributed to both seasons of the series, as they’re fairly similar to each other. To be more precise, the second season in marginally better due to one saving grace: letting go.
Without spoiling the specifics, the ending episodes of the second season are more captivating if only because they speak to a more creative process of self-improvement. It actually warrants the amount of drama (usually) attached to the characters’ situations as artists, particularly those with great talent as has been shown. It’s something that usually isn’t addressed with series of this type and provides a nice “ending” for those within the group. They feel more like people.
The rest of the season is pretty similar to the first one, though…
All right, art and audio time… uh… they’re fine. SaeKano does this thing where the visuals will color-code themselves specific colors to highlight a character’s… cheekiness? Inner feelings? I don’t know, they sort of do it at random and it seems maybe a tad inspired by Shaft works. There’s quite a bit of bad-looking CGI background models in shots, as well as some notable shortcuts in the first few episodes of the first season. Really puts a nice gleam on girls’ private areas, that’s for sure.
Vocally, I think Eriri’s performer did the best job if only because she had a more expressive character that flip-flopped between eccentric and serious. One could say this about the male lead, too, but he sounded a little tryhard at times. (Not to mention, his ranting voice is grating.) Kato’s performer is kind of funny based on how little emphasis there was to her voice at all. It sounded almost like Princess Peach.
I used to like SaeKano. Now, I don’t. Can’t say much for the sequel film, since I seemed to like it when it released and that was only two years ago. When it comes to the parent series, however, there’s simply too much tonal inconsistency to know what to do with. By the end of the first season, I was just bored. Though the second season’s ending fared better, it was a whole lot of nothing but cheeky references and skimmed over effort that wanted to be all sorts of things at once. And sexual fan service.
Maybe it’d be better as a dating sim.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.
For more anime reviews, check out the associated archive.
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Thank you for your time. Have a great rest of your day.