“Game developers know that people have more fun when they’re in large groups. They feel more fired up when the challenges are more epic.” —Jane McGonigal
The first episode to Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata (alternatively known as Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend or Saekano for brevity) cannot considered to be a proper introduction to Saekano, as it drops viewers off in the middle of the visual novel development cycle, during which Tomoya Aki, Megumi Kato, Eriri Spencer Sawamura, Utaha Kasumigaoka, and Michiru Hyodo (Tomoya’s cousin) going on a short trip of sorts to gain inspiration for the locations within their game. An in media res approach seems a little strange for an anime about a small team’s aspirations to make a visual novel, but on closer inspection, dropping viewers in into the midst of things and showcasing the characters as they are after they’ve gotten to know each other a little better through their project. Indeed, the episode emphasises free anatomy and a degree of good-natured ribbing between the characters, suggesting that while there is the possibility for the season to be filled with such, the show’s creators are deciding to get this stuff out of the way first so focus can be directed towards the actual process of assembling a team and building the visual novel itself.
While the first episode (technically the zeroth episode) does not offer very much in the way of letting the audience in on the visual novel process, the characters themselves possess the sort of dynamic that suggests their daily interactions are most amusing, and thus, Saekano appears to be striving to present a parody of most of the anime in the seraglio genre. Eriri and Utaha exhibit archetypes in their personality (tsundere and cold, aloof) of the types of characters this genre is known for, although Tomoya’s focus on creating a visual novel (and outspoken preference for two-dimensions) appears to be defying the sort of story-telling elements that anime of this sort is known for. I’ve heard in some discussions that Saekano is going to be a deconstruction of the harem genre, that the post-modernism will somehow take away from the narrative. This is a very dangerous assumption to make, given that it pre-supposes that Saekano is likely to be a disappointing anime. As noted earlier, Saekano is a parody of the genre, applying meta-humour to create dramatic irony where the characters understand the clichés in such anime, but lack the awareness to understand that they themselves demonstrate characteristics of the clichés that they criticise. In short, no, Saekano is not a deconstruction, nor is there any sign that it’s intended to be thus, and as the series moves forwards, I anticipate a series that will address some of the common elements seen in harem anime, while simultaneously driving humour by having the characters succumb to the very same traits they find irrational.
Screenshots and Commentary
- This may be a fanservice episode and thus, features an above-average number of “interesting” screenshots (four of twenty), but the discussion will nonetheless remain relevant, starting with introductions for all of the characters in Blessing Software, the company that Tomoya starts with the aim of creating a visual novel for Comiket. We’ll start with Eriri Spencer Sawamura (left, glaring at Utaha for insulting her tastes in anime), who is Tomoya’s childhood friend and is most promising painter in the art club. She hides her otaku side and maintains the manner of a refined young lady at school. She is the illustrator for Blessing Software.
- Michiru Hyodo is Tomoya’s cousin. Save her poor performance in academics, she is excels in most things but does not demonstrate a commitment to anything, besides singing her favorite songs and playing the guitar in the band “Icy Tail”. Michiru had a prejudice against otaku culture and wasn’t happy about Tomoya being an otaku until Tokino, Echika and Ranko told her they were all otaku. Michiru composes the music in the game by Blessing Software.
- Utaha Kasumigaoka a young novelist in class 3C. Being the brightest student in the school, most of the students hold her in awe. She is in charge of writing the scenario for the game by Blessing Software, and she refers to Tomoya as “Mr. Ethical” after he declined her suggestion that he read the last volume of Koisuru Metronome before it was published.
- Megumi Kato is Tomoya’s classmate; an ordinary girl with no distinctive character, she is a good-looking girl but otherwise, holds no defining characteristics. She knows little about otaku culture but never keeps Tomoya at arm’s length. Megumi is the model for Meguri, one of the main heroines of the game being produced by Blessing Software.
- Location scouting is a necessary evil for game development, but it is also quite fun in its own right, providing the developers with an excuse to get out and explore. The end result of a proper outing is the inspiration for the game’s settings, and coupled with modern graphics engines, the effects can be quite stunning.
- Saekano, on the other hand, is focusing on the development of a visual novel, and from a strictly semantics perspective, I do not consider a visual novel to be a game on the virtue that the user does not have a significant degree of freedom or control over the paths in the game. Even if a visual novel can have multiple endings, the structure only allows one to read the narrative and make selections. Consequently, a visual novel is a slightly more interactive electronic book.
- I do not anticipate that many would agree with me, but my definition of a proper video game is a piece of software that permits users a degree of control over their in-game avatars (ranging from moving a tennis paddle around to creating entire worlds), has an objective of some kind and usually has a failure condition that causes the game to end. One might counter-argue that visual novels have an objective, but the truth is that players are expected to simply go through the narrative and read it as it happens. Similarly, while picking some choices in visual novels may lead to so-called “bad ends”, this is an ending in the game, rather than a failure condition (such as running out of health, failing to complete an objective, running out of resources, etc).
- Thus, it is not necessary to consult the literature for citations on whether or not visual novels are games: under my definition, they lack the defining characteristics of a game and handle more like an elaborate electronic book with music, save options and branching storylines. With that being said, some visual novels are exceptionally well-done (CLANNAD, for instance) and definitely merit multiple readings.
- Apparently, Michiru also enjoys performing suplexes on Tomoya and then pinning him down in some sort of fashion, while Megumi observes quietly in the distance. Earlier, Utaha attempts a “simulated” love confession on Tomoya, before being interrupted by Eriri. This opening episode appears to demonstrate that Utaha, Eriri and possibly Michiru have some sort of ongoing rivalry for Tomoya’s feelings, although whether or not this indeed holds true will be seen as the series proper progresses.
- Pong is a real game, provided that it allows for player interaction, has a well-defined objective (score more than the CPU or your opponent) and has an ending condition (when ten points is reached). While Pong (1972) is hardly the first video game to have ever existed, it is one of the earliest successful video games and contributed greatly to the popularity of modern games. The earliest known video game (interactive) was built in the late 1940s: known as the “Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device”, this game was a missile simulator inspired by radar displays from World War II and timed users as they tried to shoot down missiles (each of the parameters, interactivity, a well-defined objective, and failure conditions are all satisfied).
- The artwork in Saekano shifts occasionally to a different style, giving these scenes different colouration compared to what is typically seen elsewhere. It’s not particularly distracting, although I wonder if these scenes have any significance (for instance, in True Tears, scenes often transitioned to watercolours whenever a powerful emotion is being felt).
- I’ll get around to introducing Tomoya in the next post on my impression of Saekano after three episodes: this opening episode has only seen Tomoya as the developer who’s gotten into some curious situations, and as such, his character isn’t truly explored yet. Conversely, the female characters’ personalities have been fleshed out through their interactions with one another and Tomoya.
- Judging from Eriri and Michiru’s reactions to Utaha’s suggestion of doing “something” in solitude, I’d say that something interesting lies on the two’s minds. However, Tomoya is all business, and soon sets about sorting the day’s photos.
- I make it a point to never work so late that I fall asleep in front of the computer, and in fact, I tend to call it an evening after eleven. The latest I’ve ever worked on an assignment were for my medical research methodologies, computer science and honours thesis courses. Recently, as a TA, I’ve noticed an inflow of emails during the night hours before an assignment’s deadline and constantly wonder why the questions don’t come the nights before.
- However, Tomoya’s rest is rudely interrupted when the others barge into his room, incapacitate him and ask why he pushes them to the limits without any rewards. Since Tomoya is not the Batman, he has no means of escape, and despite giving an honest, focused answer consistent with what developers might say, the girls have other plans for him.
- While Tomoya is monologuing about creating a polished final product, the other girls settle something in the background with a game of rock-paper-scissors, and Utaha manages to win. It’s implied that they’ve consumed alcoholic candies ahead of time, and judging from Utaha’s reaction, she’s into Tomoya (either that, or it’s the EtOH acting).
- What Utaha does to Tomoya is left ambiguous, and it invokes this reaction in Eriri, whose expression screams envy. From my end, I didn’t see anything…ever and only hear Tomoya’s scream of absolute terror. The dialogue isn’t particularly helpful with respect to conveying what’s happening, either, but I guess it’s better that viewers don’t see what’s happening.
- There’s a full season’s worth of risqué material packed into the space of twenty four minutes, and at the last moment, Megumi intervenes to spare Tomoya from certain humiliation. In regards to why posts have been infrequent, this has been because I’ve spent most of my time on my coursework, teaching and thesis work. After a brunch at Cora’s (having breakfast for lunch is quite entertaining) with friends today, I spoke with my supervisor, and it seems that my next goal after getting RNA translation working, is to create several signalling pathways for more content and begin considering how my software will work with the Oculus Rift and the CAVE.
- Beyond the thesis, there’s also the matter of learning about agent-based systems for simulating robot rescues, finishing the marking of various assignments and preparing next week’s lesson plans. My schedule is plenty busy, but thanks to the respite offered by reading week, I’ve been able to make good progress on my work and catch up on enough anime to write about them.
- I’m a fan of Megumi’s gentle voice: Kiyono Yasuno plays her, and to my knowledge, I’ve only seen one other anime she’s played a role in. This would be Tina Kobayakawa of Wake Up, Girls!, one of the members of the I-1 Club. I’ve now got a small marathon to pull off so I can reach the third episode; the talk for said episode will focus on the game-development aspects, especially in regard to the beginning. Future posts also include those for the Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou and Ano Natsu de Matteru OVAs, as well as the Expelled from Paradise movie.
As the first episode draws to a close, and the series proper begins, it’s logical to anticipate that the Saekano‘s first episode proper (namely, episode two) will deal with how Tomoya’s project begins, and how he manages to recruit Eriri, Utaha, Megumi and Michiru into his project. Even in this first episode, the character’s interactions suggest a team that is marginally holding together, although it is noteworthy that they’d gotten as far as this episode has portrayed. How they settle their differences and find value in Tomoya’s project, then cooperate towards creating a visual novel for publication at the Comiket, is a story I am quite curious to see. With the fanservice components depicted straight off the bat, this would (presumably) allow the remainder of Saekano to focus on these problems.