The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata: Whole-series review and reflection

“I invite everyone to chose forgiveness rather than division, teamwork over personal ambition.” —Jean-Francois Cope

We’ve discussed an anime about anime production, and it might seem logical to turn our sights towards Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata. Last time, the discussion went in a direction that was less about Saekano; this is an anime talk, rather than my complete disagreement with the choice of terminology that most psuedo-academic reviwers employ in their writings to intimidate. Returning to Saekano, the journey has dealt primarily with the assembly and progress of a raggedy-ass game development team as they learn to cooperate with one another, as well as dealing with their own feelings for Tomoya Aki. Thus, while Saekano might capitalise on Tomoya’s game project, the main story concerns how Blessing Software came to be; beyond just learning the scripting language needed to build a visual novel, viewers see how Utaha and Eriri begin lessening constant rivalry with one another to contribute to this endeaovur, Megumi’s increasing role in the project (beyond that of simply a model for the game’s heroine) anda even Michiru’s acceptance of otaku culture, once she learns that otaku are really just ordinary people with an uncommon passion for anime. Once the season closes off, Tomoya and the others are working towards completing their game; they’ve still got a ways to go, but with Blessing Software now a functional team with members who can work with one another, the conclusion is satisfactory, leaving audiences with the sense that this is a group who will make their objective.

From a larger perspective, Saekano acts as a parody of the entire harem genre: by deliberately introducing a male character whose sights are set on a well-defined objective, Tomoya acts as a juxtaposition for the character he’s writing into his game as the protagonist. Thus, while Tomoya is vaguely aware of how to make his character’s dialogue fit well with that of the game, especially pertaining to love, he is also (most likely deliberately) unaware of Utaha and Eriri’s feelings for him. This dramatic irony, and the fact that Tomoya provides a bit of meta-humour in his interaction with each of Utaha, Eriri, Michiru and Megumi, lends itself to set Saekano apart from the typical harem anime. In this fashion, Saekano can be seen as an animated mockumentary of the otaku community, and of the very archetypes in visual novels, that are immediately recognisable to the audience. This is much welcomed, providing solid humour with respect to the ridiculous situations Tomoya finds himself in, and the fact that he seems to understand their implications better from a fictional context, rather than his own context.

  • Over time, Megumi picks up more manga and visual novels from Tomoya, and finds herself becoming more familiar with his interests. Described as featureless, Megumi’s constantly overshadowed by the other characters in terms of presence, but her down-to-earth, ordinary personality makes her the most friendly of the girls.

  • Four episodes in, and the development process still hasn’t really kicked off: Eriri is having trouble using Megumi as a model owing to the latter’s lack of expressiveness, and Utaha isn’t able to craft a moving narrative. The mood changes dramatically after Tomoya mentions a date of some sort, exemplifying that even early on, Utaha and Eriri at least know of Tomoya and hold some degree of feelings for him.

  • Originally, Megumi was supposed to go to a new shopping mall’s opening with her cousin for some sales, but Tomoya decides to accompany her instead. Here, Tomoya illustrates that his otaku background has allowed him to efficiently manage large crowds and utilise a form of the travelling salesman algorithm to help her out (though it’s never explicitly mentioned, this is what’s being used). She buys him a new pair of glasses as a gesture of appreciation.

  • Utaha’s manager had deliberately arranged for Tomoya to stay with her, and they spend much of the evening working on their game’s narrative. A story gradually takes shape, and Utaha’s typical cold demeanor gives way to a warmer side: she represents the kuudere and in fact, resembles OreGairu‘s Yukino to a great extent, minus her propensity to press herself up against Tomoya, much to the latter’s discomfort.

  • Saekano makes frequent use of camera angles to imply that something indecent is occurring on screen, only to reveal that nothing really happened. Here, Utaha’s snapped an image that suggests she and Tomoya had a close evening together; Tomoya’s scream of despair can be heard a ways away. Utaha’s capacity to troll can be considerable, and she wields a sharp tongue to endlessly irritate Eriri to no end.

  • Megumi pouts after Eriri mentions that Tomoya had terminated their “date” to meet with Utaha, and with her ensuing expression, Eriri is able to capture a “frustrated” image for their game. Compared to a full-on game, a visual novel is much easier to build, given that most of the elements are static: in a standard game, animating 3D meshes for facial expressions is sufficiently complex that making faces and expressions requires dedicated staff.

  • Izumi Hashima is another otaku two years younger than Tomoya; the latter introduced her to anime and games, and deeply grateful to Tomoya for this. Saekano wastes no time in presenting her as someone who’s close to Tomoya, and unsurprisingly, Eriri and Utaha become deeply jealous again. This aspect is played largely for comedy, and while practicality suggests that the one thing to do would be to simply ask Tomoya out, harem anime (and even their parodies) generally maintain the status quo.

  • Iori Hashima is a member of Rouge en rogue, a well-known doujin group, and tries to recruit Eriri by challenging Tomoya to produce a more successful product, with the winner being more qualified to have Eriri as their group’s illustrator. This moment drove up the suspense in Saekano, since it served to raise the stakes, but Eriri subsequently decides that she will continue working with Tomoya.

  • Thanks to Tomoya’s efforts in marketting, Izumi’s doujinshi sells out, and while Tomoya greatly enjoys what Izumi has made, his praise for it also bruises Eriri’s ego, for she feels that he loves her not. It takes another whole episode for the situation to be resolved.

  • Tomoya’s original plan to win back Eriri backfires, and the two directly confront one another as several years’ worth of grudges come to the surface. The childhood friend archetype usually does not go in this direction, and the reason for Eriri distancing herself from Tomoya is credible: she felt that his presence was harming her capacity to befriend anyone else. It is quite interesting to note that, although Eriri is aware of the childhood friend archetype’s limitations, she nonetheless clings to them with the hope of winning Tomoya’s heart.

  • Eriri ultimately resolves to do whatever it takes to earn his approval, in a manner reminiscent of what Utaha had done earlier. With their differences presently settled, Eriri consents to return to Blessing Software as the lead artist, and she requests that Tomoya carries her home, bringing this arc to a close.

  • Upon learning that Michiru is Tomoya’s cousin and has known him for even longer than she had, Eriri is unable to bear Michiru’s presence and is taken aback by how casually Michiru interacts with Tomoya, leaving Eriri green with envy.

  • Megumi has picked up some of the introductory guides to scripting and began contributing to building the game’s underlying mechanics with Eriri of her own volition, surprising Tomoya. The scripting language used to build their game is probably Ren’Py: despite lacking any of the complexity in a full-on game engine, learning even scripting without any programming experience is no walk in the park. As such, Megumi’s decision to take up parts of the game’s programming represents her willingness to commit to Tomoya’s project, extending well beyond her original role of being just a model for the heroine in the game.

  • As it stands, because Megumi’s key defining feature is the lack of any features, she stands out the most of everyone in Saekano as a character for being able to convey her feelings quite directly, with confidence, and even manages to give Tomoya a reminder about the implications of his interactions with Michiru. She gets Tomoya in a way that the others do not, and in a manner of speaking, is probably the person that Tomoya would get along best with out of everyone were they to start dating.

  • Previously, I mentioned that Saekano was not a deconstruction of the harem anime genre owing to its setup, and after this series comes to an end, it’s clear that my assessment, that Saekano is a parody of the aforementioned genre, is correct. Anime bloggers typically are not fully aware of what a deconstruction constitutes and are prone to misusing it: deconstruction asserts that intrinsically, something has no meaning until given context by a reader’s background and experiences based on the individual meanings of the different pieces constituting that particular work.

  • The set of all possible reactions to being tricked has to be more extensive than how Michiru expresses her frustrations regarding the nature of her upcoming performance: by riding the living daylights out of Tomoya. It turns out that her band’s been playing anime songs the entire time, and it surprises her that she’s enjoyed performing anime music to the extent that she did, and it takes a bit of convincing for Michiru to realise that the music can still draw crowds.

  • If TV Tropes is the only knowledge one has on deconstruction, one would define it incorrectly to be “how a particular work of fiction would proceed given the constraints reality might impose on it”, which is completely nonsense (and that’s already with me giving the TV Tropes definition a more focused wording). Deconstruction itself does not exclusively deal with realism, so TV Tropes’ definition should not be regarded as being applicable for anything meaningful. Proper use of deconstruction can result in some interesting discussion, but it also has the potential to exclude the author’s intentions, so participants should take care to incorporate the author’s intent for creating a particular work.

  • A musical performance seems like a suitable way of closing off a series that, and with Michiru realising that otaku might not be so bad, she agrees to help provide the music for his game. With Michiru’s joining Blessing Software, the entire team (lead developer, developer, storywriter, art director and music specialist) is now assembled and ready to really roll into producing a title worthy of the Winter Comiket.

  • By the end of the first season, the game appears to have made some progress; the journey to Winter Comiket for Tomoya and Blessing Software with a functional team could very well be something for a second season, and would be quite worthwhile to watch. For now, though, this wraps up the talk on Saekano, and coming up next will be talks on The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan and my closing thoughts on Aldnoah.Zero‘s second season.

Saekano may not be about game development to the same extent that Shirobako is about anime production, but through the series’ run, it becomes apparent that the core to the anime is how Tomoya managed to motivate each of the group into lending their talents towards his project. This journey was not easy, and hostilities flare even late into the series, making it all the more rewarding to see everyone getting along sufficiently well to have made some progress in their game. Watching the characters’ development and their dynamics in parodying the harem anime genre means that, even if the game development process itself is secondary and challenges associated with the game appear to solve themselves, Saekano becomes a relatively easy recommendation once everything is said and done.

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