The Infinite Zenith

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

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata ♭: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“The courtesy of your hall is somewhat lessened of late, Théoden King.” —Gandalf, Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers

After three episodes, I noted that it would be interesting to see where Saekano ♭ was headed, and what outcomes awaited Blessing Software. Pushing towards their deadline, Utaha and Eriri are pushed to their limits as they work in a new character route, as well as the attendant artwork. The endeavour leaves Utaha exhausted and pushes Eriri to illness, although the culmination of their efforts is a warm reception at the Winter Comiket. Despite being unable to properly package their game for distribution, folks who buy the game finds much of it a pleasant surprise. Prompted by Iori to continue, Tomoya plans to develop another title, but finds Megumi growing more distant from him, learning that she’s feeling shafted by the attention Tomoya and Eriri have received from him during their development cycle despite all they’ve been through. Even as he attempts to make amends, Utaha and Eriri receive offers from Akane Kousaka, a manga artist working for a major game developer. Torn between Tomoya and their own futures, Eriri and Utaha choose their careers, leading them to work on a triple-A title away from Tomoya. Meanwhile, Tomoya goes on a date with Megumi and later sees Utaha and Eriri off to wish them the best in their pursuits. When their third year starts, Tomoya is shocked to see Izumi as a student at Toyogasaki Academy. This brings Saekano ♭ to an end, and admittedly, it was quite surprising to see things wrap up so quickly. One of this season’s more interesting anime, Saekano ♭ has been met with positive reception overall for its wit and propensity towards a more natural direction, as well as for its self-referential humour in continuing from Saekano.

Saekano ♭ is consistently inconsistent, turbulent and even self-contradictory at times. The characters’ conversations suggest an understanding of the value of artwork and what drives fiction, and yet, the characters themselves occasionally succumb to the same clichés they disparage, acting in ways that would seem irrational considering their self-awareness. These elements, long considered to be detractors in an anime, serve a critical role in Saekano ♭: they are present not because of any inadequacies from author Fumiaki Maruto, but rather, to paint Saekano as a satire of the harem genre and its associated tropes. Irony and exaggerations of the situations Tomoya finds himself in, accompanying his seeming disinterest in a real-world relationship, serve to illustrate the ridiculousness of the genre’s features as a whole. Whether it be the lengths that Utaha goes to in an effort to seduce Tomoya, or her sparring with Eriri on what constitutes art, it is clear that Saekano is well aware of tired conventions in this genre, shaking them up and simultaneously critiquing them in an anime where romance is secondary to poking fun at the sort of antics that typically are found in other anime of this class. By all counts, Saekano and its successor, Saekano ♭ succeeds as a satire to the entire genre, framing it around Tomoya’s desire to create a love story despite having only rudimentary understanding of how love works from a fictional perspective: anime that take the genre seriously often come across as falling short or derivative, and as such, Saekano ♭ offers an uncommon and refreshing take on things to show what might happen if such stories integrated real-world variables into their progression.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This Saekano ♭ post comes out of left field, and I was originally intending on writing something a little later. However, the series ends at the eleventh episode, and while one could make the case that the second season’s zeroth episode drives the total episode count up to twelve, the anime proper only has eleven episodes. Par the course for a talk about the whole season, I will use thirty images to look back through the turf that Saekano ♭ has covered during its run.

  • It turns out that Tomoya’s actions, in choosing both scripts, is to subtly reject Utaha’s advances and make it clear that, while he respects here greatly as an author, he does not see her in a romantic light. Utaha spends the remainder of her arc in Saekano ♭ working with Tomoya to wrap up their story component, doing her most to both help their game reach its conclusion and also to maximise the most of their remaining time together as classmates before she leaves for post secondary education.

  • Except maybe Michiru, Utaha is the most forwards of everyone to Tomoya. Not quite as aggressive, Utaha is nonetheless quite physical, pressing herself against him in a bid to get closer. While she only succeeds in making Tomoya uncomfortable, it’s a very sure indicator that she’s rather fond of him in spite of their verbal sparring matches. The page quote, sourced from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, was chosen as a bit of a critique on how poorly folks think of Tomoya based on an incomplete anime: mid-season, it felt as through there were nothing but complaints leveled at his actions.

  • Elsewhere on the net, some discussions surrounding Saekano ♭ have reached unprecedented intensity: with due respect, I think that it is a little surprising that people have taken Saekano ♭ as seriously as they did, trying to apply their impressions of real-world project management techniques into predicting the outcome of Tomoya’s project or else acting as armchair relationship counsellors. In my Saekano ♭ talks, I will do neither because the light novel and anime are about none of these things.

  • It is here that Utaha and Eriri come to the realisation that Tomoya is unlikely to return their feelings. I make this claim based on the cinematics, lighting and pacing of the scene. Continuing from my earlier assertions, Saekano ♭ is also not a deconstruction by either the literary definition or the definition reached by mangled reasoning at Tango-Victor-Tango. I consider Saekano ♭ a satire of the romance-comedy genre featuring several female leads – the characters seem well aware of clichés and tropes of this genre, succumbing to them or breaking away from them where appropriate.

  • The satirical nature (unintentional or not) of Saekano ♭ is why I do not consider it a meaningful pursuit to attempt any sort of formal, serious analysis or discussion on things in comparison with other works of its class. Here, Tomoya’s heart very nearly stops when an unnamed male student declares his love to Megumi only for her to decline: she later notes that she’s turned the guy down because to accept would be to otherwise divert time from helping Tomoya with their release.

  • The implications of Megumi wanting to help Tomoya of her own volition suggest that she’s developing feelings for him, although she probably does not fully understand why she’s so drawn to the project. Her feeling dejected later down the line as a result of Tomoya shouldering responsibility himself and not consulting her shows that she’s expecting a little more trust from him, at least to the same extent that he’s appearing to give Utaha and Eriri. Someone completely disinterested in Tomoya would not sign onto the project or have stuck out for this long, so Megumi’s reactions are completely natural.

  • After understanding that Tomoya is not likely to see her as more than a capable artist and a longtime-friend, Eriri’s ability to produce artwork takes a hit, and she isolates herself with the goal of finishing on time. She’s inspired by the feelings she experiences while reminiscing and fantasising, coming to terms with what’s happened, and manages to make the artwork, but this comes at a cost to her health. Working oneself to illness is a very serious problem, which is why I and those around me are told to work hard only to the extent where working harder is not detrimental.

  • Knowing that Tomoya’s views of her are what they are, she longs to spend some time with him for old times’ sake. Later, at the Comiket, she buries the hatchet with Izumi, and her role in Saekano ♭ is reduced subsequently along with Utaha’s even as Tomoya tries to bring the team back for one more project. However, one of the things that is clear from Tomoya’s project is that he’s definitely not cut out to drive video game production because he cares for his teammates to a fault.

  • Being rushed out to production does not hinder their game’s reception: they sell out and receive strong reviews all around, minus the lukewarm response to Tomoya’s content. It’s not bad for a first-time entry, and that the challenges Blessing Software faced in its staff rather than any shortage of manpower were plausibly depicted. The following remark comes from a software developer by trade – working with a simple scripting language was the least of his concerns.

  • Given everything that has happened up until this point, in conjunction with Megumi’s reactions to Tomoya shafting her, pointed strongly in a direction that suggested that, if she were neglected in both the narrative and from Tomoya’s dealings with her, there would be a bit more time left in Saekano ♭ to will deal with her. This turned out to be the case, and as such, I consider it an incomplete element when folks claim that Megumi seems to “outshine” everyone else by virtue of the author’s will alone. I certainly don’t see it that way: the anime has presented her as being someone who manages to stand out in Tomoya’s eyes because she is unextraordinary.

  • This is why I don’t like making sweeping assertions before a series has concluded: folks who have been expressing distaste in Tomoya and wishing him ill now return to remark that Saekano ♭ was a modestly enjoyable anime in spite of the character development, citing Eriri and Utaha as driving the show’s strongest elements. While I enjoyed their vitriol-filled dynamics with one another, it became quite clear that as professionals, Utaha and Eriri can get along with one another. One of the themes in  Saekano ♭ that I had not mentioned is that romantic rivalry, while impeding how cordial interactions are between two people, need not also overcome their own goals.

  • Megumi’s look of horror when Tomoya locks the two of them in the recording room. Saekano ♭ tends to play with framing and execution to give the sense of something risqué happening, only to cut away and show the greater context; this was utilised to great effect during Saekano, but by this point in Saekano ♭, the surprise and humour is gone. Audiences merely wait for things to conclude so that things may progress.

  • It took my complete mastery of the Dark Side of the Force to keep from missing this frame, which would make next to no sense without some context. I could easily pass this off as an application of Force abilities, but what’s actually happening is the aftermath of Tomoya’s apologies to Megumi. Subsequently, he presses his advantage and attempts to rope her into his next project. Tomoya’s blind devotion to his hobbies and inability to comprehend the world around him, to mind his surroundings, is his greatest weakness as a character – while I embody the side of Tomoya who cares for those around him and works with a resolute goal in mind, I am not as lacking in other areas.

  • Thus, when Megumi openly expresses her displeasure as to how Tomoya’s soloed responsibility of the project and that it suggests his lack of trust, Tomoya is taken aback. Saekano ♭ shows a more detailed aspect of Megumi that Saekano alone did not owing to time constraints, and it is seeing the more human aspects of her character beyond being a mere basis for a fictional character that makes her shine. It is this, coupled with Tomoya’s rant about making a game with more natural characters rather than archetypes, that reminds audiences of Megumi’s presence in Saekano.

  • If I were to present this screenshot to anyone without familiarity with Saekano, I am almost certain that they would count Tomoya and Megumi as a couple. This is the pairing that works the most consistently with the satire in Saekano: stand-out characters, whether it be the kūdere in Utaha or tsundere childhood friend in Eriri, or the cousin in Michiru, may overshadow Megumi in terms of presence in Saekano ♭, but it is ultimately the most ordinary character who truly becomes closer to the male lead. One of the issues with anime of the harem genre is that male leads are often stricken with indecision or a willful refusal to pick anyone for fear of hurting the others’ feelings, resulting in storylines that meander.

  • Similar in some respects we may be, I am certain that Tomoya’s perspectives on games are completely misaligned with mine. He values characters whose interactions players can relate to above all else, while I assess a game based on its immersion and gameplay. A good game must handle smoothly and have a well-defined goal set in an environment that makes the player feel as though they are there for themselves. As such, I’ve greatly enjoyed games with minimally-defined protagonists (such as Doomguy and Chell) in addition to titles with well-characterised individuals (Adam Jensen, Welkin Gunther). Visual novels have never held much appeal for me, as I very much prefer the rush of finishing a goal or watching impressive set-pieces unfold.

  • While Megumi lectures Tomoya and explains outright why she’s indignant, an Aokana poster can be seen in the background. Aokana came out a year after Saekano‘s first season: Tomoya is plainly keeping up with the times, and one of the fun factors about Saekano is the presence of various anime memorabilia in Tomoya’s room that I can recognise.

  • I’ve been quite liberal in presenting eye-pleasing moments from Utaha and Michiru throughout my earlier posts, but there have been very few of Megumi. The time has come to rectify this, starting with a screenshot of Megumi while she’s taking a bath. Longtime readers will know that I’m on #TeamShower, since showers conserve more water and more hygienic. Of note in this particular scene is the fact that Megumi has her smart phone right beside the tub, which is a bad idea, and the fact that Saekano actually renders clear water and steam particle density in the bath is not excessive.

  • While a little dark (especially on the built-in displays of a MacBook Pro or iPad), here’s another moment of Megumi that fans will certainly have appreciated. She’s giving Tomoya “obligation” chocolates for Valentine’s Day here, suggesting that she does not see Tomoya in the same light that Eriri or Utaha see him. One of the longstanding questions I’ve got about Megumi is what compels her to stick it out with Tomoya’s visions even when there is little apparent benefit for her; her actions seem to indicate that she views him as a friend, but to be with Tomoya through many dangers is to show a lot of loyalty for a mere friend.

  • Sakura blossoms are in full bloom during Utaha’s graduation. Finished with her secondary education, she takes the time to explain to Tomoya her and Eriri’s situation; Tomoya lacks the mental stamina to be a proper director that drives his creator’s willingness to flourish. Despite their interest in working with him for their own reasons, Utaha reveals that she and Eriri have been offered positions to work on a triple-A title.

  • Tomoya is blown away that a major games developer has recruited both of Eriri and Utaha: since Eriri left to work on their game’s artwork in isolation, manga artist and professional Akane Kousaka had followed her, developing an interest in the pair after being impressed with their game. Although they both are filled with regret at having to leave Tomoya’s side, their judgement prevails. Tomoya is not particularly disappointed by the news and is genuinely happy for them: simply put, there is not any betrayal that some folks are claiming there to be. Tomoya’s project was a personal one, and despite his passion for it, he’s shown signs of not committing to it as fully as it seems: Iori is constantly trying to persuade him to continue.

  • Good leadership forces folks to push their limits, and while Maruto might limit this assertion to the world of creativity and fiction, the truth holds true universally. A certain amount of pressure drives progress: during their meeting, Akane lets loose on the criticisms and re-lights Eriri’s drive to draw. It is also revealed that Akane is more interested in Eriri’s art skill than Utaha’s ability as a writer, seeding doubt in Utaha that also compels her to better her writing.

  • Because of my beliefs on improvement and drive, Akane cannot be considered an antagonist in Saekano ♭: she evidently has experience in the industry and knows how people respond to pressure, as well as what slumps can be overcome with. Without Tomoya between them, it turns out that Eriri and Utaha can get along just fine, at both a professional and personal level. Through this, Maruto hints that feelings for others are detrimental if they cause individuals to remain attached to their emotions rather than letting go to pursue a better future; having Utaha and Eriri do just this is to show an exceptional degree of self-awareness, and it’s not often that characters in a harem anime actually can set things aside in such a manner.

  • Thus, Utaha and Eriri’s development wind up being the most enjoyable part of Saekano ♭; seeing two characters learn that they aren’t so different and setting aside their animosity because of competing feelings for Tomoya proved to be a remarkable change of pace from other anime of this sort. In its satire, Saekano ♭ brings in authentic forces from the real world that force characters to make a decision, ridiculing the idea that an impasse can be maintained indefinitely. This is Maruto’s approach, to show that “if things in a show started out as  they do in a typical harem romance-comedy, then this is the outcome that can be expected”.

  • While Utaha and Eriri make to pursue their futures, Tomoya remains in his own world, persisting on his own path. However, even his own world begins to change: Megumi takes the initiative to ask Tomoya on a date in order to raise his spirits. They return to the mall visited during Saekano‘s first season, and Megumi later remarks that she aims to show him that as long as he is willing to direct a project, there will be a project. It’s a far cry from the industry, where output and results come first.

  • That Saekano ♭ ends in eleven episodes was quite unexpected, and I had not intended on writing a discussion for this until July, after all of the dust had settled. However, ending earlier than anticipated, and the fact that metrics are showing readers interested in Saekano ♭, I figured that I should deliver. I make extensive use of my site’s analytics to determine what readers are looking for, and will try to prioritise content that aligns with these interests. Consequently, I will be moving my discussions of Hinako Note to early July, and also dropping my plans to write about Frame Arms Girl: the latter was surprisingly fun but not conducive towards a full-fledged blog post.

  • With Saekano ♭ now over, my final conclusions on the second season are that it’s definitely stronger than the first if considered separately, but taken together, the first season drives the events of the second. Although Saekano as a whole featured Tomoya’s project, this is merely the stimulus that brought the cast together, and after establishing the setup typical to most harem anime, the second season introduces elements that drive the harem apart to show that setups featuring an indecisive protagonist are implausible and unsustainable for a good story.

  • Aside from its aims, Saekano ♭ manages to maintain humour much as the first season had: Utaha’s kiss (presumably, Tomoya’s first) comes out of the blue, and the facial expressions of all present parties are simply hilarious. Tomoya sees Eriri and Utaha off here before they take off for Osaka, but they inadvertently miss their train owing to a protracted farewell. Besides its narrative and character growth, which stand at Saekano‘s forefront, Saekano also has generally high production values: artwork remains of a consistently good quality, as is the voice acting. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is unremarkable.

  • A seemingly-decisive conclusion awaits viewers at Saekano ♭‘s ending with the presentation of a “The End” card: folks familiar with the light novels will note that the anime closes off at volume seven, and that there are a total of thirteen volumes in the entire series. If there is a third season, it will feel quite different than Saekano had thus far: Izumi joins Tomoya’s team, while Utaha and Eriri begin their work. I’m not too sure what’s in store for Saekano from the anime perspective, but a movie or OVA series might seem more plausible than a third season. However, one thing is certain: I will be checking a continuation out if it should exist.

Ultimately, Saekano ♭ earns a recommendation – entertaining to watch for its colourful cast of characters and their eccentricities,  the narrative feels as though it was carefully scripted to accommodate drama and satire to maximise its impact. Although the monologues and rants detract from the story and flow, they are fortunately rarer in Saekano ♭ – the author’s channeling of their own experiences and beliefs about art represents only a singular view on creativity, and one that might not be necessarily correct. Creativity can take many different forms and approaches, with no single algorithm or outline for defining what makes something great. As such, when Tomoya remarks that natural characters and their growth alone make a game worth playing, I look to that as being only one approach: in my books, the best games provide an experience that leads the players to pose questions about what they know or uncommonly good immersion. For instance, Deus Ex: Human Revolution challenges players to consider the role of technology in society, while Alien Isolation forces players to experience the same fear that Ripley does aboard Sevastopol Station. Certainly, my views and Tomoya’s (by extension, Maruto’s) differ quite substantially. Overall, with its satirical elements directed against genre-wide clichés and its clever inclusion of fanservice, Saekano ♭ proved to be an entertaining watch that consistently defies convention and provides the viewers with genre-defying twists to remind them that events of classical harem anime will be confined strictly to the realm of fiction.

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