Saekano: An Unorthodox Harem?

Synopsis

Tomoya Aki, a huge otaku and probably a classic case of a generic self-insert harem protagonist was cycling around the neighborhood until a white hat rolls down and he ‘comes face to face with his destiny’. A VN idea possesses his head and prompts him to gather his hot love interests- I mean, his otaku friends who happen to be the two most beautiful girls in the school. The girl with the white hat turn out to be the bland, inconspicuous Katou Megumi. Follow Tomoya and co. on their classic-but-meta-commentary on harems!

Oh wait, they also try to make a visual novel. And two bursts of dramatic character arcs happen.

Narrative

I don’t have much to comment on in terms of narrative because that like most harems, the story is insubstantial. But I have to give this show credit for its attempts at character writing and enjoyable character interactions that fills most of the air time. The pacing was pretty well stretched out by interesting and occasional change in color schemes and cuts to um… shots.

The Parody (concerning fan service)

Like most harems, the story isn’t the fleshy part of his otaku-pandering genre, the fan service is the fleshy part (literally). But remember, this anime is a parody-harem: so the fan service is supposed to be ironic (?). Yeah, really clever of you, Saekano.

Like that will work out just fine.

Yeah, when it comes to meta-commentary, Saekano does a fine job. They don’t keep any loose ends- but when they go to the second nature of parodies and actually does the blatant fan service pull-ups and shots: they are done in an unfunny and offbeat way (no comedy, no parody). Then again, I have to say most of the time, because my favorite scene from this show actually involve such a similar exhibition of parody in episode 6 where Utaha shakes the bed and heavy breathing fills the room, that was actually funny to me. The show got me there.

Screenshot (1023).pngBut most of the time, I really didn’t like the way the show excused itself for its otherwise tastefully done fan service for the supposed purpose of parody. That made the fan service shots kind of underhanded in terms of the whole ‘oh-so-wise’ meta-commentary that the show loved to convey to the audience (or I am completely misinterpreting the nature of parodies, if so, let me know in the comments). This made the show act like it knows what it’s doing, but in reality was being a frustrating (?) parody of the harem genre.

Leaving out the comedy from the meta-commentary on other harem tropes, I actually enjoyed the comments made on Eriri as a tsundere and- though it doesn’t reach the level of Bakemonogatari- I smiled at the jokes. That reminds me,the Monogatari series is a near perfect form of a harem parody because the fact that most of the meta-commentary (wow, I am really over-using this word) is entirely dependent on actually thought-out dialogue and the classic head tilts and cutaways to visual metaphors.  I think I have made my point as to why I don’t think the show really succeeded in terms of being a clever parody it tried to be.

Fan service

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Like I said, the fan service is done sort of tastefully most of the time (if you block out the stupid excuse the show makes for it) – a bit too tastefully for a ecchi harem, in my opinion. I would say that the change in color schemes and lighting really helped with its effect. Then again, I am no connoisseur for quality of fan service in anime, (no matter how weird that sounds) so I wouldn’t go and actually say the fan service is top-tier.

The Characters

If anywhere, the show demonstrates its cleverness (or meta) through its character building of the four main cast members. I admire this show for being meta in its character writing and that has really helped to enjoy this show on an objective level (sorry can’t find a better word).

Tomoya is, thankfully, not a generic self-insert otaku harem lead that the show teased on. He actually has goals other than playing games with Katou- making a game with Katou as the heroine. He also seems strangely aware of his situation but the writers cleverly avoid any further contamination of the meta-sphere by telling us that Tomoya is too absorbed in his work to notice (which isn’t really original, its a clever excuse). My point is that this character actually has a uncrippled personality that is prevalent in the harem-sphere.

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Eriri is a decently written tsundere. Clearly, the author wanted to make her character a parody of all tsunderes (like the twin tails). Then again, aren’t they all these days? I enjoyed her comedic character interactions with Utaha and Tomoya. She didn’t sincerely seem to be a tsun-tsun though- and I have nothing bad to point out about it. Again, the show does well in playing parody with her tropes (sorry for the repetition) and then gives us a couple of strong character developing dramatic episodes. I really liked her character arc- it was more patiently paced than Utaha’s character arc. I also liked the fact that the show sometimes got rid of the twin tails and made Eriri seem like a ‘real’ character rather than a trope-possessed one.

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Utaha is the manipulative, teasing ‘hot stocking girl’ of the anime. Honestly, I found her character to be annoying (this is the complete opposite of what I expected, I thought that Eriri would be the annoying one). Utaha just acted pretentious and her constant ‘bullying’ dialogue with Eriri was amusing but lost its shine pretty early in the series. Her character arc was interesting but felt inconclusive. Also, we don’t get much character dynamics from Utaha emotionally.

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Michiru was a late addition and, so far, I have nothing to praise about this character’s writing. Michiru is the trope-y oblivious and dumb harem girl in this anime which desperately tries to  excuse itself from being so. Luckily, this anime has another season to give this character an arc.

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Katou Megumi is obviously the character the show tries its best to appeal to the audience as ‘best girl’ (given that the title of the show is ‘How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend’) and I have to say it has somewhat succeeded in doing so. Unlike Eriri and Utaha, the show was the most patient in the character development of Megumi. I don’t have any complaints on her character writing- it’s solid and well spread out through the series. Like Utaha, she does not show a variety of emotions but still manages to be funny thanks to her dead-pan comedic moments.

So who wins the Waifu Wars?

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The only two worthwhile contenders are Eriri and Megumi. I think Eriri will take the cake as best girl because she is more endearing and emotionally dynamic than the other harem girls. She also has the best character design in my opinion (she has more colors than). But I do appreciate Megumi as a good character in the series.

Art & Animation

I like the art style and writing in this anime- it’s very polished and well lighted. I always appreciate the visually stylistic cues the anime makes like the change in color tones and dutch shots (even if they are aimed at the wrong  places sometimes).

As for the animation, I find the animation pretty okay- but the digital animation (coupled with CG) sometimes seems offbeat with the whole animated flow the show has. I am not a fan of the animation in the opening, no matter how expressive it tries to be- it just turns out to be kind of robotic. Fortunately, the rest of the show does not religiously follow this style of animation.

Sound

The sound design in this anime isn’t anything out of the ordinary and not memorable at all. I guess that means it fits the show well.

Conclusion

Saekano is a decent harem comedy. I liked the fact that the harem girls had good dramatic moments. Even though the meta-commentary on its fan service isn’t cleverly and hilariously done; I would certainly give the show brownie points for having enjoyable and refreshing character dialogue and character development.

I would recommend this anime for all harem fans. But I wouldn’t recommend as strongly for people disliking mean spirited comedy and harems in general.

Yeah, I look forward to the second season in Spring 2017.

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3 thoughts on “Saekano: An Unorthodox Harem?

  1. I liked this show a lot when it aired. The final three episodes when they shoved in Michiru were maybe a bad idea though. She was probably best saved for the second season but given how long it’s taken to come out I’m sure it came down to being able to sell merch. Still, the best praise I can give it is that it’s remained memorable to me and I’ll still be excited for the second season over two years after the first aired.

    Liked by 1 person

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