Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 11 & 12 (END)
「伏線回収準備よし & 波乱と激動の日常エンド」 (Fukusen Kaishū Junbi Yoshi & Haran to Gekidō no Nichijō Endo)
“Ready to Start Resolving the Subplots & The Ups and Downs at the End of Each Day”
For the purposes of our discussion I’m going to treat episodes 11 & 12 (aired together over one hour) as one thing, since Michiru’s arc resolves neatly into the end of the anime as a whole. I’m only going to go over it briefly, because I want to get to the final impressions.
First order of business is: Performing Sorairo Days! Has it really been seven years since Gurren Lagann? Eight years? Way to make me feel my age, Saekano. It was certainly a pleasant surprise; I was certainly expecting one last shout out in an anime that has not been shy about referencing other shows, but for them to go that far back (and more importantly, to a song I instantly recognised) tickled my nerd bones. It seems I’m totally an otaku too, and that Tomoya was right; it doesn’t matter who is performing it, otaku will rock out to it regardless.
I’d like to say that Michiru has finally gotten over her antipathy for otaku, but that’s not really the case. Michiru, like Utaha, wanted Tomoya to leave his world and enter hers, but finds out that they actually overlap. Rather than learning to understand a ‘different culture’, like Megumi does, Michiru instead discovers that she was one of ‘them’ all along. What bombshell are you going to drop next, Tomoya? ‘Hey, Michiru, the Easter Bunny isn’t real and you’re adopted’. Michiru actually took the revelation about her otaku indoctrination and her alleged ‘best friends‘ selling her out a lot better than I expected, to be sure (though if she couldn’t tell what an event called ‘Anilight‘ at an establishment decorated like this is, then caveat emptor). I guess we didn’t really have time for the concert to bomb and work up more drama, so with a bit of Standard Protagonist Encouragement (and perhaps the power of love), the concert goes without a hitch. It was no Live a Live, sure, but it did send off Michiru’s arc with a bang, and she deserves it after waiting so long to be introduced.
The lesson, I guess, is that otaku are just people. Michiru makes the mistake of folding all of otaku-dom into a single archetype when they are all, like her Tomo, individuals in their own right. This ties into one of the big themes of Saekano: archetypes, like the tsundere childhood friend, the aloof senpai, or the free-spirited cousin, are all just wrappers around what is essentially still a human being. The humble anime writer is free to focus on their specific ‘attributes’, but at the end of the day they still need to do the hard work and give them real characterisation and explore their personal circumstances. Indeed, Saekano never rejects these archetypes—in fact, it thoroughly embraces them—but always makes sure there is something more. In Michiru’s case, she may have had the least time to show that, but under her casual demeanor her subtleties—her shared dream with her friends, her personal insecurities—do shine out.
I freely admit it: I enjoy clever shows, and by ‘clever shows’ I mean anime that do something interesting with itself, especially in ways that challenge audience preconceptions. Saenai Heroine no Sodateka is ‘clever’ in that it is multi-layered. It purports to be a standard harem comedy—and it totally is—but also manages to sneak in something more, so that it’s never just harem comedy. It plays so many tropes entirely straight, making use of the otaku male lead, the archetypal haremettes, the sexualised fanservice, and all the one-size-fits-all utensils of the writer’s toolbox, but is always aware of how it’s using them. It was very keen on commenting on itself, but never to the extent of being fully deconstructive, and parodied without descending into outright satire. In a way, Saekano is having its cake and eating it too, using all the harem comedy devices to appeal to that audience, but also offering something for watchers like me, who have already watched a few too many of those and need a different angle. And for the most part, it worked! That’s not always guaranteed with shows as secretly arrogant as Saekano.
A lot of Saekano‘s success in this is owed to being subtle, not in that it’s particularly understated, but because it usually has something going on underneath the surface. This is embodied in Megumi, who is a subtle character by design. She does not adhere to an immediately obvious archetype, does not have any exaggerated emotional cues, and does not narrate her internal monologue at the drop of a hat. She is ‘flat’, because she is written first and foremost as if she was real person, and real people, before you get to know them, are all flat. Yet she still manages to play the part of the ‘heroine’ extremely effectively, not by becoming more sparkly, but by sticking to her strengths. Look at the simple chemistry she has with Tomoya. Observe her easy confidence. Call her innuendo-ed lectures a form of passive-aggression if you want, but there’s no denying that she knows how to push Tomoya’s buttons. Utaha knows: Michiru may have made some strong attacks, but Megumi is by far the greatest threat.
Megumi gets her character development just like all the other girls, but she gets it while riding along other character arcs and helping Tomoya. And it culminates in this final set of episode, which sees Megumi more proactive than she has ever been. She started as an entirely passive actor, but now on her own volition learns how to script. Yet she still remains true to her character, content to only nudge Tomoya, excercising her influence from the rear. Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata - How to Train a Boring Girl to Be an Heroine - is not, as Tomoya thought, about transforming a flat character into something dramatic, but about discovering how the flat character can be a perfectly fine heroine in her own right. On such a note, Saekano ends appropriately (but not without one last show of disrespect for itself). Blessing Software may only have finished one route, but it’s without doubt the most important one. Call her Meguri, Ruri, or Megumi, it doesn’t matter. She’s been the heroine from the very beginning.