「そして竜虎は神に挑まん」 (Soshite Ryuuko wa Kami ni Idoman)
“And the Rivals Will Challenge God”
Usually, in the penultimate episode of an anime, I expect the show to pull back a bit an give a holistic look at the narrative in preparation for the grand finale. What Saekano does for most of this episode, though, is drill even deeper, giving Utaha and Eriri some private time to sort out their personal issues by themselves. And now that I’ve watched it, I’m glad they did it. A lot of anime, and light novel adaptations in particular, tend to end up being very ‘protagonist-centric’. It’s an understandable why this happens, because the protagonist is the protagonist, after all, and especially with a first-person narrator the perspective is rather fixed. But the protagonist-centricity means we sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture, and the rest of the cast feel less fleshed when they’re always a part of the protagonist’s orbit. Remember episode 04 of the first season? When Tomoya got irrationally upset that Megumi was going shopping with her cousin, that she she dared to have his life that didn’t revolve around him? Remember how bad that looked? It’s a similar sort of critique.
So it is refreshing to see, in this harem comedy, two of the secondary cast just having some time to themselves. They talk to each other, not just to the protagonist. And they talk about things other than the protagonist. They talk about their own feelings about their own issues and what they themselves are doing about. Sure, it’s still related to the protagonist, and still consequential to the main narrative, but it’s Eriri and Utaha’s own story, and the fact that they get time to tell it gives them the sort of depth a lot of secondary characters may not enjoy. It’s a big part of what makes characters feel human, that they have their own lives and their own stories instead of just being accessories of the central plot.
The other interesting thing that comes out of this episode is that Eriri basically answers the dramatic question of this arc herself (with judicious prodding by Utaha, of course). Not input from the protagonist, no last, tearful bid to make her stay. Could you imagine Saekano doing that if it actually was a dating sim? No, that would be completely unacceptable. It’s strange that I’m trying to make this independence sound so thrilling when it really should be the storytelling norm but, yeah, Eriri just sits down, paints much too fast, and has her epiphany all by herself. Everything we’ve talked about in previous episodes, about her weak ego, about her need for drive, about her ability to draw being tied to winning Tomoya’s approval, Eriri realises herself. It’s also what ultimately brings Eriri and Utaha together, because Eriri’s story is, too, a tragedy. Of course she wants to be Tomoya’s ‘number one’. Of course she wnats Tomoya to be nice to her, to cherish her, to just accept her regardless of whatever. But in such circumstances, she can’t draw. And if she can’t draw, on what basis can she say she’s ‘won’ anything? What choice does she have? She has to leave Cherry Blessing.
No, I think we can safely say that they’re not coming back. The decision has been made. They’re gone. But it doesn’t mean that one side’s philosophy has been vindicated, or that the other’s has been crushed. Tomoya’s not ‘wrong’ for wanting to just make a game with his friends. He freely admitted, when he drafted the proposal, that it wouldn’t have been a ‘great’ game, but it would have been a good game, and everyone would have been happy with the achievement. On the other hand, Akane may get results, but hers should not be the only path. She’s simply a shark; if she stops moving forward, she will die. We should appreciate her ability as a ruthless predator, but great whites swim alone. Even Iori quits rouge en rouge. And hey, maybe he and his sister will join Cherry Blessing instead. As long as Tomoya continues making games, he’ll have a chance to make one with Eriri and Utaha again.
I say all that, but I still feel a bit melancholic after this episode. In a good way, but still. Hopefully, Megumi will make it all better in our finale. Doesn’t she always?