「再起と新規のゲームスタート」 (Saiki to Shinki no Geemu Staato)
“Resume and Start the Game”
And so ends Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata or, How to Train a Hopeless Boyfriend or, The Rehabilitation of Aki Tomoya. As we’ve noted time and again throughout this series, the ‘Boring Girlfriend’ is actually fine, and rather it’s her job to reform her male co-lead. And hence this finale and, for us, Katou Megumi’s final operation. Perhaps it’s to buck the usual dating sim formula, where the noble protagonist would assist a heroine in solving whatever deep personal problem she has and, through his selfless actions, win her heart. But it wouldn’t do to just have a simple role reversal, and just have the heroine be a crutch for the hero instead of the other way around. No, this isn’t just about Tomoya, and Megumi isn’t his fairy godmother. Megumi is heartbroken too, but she’s the stronger character and knows what she wants: she wants Cherry Blessing to live on, and needs to move Tomoya to keep it so.
Perhaps it would have been enough for Megumi to let Tomoya have his catharsis, and then take him into her arms and let him weep into her breast, as per another tried tradition. It would also have sealed her ‘victory’ quite handily as well. Evidently part of her wants to, but she doesn’t. It’s not her role. Megumi is not the fallback girl. And she’s not here to console Tomoya. She’s here to inspire him. She’s his muse. Tomoya may find another writer, or another illustrator, but Megumi is irreplaceable. And so, once more into the breach. But it’s different, this time, to the first time Tomoya noticed her on the hill. As Megumi notes, the hat may be mostly the same, but it’s not identical. To find his passion, Tomoya needs to fall in love. The first time, though, Tomoya fell in love with a fiction, with a chance encounter on a hill, falling in love with the idea of falling in love. Now, he needs to fall in love with a person. To make a better game, he needs to move outside of the game, to learn the joy of just spending time with someone normally, for romance to bloom not from some dramatic gesture, but from just connecting with a human being on a personal level. One day, Tomoya will understand how Megumi managed to worm her way into his heart, and then he will make a great game.
Saekano is pretty sure it wants to be a comedy first and foremost, though, so it doesn’t end with a grand confession or heartfelt cherry blossoms. So, one last round of hijinks, more fanservice, and a final kick to the fourth wall. I did want a more conclusive sort of ending to Saekano, and am slightly disappointed that we didn’t—it can’t be wrong to only want a story to close the curtain when there’s no more story left to tell, no? But I got my satisfaction still. Saekano may be very coy about it, dressing up Megumi and Tomoya’s romance in metaphor, but there’s no mistaking that they have the strongest relationship. They’re just brilliant together. And when I watch Megumi look on all her rivals, who have gained a powerful second wind, arrayed before her and still retain her easy confidence, I think that maybe this is right. This is her way. There’s a reason why Megumi is the one to bid us farewell at the end there. Let none mistake it: Saekano is her story through and through. Megumi’s got it under control. She’s the main heroine, after all.
ED2: 「青春プロローグ」 (Seishun Prologue) by 妄想キャリブレーション (Moso Calibration)
Final Impresssions ~ We can, and did, do better
I’ve watched a lot of anime. That’s not a brag or anything, I’ve been at it for a long time and I blog the damn stuff, of course I’ve watched a lot of anime. It does mean, though, that I’ve watched my fair share of harem comedies, and by now it should be well within my rights to be complete sick of them. Many harem comedies—and indeed, many genres of anything, let’s not kid ourselves—follow very familiar formulae and if you’ve seen one you’ve seen a dozen. They’re not really the area where anime does much innovation, and that’s saying something in an industry where innovation is expensive and uncommon. So when Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata came along and managed to do something a bit different with the genre, and in the cheapest (and arguably most interesting) way—the writing—I fell in love on the spot.
While innovation is good and all, the side effect of growing old watching anime is that I also crave the familiar (as one does more as they get older, sadly). And thus Saekano was doubly interesting in that, for all it’s self-deprecation and poking at the fourth wall and general meta-humour, it’s still very much a harem comedy still. It’s end goal is not to deconstruct the genre, but to reconstruct it, and the latter is much more difficult than the former. Pure deconstruction, by its very nature, leaves nothing. It’s in the taking the pieces and putting them back together into something better that is the most rewarding, and takes most work because oftentimes it’s a matter of simply doing better. And that’s the goal of Saekano, as it explained itself—I assume Maruto-sensei surveyed the field of light novels, dating sims, and harem comedies and thought to himself that this can’t be the best we could do. Then he went out to try to prove it.
Hence the character of Megumi. Saekano is, at its core, a character study. In a medium that too often falls back on paint-by-numbers, template-based character design (the tsundere, the childhood friend, what have you), here we have a character presented to us with no preconceptions whatsoever. She’s not a grab-bag of features and personality stereotypes, sold to us as one might be sold a used car. She has no dramatic history, no secret powers, no special destiny. And she’s the female lead. Take that and run with it. And through the journey that follow we can see clearly that ‘character’ is not something for viewers to associate with patterns of behaviour; rather, it’s the other way around, and it’s patterns of behaviour that determine character. And that’s how it was with Megumi; everything we learn about her we do through her interactions with other characters and the actions she takes. We slowly build a picture of who she is, instead of deciding she’s such and such a person from the outset and attributing all her actions to that. It should never be, ‘She’s a tsundere, therefore she’s dishonest about her feelings.’. It should be, ‘Oh, she’s dishonest about her feelings. I wonder why?’.
How did the genre get into such a rut anyway? I think Saekano tries to address that through the other lead, Tomoya. He wanted to make this game that’s very character-driven, where one would fall in love with the heroine. But he had a very warped view about falling in love, and indeed about interacting with people in general. How can he make a good game about those things when he’s gotten everything so very wrong? The implication is that he’s an awkward otaku, who’s only learnt about writing dating sims from playing dating sims. But that begs the question: why does learning about love from fiction result in a warped view of love? And here’s where the meta of Saekano plays out: it seems that Maruto-sensei is saying that one can’t learn about good characterisation just from these harem comedies. And there’s something wrong with that. Stories are powerful tools for implicit teaching. The oral tradition gets passed down from parent to child for generations. Stories are supposed to enrich our knowledge of the world, to expand our understanding of the human condition. When it does the opposite, when they reduce our understanding, when they implant in us, as they did in Tomoya, a warped view of how people are and how relationships function, then something has gone very wrong. Maybe Saekano was simply an attempt, in a small way, to reverse course.
Or maybe I’m reading into it, but part of the fun of Saekano is reading into it. It delights in meta-humour, and dialogue is always rich with innuendo, so there’s always more to every scene than face value. I welcome any show that invites me to get more out of it. Then again, I blog Saekano on a weekly basis, and am forced to sit down and think about what each episode meant to me, and indeed have been forced to sit down and think about what this show meant to me in order to write these final impressions. A lot of viewers may not do the same level of inspection, and while a shame, is a valid and probably more common way of looking at the show. I hope, though, that even those of you who just watch Saekano in passing, can tell that there’s more to it than your average rom-com. Many praises to the entire production staff on managing to make such an interesting show in such an engaging way. No matter Maruto Fumiaki’s credentials as a writer, all anime are team efforts, and I’ve no doubt Saekano does the script justice. Now, where’s my Classroom Crisis sequel?