Eri SuzukiMadoka YonezawaRui TanabeKiyono Yasuno
Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend: Season 1
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2015: S
Also known as: Saenai Hiroin no Sodatekata: Season 1
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2015
Director: Kanta Kamei
Writer: Fumiaki Maruto
Actor: Ai Kayano, Asaka Imai, Chinatsu Akasaki, Eri Suzuki, Houko Kuwashima, Isamu Yusen, Junya Enoki, Kaya Okuno, Keiko Nemoto, Kiyono Yasuno, Madoka Yonezawa, Mai Nakahara, Mina Nagashima, Nobuaki Kanemitsu, Reio Tsuchida, Rui Tanabe, Sakura Tange, Saori Onishi, Sayuri Yahagi, Soma Saito, Takahiro Mizushima, Tetsuya Kakihara, Yo Taichi, Yoshiki Nakajima, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Yuki Kitao, Yuma Uchida
Keywords: anime, harem, noitaminA
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 13 episodes
Website category: Anime 2015
Review date: 22 February 2017
sae kano
I have a slightly prickly relationship with this show. If you watch it in chronological order, everyone's unlikeable until ep.6 or so. I found it hard going. However I suspect the producers are aware of this, since they start with an ep.0 that's really a flashforward set around (or during?) ep.12.
It's based on a light novel series with an unusual harem formula. Tomoya Aki is a hardcore otaku. He's not interested in 3D girls, he's rude and he's obsessed with making the perfect dating computer game. He bludgeons together a creators' circle in order to make this happen, but he himself isn't a creator and they're the ones doing all the work. He can't write. (That's Utaha Kasumigaoka, a sardonic ice queen in his class at school who's also a published author.) He can't draw. (That's Eriri Spencer Sawamura, his bitter, tsundere childhood friend who draws explicit doujinshi and then has to ask her parents to sell them at comics conventions because she's not 18 yet.) Instead, what he can do is things like:
(a) ask you to do something dubious, then shout at you for saying yes.
(b) idolise a girl he glimpsed while walking to school one day and build her up in his head into the heroine of his new game, unaware that this girl (Megumi Kato) has been one of his classmates all along and he'd just never noticed. He can't even remember her name correctly.
(c) scream at you because you changed your hairstyle.
(d) criticise your personality in public, calling you boring. (He'll also attack you for not being like anime cliches.) Admittedly it's true that Megumi is so deadpan and understated that she barely even seems to exist, but that doesn't mean you should go around saying things like that to someone's face.
So that's the circle. It's pretty dysfunctional and for a while they're not much fun to watch. I might not have minded Tomoya being a dick if he hadn't also been a leech. The girls are doing all the work and he's just bullying them. The good news, though, is that he grows. He becomes more sympathetic. He starts being useful. He turns out to have a clear, original vision for his game and the courage to push people beyond their comfort zones to get them there. He does something really kind and inspiring for Izumi Hashima in ep.8 and I don't think it's his fault that it backfires with Eriri. (She's Eriri.)
Similarly the circle gets going in earnest, with everyone working really hard to achieve their common goal. There's exploration of creator insecurity, how a fan's viewpoint can differ and so on. Oh, and Tomoya's cousin Michiru shows up, lightening the tone by being a happy-go-lucky tomboy with no sense of personal space. By this point, I was enjoying the show. Creators working their utmost to be creators was worth watching. Unpleasant people being prickly at each other hadn't been, really.
Let's be honest, though. It's still a harem show. Tomoya has the sex drive of a particularly small pebble and the personality of a three-year-old with toothache, but for no sane reason he's surrounded by girls who fancy him. I think Utaha came to like him because he's such a passionate fan of her work and because his blog gave her novels the popularity boost they needed to become a hit. Eriri, Michiru and Izumi like him because they've known him a long time. (Wouldn't that instead be a reason to dislike him?) Megumi likes him because... um, goodness knows. She's Megumi. She says "yes" to things and it's hard to know what's going on in her head, because she's so deadpan.
It also has fanservice. The only actual nudity is in ep.0, but the majority of the girls have big boobs and the camera's not afraid to draw attention to that. (Plenty of anime have male gaze, but for some reason I found it more noticeable here. Admittedly this tends to be when everyone's fully dressed, but the camera's still leering at them.) Meanwhile Utaha and Michiru aren't afraid of wearing cleavage-friendly outfits.
Mileage will vary on this show. Is Tomoya an unlikeable jerk, or is he one of the most distinctive harem heroes in years? There's plenty of room for polarised opinions about the girls, too. Personally I think the show's secret weapon is Megumi. She's a genuinely new archetype. She's the show's straight man and clear-eyed commentator, going along passively with everything and being so understated and bland that it might take you a while to notice how sharp she is. She can be as cutting as Tomoya, but in a gentle way that drifts past unremarked. She looks and sounds exactly like a very boring person. She's the normal one, going along with these hyperactive, socially deficient otaku and quietly reaching her own conclusions on what kind of people they are.
There's also a bit of meta. It's only occasional, but the show's format is inherently deconstructive and they're capable of challenging the fourth wall a bit. "I got no screen time in the last episode." It's not taken too far, though. It's okay.
Is this an enjoyable show? Um... after a while, yes. In the end, I liked it. I did struggle in the early episodes, though, and I don't disagree with anything said by this show's haters. I'd hesitate to recommend it. However it's quite brave, with more teeth than I'd expected. As a study of creators, fans and the creative process, I think it's rather good.
"It took years, but I can finally talk to people normally!"
-- Tomoya demonstrating a lack of self-awareness