This is review number four hundred and forty one. This anime is part of the Winter 2015 lineup, and it’s called Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata or Saekano for short. It’s a thirteen episode anime about a harem doing a visual novel but it’s an all-ages VN. Yeah, let’s read on.
The anime follows a guy named Tomoya Aki who had a fated encounter one morning. He witnesses a girl on top of a hill holding onto her hair as the wind blew past her making the cherry blossoms dance with it. Her white beret lands near Aki, and he was utterly mesmerized. He was so into it that he now wants to recreate it. He plans on making a VN with the girl as the main heroine. As he makes a proposal to enlist his members for the project though, he discovers his heroine is actually a classmate of his. The fact that he never noticed her is a big problem, and he soon discovers this girl is a very plain character.
Taking the Pants Off
So, yeah, it’s a light novel anime. Taking advantage of my long weekend, I tried watching the anime in two days. It’s a fun show, since it’s one of those light novels that do commentary about the industry. It’s kinda like Eromanga-sensei, except this anime came out first. It’s also produced by A-1 Pictures, so I was honestly confused at the appeal of this show. The story seems to be a bit of a mess, but it is pretty ingenious in certain areas. I dunno. I finished the show, and I just feel indifferent towards it. I even picked up the light novel to see what I missed and I still don’t get it. It could be because the show is very similar to Eromanga-sensei and the show gave me nothing new. It could be because I am just tired of LN tropes and the typical setups. I wanted to love this anime, but it doesn’t really do anything for me. I apologize if my review will be a bit tilted. Saekano is a really good show, but I feel like I’ve seen this show before.
Assembling a Harem
Actually, I think it’s the lack of a cohesive story that made this show flat for me. Eromanga-sensei is a celebration of LN and the author’s success in general. You can feel him thank his readers for loving OreImo, and all that energy is poured into Eromanga. Saekano is honestly confusing, since the main focus of the show isn’t really that well established. So the show is about a guy that had a chance encounter with a girl. When he realized the girl he likes is a super plain girl, he decided to make a visual novel about her. He promises to make everyone like her as the main heroine. To make the game, he recruits a popular doujinshi artist and a popular light novel author to his cause. Both happen to be his classmates, and both happen to be girls because of course. In the first episode alone, the harem is quickly established but the goal into making the VN isn’t really set in stone yet. The two girls aren’t ready to join the guy in his weird whims, but we do see them flirt with him in succeeding episodes. Apparently, the harem is featured heavily but the backbone of the series, the VN, seems to progress with little care. If I was a guy with short attention span then I’d have no problem enjoying the scenes of the main character being super friendly with the girls. Hell, this is LN 101, the good ol’ reliable wish fulfillment trope. I’m honestly fine with that, but the title promised to raise a boring girlfriend. Also, these characters are making a video game, right? Where is that?
Wait, the first episode is actually episode zero and it’s like an OVA of the show. The already assembled harem visits a hot spring and they just do harem stuff to the guy. The harem was actually introduced very early on, even without context, and this can only mean one thing: the anime is freestyling this sh*t. I need to read the light novel.
For the Readers
As suspected, A-1 Pictures completely overhauled the story. Proper introductions were rushed and certain scenes were cut out. Sawamura and Utaha were introduced in bulk and a lot of scenes were altered. A-1 Pictures is a beast of a studio, and they are known for making faithful adaptations. I know this, because I’m still drooling at how perfect Your Lie in April is. The change for this anime seems to be on purpose. They didn’t want a faithful adaptation of the source. Instead they wanted to celebrate it, and they wanted the loyal readers to join in on the fun. Yes, altered scenes and certain dialogue are consciously changed as a nod to LN readers. They helped turn this mess into an anime, so it’s only right that a lot of winks and nudges would be something only they can appreciate. Now, the adaptation is completely different from the LN, but the content is still the same. Aside from the bulk introductions, the character arcs and relationships are still intact. The road to get from A to B is just changed slightly. The LN opened with just Katou being convinced by Aki to become a better heroine. He peppers her with visual novels and endless trope tirades, which are honestly a headache to read, but she would just give an uninterested “oh” or “ok” back at him. Through this back and forth, Sawamura and Utaha are gradually introduced. It’s completely different from the anime’s approach where Aki’s classmate just dumped exposition about the characters.
It’s almost as if A-1 Pictures didn’t really care about the character introduction, because the people watching already know who they are. The damn show opened with a hot spring episode. If I had read the LN first, there is no doubt I’d be smiling at the last scene of episode zero where Aki and Katou shared a sincere moment with each other. This moment is something only an LN reader would appreciate, so you kinda already know who the audience for this show is. Of course, you don’t have to read the LN to love this anime but there’ll certainly be details that’ll fly over your head. For example, after the long night Katou and Aki spent playing VN, this was immediately followed by a train ride to a book signing event where Utaha is introduced. In the anime, this didn’t happen and Katou took a family trip instead. It’s stupid like that, but it’s a wink only readers would get.
An Anime LN VN….adaptation
While the basic progression and structure of the story is cut out of the anime, it is filled to the brim with a lot of meta commentary. In fact, the anime opened with it.
In the light novel, Aki is the weird one being super into VNs that he’d talk about character tropes and clichéd progression in annoyingly long paragraphs. I swear to gawd, LN, if it isn’t eight grade syndrome then it’d be a talkative otaku. Anyways, Aki’s ramblings is adapted by the anime as well but this time, the characters are all super aware. They’d point out the show’s own short comings and even poke fun at how it implements tropes and clichés to various situations. It’s incredibly smart, is what I’m getting at. I found myself laughing several times at how the show would beat me to the punch. I’d just think the entire scene is stupid, but the characters themselves would point it out first. Being a celebration of the adaptation, the show is pretty relentless in the stuff it tries to point out. It feels like it lives in a weird line where the fourth wall and the serious story borders, and the anime is this drunk bastard that couldn’t keep things straight in one direction. But again, I love it. I love this approach to the adaptation. Given that the characters are making a visual novel and the anime’s source is a light novel it feels like this show is trying to celebrate all three. Tropes of different kinds, mentions of flags, and otaku culture in general, the story of raising a girlfriend is somehow replaced with deep talks about being an otaku of all kind. Do I prefer this over a good well established story?
Hell no. But I still love the unique-ness of it.
A Plain Character
If there’s one thing the adaptation got right, then it’d be the best girl in the series. Katou is one hell of a character, and I love every moment of her. In the anime, she is just this cool girl that entertains everyone’s whim. She doesn’t stand out, but she is super caring. She has a very lax attitude that really makes her charming considering the other characters are super clichéd types. She’s the same in the light novel, except she hangs out more with Aki serving as a side kick to his weird exploits. They’d have long dialogues of Aki just spouting otaku nonsense that Katou would lovingly entertain. She’d bop in and out of the conversation, but I love that she is supportive like that. It might sound weird, but this plain character is actually a new favorite thing of mine. She isn’t really a kuudere, too. She is just a chill person that stumbles into cliché situations without batting an eye. It’s a welcome change of pace considering the other girls act so textbook. The tsundere is exactly the right amount of tsun-tsun and dere-dere, and the sharp tongued Senpai is as sadistic as you’d expect. Katou is different. When everyone in the harem is fighting for a piece of Aki, she’d stay in the corning browsing her phone completely uninterested. It’s like she knows it herself that she’d eventually get her turn, and she doesn’t need to try hard. I freaking love her. The fact that she’s so open minded with trying out Aki’s otaku culture is kinda fun to watch. She’s a well-conceived character and she’s the brightest thing in the show for me.
I’d also give points for Kiyono Yasuno’s voice work for the character. This is something solely unique to the anime, but her voice brought Katou to life. The “plain” character is given so much well…..character thanks to Kiyono’s performance. I love voice works like this, because there’s really nothing in the LN to tell Kiyono how to voice Katou. This reminds me of Gugure Kokuri-san where the little girl is brought to life by her VA as well.
If there’s one thing I like about trashy light novel like this, then it’d be the sentiment delivered by the characters. Sometimes you don’t need to blurt out “I love you” to get the point across. LN does it in a more subtle manner. Think of Haruhi changing her hairstyle after Kyon told her she looks cute in it. It’s that small action that’ll make you smile as you read the LN and realize their relationship is heading somewhere more meaningful. This anime captured those moments as well. Now, I’m not talking about actions that other characters will tease another with, like sitting on a girl’s lap or some stupid sh*t like that. I’m talking about unspoken actions, often unacknowledged, that only matters between the two characters. LN does this a lot, and it’s often a big pay off after sitting through trashy fan service. I look back at Oreshura and the “I’m going to heal you” statement of the main character. There’s one in Hyouka when we discover Chitanda is more relaxed around the main character but super serious at her home. These are sentiments. Small yet cute details that light novel do best. After all, you spent so much time and paragraph with these characters that its only right they end up making you smile. This show gives us plenty of those moments usually between Katou and Aki. It basically gives you an idea how deep their relationship is compared to the other girls. It’s also another big reason why Katou is the best girl in the series.
The first half of the show features Katou and the shallow attempt of Aki to make a video game. The anime danced around the subject for a long time, but you don’t really feel it progressing. It’s just there, to be honest. It doesn’t affect the show in any manner. Towards the second half of the anime though, the other girls take center stage. Basically everyone that appeared in the hot spring episode is introduced properly, and their relationship with Aki is given focus. Again, the narrative is awful. Some details are glossed over and some scenes just lack context. The fan service is laid on thick here though, as if the only thing that matters between the other girls and Aki is the fact that he gets ecchi time with them. Utaha’s episode is the one that is glossed over the most. Firstly, the anime never explained that she like translating sh*t, hence her nickname to Aki as “Mr. Ethics”. Little did we know that there is a deeper meaning to that story and to the light novel that got Utaha famous as well. It’s basically all about Aki and the show skipped over a bunch of important parts. It’s told beautifully in the light novel, so just pick up the thing.
Sawamura got more love in the anime though, and I did like the episodes involving her. I also love her chemistry with the two main characters. She’s a tsundere so she’s easy to like. Actually, while their introduction isn’t properly established, the show did nail the characters. All their weird quirks, their banter with each other and their fan service moments are all featured in the show. It’s a wonderful character showcase, especially if you are already familiar with the cast. There is such a strong showcase here that no one really gets lost in the fold. No one fades in the background, and they all get their time in the spotlight. I actually love how even the meaningless paragraphs describing the way the put on their stockings is adapted in the show. A-1 Pictures is really good at adaptations, and you can tell they put effort where it is needed.
Kamei, Maruto and A-1 Pictures
This is off topic, but there is actually an anime called Saikano about a cute girlfriend turned into a WMD by the government. It’s a very dramatic show, and it ends with the world being destroyed. When I heard people praising Saekano, I kinda did a double take because you don’t praise Saikano. You just watch it, silently reflect at the events that transpired and then move on with your life. Seriously though, it’s a trip of an anime so check out Saikano. I bet most people have already when they typed Saekano incorrectly in their search bar.
Anyways, A-1 Pictures seems to understand their consumer loves faithful adaptations. They’re the only studio that really does the leg work, and I love them for that. If it’s an A-1 piece then you can really expect that they had you, the viewer, in mind when they created the show.
Actually, off topic again but man, the quality of noitaminA shows are getting weird. I never expected such a light novel anime to appear in this slot, but I guess it’s a sign of the changing times. Kudos to A-1 Pictures for featuring Your Lie in April and Saekano in the lineup, and points for Kanta Kamei as well for giving us an adaptation with so much effort. His directing style is really featured in this show, and I really enjoy when you can tell the directors are having fun in their project. He doesn’t direct a lot of shows, but his works speak for themselves. Usagi Drop’s adaptation is kinda well known, and yes, I freaking knew it, this dude also directed Oreshura. Episode zero really had an Oreshura vibe to it, and the anime even calls itself out for it.
This is a first for me, but the guy who series composed the show is the author himself. Fumiaki Maruto took his own story and loosely adapted it as an anime. Now it makes weird sense how smart the whole thing is given that the one that dismantled and reassembled this show is the author himself. Why did he focus on the fan service though? It could only mean that he’s celebrating with the anime and acknowledging that this mess truly wouldn’t happen if the LN readers didn’t support it. I love that. I wish more studios would give more LN authors the chance to series compose their own works. I guess Saekano had enough fanfare to make this happen.
Sight and Sound
Kurehito Misaki did the character design for the series, and it’s your standard LN affair here. Characters play up their stereotype while their sexy bodies are given emphasis. Utaha and Sawamura are your typical fan service poster girls while Katou is often dressed up as a pure character. Kurehito’s color palette is also the usual LN cover style, and again, his design shines in the details like most LN designs. I love their uniforms and the heavy emphasis on the character’s outfits. There are usually long paragraphs describing a girl’s outfit and Kurehito would try to match Maruto’s vivid images. I love the way he design Katou. Combined with the skin palette that A-1 Pictures uses on their animation, then the result are really appealing characters you won’t get tired of staring at. I guess I also like how each character stands out on their own unique way. The harem never gets crowded because you can distinguish each character.
Animation is outstanding. Actually, the directing is amazing and you can tell Kamei had a lot of fun doing it. I especially love how he introduced Katou, a character so bland that she delivers her line off focused or off screen. He also does this weird Shaft-like transition to emphasis a character’s emotion and I love that small touch. It feels like he’s experimenting on a new style and it is working wonders for me. Given this is A-1 Pictures, you can expect the animation is always consistently good. I especially admire the close ups, because the animation gets detailed here. The way a character curves her body, bends her legs or shifts her eyes are given so much attention. The movements are usually explained in long paragraphs in the LN, so I love how thorough this show is in its adaptation. If there’s something I didn’t like in the animation, then it’d be the CG typing hands in certain scenes. It looks stupid given how out of place it is. In terms of establishing a scene, transitioning a shot or employing effective camera angles, you can bet this anime nailed it.
The anime’s OP is “Kimiiro Signal” by Luna Haruna. It’s a decent song, but it gives off a weird VN vibe to me. I think it’s on purpose, since the level of meta has gone too deep now. The song talks about a girl liking a guy, and it’s accompanied by an Amagami SS inspired OP that features all the girls. Seriously, it does not look like an LN anime. It is structured like a VN anime, which is an insane level of detail considering this anime adapted from an LN is about characters doing a VN, and now they’re featured like VN themselves in the OP. What is up with that? The anime’s ED is “Colorful.” by Miku Sawai. This song is adorable. It’s basically the same song as the OP, but it’s cuter. It’s about a girl noticing that he likes a guy, and she is sorting out her feelings. I like it, especially with the ED sequence that features all the girls just being cute. It also ends with the Katou smiling while the camera is off center to her face. It’s adorable.
7/10 “It’s a fun and engaging show despite its lack of a stronger story. There are other things to enjoy here.”
I am a stickler when it comes to plot. A good anime needs a strong story, and this anime doesn’t really have that. It does have smart dialogue, a strong character showcase and enough elements to cover up the lack of a good story. If you enjoy LN anime with a focus on harem then you’ll like this anime. If you like some meta with your show then you’ll enjoy this one as well. I recommend it.
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