As the 2nd season of the anime series titled Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata (冴えない彼女の育てかた; How To Raise A Boring Girlfriend) comes to a close, I just can’t stop myself now from writing a review of the progress of the series so far (in the anime) centered on undeniably it’s spotlight character, the main heroine of the story, Katou Megumi (加藤 恵).
I can’t believe that someone like me who was originally being pulled into subscribing to the series by Kasumigaoka Utaha (霞ヶ丘 詩羽) would find the greatest anime heroine and possibly my ideal girl on Megumi. I picked up this series knowing that Megumi was the titular character and the main heroine, as typically implied by the titles, like Chitoge in Nisekoi, Sagiri in Eromanga-sensei, and Kirino in Oreimo. The title itself, translated as “How To Raise A Boring Girlfriend,” posed a question – maybe intended to those browsing through the newcomer series bookshelves on various book stores to raise their curiosity – on how someone “boring” like Megumi would draw the appeal of the audience and the characters within the world created by Fumiaki Maruto-sensei and designed by Kurehito Misaki-sensei. It was given right off the bat on Volume 1, or specifically on the middle and latter parts of that volume, though the anime did this through the fan servicing Episode 0.
Katou Megumi was a breath of fresh air from the anime tropes and written characters. The series highlighted her by placing her beside and against characters and heroines with character profiles derived from some anime character archetype (though each were generic on their own way) to draw sharp contrast and pose a question regarding one’s reality of preferences, mainly of the main character’s, Aki Tomoya’s (安芸 倫也), who was an inside-and-out otaku who fawns on 2D characters instead of real life people.
That preference of Tomoya was further exaggerated and intensified by being surrounded or involved with characters that almost resemble some anime characters in terms of background, appearance,and personality, like the goddess/senpai Utaha, childhood friend/sweetheart Sawamura Spencer Eriri (澤村・スペンサー・英梨々), cousin Hyodo Michiru (氷堂 美智留), and kouhai Hashima Izumi (波島 出海). Megumi turned Tomoya’s world of preferences upside-down, as Tomoya was even having a hard time finding a reference to place Megumi on, fumbling awkwardly most of the time. That also reflected on her inexplicable importance and position within Blessing Software, Tomoya’s upstart game-making circle.
But it is with that position of her that we can oversee her character development and strip the subtleties and nuances that she’s making. Although Tomoya added some positions under her later in the series, her main and original job was to be the main heroine. She signed up in Tomoya’s circle under Tomoya’s promise that he will mold/train her to be the world’s greatest heroine that will capture the hearts of everyone. That was the blurry part and premise of the series that Megumi has managed to flew past radar detection. Most of the fans speculated that Megumi has feelings for Tomoya already around Season 2, with them acting like lovers/spouses already. Most of those who read the light novel (before being DMCA-ed, between the release dates of Vol 7 and Vol 8) would refute that assumption.
To answer the question about Katou’s mixed signals, her main job for the circle is to be the main heroine, right? All of those acts before the final chapters of the 7th volume or the opening chapters of the 8th volume (or Season 2 – Episode 11) were Megumi trying her best to be the main heroine in order to give resource for “Cherry Blessing”. Since Tomoya, and most of us readers/viewers were already captured by her charm from the start, it was easy for Tomoya (which he embarrassingly tried to confirm on S2-EP08) and us to mistake to her development as falling in love to him. But it is really not like that. Although, Tomoya has become a special type of friend for Megumi, where she is comfortable to be with, that romantic side has not yet materialized nor have them cross that boundary. She was trying to be the main heroine, not Tomoya’s kanojo (彼女; girlfriend). That line blurred, although that development was subtle, began to blur when the second project, “Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata”, was introduced.
My original opinion and speculation was that it was during their 2nd project that Tomoya’s sincere intentions (which he projects embarrassingly – which is one of the two sources of the cringes brought by this series – other than Michiru and Utaha’s assaults) has finally reached her. The development of their relationship starting from Volume 8 (I’m hyping this up so that I can bring people to expect and demand a 3rd season, a 20-episode one) was so sweet that it gave me fluttery feeling and emotions, although that development was soured and the climax of their development fizzled for a while when Tomoya ditched Megumi on her birthday date and temporarily defected from their circle for Utaha and Eriri’s sake (Vol 12).
Oh My. This was Tomoya’s first draft of his project proposal (which Eriri and Utaha trashed). Megumi is making Tomoya remember his original intentions in order to start all over again. (Season 2 – Episode 11)
Those speculations were all debunked when it was Maruto-sensei himself who gave the answer by the way he directed my favorite scene on Volume 7, which is Tomoya asking Megumi, who has cut her hair back to short, to be his main heroine once more, then Tomoya crying buckets (I was crying buckets too, when I read this part on the light novel). The way that this scene was directed gave us an answer of when Megumi began to fall for Tomoya.
Having been betrayed by her bestfriend Eriri and senpai Utaha, Megumi realized that she and Tomoya were the only ones remaining to rely each other upon (There’s Michiru, of course. But everyone knows that her free-spirited personality was not for these kinds of emotional things… until Girl’s Side 3). As a result, she opened her heart finally for Tomoya and being the main heroine began to interchange with her growing love for Tomoya, which culminates into her claiming Tomoya to be hers before Eriri in Girl’s Side 2 and Utaha in Girl’s Side 3.
It was said to be a pity to have two/three/four/five heroines, each worthy of their own series, to be pitted against each other to the point that we have spin-offs like Egoistic Lily and Koisoru Metronome to give the spotlight each of them deserved. But it is with that friction that gives the heroines chances to shine, although in the end, the other heroines, mainly Utaha and Eriri, were no match against the prowess of Megumi, which led them to do desperate measures like Utaha doing borderline sexual and vulgar assaults and Eriri appealing with the -dere’s, and eventually led them to concede defeat by the end of Volume 12 and GS 3. At least, they can content themselves in their respective routes on Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata for their happy ending with Tomoya, although imagined. Those “desperate” measures from them backfire as Megumi shines more with her normal acts, or to be specific, making the right and needed moments to shine.
The appeal of those acts from Megumi being normal is that it feels real and it gives a feel that those heartwarming moments Megumi has produced can happen to anyone. In fact, after Volume 7, Megumi often exhibited the “dark side” of hers on which Tomoya and Izumi find scary and which Iori finds “omoi” (heavy). It is the reality of real-life relationships. It is not all just fluttery moments. Consequences are administered on every screw-ups. There are also moments where one feels that he/she is walking on thin ice. Those instances were real.
Megumi, in fact, is trying to break his 2D delusions and make him accept the real world, which he did, culminating to his love confession to her on Volume 12. She was neither breaking nor insulting the otaku industry itself but she was criticizing the impulses of those suffering chuunibyo (8th grade syndrome) and Tomoya’s delusions. She has been doing that by giving humorous yet flat retorts to Tomoya’s assumptions and fantasies. Even though she has been doing that on Tomoya on a regular basis, Tomoya does not see that as making fun of otakus in general, but he does it as her criticism to him which compels him to change and grow, and he still sees her in high regard – not wavered, and even began affixing -sama on some of their conversations – and distinguishes her over others. It is also a representation of her role on most of the non-important scene: she’s there, but is not actively involved, and just lies on a corner, which is the representation of her role in the story in general. Although Saekano was classified as “harem”, Megumi was not part of that harem. The romantic tension was between her and the harem set-up, although the harem already smelled defeat from the very beginning. And speaking of beginnings, one cannot help but wonder on how the harem situation came in the first place.
And that was the fault of our wimpy protagonist who has an understandable desire of keeping his world intact, despite the fact that those people people undeniably hurt him in the past (Eriri) and the fact that he unconsciously inflicted pain to some of them (Utaha). Some may say that he was stupidly dense, but the fact was that he just kept on refusing to pick, at the price of him ignoring the heroines’ advance to which others are dying to be subjected to.
He further reinforced that resolve of his by holing up on his 2D world of preferences. He has feelings for Utaha – on which he ultimately glosses it over as worshipping a goddess -, Eriri – on which he hides by feigning ignorance and acting only as “acquaintances” – and Michiru – on which is downplayed by their desire to act stoic and their excessive skinship (bodyship…Should we invent that word to give a more accurate description?). Each of them has a part not only in their circle but also in Tomoya’s life. And Tomoya being a coward (he admitted it many times and ultimately on Vol 12) for he does not want to let go any of them. But as the series progressed for the heroines, who had, at first, ulterior motives of winning Tomoya, they grew more attached to the circle and their work more than their affection towards Tomoya and they conceded to the realization that Megumi was Tomoya’s predetermined choice all along because it was through her that he stopped being a romantic coward and because she turned from the main heroine into a woman who Tomoya has fallen in love to, unlike Utaha and Eriri who ultimately turned into “goddesses” to worship and not girls whom Tomoya will look at as a girl. Having the heroines realize what they’ve become in the eyes of Tomoya finally loosened up the romantic tension and Tomoya’s shackles which made him free to chase after person that he chose from the very beginning the circle was formed, the one who brought him out from his 2D world and dilemma of choices, Katou Megumi.
Each heroine were given chances to shine on some volumes that were entirely dedicated to them. Utaha’s were on Volume 2, 5, and 10. Eriri’s were Volumes 3,6,9, and GS 2. Michiru’s was on Volume 4. Izumi’s were on Volume 3. And they were given ample time in the spotlights on the Girl’s Side volumes. But we know that something big was about to happen when the volume would center around Megumi, which were Volumes 1, 7, 8, 11, 12, GS 2, and GS 3. That is why understandably, the 2nd season of the anime adaptation HAS to end on Volume 7, because that marked the end of the first half (which comprised of 8 volumes: Vols 1-7 and GS 1). The sentiments of those faithful to the original developments on the light novel were understandable too. Of course, Volume 6 was terribly butchered (into two episodes), which made Eriri’s character – which that volume showcased – seemed shallow. But if I were a storywriter myself, being limited to 11 episodes (there’s nothing we can do against EP 0 because it was promised in the light novel), I would not also end the series on an unpleasant note like in Volume 6. Another factor to be considered was the popularity of the characters. Megumi is clearly the 1st – with her merchandise giving the highest revenues (Hell, there’s even someone who even bought a life-size figure of her for over a million yen!), and her seiyuu, Yasuno Kiyono, gathering a huge fanbase, especially on Indonesia – with Utaha as a clear 2nd.
There are three people that we owed for the conception of a character like Megumi. First is of course, Saekano’s author, Fumiaki Maruto, for writing such a wonderful characters, especially Megumi. Megumi will not stand out alone in this story, if she was not given sharp contrast against the likes of otakus like Utaha, Eriri, and Tomoya. The abundance of such characters made us kind of tired and suffocated with a seemingly repeating trend on story conceptions, though it was not like that we have resentments against the conception of some cute and lovable characters in the other series. It was in that suffocating atmosphere that Megumi gave that breath of fresh air that we were longing that made her shine. Second is Saekano’s illustrator, Kurehito Misaki, for giving life on Megumi on the illustrations. It was not only with the art design of Megumi that made her stand out, but also on her scenes, where a declaration was clearly drawn abstractly in her illustrations, that she is the best heroine. And finally, the third is Megumi’s seiyuu, Yasuno Kiyono, who definitely breathe life into Megumi’s character, which made her more lovable than she already was in the 2D world. Her voice acting has projected Megumi into the 3D world, offering us a refreshing set of emotions on voice acting. This is definitely her break-out role.
Credits are also given to A-1 Pictures who produced both the seasons of Saekano. Though I wanted those who developed the character designs on the anime to do the same face ratio (the ratio of the eyes, ears, and mouth with respect to the face). But I have to be grateful also because that is also their way of paying tribute to Kurehito Misaki-sensei’s artwork, which I had a hard time to replicate, which was used in the anime for Eriri’s art and illustrations…not the ero-doujins.
Season 1 is definitely a good season to reminisce everything (with Kimi Iro Signal, which is very catchy) for the first four volumes. The second season definitely upped the emotional level and character and story developments. There are three episodes that stood out in this season: namely Episodes 5, 8, and 11. Episode 8 for me was beyond words. I’m gonna have diabetes by just watching that episode which is purely Tomoya x Megumi (I already wrote some reactions on the Dear Tel series). Episode 5 depicted very well the five stages of grief Utaha has experienced. That episode also marked the last hurrah for the Utaha shippers….or so it seemed until Episode 11.
Just like Episode 8, Maruto-sensei tweaked some of the details from the light novel, in the anime, Megumi had gone to date with Tomoya first before the scene on the Detective Hill. In the light novel, Megumi has not forgiven Eriri, even though they “reconciled” on Girl’s Side 2, which backfired and led to them having tensions when Megumi indirectly claimed Tomoya to be hers (she did it directly to Utaha on Girl’s Side 3). Michiru’s role was reduced significantly. In fact, she was trying to be transferred to Toyogasaki High, asking Icy Tail members for help even though it’s against their wish, but she failed her entrance exams eventually.
To get the cream of the crop of the episode, the Detective Hill scene. I cried when I first read this on the light novel. Tomoya lamented on his now broken world now that he found himself alone after Utaha and Eriri defected…until Megumi showed up and recreated the scenario where Tomoya has fallen for her for the 2nd time, to cheer him up. Tomoya asked Megumi to be his main heroine again, on which Megumi agrees. They laughed it off at first, but Tomoya’s anesthetics to the pain wore off and he began crying buckets. Man. It also reveals Katou’s new single as a background music, GLISTENING ♭. The song’s tune was actually the ballad and orchestral version of her first single, M ♭, the song that was first played on the first time Megumi has recreated this scene. The song represented a different tone, unlike M ♭, which complemented very well with the scene. All alone in his broken world, Tomoya finds Megumi again, overcoming the overwhelming sadness and devastation for both of them and rekindling his earnest intentions of making her the greatest heroine. I promise that I’ll provide the translation of this song once it’s out next week (I’ll content myself with the sneak peek version as of now)
This scene strikes a chord in me, because I am in a similar situation as Tomoya right now. Now that things with the girl that I’ve been chasing around finally come to an end. All the sacrifices that I made turned into nothing. I was alone, until Megumi and Saekano gave me the hope that I wished for. I managed to overcome my 3-month slump, which caused by “that girl” (who tried to act like Megumi just to fish for attention). And I began to write again, and much as more draw and paint. In the first place, the character’s soliloquy, 4th wall breaks and debates regarding their preferences in story-making, are the ones that drove me into resuming my novel writing, especially resuming Eminencio Magnifico, the novel that I started writing 4 years ago.
I’m currently doing this illustration as a token of appreciation to those behind Megumi and Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata. (Where should I send this?). I have yet to to put color on it.
I will be like Tomoya for the mean time, holing myself up with 2D preferences, with Megumi definitely up there as the greatest heroine for me.
I hope Megumi gets the worldwide recognition that she really deserve. And I hope for a happy ending for both of them in the upcoming 13th and final volume of the series.