Tomoya is your average hardcore otaku, obsessed with manga, anime, visual novels, you name it. One day, he has a fateful encounter with a girl that inspires him to achieve greatness by creating the best visual novel of all time. In order to accomplish such a task, he needs a ‘circle’ to help manage elements of the game such as the scenario and art, and thus he sets out to recruit members. Fortunately (unsurprisingly?), he knows several girls who are all prodigies at their various areas of expertise in otaku-dom, and manages to convince them to join, heading down the path to create the ultimate dating sim.
How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend (also known as Saekano) has become quite the darling on Ani-TAY for one reason in particular: its frequent meta-humor. Since the show has a very classic-sounding harem setup (with minor differences, of course), it would be the fodder for many jokes from viewers. However, before the viewers can get to it the show does their job for them, mocking itself frequently and blatantly. The second scene of episode 0 opens with Tomoya about to introduce the characters, only to be interrupted by the scenario writer, Utaha, who remarks that nothing is lower than a show opening with a long internal monologue.
Bits such as that are extremely amusing for most anime fans, but it is important to note one thing: if you don’t watch a lot of rom-coms or anime in general, the effects on many of the jokes will be lost on you. If you have though... I have a hard time believing that any major rom-com fan would be able to get through the entire series without laughing. Saekano is probably the most meta anime I’ve seen in a while, and it benefits all the more because of it.
It’s not just the meta-humor that makes Saekano a fun show to watch; if the meta-humor is the hook, then the rest of the humor would be the line and sinker. While it is true that characters can often fall into classic tropes (more on that later), even their normal interactions are amusing. The reason that the show really works out in this respect, however, would be because of how it actually tries to flesh out the different harem members.
The ‘childhood friend’ Eriri might follow some stereotypes, but viewers are given plenty of information about her over time, from her family life to hidden otaku habits. The rest of the cast is equally interesting. Utaha, the scenario writer, is a famous novelist and although she is normally quiet and reserved she is more aggressive around Tomoya, having fallen in love with him in the past. Megumi, the ‘main heroine’ who inspired Tomoya to create his game, is as normal as possible with almost zero presence, but has this excellent quality of bluntly pointing out issues and flaws whenever she sees them. Finally, there is Michiru, the music writer as well as Tomoya’s cousin who is against his otaku habits but writes amazing anime-style music (and also has no sense of boundaries). That’s not to say necessarily that the cast would qualify as well developed in another setting, but for a harem-oriented romantic comedy, the character development is quite impressive.
The built-up information about the characters lends itself to the comedy aspect very well, and that is most definitely an important factor in Saekano’s quality. Sometimes it will even mix in meta-humor with the regular humor, making outrageously amusing scenes. I wish that this kind of character development was done more often, because harem rom-coms in general could use a nice change of pace.
Saekano has a fascinating art style. For those of you that know me, you know that I don’t usually comment on animation or art, but I’m making an exception in this case. Saekano is very prettily drawn and features excellent character design, but the most intriguing aspect of its visuals is the way that the colors will shift to focus on one specific hue at times to emphasize certain elements in the scene such as the mood. Although it can be polarizing, I appreciated the uniqueness. Here’s a little sample:
Both this and the last section occur because Saekano is inherently a paradox. In order to have meta-humor the way it does, it must HAVE things to make fun of itself for, and have them it does. One of these issues is an incredible proliferation of tropes. So many tropes. From the otaku that has forsworn real women for the love of 2D to the campy tsundere behaviors of Eriri, Saekano has it all.
Fortunately, this is not usually an issue as it manages to successfully exploit these characteristics in its humor. The problem is that sometimes it doesn’t, and when it doesn’t pull off the humor the show appears derivative at best.
It’s a tale as old as time: your favorite anime has ended, but... it didn’t REALLY end! Saekano falls for the common issue that you may understand if you’ve seen shows such as Tokyo Ghoul: there is no real ending, no real closure. It basically just ends, because unfortunately it is only a one-cour project.
Thankfully, it does reach a moderate sense of closure, but only in the sense that it solves one major conflict while leaving others hanging. I wouldn’t say that you should not watch it if this is the only reason not to though, because this type of ending is a relatively common occurrence in rom-coms. Not that that fact makes it any less annoying.
My biggest gripe with Saekano is the ridiculous levels of fanservice it has. Episode 0 actually had so much that I was worried about how much I would like the show at first, but thankfully it toned things down slightly following that first episode. However, the fan service is still all over, and can be borderline absurd. Even though the show often uses fanservice as a way to mock itself, at times it is just blatantly there to be... fanservice.
I actually didn’t think about this too much for a while, but when I attempted to watch episode 10 on a bus I had to stop within a few minutes just because of the continuous stream of it, and that’s what really got me thinking: I watch Saekano in spite of the fanservice. While I subconsciously realized this before, it is something that I now fully realize will hinder your enjoyment of the show unless you fall under the category of ‘fanservice enthusiast’.
Saekano is an entertaining show. Its ability to weave character development and meta-humor into a harem rom-com is amusing at times and downright hilarious at others. Although it falls for some of the same traps other similar shows do (albeit willingly), I would still recommend it to anyone that enjoys the genre. However, it is important to note that Saekano is fantastic because it understands its target audience, but its target audience is relatively small. If you are NOT a fan of harem shows to a certain extent, as humorous as the show is I cannot recommend it to you because much of its humor is built off the viewers’ prior knowledge of the genre. If you ARE though, then I highly recommend you take a look.
Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend is currently available for free and legal streaming on Crunchyroll.
You’re reading Ani-TAY, the anime-focused portion of Kotaku’s community-run blog, Talk Amongst Yourselves. Ani-TAY is a non-professional blog whose writers love everything anime related. Click here to check us out.
This is the first in my series of reviews for the Winter 2015 anime season. Here’s the full list (I will link them as they release):
If you liked this article, you might also like: