Saeinai Heroine no Sadekata (or SaeKano; known in English as How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend) is an anime adaptation of a light novel series of the same name written by Fumiaki Maruto. First aired in January 2015, it features Aki Tomoya (voiced by Matusoka Yoshitsugu), an otaku who started a dating sim project, pulling his childhood friend Sawamura Spencer Eriri (Ounish Saori to help with the artwork, his senpai Kasumigaoka Utaha (Kayano Ai) to help with scenario, and later on his cousin Hyoudou Michiru (Yahagi Sayuri) to help with the music. Furthermore, he also convinces his non-otaku classmate, and also the titular character, Katou Megumi (Yasuno Kiyono) to join his circle and be the model for the main heroine of the story they are making. Recently this June, the second season of the anime has concluded and this calls for a review of the series for those who would want to jump in on a fun harem anime series. For this review though, SaeKano will only be viewed as an anime and an anime alone, regardless of its similarities or differences to its light novel and manga versions, and seeing it in terms of story, characters, voice acting, animation and music.
The first season of SaeKano mainly shows the dynamics of the characters (it’s a harem series so the characters really have to stand out to make it interesting). It starts off with heavy hints that Tomoya had an unrevealed past with Utaha and also a conflict with his childhood friend Eriri. This makes the first few episodes a bit disorienting, making the viewing experience either frustrating or exciting depending on how one views the anticipation of a reveal. Another dynamic is the rivalry between Eriri and Utaha that was never really resolved nor explained throughout the first season, making it a plot point that would have been a downer to think about if one has watched the season when it was ongoing.
The concept of the story is something familiar and has been going on for a while now where otaku characters are introduced and through them, there will be some introductions and allusions to different aspects of otaku culture such as doujinshi or the negative connotations of being an otaku. Furthermore, it also features characters with specific talents, and using these talents, they will have a collaborative work from where conflict, fanservice, and character development would be added in. This is similar to that one storyline in Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo where an aspiring video game developer, a programmer, an aspiring voice actress, a mangaka, an animator, and a scriptwriter banded together to make a video game.
One of the kinds of fanservice that SaeKano abuses is the sleepover. Using the guise of doing all-nighters for the dating sim project, the anime easily and effectively sneaks in multiple bedroom scenes where exposition, dirty jokes, or actual game development progress can happen. Furthermore, the anime is self-aware in that it alludes multiple times to tropes found in dating sims and harem anime, effectively making itself immune to being accused of using cheap and clichéd techniques in creating a harem situation by announcing to the viewers the irony of them talking about it and also subsequently experiencing such clichés. This self-awareness also takes it up a notch by putting in meta jokes, talking about screen times, episodes, and breaking of character.
The second season ties in some plot holes from the first season and concludes the project that the main characters have been working on throughout much of the story, with its second half dealing with what happens to their circle, Blessing Software, after successfully finishing the game.
Overall, the story initially would be fun, filled with character introductions, setting up the respective dynamics of the heroines to the main character, with some drama sprinkled here and there that could also be set-ups to further fanservice. Later on though, it would get all dramatic, dealing with saddening issues such as graduating, and not being talented enough. The story might not be enjoyable though if one is to nitpick the arguably too-good-to-be-true disposition of some of the characters when it comes to their fame in their respective fields in the doujinshi scene. This is a bit similar to how light novel authors were portrayed in Eromanga-sensei.
©A-1 Pictures, 2017
Tomoya is a typical otaku: not-so-social, passionate about his hobby, and has a tendency to fanboy. Like a typical harem protagonist, he has a tendency to go all-out whenever he needs to help one of the heroines. However, he is not an overwhelming protagonist who does everything right. While he has his pathetic side, he doubles up on his resolve. In fact, unlike other harem anime where the protagonist ends up being sucked into conflict that leads to him having a harem (such as in Date A Live), he is actually the guy who sucks in the girls creating a dating sim that leads to him having a harem.
Sawamura Spencer Eriri
Eriri, under the penname Kashiwagi Eri, is an artist within her own doujinshi circle that produces R-18 doujinshi. She is a twintailed tsundere childhood friend that is very dedicated to her art and would always finish the job even though she usually goes behind schedule. She despises Utaha and is always ready to interfere whenever Utaha flirts with Tomoya.
Under the penname Kasumi Utako, Utaha is the author of the light novel series Koisuru Metronome that Tomoya is a big fan of. Along with her writing career and good academic standing, Utaha has not many friends, eventually agreeing to hang out with and help Tomoya with his dating sim project. While usually sleepy due to cramming her writing before the deadline, she usually finds time to tease Tomoya much to Eriri’s discomfort.
While most harem anime have two main girls to reduce the conflict of the romance into a love triangle (such as Onodera Kosaki and Kirisaki Chitoge from Nisekoi, or Mikazuki Yozora and Kashiwazaki Sena from Haganai), SaeKano has a weird dynamic where Utaha and Eriri seem to be the girls in the main love triangle but also has Megumi that pretty is the most favored girl of the protagonist (in a way similar to how Furukawa Nagisa is the main heroine in the harem in Clannad). Megumi, a non-otaku, stands out among the harem as a plain girl among the multiple heroine stereotypes existing in the anime. Even though deadpan, and ignorant of what she is supposed to do for the dating sim project, she is very honest with what she wants and has a surprisingly rich personality within her supposedly boring portrayal.
Introduced late into the first season, Michiru is Tomoya’s cousin who is the same age as him. A very carefree girl with no regard for Tomoya’s personal space, she both literally and figuratively barges in on the story to add music and more fanservice. She is a bit of an opposite of Megumi in that she is aggressive when it comes to teasing Tomoya but it is not clear how much of it is deliberate flirting or just fooling around.
©A-1 Pictures, 2017
To couple with the archetypal and trope-y characterizations, there is not much out of the ordinary for the anime’s voice acting. Matsuoka has some high-pitched lines whenever Tomoya is flustered or gets passionate about something, pulling off the otaku character in a bit exaggerated way. Ounishi does some convincing tsundere voice acting, with cute flustered stuttering whenever she gets into a tight situation or is the subject of a gag. Kayano pulls off a smoky voice to accentuate Utaha’s aggressive advances on Tomoya. Yahagi is very energetic, portraying Michiru’s free-spirited nature and also her bully-like antics whenever she teases Tomoya. Finally, and most interestingly, Yasuno does a great job at portraying Megumi giving out lines that sound so uninterested yet still so cute.
©A-1 Pictures, 2017
While most of the scenes in the story happen in a classroom, a bedroom or a café, much of the progression of the story happens in dialogue. This makes lots of supposedly boring shots, but this is prevented by seemingly random frames with flashy coloration. And if one would take the word flashy literally, its art quality and animation fluidity do spike up during fanservice scenes and questionable close-up shots.
Another interesting decision made in the animation is its different ways of doing flashbacks. One flashback has the classic fade-in-fade-out transition. Another flashback has a crayon-like background to go in line that it’s a childhood flashback. And yet another one has manga panels as its motif.
The anime also has lots of easter eggs to look out for such as OreImo figures and Date A Live light novels. What is interesting too is that the figures seem photographed and just blended in the background to make them look realistic.
©A-1 Pictures, 2017
Going in line with its dating sim theme, SaeKano features simple melodies in its background music usually played by a piano or a guitar. Its OPs and EDs have pop-y tunes to contrast this. It also features one rock insert song courtesy of Michiru’s band, Icy Tail.
©A-1 Pictures, 2017
SaeKano separates itself from the stereotypical harem anime in two ways. First, while it adopts a lot of common tropes and clichés in harem anime, it also deconstructs them, making its characters comment on the absurdity of harems while also being a bit dense at times whenever density is convenient. Second, it has a heroine like Megumi, a subversion of the belief of making heroines stand out by using archetypal designations. Megumi throws that out the window by standing out by not standing out.
All in all, SaeKano is an anime that does not take itself seriously and actually makes the viewer think about it more because of it. It is frustrating to watch if you’re a fan of realism. It is enjoying to watch if you like otaku-themed anime, fanservice, or fourth wall breaking. But most notably, it is not mindless. Even though one might not agree and think it is absurd, the anime provides explanations to anything that happens in the plot. SaeKano, while being seemingly typical for its genre, has its unique perks that are worth noticing.