My goodness I don't even know where to begin with this madness. The anime is so ironic. My original chance with it, I watched the first episode which is titled fan service episode. I laughed at how it was self aware but after watching that episode I also realized how shamelessly self aware the episode was. The episode was dedicated nudity with lots of skins and the characters spent in hot springs. Although its self awareness was a plus for me, the amount of skin shown in that was just too much. So after watching episode 0, I decided its sensibilities were too much for me. I didn't remember any of the characters' names nor their personalities other than their stereotypical templatized characteristics: the tsundere, the cold ice queen, the dendere and the imouto.
I remember applauding them for their degree of self awareness. It was too much so I gave up and I didn't care to see anime girls with that much skin if I don't know who they were to begin with. (On when later after finishing season 1, I realized that the episode 0 was an OVA....) Anyways, after giving up on Saekano after that episode, I only picked it up again yesterday. My goodness wasn't I surprised. I was hit with a lot of genuine moments about serious matters on creative processes, project management, creative team operations and growth as an artist. I really really didn't expect that. Maybe just like what Tomoya said about the rules of dating sim which are 1. the girls should be cute 2. break all the rules. Saekano excelled both. All the female characters were cute in their designs and the anime broke a lot of rules.
We are not talking about just fourth wall breaking. It was using the most trite template of the genre to tell a story that's so different than its presentation. True the anime was tagged with "ecchi" in Crunchyroll. It all of its normal episodes, it gave the viewers plenty of 'fan service' around specific fetishes "stockings", "short skirts", boobs, backs, showers and all that but it wasn't done distastefully at all. I don't know how to put it correctly. I saw a pure ecchi show the other day "Yunna and the hot spring" which purely put on the show to satisfy these fetishes of the viewers. In contrast, Saekano secretly slips those moments in here and there. Maybe secretly isn't the right word either. At the end of the day, the viewer saw that the animators put there and liked them but it just seem very natural. Also it seems as if when the animators put those scenes there to say "I knew you guys like these" and "I want you guys to have these reactions". They were skillful enough to elicit these responses from us. Maybe this point isn't fully developed yet but the way they handled their ecchi element was definitely different and more pleasing than how other shows of the same genre would have done. It is more natural?
Now speaking of breaking all the rules, it's like all anime girls have the templatized responses to certain situations for example : getting too close the male protagonist, getting into the room by themselves with the guy, being called cute, spent the night at the guy's house, getting into an emotional authentic moment. If you have watched enough anime, you'd know what the different types of characters would respond:
Tsundere would snap and automatically hide her true feelings and blush or something like that (Eriri)
Icy queen would make authentic observations and comment on their current situations and move the conversation forward into the meta domain while seem cool doing it (Utako)
Dendere would just act all coy and have trouble finish her sentences (Megumi)
Inmouto would become protective, blush and display the tabooed familial love etc... (Hyoko)
In this show, all characters are unquestionably templatized for sure but they break their characters in most of their character portrayal. I guess at this point, I shouldn't call them breaking chracters but more of "real people" with these cliched anime character trope tendencies. Their refreshing presense isn't brought about by their tropey character setup but by how real each of them are.
It is often hard to define at what point characters start to feel real for me but this is definitely one of those when you feel it, you know it moments. The closest thing to justify how real they is through the multiple dimensions of their personalities, desires, fears and growth. I am not saying this work of Saekano presents all the intricacies of character development in its anime adaption. It did enough to show the complexity of its characters to convince me enough to suspend my belief for a second and cheer them on as real people. Yet the irony is how unlikely this group were to actually exist in the first place. It's presentation/display of its ironic setup and its clear awareness of its irony are icings on the cake.
Let's talk about the characters' dimensions. All of them have feelings for the protagonist but all of them are pursuing something real, something grander than what the anime's setup usually calls for - high school romance and pure moe situations. Eriri is an acclaimed porno illustrator and she aims to achieve her own level of artistic expression. She cared deeply about what she could create and the right moments that she wanted to capture. Utako is a serious light novel writer who really understands the nuances of writing, character building, progression, setup, conversations etc. Megumi starts off as a bland character with Dendere characteristics in her voice and her character design but her branded authentic responses and sharp commentary/observations are such big contrasts against her character trope. Both Eriri and Utako like the protagonist for sure and dislike each for the same reason. But both are able to come to terms with this and respect each others' goals, talents and desires. Because of that respect, both cared for each other's growth and authenticity. These are just some of the moments that really stood out to me.
Now let's talk about the growth of the characters. To me I saw signs of growth in the cast but they were mere signs. When there was not too much at stake behind the growth, it is hard to relate to the significance of their growth. It is almost as if the cast would have grown even if they didn't make the game together. Let me clarify what I mean by "not much at stake". I know people would say for sure both Eiriri and Utako grew a lot and because of their growth the game was such a success. That part was good. Those two "arcs" definitely had stakes behind each but I can't help but feel that if Eirir and Utako never partake the project, both would have grown nonetheless. I don't know how to put this into words but let me try. It wasn't clear to me what part of them actually grew, especially for Eiriri, it just seems that inspiration dawned suddenly and it was all saved. For Utako, it just seems that she accepted Tomoya's comments about the third route and then worked more and then voila, the game was saved. Maybe both were able to change because both were able to confront something they weren't confront before but that's just not impactful enough. What weren't they able to confront in the first place? Was it Eiriri's double personalities? Was Utako's? I can't even pinpoint what Utako wasn't able to confront as I am writing. However this is not to say the characters didn't grow at all. I am only saying it could have been better?
What I loved the most about this show was how genuine each cared about their artistic expressions. All were able to be truthful when it came to their 'craft'. All were very much into their crafts in a real way. I really didn't know much about the game development process from the creative angle. This put a lot of light on that although the programming aspect was too unrealistic. It was an narrative about the creative process using a very very unexpected setup. Very very refreshing.
Anyways, I really really enjoyed the show though not on an emotional level where I connected with the characters but more from an intellectual level where I welcomed the show's ironic setup, character development and cute anime girls. I suppose this statement is itself an irony. Calling the enjoyment of an ecchi-tagged anime purely on the intellectual level is something I never thought I'd say.