Saekano – Review

Yep, there was actually a reason I was going back and watching Saekano. REVIEW TIME! If you’ve been checking my week in review posts, you’ll know I haven’t been so hot on the show, and that carries through to the review. Saekano takes elements from a bunch of things I like (Genshiken, Monogatari, TWGOK), but the overall package comes across as just way too lightly felt, scattershot, and indulgent to really drive at the humor and humanity any of those shows find in their weirdo characters. You could construct a good show out of Saekano’s pieces, but Saekano is not that show.

You can check out my full review over at ANN, or run through my consistently frustrated episode notes below!


Episode 1

Still with the self-awareness, but the script is good. It’s just the fundamental character issues that hurt there – even though these characters have smart dialogue, they’re still playing in safe, established types in a safe, established narrative while commenting on genre tropes and storytelling

Also the fundamental escapism of the premise really hurts investment in the whole narrative. Do all of these girls have to love this guy? The show doesn’t push back against that nearly hard enough – he actually gets to get away with being the textbook light novel protagonist

And not a fan of everyone else being as genre savvy as he is. It results in that “witty characters talking to themselves” problem of the worst parts of Monogatari, except even worse, because what they’re actually talking about is just genre storytelling

The art is nice. The little bits of character animation convey personality and relationships well. Good colors, clean character designs

Episode 2

Commenting on their own episode recap. The joke is that these characters know anime tropes!

It’s nice that the show doesn’t have to waste time introducing every character and establishing a relationship

Yeah, again the characters comment on the story as if they’re all editing the script. “What you noticed wasn’t that I was cute, but that I existed at all.” Who would actually say that? It doesn’t even sound heightened – it sounds like a line the boy would give her

Those colored outlines and interesting filters, like in the director’s previous work

The camera frames the shots to remove her completely. A cute trick

This whole “lack of presence” thing is a farce, though. She talks like a heroine, looks like one too

Tomoya Aki is actually well-known at school

“Stop pigeonholing yourself based on mistaken typecasting!” Yeah, this is dialogue all right

“It’s just because your character isn’t fleshed out! You’re unfinished!” This guy

“Please stop using dating sim terms with real people.” But that’s all anyone in this show does, girls and boys alike

The show can’t escape its own tropes enough to meaningfully comment on them. It’s just regurgitating them while drawing attention to itself. Being aware of bad writing is not the same as good writing – if you just point to your own bad writing, you’re not accomplishing anything. Far better to just actually write something good

All the girls want to date him, but he’s just obsessed with making the best visual novel possible

The show is pretty decent at that premise? The characters are certainly witty, even if they’re all the same character

Kato being a potentially normal person is the saving grace here, even though she’s also often stuck in the banter-speak

Kato being the “opposite” of a heroine is still a kind of VN thing

“Which game do you want to play?” “Whichever’s shortest, if you don’t mind.” Okay, maybe I can like Kato

“She doesn’t want some trinket!” “I’d want to get what I can, while I can. Oh, I see, a present would make things awkward when they break up.” Yeah, Kato’s already stealing the show. Now that we’re out of that first conversation, she’s actually bringing real teenage pragmatism to Aki’s nonsense

“If they’re real people, won’t they sometimes be incredibly fickle and want to break up with you?” “Stop it! If even 2D girls won’t date me, what can I hope to live for?” Alright, things are improving

“If I had played this alone in peace without someone offering commentary or spoilers, I might have cried.” A great line

“It had its ups and downs, but it was fun.”

Aki essentially advising her to write poorly, because that’s what the fans want. And suddenly he understands the “define your focus” advice of his actual creator friends

Episode 3

Eriri’s the childhood friend, whatsherface the cool beauty, and Kato is Kato

“When a creator uses the number of days left as an excuse, it’s always, without exception because he’s behind schedule”

The music is generally just “mild,” and backgrounds as well. It’s the character designs and outlines that add some flavor

“Hang on, did you come here to motivate me?”

“What’s with that tsundere reaction?”

Utaha is the scornful, oversexed senpai, I guess

A lot of the color changes just don’t really do anything tone-wise?

“For now, make the circle members you do have give their all”

Kato wondering what about herself appeals to Aki

Going to the hill to try to reclaim the idea

“Is this the me that you were hoping for?” Kato reinventing the moment

The big question is why she’s so supportive of Aki. Is she actually that insecure, or is she just… well, an anime heroine

This show is just close enough to being good that it’s frustrating to see it be so bad

Episode 4

Derpy comedy track for Utaha’s opening scene

Looks like we’re getting into Aki and Utaha’s past

Kato just lets things go when Aki acts tsundere

Aki interviewing Utaha

More dorky sound effects

The distance between their public and character-understanding selves, their performances of type, and their private selves is a compelling concept. Utaha basically “rewarding” Aki with a few lines from her author persona

Eriri wacking Aki with her twintails is still pretty great

Animation’s not much to speak of

This is clearly a fantasy, but it’s nice that Aki is kind of pointless, while Eriri and Utaha are very competent at what they do

Aki has to handle fundraising

Aki being ridiculous with Kato

This keeps feeling like a good writer chained to the worst possible habits

Episode 5

“There’s no situation in real life where you’d actually behave or talk that way.”

Utaha eating pocky

Talking about home game versus away game dating strategy

“But I just want to always be my usual self.” “That’s impossible. Everyone’s got a secret side to them”

“But Kato doesn’t does she?”

These CG typing fingers

Utaha typing a yandere plot

Utaha’s plot combines past lives, incest, and giant monsters. It’s perfect bullshit

Aki wants a bit more of a conclusion in the piece

“Subjective, feeling-based criticism like that gets us nowhere!”

“You won’t give me an answer now, either.” Utaha and Aki’s past stuff

Kato putting up with Aki some more

Kato treating the mall trip like going to various circles at Comiket. This is an actually nice application of his otaku intelligence

Ends up like an actual date

Episode 6

Sometimes the show has really good bits of body language, sometimes it’s just fanservice

Getting back to Utaha and Aki’s past

Utaha just kind of lightly tuning out to Aki’s criticism. He’s talking purely from a fan’s perspective

“I want to know if it’s everything you were hoping for or not.”

“I want to hear what that author wanted. I don’t want to just be given what I want.”

Aki wants to keep the creator-fan divide as strong as possible. This is good material, and even the direction is strong

More light pop-rock music

This episode’s also more understated, even though it has more direct emotional content

The fanservice makes it hard to connect with the show from the girl’s perspective. It’s always leering at her

The ways Utaha feels uncomfortable talking about her work ring really true. One of the best bits of character writing here

“What’s wrong with being caught in the past?” Maaan. A scene that contrasts Utaha’s current script against her past feelings using Kato’s date, and they have to frame the key line while aiming at her boobs

“I want a play route that lets plain old-fashioned love rise above historical destined love!” Now that’s a fascinating line. Aki rejecting the classic fantasy, otaku route in favor of mundane, everyday happiness, like he just enjoyed with Kato?

Keep the past, but go forward as well

The episode just can’t take Utaha seriously

Aki learning from real life

Again, ideas this good deserve better treatment. The better parts shouldn’t be tied to the worse ones

Episode 7

The backgrounds don’t really look very good. Very flat style, not much personality


Eriri asks for help writing her doujin

Of course she asks him to help her play-act the childhood friend route

This is actually a pretty great gag. Forcing him to roleplay the sex pages by complaining about the page limits

Aki complaining that Kato changed her character by getting a new hairstyle

And now a little-sister type character appears


The dutch angles are pretty weird. Just confusing a lot of the time

And this one also speaks in anime-isms, and the camera loves her boobs

She works on doujins too

Aki got her into games

Eriri’s jealous, presumably because Aki shared their “special game” with her

Aki prioritizes fan sensibilities and sharing fan love over individual feelings

Iori, the evil otaku who’s just in it for status!

Oh no, he’s trying to poach Eriri!

I love this slinky piano-horn part for his villain routine

Weird way to take the story, but okay

Episode 8

Nice crayon backgrounds for this flashback, and the thick outlines

Telling the obvious story of how Eriri originally got Aki into the game he got Izumi into

Kato being so bland towards everything is a pretty unique joke

Eriri getting jealous about Aki helping Kato and Kato playing one of her favorite games

Eriri being tsun as usual

And then the two of them have an actual earnest conversation for once

Bouncing boob noises

Some nice details about the circles in comiket – most of the small groups are in the red and do it for the love of it, it’s only the superstars that make money. Again, a Genshiken-style insight

Izumi talking about suffering for the fan experience

Izumi is actually incredibly good at making doujinshi

Aki makes a huge poster to sell Izumi’s books

“That stuff about not caring if your books don’t sell is a lie, right? You want lots of people to read your work”

Aki the hero

“You’ve never reacted like that to my book. You don’t get worked up when you look at the artwork. You don’t feel anything at all”

The awkward disconnect between creators, their works, and the people they’re trying to impact is a very compelling topic

Eriri’s “you haven’t given me one straight answer” mirrors Utaha’s complaint. Aki refuses to look up from just engaging with the media, and everyone’s mad that Kato’s the one making him do it

Episode 9

“What are you doing here?” “Because I had zero screen time in the last episode, obviously.”

“She doesn’t act like the big-name doujinshi creator she is.” Again, Aki puts up this wall around creators

“I’d sooner quit being an otaku than say what I think is great isn’t great”

“That would have made for a touching scene, but you wrecked it”

This drama with Eriri is actually handled quite well. The show’s being honest for once

Eriri abandoned him when their friendship caused trouble

“It took years, but I can finally talk to people normally now. But even so, I’ll never forget how badly you treated me back then.” This episode is wonderful. This is really sharp, strong stuff, that actually goes into the sadness and loneliness of nerddom without varnishing or making gags of anything. Goddamnit, I want THIS show!

Episode 10

Opening with a shower scene

“I don’t know how novels are, but this is a dating sim. It’s not literature, it’s a piece of entertainment.”

My god, this fanservice. It’s not graceful, it’s not even sexy. It just keeps staring directly at the characters

Aki’s cousin Michiru arrives. He continues to make otaku comments

A harem battle scene

A little bit of explanation of game creation, which is nice. But still filled with butt shots, since the show doesn’t believe it can stand on its own merits

More simplistic harem humor

Michiru’s pretty annoying

Music ending is pretty solid

Episode 11

Everyone, including his cousin, is willing to have sex with him at any time

His cousin wants him to manage the band, and challenges the dedication of his circlemates

Nice understated scene between Kato and Eriri. Just idle talk as they both work

Also a really good scene between Kato and Aki

Episode 12

Michiru’s band was actually crazy about anime songs

Eriri and Utaha commenting on this being an unnatural plot development

“You don’t have to be an otaku. You just have to sing for them”

The concert’s pretty solid!

It’s pretty weird structurally to have this last act be a “grab one more member” thing as opposed to something that uses the whole cast

Another great conversation between Kato and Eriri. The two of them becoming closer as friends. Eriri’s an understandably awkward person

6 thoughts on “Saekano – Review

  1. I don’t ever remember watching a show before and getting the feeling that it was intentionally trying to piss people off. I’m not sure what this says about me, but I enjoyed that aspect of it. Somebody somewhere in the development of this thing has a chip on their shoulder. Unfortunately, the show itself suffers from the angst injected into it. It was never quite good enough to carry its own snark imo. It showed glimpses of being great. It’s a pity that it didn’t spend less effort mocking itself and its audience and more effort just telling the story. I think it would have been better if they had decided to do a straight up satire or a straight up romcom.

    • Yeah, it’s basically split between two contradictory poles as-is. It wants to critique styles of storytelling, but not so much that it doesn’t embrace them… and then it also wants to be taken seriously as a character story in spite of embracing them. Doesn’t quite add up.

  2. Good insights as always but I wanted your opinion on something. What do you think of Aki as a person?
    I realize he’s supposed to be an overblown collection of bad otaku tropes but while watching the show all I could think was that he’s just frankly fucking abusive. He polices Kato’s life, makes up with Utaha by bringing her more work to do, and “resolves” his fight with Eriri by digging into their past and basically telling her to drop it because HE is the real victim here. On that note I have to disagree with the resolution of Eriri’s arc. I was physically revolted by it honestly. (I’d try to plug my own episodic reviews but they just devolve into a string of curses more often than I’m proud of, I just really hated Aki)

  3. I read all of this and the ANN review thinking you were talking about Sankarea, and I just couldn’t figure out why you never mentioned the dead girl. Or why you thought it even had hints of a decently written anime.

  4. A bit late to comment on this as I just found this site with some nice articles yesterday. The reason why you feel its self mocking is at war with investing into the characters, is probably because you don’t agree that common tropes are good because people want them, while the show itself is affirming the value of these common tropes with a condition that the characters aren’t limited to those tropes. In the case of Saekano, the keyword is for those characters is “creators”, rather than otaku.

    The creator element have more weight in the LN while the anime is aimed to be good selling(and succeeded), and you know what people commonly want. But the creator element is still preserved in the character behavior and the plot, with Eriri and Utaha having higher priority for their esteem as a creator than their love interest for Tomoya, and Tomoya is crossing the boundary between consumer and creator himself. Their questionalbe morals are part of this.

    And there is a major reason for having commonly troped character: It’s actually an experimental work to test the character fo Kato. The whole concept will be hopefully revealed at season 2. But of course the deal is still about how you feel about the characters and their tropes.

    As a side note on the colored line, I think it is to isolate those scenes from the flow so it stands out while not to be remebered as part of the flow. Just my 2 cents.

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