Warning: Here Be Spoilers
Marketed as How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend in the US, Saekano began as a light novel in Japan, and was adapted into a manga in 2013. It came to the US earlier this year, and season 2 of the anime is expected out in spring of 2017. I’ve used the two titles interchangeably, but if you’re looking to purchase it, use the full HTRABG title instead of Saekano. It’s available hard copy and digital.
Being completely honest, I had a really hard time warming up to Saekano. With a rather confusing start and occasionally unlikeable protagonist, for awhile it felt like just flipping quickly through pages of characters shouting at one another. The art is very likable, with cute character designs and detailed backgrounds. The coloured art was a huge part of what drew me to this series to begin with. But the story itself, while fairly simple, is presented in confused little snippets.
We start off exactly where volume one of Saekano ended. Aki tries to assure Katou that the project will work out, and she seems fairly apathetic to the whole thing still. The scene cuts to Aki working hard on the deadline for his dating sim. Utaha reminds him again that Katou needs to take the project seriously, if Aki wants it to turn out well. He begs for her help, and she tells him that she can’t take a character with no personality and add the spark of a heroine. Just hours before the deadline, Aki still hasn’t pulled together a full proposal and is ready to give up.
He thinks back to seeing Katou under the cherry blossoms, and to having her in his room. Encouraged by the sense of destiny he felt at the very beginning, he quickly completes the proposal, and excitedly heads off excitedly. On his way, he comes across Katou, out of her school uniform and relives their first meeting.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out to have been plotted between Katou, Eriri, and Utaha. Aki’s faith in the story is renewed.
Meanwhile, Aki takes a part-time job to try to put away money, and gets surprised by Katou showing up with a rather fine-looking young man. When he sees her again, he goes off on her about some crazy theoretical story in which clearly there could be a developing love story between her and the boy, Keiichi, who is in fact her older cousin. He demands that she doesn’t see him, at least until the game is finished. He agrees to go with her on an outing that she had planned on going to with Keiichi, and then comes down with a fever on the promised day. Eriri stays with him, working on her doujin draft, and they talk about the concept of dating, as otaku. Utaha shows up, and agrees to help him with his game.
Utaha’s version of the game story involves a time-traveling hero saving the woman he loves, which Aki rejects. Emboldened by his decision, he finally asks Katou on a date to the Rokutenba Mall. Aki is stressed and exhausted almost immediately when he finds himself in a busy mall, surrounded by people. After some adjustment, he’s surprised to find himself having fun. He and Katou have lunch, shop, and talk through the day. Then he suddenly announces that he can’t take her home, because there’s something he needs to do. The volume closes out with a brief image of a dark-haired girl we can assume is Utaha.
Overall, I enjoyed volume 2 more than volume 1. Saekano got off to a disjointed start, but the second volume seems a little more concerned with character and relationship development than the first. Aki still hasn’t grown into a lovable protagonist for me, but he’s slowly becoming more likeable. In the first volume, he is unchanging, focusing on his overbearing otaku nature. Now he’s beginning to examine himself and his lifestyle. He clearly is inspired to pursue what he sees as a normal life, and I found myself liking him a lot more in the final chapter. He wants to spend time out in the world, enjoying himself and enjoying Katou’s company.
Still, I feel like I read a lot of pages, for very little growth or story. The characters didn’t really begin developing until a volume and a half in, and neither did the plot. I finished this volume fairly interested in what will happen next, but I’m not so sure yet if I’ll be buying volume 3, which is due out on July 26. Overall, it has some potential and I hope it will develop, but perhaps not the best seinen I’ve picked up.