Review/discussion about: Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata ♭
In Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata ♭, Utaha is a writer. Or, as she may say, a creator or creative. And I view myself in the same way.
I started writing officially as a critic, reviewer, and essayist about three-and-a-half years ago now. I’ve written hundreds of pieces, thousands upon thousands of words. It’s technically not my career (as much as I dream it to be), but I see it as an extension of myself and not just any other fun aside of mine (because of the seriousness with which I pursue this field). Thus, I exist within this quasi state of not quite a professional yet more than just a hobbyist. Either way, I’m a creator all the same.
Being a creator brings with it certain challenges and caveats that may not be immediately noticeable to somebody who is not. Sodatekata Flat (ditching the symbol from here on out since it’s a pain to copy-paste it constantly) understands this sentiment, presenting a sequel that surprises in its newfound direction.
As a sequel to the semi-popular first season of the Sodatekata anime, Sodatekata Flat brings the audience back to greet some familiar faces. Utaha, Eriri, Megumi, and Tomoya, the majority members of their doujin-circle company titled Blessing Software, continue work on the visual novel that they have worked tirelessly to complete. However, the anime has conflict on the horizon for this hodgepodge group.
For starters, this season is no longer an introduction but instead a continuation. So, to focus on the seriousness and the drama, Sodatekata Flat reels in a lot of its signature meta comedy. Not that it isn’t there of course. Indeed, it’s a motif that counts as one part of the foundation to the show. Characters still spout the occasional line, and they take part in those brief scenes that invoke the same sense of self-awareness just like the good old days.
Take some dialogue from Utaha. After she and Tomoya finish watching a movie while on their “date,” she ribs the very anime she finds herself in: “The script was completely clichéd, but they’re able to get away with it because of the good art and performances.” Another (rather on-the-nose) example comes later on. A friend of Tomoya’s, frustrated by the fact that his immense luck sandwiches him between Utaha and Eriri, annoys the leading guy, leading him to remark how he now understands what a protagonist in a typical harem anime must endure from his fellow friends.
To reiterate, these and other comedic asides are not tossed out the window but rather reduced to give way for the all-important drama. With the extra room, said drama improves.
To elaborate, the first season juggled past events and current conflicts split between five girls. Sodatekata Flat instead trims the fat. It focuses on just the current conflicts split between only three girls now. Narrowing its reach in this fashion tightens the direction and execution of the drama, thereby giving it a flourish it has always wanted within this series.
This flourish comes through in a lot of key moments throughout the season. Utaha and Tomoya share an intimate scene together as they collaborate on the routes and writing for their game. Extra meta conversations and clever wordplay notwithstanding (e.g., “It’s already mixed in. A part of you is already inside what’s mine.”) With Eriri, their getaway of sorts gives them the chance to connect, to praise, and to apologize as a means to bolster their relationship. And a Good Will Hunting-esque moment between Tomoya (i.e., Robin Williams) and Kato (i.e., Matt Damon) occurs as he repeatedly lets her know that their fallout wasn’t her fault in the slightest.
On top of the drama, Sodatekata Flat also includes a couple of narrative choices that further keep the show in good graces. Icy Tail, the band from last season, make an appearance in this season to provide extra hands during the swift prototyping of their game. The title of Tomoya’s second game ties back to this anime for the ultimate-meta detail: “How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend.” The final episode includes a full-circle finish during the recreated date with Kato when they go back to the same mall visited in the first season.
Above anything else in the anime, it hones in on a somewhat niche theme to strengthen its backbone. The very first episode of this second season establishes the idea almost right away. It tells a tiny tale on the origin of Utaha and Eriri’s distaste yet appreciation for the other. The episode’s angle can be summarized as “separate the art and the artist.”
With this proverb in mind, Sodatekata Flat carries it along throughout the entire season, placing emphasis on the relationships between Tomoya and the three girls as they collectively finish their shared project. He challenges Utaha’s work despite the clear implications behind its construction. He respects Eriri’s artistic space to a detrimental degree twice over. He fails to recognize Kato’s contributions overall. In other words, separating the art and the artist isn’t such an easy task when those involved are the very people one holds most dear.
Remnants of this theme exist in the last season too, especially with Utaha’s characterization. But, because of that tighter focus and because of the increased importance on the drama, it takes on a much greater role and purpose throughout this season.
Sodatekata Flat does trip up on a couple of specific details. Both the competition subplot with Rouge en Rouge and the eventual “evil” producer named Akane do not themselves earn too much in the way of involvement, context, and tension. They (understandably) take a backseat to the interpersonal drama of Tomoya and his group. However, while it may not seem like much, a lot of the drama stems so heavily from that subplot and this character. So, unfortunately, said drama doesn’t reach the pinnacle of its trajectory. To clarify, the events and outcomes are nice to see, but the foundation is less solid than it intends to be.
Potential problems aside, Sodatekata Flat has a good story here. By delivering tighter drama and a centralized theme, the show pushes past its harem-comedy roots, giving the audience something interesting and different to behold when compared to its already well-liked predecessor.
ART & ANIMATION
Sodatekata Flat carries over the same artistic direction as it used in its first season.
For instance, some frames will still take on colorful gradients as a means to spice up the general look of the anime as Tomoya and the others talk with and amongst each other. It also brings back many a camera angle to play around with. From a low shot looking up at Utaha as she steps on and digs her foot into Tomoya (and by extension the audience) to a faraway capture of him and Kato within a recording room, the cinematography further ups the visual appeal.
Returning also are the different risqué shots of the girls, like Utaha sprawled out on her bed in nothing but a bath robe or a centered shot of Kato whose loose shirt exposes the top of her breasts as she lifts herself up while laying on her stomach. This season clearly favors the drama more so than the comedy, so, while these shots are no doubt titillating, they are not as appropriate with Sodatekata Flat sinking its teeth into seriousness.
Nevertheless, the anime does even more to flair itself up. Certain comedic sequences will border the screen in manga panels. Very emotional moments throw floating paper into the air as a couple of characters cry together. Classic cherry-blossom petals signal the start of a new beginning as two other characters vow to not give up despite the recent difficulties life has thrown their way.
Moving on, background art once again does not extend too far beyond Tomoya’s room and their school, but a cottage of sorts in the woods and locales within the city change up the environment when and where they can. The static setting does invite better actual animation, though. Utaha violently tapping her heel out of frustration, Eriri harshly slapping Tomoya with her twin-tail hair, and Megumi subtly jiggling her thigh with her phone as she sits and waits are just a few small examples that demonstrate the solid movement of the characters’ actions.
And as one last carry over, the designs of said characters maintain their attractiveness. Utaha’s bodacious looks, Eriri’s slender figure, Megumi’s plain yet cute appearance. All their different outfits add variety, and their striking eyes greet the audience, too.
Yes, the artistic direction does stay the same. But, thankfully, that’s clearly a very good thing.
In Sodatekata’s first season, the characters of the show brought with them a lot of personality and fun that equated to a stronger anime overall. In Sodatekata Flat, their characteristics have not left. But, much like the story and its focus on the drama, they earn more in the way of development as people rather than whatever comedy they create.
Nowhere does this increased focus apply more than with Utaha and Eriri. Both girls are experts in their respective fields of writing and drawing, and both girls still vie for Tomoya’s attention whenever and wherever they can. So, the show challenges these two details.
For Utaha, much of her character centers on what she describe as “a dour, vindictive, and awful woman.” Knowing of her impending separation due to graduation and light-novel business, she indirectly approaches Tomoya about his true feelings of her as she submits her writing for their game. Tomoya’s non-answer at first infuriates and then saddens Utaha, for not only does it denounce her skills but also it avoids giving her what she really wants: him. But they work through this hurdle. His words about wanting everyone to be happy in the end resonate with her, and her words on their combined creation touch him. The two grow closer as a result.
For Eriri, she does what she can to keep tabs on Utaha’s advances with Tomoya and builds a friendship with Megumi that stands as its own outlier of sorts among all the relationships present. Most importantly, she struggles artistically. As the deadline for their game creeps ever closer, she slows down and frets over the possibilities. So much so that she collapses from mental exhaustion – in wanting to create something brilliant and in needing Tomoya’s belief in her. She earns both (despite “losing” in the contest with Izumi). The two grow closer as a result.
That’s individually. Together, they grow closer, too. In the beginning, the anime depicts the multifaceted nature of their relationship. They bicker and quarrel over Tomoya, but they have a deep respect for their works. Eriri awes Utaha with her immaculate paintings, and Utaha forces tears out of Eriri as she reads her pristine passages.
Yet Eriri calls Utaha’s writing “calculated,” and Utaha calls Eriri’s drawing as fueled by nothing but “revenge.” Meaning, while they may hate each other, and they may simultaneously like each other’s works, they also have a deeper connection than they may not have ever realized in the purpose behind their drive.
Over the first half of the season, they continue on their own paths. Utaha pens some of the final writing of their game as made by “Aki Utako,” taking part of her own penname and melding it with Tomoya’s real name as a fantasy-come-true for the passionate young woman (much to Eriri’s chagrin). But she also tells Tomoya that she wishes to work with Eriri again, for, despite their differences, she cannot ignore Eriri’s incredible, moving talent. As for Eriri, she finds a brand-new style that goes beyond her normal capabilities, and she finally has a stronger bond with Tomoya that she has also never had before. But she seems to hit a slump, for she has gone weeks now without drawing or painting anything.
It all culminates as the personal and the passion collide.
Utaha is tasked with the unfortunate role of declining Tomoya’s invitation for his new game idea. Her heartfelt apologies give way to a set of flashback scenes. In said scenes, when pressed about her slump, Eriri yells at Utaha. Hard. She says how whatever she draws for their circle will not be personally beneficial anymore and that she already has Tomoya’s sympathy which means she really does not need anything else.
Then in barges Akane Kosaka. She invites both Utaha and Eriri to work on a historic project she has lined up. They read the outline – and it floors them. Akane instructs them simply: die. Die for this project. Put everything they have and then some into this game to make it the best thing anybody has ever seen. She even goes so far as to belittle Utaha and Eriri. For the former, she’s only on as a babysitter of sorts, to keep watch over Eriri since she, not Utaha, is the only one who really must be onboard. For the latter, she not only berates her for her self-inflicted woes but also recreates her new incredible style, letting Eriri know quite harshly that she still has a long way to go.
Utaha, having already voiced her opinion to Tomoya about following Eriri, leaves the final decision up to blonde illustrator as to whether they enlist themselves after hearing the proposition and that mean woman’s harsh words. In a gripping, dramatic moment, Eriri sacrifices the personal to pursue the passion in earnest. Akane’s insults get her completely out of her slump, but, in doing so, she has betrayed Tomoya once again. That, despite his compassion for her, she cannot be with him if she wants to attain higher heights. Utaha comforts her, detailing how this time she will not be alone, that she is complicit in this betrayal. For she, too, has something to prove to Akane: that underestimating her abilities will be the biggest mistake of that woman’s life.
This moment in Sodatekata Flat is arguably the most wonderful in the series to date. For three reasons. One, it strengthens the relationship between these two rivals into that of friendship when they have been honorary acquaintances at best for nearly two whole seasons. Two, it pushes them away from Tomoya, their anchor, as a means to demonstrate development of their characters. And three, it not only explores what a creator must forego in the pursuit of his or her passion but also ties back to the story’s “separate the art and the artist” theme by separating their own individual art and artistry in an introspective sense.
And so, on amicable terms, Utaha and Eriri figuratively break up with Tomoya – but not outright or even forever. Eriri takes Tomoya’s glasses as a memento to keep on her new journey, and Utaha turns Mr. Ethical into Mr. Unethical, sharing their first kisses with each other. The wording and the ending even hint at their soon-to-be return. After all, there’s no reason why they can’t ever come back.
In other words, they don’t really, fully separate from Tomoya. That seems a little unfair insofar as it defeats the purpose of their development as characters. Yet that would also not make much sense since it has been established without a shadow of a doubt how important he is to them on every level imaginable. Plus, the anime’s skill in flipping this dramatic event into a comedic one without missing a beat – Utaha’s “I will give up on giving up” is seriously hilarious – stays true to their characters while still progressing them forward with and without their beloved.
For all intents and purposes, Sodatekata Flat is Utaha and Eriri’s story. What about Megumi, though? Yes, her lower presence in the anime fits her characterization quite well, but she doesn’t go without focus.
Indeed, the anime spends a lot of time highlighting how Megumi isn’t as “boring” as she may appear. She demonstrates her passion when she runs off the train to get ready to work on their game for the whole weekend. She expresses concern for Eriri as she lives for a time away from home to work. She gets mad at Tomoya for not including her in any of the troubles encountered. She cries at his sincere approach in mending their relationship afterwards. She acts all cute at his place when cooking, bathing, and sleeping, something so uncharacteristic of her that she asks him to forget what she did that day. She suppresses laughter (as best she can) towards his “stylish” new glasses (that she herself picked out for him).
Comparatively, the first season somewhat casted her as the normal girl who accentuates the oddities of the others and supports everyone from the sidelines. In this season, Megumi very much becomes her own person. She evolves away from that flat personality and into a rounder character – all while still delivering on those passive-aggressive comments. To put it differently, she may be “boring,” but she is anything but.
And what of Tomoya himself? Truth be told, he’s the weakest of the main four. With the conflict involved stemming from and pertaining to each of the girls, he doesn’t have much going for him throughout the season. Even so, as already gleaned, he plays the harem-protagonist role well, helping each girl as best he can and building his relationships in different directions. Moreover, they help him. Utaha, Eriri, and Megumi either give him the room he needs to blossom into a phenomenal creator or support him when he clearly needs it most. Thus, in this story that focuses on three other main characters first and primes him for the final leg of his arc later, Tomoya receives just enough relevant attention to make his presence worthwhile.
One last footnote (since it makes sense to call her that): Michiru. What a complete waste of a character – is what would be fair to say if the anime failed to address her at all. Barring a quick interlude at about the halfway mark of the season, she finally appears right at the end when the audience has most likely already written her off at this point in time. True to form, Utaha and Eriri throw meta comments her way about how she has been gone for the entire second half of the season and how she only now shows up in act three of the finale. It not only makes for a smart joke but also covers the show’s bases in the nick of time.
Disregarding Michiru (which is what the anime would most likely want anyway), Utaha, Eriri, Megumi, and Tomoya clearly experience a lot within this season. Development of their characters, growth in their relationships, key moments to pinpoint, better writing overall. All while staying true to themselves. Altogether, they are arguably the best aspect of this whole second season.
MUSIC & SOUND
For some anime, voice acting dominates with pure, notable technique. Sodatekata Flat once again finds itself in this category for each of the four main characters this season. Ai Kayano as Utaha delivers sultry and angry tones when and where needed. Saori Oonishi as Eriri cutes and embarrasses her way to victory, and her need to say “Utaha Kasumigaoka!” when addressing or referring to her rival still brings a chuckle every time. Kiyono Yasuno as Megumi refrains from inflecting any emotion into the plain girl’s voice until absolutely necessary. And Yoshitsugu Matsuoka as Tomoya hollers, yelps, and cries like the best of them.
The VA performances take the crown, but some of the sound-effects within the anime also deserve a shoutout. From the weird bird noises Utaha and Eriri let loose as heard by Megumi and Tomoya from afar to a the fast forwarding of a tape as the afternoon blazes by, the show’s sound-effect game is on point for the majority of its run.
Unfortunately, after the VA performances and some of those sound-effects, the quality of the audio cannot keep up (a hard task really). That is to say, much of what the audience hears does not usually go anywhere too interesting.
The original soundtrack sounds the best of what remains of the bunch. It has a slow, guitar track for those semi-tense times. Bass and snapping for when a lackadaisical groove is required. And a light yet “heavy” set of acoustic strings caress the rarer serene moments that dot the anime. Nothing here stands out in a major way, but these songs from the OST support Sodatekata Flat nevertheless.
That just leaves the opening track and the ending track. Much less impressive, this combo of music does not have too strong of a foothold.
The OP, “Stella Breeze,” takes on a more whimsical vibe with its dainty instrumentation and optimistic tone which somewhat clashes with the heavier drama of the season. Moreover, the vocalist can’t quite nail those nuanced notes when necessary. It’s at least a catchy song, especially in the second half, so it’s not a total loss on the show’s part.
By comparison, the (main) ED, “Sakura-iro Diary,” is even less daring. It does incorporate piano into the mix and extra vocalists to spice up the lyrical delivery. But still, its straightforward beat and simplistic nature create a rather mundane offering that is certainly not as intriguing as the content that precedes it.
Thankfully, those VA performances shine bright, so the grievances with the lagging music across the board do not damper the experience as much as they normally would.
As a creator, this anime spoke to me on some level.
I do not claim to harbor the same skills as Utaha or Eriri. People the world over do not admire my talents let alone hand me job offers that nobody in their right mind would refuse. However, as a writer myself, I understand the struggle.
I’ve seen maybe one other anime tackle the woes of an artist, but seeing it here regardless let me relate to what they went through. I have written pieces that do not reach my own personal standards. I have been through slumps (i.e., writer’s block) that prevent me from doing what I love to do. I have foregone situations personal to me in pursuit of ever grander heights.
And that’s why this whole outcome stings more than it probably should. Utaha is my favorite character in the show for the snide bombshell she is, so I obviously want her to win. Yet it’s obvious who is supposed to win in the end (she and Eriri say as much back in the first season).
So I (read: everyone) already knew it was coming. It didn’t lessen the blow any less, though. Seeing her leave the circle, pursuing another project without her beloved, put me in a conflicted mood for quite a while. It makes me sad to see friends and relationships and people split apart. Be they in real life or from so many episodes and hours of an anime.
But it was all amplified by the fact that I knew her choice was correct. Her staying and winning is the happily-ever-after route that just doesn’t make sense given the show’s aims. Indeed, while I am mostly ambivalent towards Eriri, her similar struggles made me sad to see her defeated, too, despite how much she did not want it to be so.
Thus, my first reaction was disappointment – in them for moving on and in the anime for not giving me that happy ending. But, again, after thinking on it more, that disappointment turned to acceptance. The creator in me knew it had to be this way. On a story level, a character level, and a realistic level. As they say, “the truth hurts,” and that just about sums it up.
Or at least, it should, for part of me justifies their paths. They aren’t going anywhere, and it’s not like they can’t visit each other when they want. More importantly, reviewing this season so late benefits me nicely, replacing that acceptance with cautious optimism. A brand-new sequel-finale movie was announced just back in December of 2017, and, literally just the other day, phrasing about an “alternate route” have surfaced.
Will any of this mean anything in the end? Who knows. Until then, Utaha and Eriri will be more absent from Tomoya’s life and from the story than how I would prefer. Which just makes me for sure invested in wanting to see how this tale will officially conclude.
Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata ♭ demonstrates that a sequel can trounce its predecessor. The nice artistic direction and the passable music remain the same, but the better drama and the stronger character writing make for marked improvements that elevate the series to a higher level. No caveats attached.
Story: Good, “separating the art from the artist,” the narrative’s tighter focus on drama and the different events throughout the season craft a tale that goes beyond its harem limitations
Art & Animation: Good, tons of flair from the stylistic presentation and the varied cinematography back the attractive designs and the nice level of movement
Characters: Great, Utaha and Eriri sacrifice the personal for the passion as their defined arcs play out, Megumi grows into her own person, and they reciprocate Tomoya in turn
Music & Sound: Fine, wonderful VA performances make up for a weak OP-ED combo, the OST aids the drama well enough, and the occasional sound-effects are appreciated
Enjoyment: Great, fun to see the characters back again, but, most importantly, it was a more impactful experience than thought possible, especially as a creator
Final Score: 8/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3