Lately, it feels like anime franchises end when they get a film. The story in the original manga or novel might not actually conclude, but the film is where the animated part of the story stops. As exciting as it is to see an anime world come to life on the big screen, there’s always a part in the back of my head asking, “Is this where we say goodbye?”
In the case of the Saekano film, it’s definitely a goodbye.
The film is appropriately titled Saenai Heroine no Sodate-kata fine, signifying the end of the story. It adapts the final three volumes of the light novels and provides an original epilogue, wrapping up the entire series with a neat bow. You won’t come out of this film thinking about the loose ends. Very few series get this kind of closure, least of all in anime form. For that reason alone, fine is a blessing.
I say the word “blessing” deliberately, because the heroine of Saekano is Megumi, whose name means “blessing” in Japanese. The setup of the series was always that Megumi was a rather “flat” heroine instead of having the over-the-top character traits one would normally expect of a love interest in an anime romcom. However, Tomoya saw an appeal in her that he wanted to depict through the medium of a visual novel. Megumi’s presence was gradually getting stronger throughout the two seasons of the TV anime, and in this film she shines as the main heroine she was always meant to be.
By the end of TV anime’s second season, there really wasn’t any doubt that the Megumi route was the “end game” for this series. Eriri and Utaha have left the doujin circle in order to accept work on a popular commercial game, and although Izumi and Michiru are helping Tomoya on their new game, he seems to spend most of his time with Megumi now. Some of the best scenes in the early parts of the film showcase their growing intimacy. They’re not quite lovers, but they are physically and emotionally close, comfortable with holding hands and discussing how it makes them feel. They always talk about their feelings in relation to the love story unfolding in the game they’re making, but they’re not fooling anyone.
There’s actually a significant jump in time between Flat and fine, which I didn’t realize at first as an anime-only viewer. Basically, Flat ends at volume 7, and fine picks up somewhere in the middle of volume 11. In that time gap, not much has changed in terms of where the characters are at, but the development of Blessing Software’s new game is almost finished at the start of fine. All that’s left to do now is for Tomoya to write the main heroine’s route. Considering that they hadn’t even started making this game at the end of Flat, and most of the series is about the writing and creation process of visual novels, that’s a pretty hefty chunk of the story cut out.
Yet I didn’t really mind the omission. The game-making parts of the film feel like they’re just going through the motions. The real focus is on the drama and the emotions, and boy does this film deliver. Everything comes to a head here: Tomoya’s commitment to Eriri and Utaha, his feelings for Megumi, and her feelings for him. The main source of drama in this film comes from Tomoya rushing to Eriri and Utaha’s aid when they need him most, temporarily placing his own game on hold. Megumi can’t help but think that he’s ditching her, and despite knowing that this is a selfish feeling, she won’t back down from it. That’s why she thinks that she can’t be the main heroine, because she’s too fallible, too imperfect.
The visual direction is top-notch; even as this film zooms through several novels worth of content, each key emotional moment lands with perfect incision. The only glaring omission from an anime-only fan’s point of view is Tomoya’s own words and feelings. There are several occasions when Tomoya writes his feelings down into the game or into an email, because he’s the kind of guy who writes rather than says what he really feels outright. What he writes is discussed and remarked upon by the other characters, but it is never actually explained to the viewer. Only through reading parts of the novel afterwards did I realize what the characters really meant when they called his writing “masturbatory” or “self-indulgent.” He was letting his feelings bare. And that omission makes Tomoya come across as wishy-washy and uncommunicative throughout the film when he is actually the opposite. In a film that’s all about the characters being honest with themselves, that’s a significant (though difficult to avoid) misstep.
Obviously, this is a film for existing Saekano fans and nobody else, because all of the satisfaction comes from the payoff after a long journey with these characters. In a vacuum, the drama is bound to look silly as there are no actual serious stakes involved. Akane does end up in hospital because of a stroke somehow, and while this leads into the main conflict in this film, there’s no ultimatum being issued. It’s just a story about a group of friends who are really invested in the art they make and in their relationships with each other. If you didn’t like Saekano before, this film is not going to make you start liking it, although I suppose it is worth noting that there’s pretty much no fanservice or horny camerawork going on here, especially when compared to the TV series. Even the one occasion of nudity was handled gracefully and was symbolically important.
Watch this film if you’re craving that sweet, sweet closure. Also, the biggest treat comes after the credits. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s all original content. Make sure not to miss it.