I love deadpan characters. To me, the ability to be expressionless ranks high in my tier list of personality traits. Girls (in particular but not exclusively) that can play things as straight as humanly possible are awesome. Deadpan girls command the tone of every scene they’re in, by breaking the ice and cutting directly to the core of any given scenario. They’re not bound by the traditional rules of conversation, and so they can hurry things along while adding on a nice comedic edge with their fascinating disregard for etiquette and naturality. Forget segues and small talk, I prefer speed and wit without any of the smugness, or emotion of any kind. This is what deadpan girls are and should always be—or so I once thought. Then I met Megumi Katou from Saekano.
Saekano – How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend certainly lives up to its name as its main heroine is about as boring as they come. This may seem like a harsh criticism but let me assure you that it is anything but. When it comes to Megumi Katou, being outwardly boring is the entire point. It’s a good start for her defining characteristic when put in the context of the entire show. Megumi’s blandness serves as an integral part for the story to work as well as it does—both comedically and dramatically.
Being as plain as a board helps establish other characters, emphasizing the rest of cast’s overly-archetypal personalities and adding to the meta-commentary behind this harem anime about creating a dating sim. Furthermore, Megumi’s temperament IS the show’s narrative center, as her being in stark contrast to our main protagonist Tomoya’s ideal heroine creates the conflict that brings the story together—and sparks one of its persistent themes: Tomoya’s (and Otaku’s in general) connection with reality. This is very important, but for now let’s get back to focusing on Megumi.
Megumi Katou is the ultimate go-with-the-flow character, and this is shown through the same way we come to understand most deadpan characters: impassive decision making. The very first thing Megumi decides to do in the series is join a doujin group, despite not being even remotely an Otaku. In this group, they use her as a model for their visual novel’s main heroine. To go along with that, each eccentric member of the team often gets Megumi to do various tasks for them—wearing certain outfits, learning how to decode, acting out scenes, staying over late in a boy’s room to play through classic dating simulators, and so on. The reason for all of this? Well, she was asked. Even though she fully acknowledges the absurdity the situation she’s in, Megumi does it anyway.
The only time she turns down anything is when, in the midst of season 2, Megumi rejects a schoolmate’s confession. Her reason is that she didn’t want dating to get in the way of finishing the production of their game—and here it is finally made clear that Megumi DOES care about something. She cares about this team and the work that they do. Up until now, her emotionlessness was used almost only as a buffer and for comic relief, but now we can finally tell that her deadpan personality indeed served a greater cause. Never having emotional reactions builds characters up so that when we finally see an emotional tick, we can tell they feel something very deeply. It’s like in parenting, when you never praise your child for anything they do—priming them so that when you finally do acknowledge one of their accomplishments, it’ll mean something (don’t let them get a big head, I’ll be impressed when they’re President).
Her innocent inability to express how she really feels is both endearing and bittersweet. While the drama this creates is entirely foreseeable, surprisingly it makes things nonetheless compelling—particularly because Tomoya’s Otaku nature makes him understandable in his failures to read the real people in his life. Megumi is interesting because she’s the furthest away from Tomoya’s ideal. She’s into normal girl stuff, like going to the mall and hanging out with friends. The passion hidden behind her blank expressions grows throughout the series, to the point where she may genuinely care about their doujin team more than Tomoya himself, but you would never know it.
In a show all about how we express our passion—through work, hobbies, and archetypal emotional reactions—we have this character that can barely express her excitement for anything, surrounded by a harem of characters you can read like a book. While real people aren’t typically as deadpan as Megumi, they’re certainly not as easy to read as Eriri, Utaha, or Tomoya, who wear their hearts on their sleeves. It’s obvious that Eriri loves Tomoya in her tsundere way, as it is just as obvious that Utaha loves Tomoya in her yandere way. It’s obvious that Tomoya loves anime and video games and desires, more than anything else, to create something and carve his own place in the industry. The only thing that isn’t obvious (initially) is how Megumi feels, which is what makes her the most interesting and mysterious character in the show—and also a mighty fine deadpan girl.
Thanks for reading.