With a series title like How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend, a certain image comes to mind. Given the existence of Japanese dating sims, the success of “raising sims” such as Gainax’s famous Princess Maker series, as well as the tendency towards popular otaku tropes such as nerd protagonists in harem situations, it’s easy to assume that the series is about creating a bland, milquetoast love interest. Is this an attempt to revive the old-style dating sim heroines such as Kamigishi Akari from To Heart, that childhood friend who once stood at the top of the harem totem pole? Is Katou Megumi, the titular “boring girlfriend”—more accurately “boring heroine” in Japanese—one man’s “ideal waifu” the way Asuna from Sword Art Online is, or something else entirely?
To my surprise, Megumi’s aggressive mediocrity actually turns out to be a subversion of her seeming purpose as a no-personality love interest or another character in the yamato nadeshiko mold. While the fact that the other characters keep talking about how aggressively mediocre she is might point in those directions, her role in Boring Girlfriend is closer to that of Kasukabe Saki from Genshiken—the “normal” one who contributes by being an outsider.
In works about groups of otaku there is often a non-otaku, though their purposes can differ. In Otaku no Video, the main character Ken is the “commoner” who gradually falls in love with the otaku lifestyle, while his girlfriend, Yoshiko, becomes increasing disgusted. The dating sim Comic Party (as well as its anime adaptations) follows a similar pattern, with protagonist Kazuki becoming more involved with doujinshi as his sporty childhood friend (and canon love interest) Mizuki just can’t seem to fathom what these nerds are jabbering about.
Owing to the fact that Genshiken gradually pushes its characters from the relative safety of a college environment into the real world, Saki as the non-otaku becomes a kind of guiding force. While she begins the series antagonizing the otaku and begrudging the fact that her boyfriend is an otaku, she eventually becomes a close friend whose understanding of human social interactions (notoriously lacking in otaku) provide answers that the others could not arrive at by themselves. While she isn’t as aggressive and outspoken as Saki, Megumi in Boring Girlfriend accomplishes the same things by being more observant than the perpetually self-centered and inward-looking otaku characters she has befriended.
Because Saki begins from a place similar to Yoshiko in Otaku no Video and Mizuki in Comic Party, Megumi doesn’t quite have the same development as her. Instead of that period of conflict with the otaku, the changing dynamic comes from the gradual reveal that Megumi indeed has a mind of her own, and that her seemingly mundane nature throws a wrench in the assumptions of the others. Moreover, her “boring” status provides a sharp contrast to the other girls in the series, who fall more in line with familiar tropes: a tsundere, an adorable underclassman, a cooldere, a tomboy cousin.
While those other characters have their origins in the same era that spawned Akari from To Heart and Mizuki from Comic Party, taste in otaku consumption has changed over time such that characters with more extreme and pronounced character traits tend to be more popular. The shape of “moe” has changed, and everyone but Megumi falls into that line. However, because Megumi is present, and because the series is named after her, it’s as if Boring Girlfriend is setting up and knocking down its own pieces to say, “Subtlety has its place.”
In this sense, How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend and Megumi remind me of two other series. The first is My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, as I Expected aka My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. It’s a series that also goes against what its title implies and plays around with its characters supposed archetypes to create a greater sense of depth. The other is The World God Only Knows, which features the character Kosaka Chihiro. Though she has a different personality compared to Megumi, and that series has only one real otaku character, Chihiro fulfills the role of being defiantly “normal.” Her behavior runs against everything that Katsuragi Keima believes in as someone who bases his life entirely on dating sims, and Megumi by virtue of her supposed blandness accomplishes much the same.