While I really don’t like compiling multiple episodes into a single post and it is not my general policy, I do wish to get caught up with reviews for this series as soon as possible -especially considering it was one of the new anime titles I originally lined up to cover this Fall. My apologies to those who were waiting for Haganai coverage.
And so it is my hope, gentle readers, you will forgive the rather late start because this really is one of the better offerings in the comedy/slice-of-life genre this season. Haganai is a fun ride, and there are plenty of moments where you may catch yourself laughing out loud. Each episode is solid entertainment.
Directed by Saito Hisashi (Bamboo Blade, Sora no Otoshimono) and featuring original character designs by Buriki (Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko), Haganai exudes an inviting charm and playful tone that faithfully continues in the spirit of the antics portrayed in creator Hirasaka Yomi’s light novel series.
Welcome to St. Chronica Gakuen, an elite private Catholic school. This is the setting of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai (僕は友達が少ない) or Haganai (はがない) in shorthand, a heart-warming story of boy meets girl. Well, maybe not that kind of story (at least, not in a conventional sense) but it all does start with the awkward meeting of two social outcasts:
Hasegawa Kodaka (Kimura Ryohei) is a fairly-recent transfer student who has the misfortune of being labelled a “yankee (ヤンキー),” basically a delinquent or thug, by his peers because of his somewhat intimidating appearance. The misunderstanding stems from his blonde-streaked hair, owing to the fact that Kodaka is half English. Although he has difficulty holding a normal conversation with his classmates, he’s actually a pretty nice guy and dotes on his younger sibling Kobato (Hanazawa Kana). Since her discovery of the anime Full Metal Necromancer, she has developed an affinity for gothic lolita fashion, even going so far as to adopt the alter-ego “Reisis V Felicity Sumeragi,” vampire and self-proclaimed mistress of darkness.
Mikazuki Yozora (Inoue Marina): self-willed, headstrong and outspoken, Yozora is considered unapproachable by the vast majority of her classmates. Her bluntness and abrasive personality make her difficult to get along with and as such she finds herself ostracized from would-be friends and acquaintances alike. She spends her days at school in solitude, initially taking solace in an imaginary friend she calls “Tomo” until Kodaka encourages her to make the effort to befriend real people. Inspired, she quickly forms the Neighbors Club (隣人部), inducting him as the first member and wastes no time publishing the club’s formation all over campus via special recruitment posters containing an encoded secret message she drew herself.
Kashiwazaki Sena (Itou Kanae) stops by the clubroom within minutes. Sena happens to be the school headmaster’s daughter and comes from a wealthy background. Because of her family’s name and her prestigious social standing, she is arrogant, narcissistic and condescending of “common” things and people whom she views as beneath her. At school, she is followed by an entourage of male followers who idolize her and cater to her every whim. As such, she views men as mere servants to do her bidding.
Popular and academically accomplished, Sena is resented by the school’s girl population, denying her any real, meaningful relationships. Despite Yozora’s extreme dislike for Sena (whom she refers to with insulting nicknames such as “Meat,” “Cow” and “Bitch”), she joins the club, bringing the total number of members to three within its first day. It is ironic Yozora regards Sena with such animosity, as Sena seems to be the embodiment of everything her imaginary friend Tomo is and more because, well, Sena happens to be a real person.
Episode 2 – Yozora announces the official start of club activities. Gaining friends means… playing video games?
Yozora begins the club meeting by announcing their first activity will be playing the Playing States Portable® game Monster Hunter. Inspired by a group of high school kids she happened to see playing the game, Yozora hopes to use the game’s co-op feature to foster deeper bonds within the club through teamwork. At least, that was her intention.
Reconvening on the following Monday, Yozora discovers Sena has been playing nonstop since their meeting last Friday, which explains her maxed-out stats and 53 hours of game-time.
Delving into their first mission, progressing properly and working together already begins proving problematic when Sena and Yozora inject their real-life hostilities into the game world, severely hampering team dynamics. Sena begins a cycle of reprisals, with both girls simply trying to eliminate the other. And so, as Kodaka observes, the “true hunt begins.” Their one-upmanship contest escalates into all-out war as they bring to bear their full arsenal of spells and weaponry against each other. Clashing ferociously and abandoning all concern for the mission at hand, they leave Kodaka in the background to fend for himself and collect quest items on his own. Eventually, Kodaka is felled by a beast while mining Dragonite ore. He looks up from his PSP® monitor to witness a disturbing sight. Yozora and Sena, over the edge and laughing maniacally -so engrossed in tearing each other apart they’ve lost all sense of their surroundings. And themselves:
As you can see, I’ve opted to include subtitles in this instance to better convey the psychotic depths to which they descended while playing this game.
Depending on each other to foster stronger bonds and deepen our relationships, was it? Right. Good call, Yozora.
CLUB ACTIVITY: Monster Hunter Co-op Play
RESULT: FAILED (失敗)
Later, Kodaka and Yozora return to the clubroom to find Sena setting up a Playing States® III console. Faulting the “stupid idea” of co-op gameplay as the reason for their failure with the last activity, Sena procures the galge Kirameki School Life 7 (きらめき スクール ライフ 7) which she claims will be much more useful for developing conversation and social interaction skills. Though Kodaka has his doubts, Yozora seems enthusiastic enough.
Sena takes control of the protagonist, whom Yozora blithely names “Semoponume”, and guides him through first encounters with several girls. It quickly becomes apparent that both Yozora and Sena are woefully lacking in interpersonal sensitivity, having no idea how to relate to people or consider the feelings of others. This grievous character flaw eventually costs Sena her target girl and brings her much anguish when she is rejected, as she had begun to feel a genuine rapport with the character.
CLUB ACTIVITY: Kirameki School Life 7
RESULT: FAILED (失敗)
Sena finds Kodaka the next morning before school. Having cleared all the routes and finished the game overnight, she loans the game to Kodaka, who remarks Sena has now made friends… with seven (2D) girls.
Episode 3 – And now, the obligatory pool/swimsuit/fanservice episode! (Might as well say it beforehand: you can watch the episode if you really want boob shots that badly)
Kodaka and Yozora find Sena already in the clubroom, engrossed in an eroge on her notebook PC. Yozora condemns Sena as a degenerate for playing something so sleazy on school grounds, but Sena defends the game, Sacred Blackstar (whose characters bear an uncannily striking resemblance to those of a certain light novel/anime title) as being a respectable fantasy/adventure story with introspective themes that “put common literature to shame.”
Yozora puts Sena’s endorsement to the test by having her read the game’s dialogue out loud verbatim, agreeing to read aloud from a comparable “work of art” in return. This proves far too risque for Sena’s sensibilities, however, and she runs out in tears. Keeping her end of the bargain, Yozora begins reciting verse from Nakahara Chuuya.
Kodaka returns home, finding Kobata eagerly awaiting dinner. As they eat, she complains he has been preoccupied with his club activities and demands to know which he values more: his club or her.
In voiceover, Kodaka provides a brief explanation for Kobato’s strange mannerisms, resulting from her obsession with her favorite anime and recounts a brief family history. Apparently, the Hasegawa siblings lived at their current house ten years earlier but moved because of their father’s job and returned when he was getting transferred overseas. Unfortunately, Kodaka doesn’t remember anything from the time they lived there before.
At school, Kodaka and Sena are alone in the clubroom. Smitten with yet another galge heroine, Sena reveals to Kodaka she doesn’t know how to swim and begs him to teach her, fearing inadequacy should she be invited to swim with her “friends” in real life. After gaining Kodaka’s agreement, she makes plans for him to train her at Ryuuguu Land water park on the weekend and makes him swear to keep her secret from Yozora.
On Sunday, Kodaka meets Sena in town where they take a bus together to reach the water park. Sena demonstrates remarkable adaptability, learning quickly. Breaking for lunch, Sena learns their fathers were old friends and Kodaka is treated to a stammering Sena, who confesses she was secretly happy to receive her first nickname, albeit a strange one, from Yozora.
When he returns from the bathroom, Kodaka finds Sena in over her head, fending off the advances of three guys none too thrilled to be rejected. As they leave, Sena taunts them and they turn to render physical retaliation against her, forcing Kodaka to step in and drive them off by using his yankee looks to his advantage. Kodaka reprimands Sena for her careless behavior taunting dangerous guys and tells her that it is his business to care. Outwardly, Sena dismisses the moment with tsundere nonchalance, announcing their outing finished but she is actually secretly glad to have found a reliable friend in Kodaka.
Back home, Kodaka recalls memories of his childhood, when his hair made him the constant target of bullying. At that time, he befriended a “guy” in a cap with whom he fought off his bullies, who taught him a quote about friendship learned from his mother.
After dozing off in the clubroom, Kodaka fully recalls and repeats the friendship quote aloud in front of Yozora, who is visibly shocked at the utterance. “You’ve remembered,” she murmurs under her breath, though her words fail to reach Kodaka, who does not yet recognize Yozora as his childhood friend from long ago.