The prospect of someone convincing themselves that the people they hang out on a regular basis are not their friends isn’t exactly new. I had a similar experience during my early high school days when a close mate and me pretty much ended up hanging out with each other almost spontaneously but taking forever to call ourselves friends (I suppose it was that weird time in teenage development when it is “lame” to call each other friends or something). However, my experience pales in comparison to what occurs in Haganai (Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai) which follows a group of high school students (and some younger members) who form a club and get together on an almost daily basis. All of this is in pursuit of a quest to learn how to make friends with others. But hey, if they recognized that by doing so they could be considered friends … that would end up making the episode count significantly shorter right?
Haganai follows your typical male protagonist Kodaka Hasegawa, who after running late to school on the day he transferred into St. Chronica’s and giving the impression he was threatening the homeroom teacher, has found himself with a bad reputation as a delinquent. With his hair colour and misinterpreted mannerisms, he has failed to make a single friend at his new school. He finds some solace when he comes across fellow female classmate Yozora Mikazuki talking to her imaginary friend Tomo. This leads the two “friendless” students to found the Neighbor’s Club…. and friendships trivially blossom from there….
The pair don’t need to wait long to come across other chums in a similar situation to themselves – including the daughter of the schools headmaster Sena Kashiwazaki, Kodaka’s effeminate stalker Yukimura Kusunoki who gets drawn into spending most of the series stuck in a maid outfit (Kudos of Yozora) and genius Rika Shiguma, who after being rescued by the protagonist joins the club and does not hide her love of smutty content. The group is rounded off by Kodaka’s younger sister Kobato who takes on the persona of a vampire anime character (Decked out in gothic lolita attire) and the ten year old club advisor / nun Maria.
There is very little overarching purpose to the first season other than watching the characters undertake their pursuit to make friends – generally involving a multitude of beach / pool / swimsuit episodes, episodes set inside video games and just general everyday activities. While there is a key event that occurs in the final episode which links to the backstory of Kodaka, it is pretty much spoiled within the first few episodes to the keen eye.
In addition, while there was some interesting development between the characters, many of their interactions were drowned out by over-the-top name calling and “cat fights” due to the conflicting personalities of Yozora and Sena, and to a much lesser extent Kobato and Maria (Due to Kobato’s vampire persona and brother complex). That is not to say that Yukimura and Rika don’t have their own quirks and eccentricities, but they are less prominent in comparison to the others. Fanservice and sexual innuendos are rife across the episodes, but while most were delivered through the dialogue, clothing choices and character actions – there are a few scenes of bare-chested nudity and careful camera angles. There is also an excessive use of the word “poo”.
The jokes were hit, miss or otherwise spontaneous, it doesn’t stray too far from the typical harem genre and brings across several of the cliches associated with series similar to it. Was it enjoyable however? Yes! Was it anything special? At times. To achieve higher grades Haganai would have required a greater variety of events and perhaps more than episodic events other than the finale. The character cast was promising, so I am eager to see what they produce for season two.
With Haganai receiving the blu-ray treatment you would expect to see the visuals up to a good standard to warrant them. The visuals are bright and colourful, however still only come across as satisfactory in terms of design and never reached the peak that (to be fair) very few titles of the genre seem to reach. An interesting tidbit of information, for those who have watched Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl before, one of the clear design traits the two titles share is the slight prominence of the female characters lips.
The one exception with animation studio AIC Build would be the two episodes that take place primarily in different fantasy worlds (One being a Monster Hunter knock-off and the other being a more generic RPG). It was made evident that the design team were able to let themselves go a little and in turn produced some interesting attire, designs and environments. As a bonus perk, all episodes have been sourced from their Japanese blu-ray releases and are uncensored. Expect a few occasions of chests being exposed as a reward for this decision.
Haganai’s opening sequence Zannen Kei Rinjinbu (Hoshi Futatsu Han) features the voice work of all main female Japanese voice actresses and turned out to be an active and enjoyable theme that does not fail to give Kodaka a prominent role in the animation. The ending sequence My Feelings performed by Yozora’s Japanese VA Marina Inoue proved to be another decent song with decent animation. The remainder of the musical backing however is average and simply does its job without standing out in all but a few isolated cases.
The English dub doesn’t live up to the expectations set by its Japanese counterpart. Despite what came across as a rather strong localization of the original Japanese script, only a few voice actors shined while others fell in the territory of average, having had better roles in the past. Alexis Tipton (Mizuki Himeji – Baka and Test) has had some strong roles over the years, and her voicing Rika Shiguma complemented the characters eccentric and perverted personality well. Whitney Rodgers on the other hand doesn’t have the repertoire of roles that many others had, but she suited the many facets of Yozora Mikazuki perfectly. As the male protagonist, Jerry Jewell also played his role well.
I have mentioned several times in the past that I am fond of voice actor commentary, and in their localization Funimation Entertainment included two. The first commentary was for Episode 2 featuring Jad Saxton, Whitney Rodgers and Jerry Jerry Jewell (The main character voice trio) while the second was for Episode 8 featuring Zach Bolton, Alison Viktorin and Kristi Kang (ADR Director + Loli Character Couple).
The second disc also includes your usual set of basic on-disc content including blu-ray / TV spots, commercials, Promotional videos, a US trailer, clean opening and ending sequence and the obligatory assortment of trailers. While it is technically considered the “13th Episode”, the final episode was a bonus OVA episode that Funimation chose to pick up during the localization process.
Despite sometimes relying too heavily on verbal disputes and excessive fanservice, Haganai proved to be a simple yet enjoyable series which you could easily come home after a stressful day and watch for a few laughs. Sure it may have fared better with a greater variety of episode focus points (At least three episodes involved swimsuits in some way) and perhaps not making the final episode “twist” so obvious from the start…. but the quirky character cast made up for it to some degree.