Review for Haganai: I Don't Have Many Friends: The Complete First Season
So a boy gets forced by a girl to join an after school club against his will. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Actually I must be a glutton for punishment, as I’ve just finished watching the mediocre D-Frag!, am in the middle of reviewing the first part of Hyouka, and now I start the third variation on that premise in short order, Haganai. This looks to be one of the good ones though, certainly good enough to warrant a second season, and throwing all caution to the wind, I actually went and imported the second season before I had even watched this first one. If it’s any indication of quality, Funimation put D-Frag! straight to their budget S.A.V.E. label, but the Haganai series have gone to the Classics label for their second time around.
Kodaka Hasegawa has a problem. His appearance, particularly the blond hair inherited from his mother makes him look like a delinquent. That hasn’t made him a lot of friends, and now that he’s transferred to the St. Chronica Academy, history is repeating itself, with most everyone fearfully avoiding him on sight. He’s not the only one who lacks for friends, as in his class, a girl named Yozora Mikazuki has the kind of personality and attitude that keeps her isolated. Then one day, Kodaka walks in on Yozora uncharacteristically chatting happily away... to her imaginary friend. It becomes clear that they both need help, and Yozora has an idea, starting the Neighbours Club in school to make friends and gain confidence in social situations.
13 episodes of Haganai are presented across 2 Blu-rays (and 2 DVDs) in this combo release on the Classics label from Funimation.
1. We Can’t Make Any Friends
2. There’s no God in the Electric World
3. There are no Flags at the Swimming Pool
4. Underclassmen Don’t Hold Back
5. This Time, The Saga is a Serious Battle
6. There Aren’t Many Customers at the Karaoke Box
7. My Cellphone Doesn’t Get Many Calls
8. School Swimsuits Don’t Appear
9. The President’s Recollections are Painful
10. No One Sleeps at Camp
11. Girls are Super Cute in Yukatas
12. We Don’t Have Many Friends
13. A Round-Robin Story’s Ending is Way Extreme
Haganai gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer that is clear and sharp, offering smooth progressive animation without any visible compression or aliasing, although digital banding is apparent in darker scenes. It’s just what you want from an anime on Blu-ray, and given that Haganai is a bright, colourful, comedy show with simple, but appealing characters, and warm backgrounds, there’s not a lot here that challenges the limits of BD technology. It’s a harem comedy, so expect plenty of fanservice, and even some animated nudity. There was a fad some ten years ago for Flash animations with stick figures engaging in kung-fu combat, with heapings of Matrix style bullet time effects thrown in. The eye-catch card for each episode has a stick figure combat sight gag applied to it.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. I was happy enough with the Japanese audio, the cast gave spirited performances, the action was portrayed well, with the stereo giving it sufficient space, and the music suited the comedy down to a tee. There are no problems with glitches or dropouts, and the subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos. The English dub exists.
You get the 2 Blu-rays and 2 DVDs in a Blu-ray Amaray, with one disc either side of two centrally hinged panels. The case gets a reversible sleeve, and it’s all wrapped in an o-card slipcover. The Blu-rays boot to animated menus.
Disc 1 kicks off with a trailer for Heaven’s Lost Property Forte, and it hosts two audio commentaries in the extras. The first on episode 2 features Jad Saxton (Sena), Jerry Jewell (Kodaka), and Whitney Rogers (Yozora). The second commentary on episode 8 features ADR director Zach Bolton, along with Alison Viktorin (Kobato), and Kristi Kang (Maria).
Disc 2 autoplays a trailer for Tenchi Muyo: War on Geminar.
You get four varieties of Japanese promos for the show, running to some 8 minutes, the textless credits, the US Trailer, and further Funimation trailers for High School DxD, We Without Wings, The Future Diary, Guilty Crown, Fairy Tail, Lupin the 3rd: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, and Remnant Knights Game.
I shouldn’t like Haganai. After all, it’s a harem comedy that adheres to all of the tropes of the genre. It’s cliché after cliché, character archetype after character archetype, and it doesn’t exactly do anything new with the genre either. But I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t just the story that is told, it’s how it’s told that matters just as much. Haganai is fun, it makes you like the characters, and it tells its story with energy and passion for the material that lets you forgive its lack of originality.
You begin with the boy whose atypical physical appearance, coupled with a disastrous introduction when he transfers in, precludes him from making friends in his new school. Add to that a girl whose social awkwardness is such that she too can’t make friends (other than imaginary ones), and you have the seed for one of those after-school clubs that are a staple of high school comedies. The Neighbours Club is born, for the sole purpose of making friends and overcoming social hurdles, and it all seems ideal for Kodaka and Yozora, but much to Yozora’s consternation, someone else wants to join. That someone is Sena Kashiwazaki, daughter of the school chairman, and the most popular princess on campus. You’d think that she wouldn’t need for friends, but she too has a hard time making friends instead of followers and minions, and her princess persona is such that she treats everyone else like dirt. The Neighbours Club might just be what she needs for genuine human interactions, only it doesn’t turn out that way.
Sena and Yozora are instant antagonists, and a triangle forms around Kodaka. Sena wants to glomp onto Kodaka; Yozora treats Sena worse than she treats her minions, quickly giving her the nickname ‘Meat’. Of course it’s the first nickname Sena’s ever had so she doesn’t react the way Yozora expects. Soon others are joining the Neighbours Club. Rika Shigumi is a student scientist whose genius was a big coup for the school, but who’s spent her whole life isolated in a lab inventing things. She has no tact filter, and a smutty mind that revolves around sex. She’s an otaku taken to the extreme, with a speciality in giant robot porn. Yukimura Kusunoki is a 1st year boy whose big problem is that he’s too feminine in appearance for other boys to take seriously. Somehow Yozora convinces him that he can maximise his masculine side by spending his time at the club dressed as a maid. The club advisor is a precocious 10 year old nun/teacher named Maria Takiyama, who loves snacks, and it soon transpires that Kodaka’s kid sister Kobato (a full on Chunibyo loli-goth who identifies with an anime character, and has a serious brother complex) is jealous of the time he spends with the club, and she joins in too. Sena, who by this time has become hooked on dating sims, develops a crush on Kobato, but at the other extreme, Maria thinks she’s a vampire.
There are so many clichés that I rolled my eyes at; the sister who’s a little too fond of her brother, the precocious child teacher (although I admit the nun aspect allowed for a funny Index gag), the character lusting after a little girl, the cross-dressing effeminate boy, the various otaku pursuits that the characters indulge in from videogames to doujins. If you could have a list of those topics and characters that would most appeal to the typical late night anime fanbase in Japan, Haganai would tick all of the boxes. The episodes too favour comfortable and familiar stories. There are plenty of videogaming moments. The girls all get into their bikinis (along with Yukimura) on a trip to the beach as well as the swimming pool, there’s a karaoke episode, an episode at a summer festival and so on.
Haganai works because there’s depth to the story. It turns out that Yozora and Kodaka have a history that is gradually revealed as the show unfolds, while Kodaka and Sena have a connection too. And while clichés abound, there’s a little more to the characters than just their surface layers. Certainly in another show I wouldn’t countenance a character that is as mean to another as Yozora is to Sena. She can be pretty nasty at times, but the show reveals that it’s more than just Yozora turning the tables on the school’s princess, while Sena’s over the top histrionic reactions do much to bring out the humour in the situations instead of the nastiness. Despite the show’s inherent silliness, I had grown to care enough about the characters to appreciate the show’s conclusion, while the writing was sharp and fresh enough to counteract the lack of originality.
Haganai is a funny, saucy, harem comedy that manages to entertain and tell a decent story, even if it is all a little clichéd and hackneyed. If I do have a concern, it’s that it manages to tell a decent story in its 13 episode run, and it makes me wonder what the second season can add to it. It could be one of those sequels that were commissioned off the back of the success of the first season, but with nothing else to do but simply repeat what came before. I guess I’m going to find out.