Kodaka Hasegawa has transferred to St. Chronica's Academy, a Catholic High School. Due to his blonde/brown hair combo (a hair color he received from his late mother) and scary voice, everyone is afraid to talk to him, much less befriend him. As luck would have it, he finds a girl with long, black hair talking to her "air friend" after school. The girl is Yozora Mikazuki, and she proclaims they start a club called the Neighbors Club, an after-school club for people with no friends like themselves. They soon gather quite a crowd, including the rich, beautiful, but socially bankrupt Sena Kashiwazaki, a feminine-looking boy named Yukimura Kusunoki, genius pervert girl Rika Shiguma, energetic but ill-tempered 10 year-old sister/teacher Maria Takayama, and even Kodaka's little sister Kobato.
Would you believe me if I told you that despite the fact that nearly the entire cast is female, Haganai is not a romantic comedy, and not one kiss (and barely any hugs) is exchanged between any of the characters in the series? Yep.
Haganai is, at its heart, a story about social misfits. Yozora talks to her "air friend" instead of real friends, Sena is beautiful and smart but hated by girls and treats guys like slaves, Maria is a 10 year-old sister, Yukimura is a boy who looks too feminine to fit in with the guys in his classes, Kodaka's sister Kobato is under the delusion she is a vampire, and Rika is a genius but drives people away due to her constant innuendo drops and perverted mind. And Kodaka himself shot himself in the foot on his first day in his new school, his blonde/brown hair combo scaring people, as well as slant eyes and a voice making people think he's a tough guy.
And really, Haganai could've gone in one of two directions. It could have been a touching but still funny show about people who don't fit into society, accepting each other and becoming close friends. Or it could've been a raunchy romp filled with lots of cheesecake and hit-or-miss comedy. Guess which direction Haganai goes?
I hope you like Sena's breasts, as you'll see them quite often.
Fortunately Haganai is not without good characters. Yozora herself practically makes this show. Much like Hitagi from Bakemonogatari, she is dry, sharp-tongued, pushy, manipulative, and incredibly selfish at times. And yet despite this she's still funny and even likable, rarely using violence or taking her own threats seriously. And even though she bosses around (nearly) everyone - and I do mean every one (especially Sena) - she never once becomes detestable or unlikeable. In addition to being the funniest character, Yozora's past is also one of the most touching plot points in the series. I won't spoil anything, but you'll feel bad for her.
For our other female lead we have the very busty blonde Sena. For a girl who notes in the beginning of the series how girls hate her and that boys are used as slaves, it's pretty ironic that she's one of the nicer characters in the series, and is relatively nice to Kodaka. Despite this, she still has a hard time getting along with others and is ridiculously shy about admitting her feelings on things she never did in the past because they were "beneath her", like karaoke and cell phones. Her escape into dating sims actually serves a purpose in the story; since she can't make real girlfriends, she resorts to dating sims to befriend them. It's both funny and a bit depressing. One early dating sim play, where she and Yozora together are not amused by the sweet female lead, ranks as one of my favorite scenes in the entire series. As different as night and day (literally highlighted in their hair colors: Yozora's black hair and Sena's blonde), watching Yozora and Sena go at each other's throats bring about the funniest moments in the entire series, even if it does go overboard at times. Yozora is usually the victor in the arguments, with Sena running away crying "Stupid Yozora!" so often you'd swear it was her catchphrase.
And what about the other club members? Well...they don't fare so well. While Kodaka, Yozora, Sena, and I guess Kodaka's tiny little sister Kobato (who thinks she's a vampire and calls Kodaka "her other half", but is prone at times to be shy and crybabish like any other girl) are fun characters, the same can't be said for the other club members. Yukimura is little more than a subservient, crossdressing Mikuru Asahina, with his one joke being that he likes Kodaka and follows a samurai-like code, not blinking at wearing girls' clothes. Rika's main contribution is dirty innuendos and talking about being horny. Maria, the energetic but whiny 10 year old sister, is little more than than the series' loli quota. While they aren't the worst characters I've ever seen, they add very little in the long run. (It also would've helped if they didn't introduce so many all at once, like in the case of Yukimura and Rika.) Fortunately Haganai seems quite aware of this, because most of the episodes still revolve around Kodaka, Yozora, and/or Sena.
This would be still be fine if not for Haganai's penchant for cheesecake overcoming story. I guess it should be not surprise that director Hisashi Saitou of Heaven's Lost Property fame added fan service whenever he could, but did he have to rush so much of the series? (For example, having Yukimura and Rika debuting in the same episode.) The ending is clearly rushed, leaving behind a budding relationship expanded on throughout the entire series in the dust for childhood memories instead. Don't get me wrong, it's still enjoyable, but it's missing quite a bit of the stuff I enjoyed from the manga adaptation. We don't need to be reminded every episode how huge Sena's breasts are, thanks.
As disappointing as that is, at least Haganai looks damn good. The animation is great and the girls are very cute, but what's with the half-lipstick thing going on with them? It's not so noticeable in shots of them far away, but up-close it gets distracting. Not to mention sometimes they'll have full lipstick up-close. (Huh?) The music is forgettable except for the opening and ending themes, which are merely okay.
The voice acting is a mixed bag. The highlight by far is Marina Inoue, who's hilarious as Yozora. (Though her low-pitched voice is a bit distracting at first.) Kanae Itou is, well, Kanae Itou as Sena, no different a shy, frustrated, but sweet voice than the one she used four years for the lead in Shugo Chara!. Kana Hanazawa provides another cute little sister voice as the fantasy-obsessed Kobato. The most surprising casting comes from Misato Fukuen as the perverted Rika, who's usually known for calm/nice characters, and here she is playing the series' strangest one. I also quite appreciated that Kodaka's actor Ryohei Kimura (Shouma, Mawaru Penguindrum) didn't just channel another Kyon-type voice like so many recent harem/comedy male leads in anime. It's getting a bit old.
Since we both gave Haganai the same exact score on MyAnimeList, I'm going to let Aiden wrap things up:
Yes, as Tim so clearly illustrates, Haganai cries out missed potential. What could have been a wonderful take on (almost parody of) the harem comedy genre sadly spends too much of its time trawling through the past sins of it instead of transcending them. In the same breath, though: excellent acting performances from pretty much the whole cast though from Marina Inoue particularly (who was incidentally the best thing about Maria Holic, too), some great characters who transcend their immediate types (with the same proviso that Tim offered), and enough genuinely funny moments to make this a solid three star show in my book. Hey, with a bit more effort put into the storytelling, less airtime being spent watching Sena's chest doing its best impression of a bungee cord, and some effort to give life to characters like Yukimura and Rika (who seem to only be included out of obligation to the source material), this could have easily been pushing for four stars. Alas, I can only hope that any further seasons (providing there are more) takes these corrections on board. It would be sad to see yet another show completely lost to a character's cleavage.
Uneven but funny, Haganai is a short, enjoyable series that has great leads, okay side characters, and mixed-at-best storytelling/comedy. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Older male teens, due to excess fan service, and pretty much anything Rika says.
Version(s) Viewed: FUNimation.com stream, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Haganai © 2011 Yomi Hirasaka ・MEDIA FACTORY / HAGANAI Project
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