Haganai: I Don't Have Many Friends NEXT
The Neighbors Club, composed of students who think they don't have any friends, is shocked to discover that some pretty strong feelings have nevertheless grown between some of its members.
"Who are you, some oblivious harem-anime hero who gets all the girls just by being nice?" - Rika Shiguma.
True romantic anime has resolution; it recognizes that people end up more attracted to, and pairing with, just one other individual, even if someone gets hurt- just like real life. The males in harem, on the other hand, remain irresolute; sometimes they don't even seem to have a particular favorite among the many women chasing them, as the "oblivious" comment in the quote above sagely notes. As an aside, that the insightful quote comes from h entai-obsessed Rika Shiguma would seem to indicate some major changes in the characters this season, and I'll get to those shortly; for now I'll just say that I prefer romantic resolution to harem vacillation. And since in the quote above NEXT has shown self-awareness of the sins of harem, it only seems fair to judge it against that genre.
Now I DO recognize that sometimes romantic triangles (or Higher-Order Polygons of Attraction, for that matter) are left unresolved to keep viewers coming back to subsequent chapters of the franchise, which indeed seems to be the case here, but it's just as frustrating for the viewer, and I've also seen shows with people who WERE clearly interested in each other that got cancelled before any final resolution of feelings actually occurred, leaving the viewers up in the air. So, while there IS more of Haganai that can be adapted, the question is, WILL it be?
The first season of Haganai seemed to me a series of plot meanders (some interesting, some less so), occasionally punctuated by one girl's abuse of another, and featuring a gallery of eccentric characters (again, some interesting, some less so.) Haganai NEXT rather quickly develops an actual continuing story involving its principal triangular relationship, and this becomes the most tightly focused bit of storytelling the series has had yet; but...
Before that, let me go back to those major changes in the more minor characters. Rika gets her dials turned down quite a bit this time- she still has the occasional h entai outburst, but this time she's capable of somber reflection and genuine anger as well as her trademark yaoi raves. (A misconception she has about the male body is genuinely funny.) That she becomes the Voice of Sweet Reason here is one of many shocking developments in NEXT (and perhaps the most implausible of them); on the other hand, she does a cosplay of another member of our cast that makes a great random sight gag, which is much more in line with what I'd expect of her typical craziness. Yukimura remains completely dispensable, but the plot tries to compensate by introducing a twist that makes that character even MORE weird. Unfortunately, Maria, the 10-year-old "nun", really does nothing particularly memorable this season.
The really BIG development, the centerpiece of NEXT, is that escalation of the rivalry between Yozora and Sena. Yozora can still trick Sena into some embarrassing situations by appealing to her vanity, but Sena has now grown tired of Yozora's bullying and starts fighting back rather than running away. NOW, if Yozora manages to maneuver Sena into an embarrassing spot, Sena just "rolls with it" and allows herself to be embarrassed. And we see a fascinating exchange of power between these two girls, for as Sena becomes more confident, she also becomes more competent, while Yozora diminishes before our eyes, until Sena finally says the words that can reduce Yozora to literally trembling in fear, powerless to do anything. You could argue that the circumstances Sena chose to make this pronouncement make Sena's words as much an act of malice, cruelty, and arrogance toward Yozora as they are a sincere plea- Sena seems to have learned too well from her tormentor- but they aren't words that can be simply ignored, or be unsaid, or be easily walked back from. So does this matter- or does it not?
SPOILER HERE. Well... at least the show doesn't simply forget that the words were said. (I seem to recall that Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens actually had such a case of amnesia toward the end.) What the show DOES is try to "run out the clock" on the season, and then tack on some final moments carefully crafted to be as subjective as a Rorschach test. Stay tuned for Haganai Last (or perhaps just Haganai Later), if that occurs. (Yes, there's more to tell, but leaving things in this manner is kinda like... oh, I dunno, like leaving someone encased in Carbonite. It's not pleasant. I think that a more elegant ending could have been constructed that still left the last word for another chapter, if necessary, rather than the rather awkward way things were done here.)
Still, NEXT has some excellent jokes, in addition to Rika's misconceptions about men; it's a good running gag that the group routinely ignores Kodaka's opinions, often arriving at a "consensus" that's conspicuously missing one consenter. On the minus side, the opening song, "Be My Friend", has an inane chorus that really doesn't bear repetition- BUT GETS IT ANYWAY, over and over, making listeners feel like a barrage of hammer blows is being applied to their scalps. (The closing song, "Bokura no Tsubasa", is much better.)
There are three new characters this season. Two are girls from the student council; the treasurer is a mini-tsundere type that reminded me of Oreimo's Kanako, but the class president seems to have a more interesting personality, judging from the few lines she has. It turns out that Maria has a big sister, ALSO a Sister, who's as flaky as she is, and who might have some major problems keeping those Vows of Chastity.
I'm honestly not sure WHAT to think of Yozora and Sena at this point, other than the obvious temptation to point out that as far as Yozora goes, you reap what you sow, and that her problems are due as much to things she DIDN'T say- and to doors that she herself shut- as to things she actually said and did. Maybe a pox on both Yozora's and Sena's houses? This season certainly kept me more engaged than the first one did- I just would have liked it better if it had actually gone ahead and followed through a bit more. After two seasons of this, at least I'll remember flyswatters, and enormous butterfly hair ornaments, for many years to come (and I finally realized the symbolism there- sometimes I guess I'm just slow.)
Yes, I'll be back for the next chapter. If there is one. And if the central issue is resolved. It didn't have to end here, but I still think the show needed a better 'stopping point' than the one it has. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Some up-the-skirt shots, particularly of Sena, who at one point didn't seem to be wearing underwear, though that might have been my imagination. Rika continues her yaoi obsession, and the show includes a shot from a page of one of her mangas. Graphic dialogue from both yaoi and eroge is read aloud, to the embarrassment of two individuals. There's one actual nude scene, and I was amazed who got picked for that. Older teens and up.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Haganai: I Don't Have Many Friends NEXT © 2013 Kadokawa Corporation/Media Factory/Haganai Project NEXT
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