Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jan 30th 2012
Episodes 6-12 Streaming
With the addition of effeminate male underling Yukimura, nasty pervert/genius Rika, ten-year-old faculty advisor Sister Maria, and Kodaka's own little sister Kobato the Neighbor Club now has a full roster. Which means its time to get out there and flagrantly waste everyone's time with loosely friend-related activities. Look out karaoke boxes of the world! In the meantime Kodaka visits Sena's father, to whom he owes his new school life, and tries to remember the name of his only friend in childhood. Who just happens to look a lot like Yozora. Of course Yozora has long hair, so there's no way they could be the same person.
To paraphrase an old dead guy: A story, my kingdom for a story! Not a "character-based" collection of quirky behavior, not an artificial slice of life, not a bunch of days just strung together—a story. It doesn't have to be complex or original. A self-contained plot that builds, climaxes, and concludes will do. Something where there's direction and purpose, where things happen and it matters. Is that too much to ask? If you were to ask Haganai, then yes.
After opening with a solid premise and skating through the obligatory romantic claptrap on the power of its characters, Haganai spends the rest of its run chugging through episodes about the Neighbor Club karaoke-ing, going to the pool, trading cell phone numbers, hanging at the beach, attending a festival... You get the idea. The sheer pointlessness of it is inescapable. Little new arises from such episodes. We see that Kodaka is a nice guy with an image problem, that Yozora's haughty sadism hides her essential loneliness, that Sena is an innocent girl at heart. Yozora and Sena will fight and get kind of romantic with Kodaka, all while the supporting players create a cloud of comic noise around them. Relationships change little, characters evolve not at all, and the message—that these outcasts have already found their friends and just refuse to acknowledge it—remains the same. We might as well be watching the first couple of episodes repeat ad infinitum.
There are worse things to repeat though. The series has a pretty decent sense of humor, especially when it deigns to create new jokes (Yozora's swimsuit when it finally makes an appearance is a riot), and a cast that is consistently colorful and occasionally even sympathetic. That's especially true of Sena, whose combination of outward worldliness and inward naiveté is quite winning. Yozora and Kodaka no longer harbor any surprises, but her genuine viciousness and his general non-loserishness are still refreshing. Repetition is of course not good for any of this. The law of diminishing returns means that even good jokes lose their luster after a few rounds, and having Yozora cruelly haze Sena every episode makes her softer moments feel patently false. We won't even speak of what repetition does to faux-fellatio jokes. Still, if you're going to be stuck in a revolving stasis, it's better if it's an amusing one filled with interesting people.
It's telling, however, that the series is always most enjoyable when introducing something new or venturing outside of the Neighbor-Club-does-something-mundane norm. As when Kodaka pays his respects to Sena's dad and learns a bit about his own father. Or more importantly whenever the show finds time for some actual overarching plot. That that plot features Kodaka and Yozora's painfully cliché past is unfortunate, but it does introduce some potentially interesting complications to the central triangle as well as a welcome bit of seriousness. Naturally the series ends before the complications can play out or even prove that they exist anywhere except our own fancies. It concludes, however, on a bravely bittersweet note that gives one some modicum of hope for future episodes. If there ever are any.
As if compensating for being stuck in a rut, these episodes jack up the fan service something fierce. Multiple naked snafus show off Sena's generous figure, and swimsuits play an important role in several episodes, one of which prominently features sadomasochistic lotion application. And then there's Rika, whose lewd fantasies and even lewder behavior are little fan-service factories of their own. The series really earns its TV-MA rating here. The fan-service can be pretty funny at times, particularly when applied to Yukimura, but also gets discomfiting when applied to Kobato and Sister Maria, both of whom get some naked time. Not as discomfiting as it could have been, though. Both are staged as jokes (although only Kobato's actually works as one), and Kodaka is thankfully (and amusingly) blasé about his sister's habit of disrobing in the open.
If the series looks a little cheaper than before, that's probably because there's less plot and amusement to distract from its flaws. There's more time to notice how the excellent character designs actually look pretty generic at mid- to long-distance, how ordinary the background artistry is, or how utilitarian the character animation is. And how there really is no other kind. The effect is especially pronounced with the music. Tom-H@ck's score gets the more subdued moods right, but tries way too hard during comic scenes, something that's a lot easier to notice when you aren't laughing—which is a lot of the time this time around. Buriki's character designs are delectable in close, and the fan service is nothing to sneeze at, but you're not going to come away from Haganai with a new appreciation of the animation art.
Or with much of anything else for that matter. The first half of the series survived on good characters, good humor, and the occasional little surprise. While the characters stay strong—if you discount the ill-conceived, last-minute attempt to soften Yozora—by series' end the surprises are gone and the humor much dulled by overuse. The non-ending ending is just the final insult. Haganai is still worth watching, particularly if you've grown attached to Yozora and the gang, but only just.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Yozora, Kodaka, and Sena; still has a few good jokes up its sleeve.
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