Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Nov 28th 2012
Haganai: I don't have many friends
Hasegawa Kodaka has just transferred to Saint Chronica Academy. Due to his naturally blond hair, he is largely considered a thug, and thus has had a difficult time making friends. Then one day he comes across Mikazuki Yozora, a girl in his class, having a conversation with her “air friend.” Quickly surmising that neither of them are any good at making real friends, Yozora immediately founds the “Neighbors Club” in an attempt to get them some. Can these socially inept students overcome their friendship issues? And what does playing video games have to do with it?
Awkward high school comedies are at this point a dime a dozen, so to make one stand out from the crowd takes some doing. Based on the light novels of the same name, Boku ha Tomodachi ga Suku Nai, better known as Haganai and translating to I Don't Have Many Friends, makes a noble effort on that front, and if it isn't the most remarkable story in its genre, it still has plenty of amusement to offer while still falling into a few tired old traps.
Our story begins somewhere in the middle – Hasegawa Kodaka is spacing out in a club meeting, having a dream about beach beauties getting along. Unfortunately for him, the reality of his situation is that two of the girls in the club are in the midst of an out-and-out nabe battle while the other three members – a maid, a small nun, and a goth loli little sister – muddle along. This serves as our introduction to the dysfunctional members of the Neighbors Club, and is presumably meant to pique our interest in the story. While it is amusing in its way, it can also be seen as a turn off for readers who are too familiar with the cast of characters from other stories, offering the misleading impression that this is another cookie-cutter high school story.
Luckily, while it does have moments where it devolves into stereotypical sludge, for the most part Haganai's first volume is fairly entertaining. Prologue over, the story goes back to the beginning, to the moment when Kodaka first meets Yozora. He's on his way back to the classroom to retrieve something he forgot when he hears her having an animated conversation with someone...who doesn't appear to be there. Embarrassed and defensive, Yozora informs Kodaka that she talking to Tomo-chan, her “air friend.” Understandably flummoxed, Kodaka isn't quite sure what to do, and by the end of the encounter, Yozora has latched onto him and forced him to become a founding member of her new club which has the goal of making the two of them some friends. Swept along, Kodaka can't quite get out of it, nor does he seem particularly invested in doing so – for all that he's the ostensible main character, Yozora is so overwhelming that she takes over his school life with ease and rapidity, Haruhi Suzumiya-style. Some strange and terrifying posters later, Yozora and Kodaka are joined by apparently (and self-proclaimedly) perfect Kashiwazaki Sena, who is at constant loggerheads with Yozora, which is both funny and annoying.
If the characters were left to carry the story, we might have a problem. Neither Yozora nor Sena are particularly charming or endearing, and Kodaka, while he does have a personality of his own, is still somewhat underwhelming as a protagonist. Fortunately the story makes good use of club activities to keep things fun, specifically the girls' idea that playing video games will help them to become better at social interactions. They play a Monster Hunter type handheld game, which is mildly amusing, and then a dating sim, which has much better results. The girls' reactions to the girls in the game are over-the-top and very funny, making that chapter the real highlight of the volume.
Itachi's art is quite interesting, as she goes between beautiful depictions of the girls and messy sketches, which actually works well for the series and adds some more humor to the proceedings. Her portrayal of Yozora's own art looks like the work of a seriously deranged elementary schooler, which is exactly what it needs to be and makes the posters even more entertaining. The color pages Seven Seas has included show more detail than the interior black and white art, and Itachi has a deft hand with small humorous details in the panels, such as the occasional physical manifestation of Tomo-chan.
All in all, Haganai manages not to be just another high school comedy while still falling prey to some of the genre's pitfalls. Characters aren't all that unique in terms of personality, the myth of the cute nun endures, and Yozora and Sena insult each other based on breast size. (Do any girls actually do that?) But Itachi's artistic flourishes and the out-and-out silliness of some of the club activities save it from mediocrity, and if you have room in your heart for another tale of high school hijinks, Haganai has a book for you.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B
+ Fun artistic flourishes, the dating sim chapter is very funny and the Monster Hunter one is pretty fun too.
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