Haganai can be most accurately classified as a “harem anime,” a term that never fails to fill me with dread as I start up a series. And yet, it’s among the ever-increasing number of shows that toys the conventions of the harem model, making it far more palatable for folks like me for whom “harem” has become a four-letter word. Given the many liberties it takes with the harem conventions, I found Haganai to be highly engaging from beginning-to-end even if it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its first four episodes. By that I mean that the series plateaus at about episode four and thereafter never seems to strive for more by way of narrative or character development, but it certainly never gets worse. It hits its peak early and then basically stays there.
The series centers on a group of high schoolers who form a “Neighbors Club,” intended to help them make friends. By that I mean that they come together as a club with the express aim of learning how to make friends with people who are already capable of making friends (i.e. normal kids), not to make friends with one another. Therein lies the group’s tragedy, for they desperately yearn to make friends, never quite realizing that they in fact already have. Of course, I should think the immense amount of in-fighting among their lot contributes to the difficulty they have in realizing this fact.
The group is composed of fairly standard anime types. Kodaka is our token male character at the center of this highly-dysfunctional harem. The lynchpin that holds the group together, Kodaka is a recent transfer student who quickly becomes inaccurately perceived by his peers as a delinquent. They see him just as the tertiary human characters in Yu Yu Hakusho see Yusuke, fleeing at the sight of Kodaka and handing over their possessions whenever he speaks to them. Although he turns out to be quite the street brawler in his own right, the perception of Kodaka as a delinquent could not be further from the truth. This split perspective on his character makes him far more interesting than your average personality-less harem lead, and gives us a protagonist with whom we might really connect as viewers.
Among the females who come into his life as a result of the Neighbors Club are a sadistic girl with an imaginary friend, a big-breasted blonde who loves video games, a fangirl with a hyperactive sex drive, and a 10-year-old nun. The group is also joined by Kodaka’s little sister who pretends to be a vampire and a pretty boy who everyone mistakes for a girl. What makes this particular harem show so refreshing is that none of the girls seem particularly romantically-interested in Kodaka. Sure, you might interpret their actions in any way you want, but there’s really nothing overt here to suggest that any of the girls wish to become romantically involved with him. In fact, for a time, they seem to downright hate him more than they like him.
Of course, this does not mean that there is any less nudity or any fewer beach scenes than your average harem anime might be prone to depict. There’s plenty of that. Personally, I don’t find the whole nude high school girl thing necessary (in fact, it rightfully bothers me quite a lot), but if that’s the sort of thing you go for, I assure you there was far more here than I felt comfortable with.
Haganai: I Don’t Have Many Friends is now available in a 4-disc Blu-ray/DVD Limited Edition combo pack from FUNimation Entertainment, which comes packaged in a heavy-duty hardboard case and includes episode commentaries, textless openings and closings, and a variety of trailers and promo spots by way of special features.