Saturday, September 10, 2022


September means back-to-school time, complete with kids joining and rejoining school clubs.  We'll be doing the same by reviewing a month's worth of manga about school clubs, although today's review is perhaps not the best example to start with.

HAGANAI: I DON'T HAVE MANY FRIENDS (Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai), based on the light novel series by Yomi Hirasaki with art by Itachi.  First published in 2010 and first published in North America in 2012.


Hasegawa Kodaka is a new student who finds himself ostracized due to his naturally blond hair and rough looks.  By chance he meets up with Mikazuki Yozora, who would be charming if she weren't so paranoid and obsessed with talking to her imaginary friend.  Neither of them are good at making friends, so they decide to start a school club that's all about making friends...somehow.  

They manage to rope in a couple more members, including the busty and beautiful Sena, who is the daughter of the school director.  Together they try to make friends through video games, but can Yozora and Sena stop fighting among themselves long enough to make it work?


I went into Haganai expecting yet another harem manga, one that uses a school club as a excuse for all the harem nonsense.  Curiously, it reminded more of Tenchi Muyo! than anything else, in that it mostly ignores the lead guy and focuses more on the two most prominent girls as they fight like dogs.  It's a shockingly awkward and mean-spirited manga, and it's hard to believe this could ever pass as comedy.

The awkwardness is present right from Page One as the reader is thrown into the story in media res, as we watch Kodaka and the girls eat what can only be described as the nabe from hell.  They try to forge a bond in between the bouts of fighting and puking their guts out.  Maybe this was funny in the original light novel, but here it's just off-putting and confusing because we have little idea who these people are or what is going on.  

After that, things proceed in a more orderly and predictable manner, albeit with a lot more video-game-centric plots than you would expect.  Part of me is surprised at how quickly the story forgets about Kodaka, but I can't blame the author or mangaka when he's easily the weakest part.  He's the least insane person of the group, which means he's there mostly to overreact to everyone else's weirdness.  Even the "looks like a thug, but actually a decent dude" gimmick has been done before by many, far better stories.  

Instead the author shifts his focus to Yozora and Sena, all but begging the audience to side with their favorite waifu.  The good news is that they aren't simpering moe cliches for once.  The bad news is that both of them are self-centered mental cases.  Yozora is completely lost in the happy imaginary world she's constructed for herself, with imaginary friends and imaginary adventures.  She tolerates Kodaka because she can walk all over him, but she chafes against Sena because she is everything that Yozora is not.  Meanwhile, Sena is just arrogant and manipulative, bringing down others (mostly Yozora) to compensate for her own loneliness.  They get so caught up in their own rivalry that they often forget Kodaka's even around, and when they do they mostly make fun of him.  

I suspect that this is meant to be a satire, meant to poke fun at other light novels of the day (including, but not limited to the then-popular Haruhi Suzumiya series).  We're meant to laugh at the in-fighting, Kodoka's overreactions, and the mendacity of their schemes in the same way we might laugh at It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia.  It's a type of humor that requires a skilled writer as well as characters who can be endearing while being assholes.  Unfortunately, Hirasaki doesn't have that gift.  The fighting is ridiculous in concept, but not in execution.  All the demeaning nicknames and boob size jokes get tedious FAST.  I don't know whether Haganai should have been more outrageous and ridiculous or more sincere and touching.  Either way, it would have been more pleasant to read than the weird, awkward series we got.


Even by the low standards of light-novel-to-manga adaptations, the art of Haganai is unusually crude and slapdash.  The faces in particular look half-finished and go off-model with shocking frequency, and the rest of them don't look much better.  It feels like Itachi was dashing them down as fast as possible to meet a tight deadline.  This approach does bring a certain degree of energy to the art, along with all the wild takes, extreme angles, and the odd fish-eyed panel, but it just serves to highlight how poor everyone looks.


Haganai wants to be satire, but mostly it's just obnoxious, weird, and ugly.  I think I'd sooner take a sincere story about kids making friends through a school club than re-read this absolute misfire of a manga.

This series was published by Seven Seas.  This series is complete in Japan with 20 volumes.  All 20 have been published and are currently in print.

1 comment:

  1. This is a classic/cliche' case of the, 'don't judge a manga off the first volume' series. I went into reading this series after watching the first season of the anime so I was used to the quirky bickering antics of this rowdy and strange bunch of characters. It's pretty much a harem/romcom with gaming/slice of life bits mixed in. The artwork is definitely rougher in the early volumes but does improve immensely as it progresses. Your enjoyment would hinge on the banter between the characters which can make you cry with laughter and their likeability, but it IS a harem manga, so decide with that in mind.