US Distributor: Funimation
Production Studio: AIC Build
Was this provided by the publisher? No
More Info: Anime News Network

HaganaiBoxCoverFinding friends can be challenge at all ages, especially in our teenage years.  It is those awkward years of going from not quite being a child to not yet an adult, learning to deal with the flood of emotions that come with it, and still trying to figure out who you are.  So what is the most effective way to find friends?  According to Haganai, all you have to do is create a club for just this task.

Kodaka Hasegawa is a recent transfer student to St. Chronica’s Academy.  On his first day, he gets a reputation as being a threatening delinquent due to his eyes and brown-blonde hair.  One day, Kodaka sees abrasive classmate Yozora Mikazuki talking to her imaginary friend Tomo.  One thing leads to another, and they both Both of them quickly find out that the other doesn’t have any friends. The two decide to start the Neighbor’s Club in hopes of finding others like them.  Before long, other students in similar situations join the club, including the principal’s busty daughter Sena, the genius fujoshi Rika, and Kodaka’s gothic-lolita sister Kobato.

Haganai could have been a drama about social misfits trying to fit in a cold world.  Instead, the show follows a comedic route with small amounts of plot filling the space in between goofy antics.  There is one subplot regarding Kodaka and his remembrance of a childhood friend from long ago, but the show cannot carry just this one side-story to completion.  It finishes up with no concrete conclusion, though the answer to the identity of Kodaka’s long lost friend is easy to figure out.  The comedy is hit or miss, but it is most enjoyable when it veers into parody mode, especially when it starts to poking fun at popular role playing games and bishoujo dating sims.  The last episode, in which the cast writes a story together, is the funniest of the parody episodes.  The show is a bit misleading in that there are hints of a greater plot, only to swap character development for wacky hijinks.  This will not go over well with viewers who were expecting the show to be a critique of the harem genre.

HaganaiSC1Despite the plot’s many issues, the characters are able to pick up much of the slack.  The three main characters Yozora, Kodaka, and Sena get the most screen time and play off each other well.  This is especially true for Yozora and Sena, who usually are at each others’ throats over in each episode. While it can be over the top, it also works as the fights between the two provide many of the season’s funniest moments.  Sena sees the most development, as she learns that some things like owning a cell phone or going to karaoke aren’t beneath her.  Yozora, on the other hand, becomes more unbearable as the series progresses.  Her actions towards Sena are repugnant as they come to a head in episode ten.  At this point the viewer is treated to a scene where Yozora slathers sunscreen onto Sena with her foot while berating her.   The supporting cast is criminally underdeveloped, and seems to only exist as fodder for one-off jokes.  We know Rika is a fujoshi, but that should not be her sole attribute to the show. Likewise, we know that Yukimura wants to be more manly, but her reason for being there shouldn’t be about her trying to be more mainly.

For all the problems with the plot and characters, though, the show does look nice.  The series is very colorful and the animation is clean.  The character designs are attractive, without being generic.  Fanservice is present in each episode, often in the form of Sena’s breasts bouncing with the occasional nude scene thrown in for good measure.  While fanservice is usually for titillation, its purpose here is more for comedic needs.

The music in series consists mainly of single-instrument arrangements, and is completely forgettable.  The opening and ending themes are easily the best tunes in the season, though they are still average at best.  The English dub, while listenable, is not among Funimation’s best efforts.  Still, there a number of standout performances.  Whitney Rogers, who voices Yozura, is far and away the best English performer and gives her Japanese counterpart a run for her money.  Jad Saxton, who voices Sena, is another standout performance along with Alexis Tipton, who gives Rika the crazies she deserves in English.  Jerry Jewell, the voice of Kodaka, is acceptable if not on the same level as Ryohei Kimura.  If there is any real dead weight on the English cast, it would have to be Kristi Kang, who voices Maria and sounds more like a twenty year old woman than a ten year old girl.  The English dub also falters with both young Kodaka and Sora, who sound too old for their respective ages.

This release of Haganai is full of extras.  There are two English commentaries with different cast members for both commentaries, Japanese TV spots for the Blu-ray and DVD releases, commercials for the series, promo videos, and clean opening and ending videos along with the American trailer for the show.

The first season of Haganai can be summed up with the phrase “wasted potential.”  It had a lot going to for it, with the concept of social rejects trying to find friends Ultimately, though, viewers will be let down by a show that focuses too much on hijinks than plot.  All is not lost, though, as the show does look good, and the main characters do well to play off each other.  There are still two big questions surrounding the series, though.  Is it worth watching?  Absolutely.  It is worth owning?  No. It is better served as a rental or a streaming title.  It is the kind of show that would be welcome in many anime collections, though it is far from a “must own”.