By Yomi Hirasaka and Itachi. Released in Japan as “Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai” by Media Factory, serialization ongoing in the magazine Comic Alive. Released in North America by Seven Seas.
Much as I try to tell my readers whether or not they will enjoy a particular volume or series, in the end this is still my review blog where I mostly review to my tastes. I tend to like most of what I review. And my taste can be unpredictable from series to series. I do sometimes wonder about it. Why am I OK with fanservice in Cage of Eden or Negima when it drives me nuts in Food Wars or Monster Musume? Sometimes predicting what I like doesn’t really work. Usually a series I think I’ll dislike or drop early turns out to have some hidden depth or plotline or characterization that I latch on to, and suddenly it’s on my ‘surprisingly good’ list.
No series typifies this more than Haganai: I Don’t Have Many Friends. I decided to review this new volume, the 7th in the series, mostly as I saw that the ALA convention had a Best/Worst manga of the last three years panel. This is thankfully mostly dedicated to spectacular manga that the panelgoers may not have seen, but there is a section devoted to, shall we say, the bottom feeders. The results were both surprising and non. The surprising was Bakuman, which I knew had a healthy crowd that disliked its ongoing issues with sexism (including me – I dropped it early), but I wasn’t aware it was that healthy. The other two titles, Haganai and High School DxD, were firmly in the otaku harem grenre.
I get this. The harem genre is far more popular in Japan than it is in the US, and has large inherent sexism issues, just like Bakuman. It tends towards blatant fanservice, generic ‘nice’ heroes, and heroines who tend to fall into very obvious types. And no argument about High School DxD, whose first volume I was sort of lukewarm to but additional research has shown I’ll likely be dumping it pretty soon. That said… c’mon, voters, Haganai over Mayo Chiki? Over Triage X? Over I Don’t Like You At All, Big Brother!!? Is it just Haganai’s increased visibility?
I have perhaps chosen a non-typical volume with which I defend my enjoyment of Haganai. This particular volume does not have Kodaka’s gothloli younger sister in it at all, and the other resident loli, Maria, makes only a token appearance (though a cliffhanger implies Vol. 8 may be quite different). And Sena does not run through the pages naked with her breasts bouncing up and down in a grotesque parody. Instead, for the most part, this deals with the aftermath of Yozora cutting her hair, and subsequent jogging of Kodaka’s memories.
There’s still plenty of humor here, which is (more than the harem possibilities) the main reason to read Haganai. Yozora’s becoming a “pretty boy” to troll Maria is wonderful, Yozora and Rika trolling an oblivious Sena into a truly ridiculous hairstyle is magnificently over the top, and the entire parody of yaoi manga artwork is worth the price of the book alone. That said, the best parts of this volume are showing off how close the “not friends” have become, or seeing their vulnerability.
Yozora gets the bulk of the pages here, and it’s sweet yet also depressing seeing her inability to socialize, which is far more crippling than Kodaka and Sena’s simple mild personality quirks. A bonus chapter shows is the events of the start of the series from her POV, and her frustration is palpable. I also liked Sena’s immediate acceptance of Yozora’s new hair, and though she attempts to bully her about it it’s really a token attempt – these two are actually getting along quite well now. And Rika with her glasses off is actually briefly vulnerable, before the front comes slamming back up.
I get why folks would dislike Haganai, and admit it’s not for everyone. But there’s a lot of depth, humor and heart here, and compared to some of the other titles we’ve seen lately in the same genre, I can’t agree it’s among the worst. I’ve come to greatly enjoy this series. Now we’ll see if I can still say the same after what promises to be a loli-nun heavy Vol. 8.