Haganai: I Don’t Have Many Friends, Vol. 14

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. Translated by Ryan Peterson. Adapted by Ysabet Reinhardt McFarlane.

(Note: please do not post light novel spoilers in the comments.)

Most harem manga these days have to walk a very thin tightrope, especially in a modern, internet-forum friendly world. readers want the hero to end up with the girl they like best, and every time that things return to the status quo they are upset. Writers and editors want this to be successful for as long as possible, which means stringing things out and returning to status quo without making it look too obvious. With Haganai, the Neighbors Club has been the way to do this, as each of the cast is so socially inept that even basic interaction is a challenge, much less having a significant other. Or at least, that’s what Kodaka tells himself. In fact, Kodaka is very good at lying to himself and others, and the astute reader of Haganai has, through several books now, been feeling more and more like Rika, watching this play out and getting increasingly angry. This is the volume where that rage finally explodes.


This kicks off with a seeming resolution of the perpetual love triangle between Kodaka and the two female leads. Yes, there are more than two love interests, but at heart it’s always been about Yozora vs. Sena. More on Yozora later, but I felt that Sena’s confession was first rate. Yes, it started out as her seemingly talking to herself while gaming, as if practicing for later, but once she realizes what actually happened, she doesn’t back off. This makes a start contrast to Kodaka, who literally runs away as fast as possible and hides from the rest of the club for days. His desire for stasis has never been more contemptible than it is here, particularly given that he spends said days with the Student Council, the Neighbors’ Club’s mortal enemies. To his surprise, they don’t view him as a thug and a bad person, and we see just how much of Kodaka’s self-worth problems are his own doing.

Then comes the scene with Rika. (Yes, there’s a nice scene with Yukimura as well, but while it’s heartwarming, it’s all setup for that one gag. You know the one I mean.) Rika already confronted Kodaka last time about his perpetual “Huh? What was that?” response, and was seen to be barely holding it together. Now she explodes, and it’s glorious. Kudos to Itachi, by the way: the art in Haganai has frequently taken on a sketchy, exaggerated look at times, particularly when it’s funny, and it doubles down on that here, with some amazing faces that would not look out of place in a horror title. Rika beats the shit out of Kodaka (scientifically, of course) as she rants about what she learned from Sena. She’s absolutely right, of course. Of all the girls in the series, Sena has gotten twice the romantic subtext as anyone else. And he’s running away from this because he can’t face up to her actually liking him as more than a friend.

Haganai is caught up with Japan, so it will be many months before we see the next volume. But now that Rika and Kodaka have admitted hey are indeed friends, can he man up and listen to Sena? More importantly, what about Yozora, who seemingly heard this entire exchange, and whose devastated sobbing face ends this arc? The artist notes that the manga may be a bit different from the light novels, though it’s unclear if that means additions or actual changes. In any case, for those who were waiting for the payoff in Haganai, here’s where it starts.

Haganai: I Don’t Have Many Friends, Vol. 10

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.

There is always a certain level of frustration in a harem comedy, which its audience tends to want resolved immediately and its parent company tends to want to have it go on indefinitely. The author is usually caught in the middle somewhere. Harem fans love the romance to a point, but after around 6 or 7 volumes the voices start creeping in, wondering why the hero doesn’t understand that all these girls are all over him, why isn’t he going after (girl who is not the lead girl), why isn’t he manning up and showing all these girls who’s boss? (I will get into the inherent sexism of much of the harem manga fans at a later date.) Haganai has always been a bit meta about such things, and here the face of that fan becomes Rika, as she has finally had enough of Kodaka’s act.


There’s actually a nice buildup to this the entire volume. Sena’s attraction to Kodaka has been obvious, as has her frustration, but Kodaka has been very good about hiding his desires for anything to go further with anyone. Now we see that he’s starting to become more obvious – ending up shopping with Sena on what is clearly a date, at least until she presses the issue of whether he wants a girlfriend or not. Later on, when Kate and Maria (look, if I say ‘Zoro’ and ‘Ryouga’ I’m allowed to say ‘Kate’ as well) show up at his house, and we get the inevitable full frontal nudity fanservice that seems to be this titles way of driving away any readers I might lead to it, Kate observes that she’s like to go after him, but it’s no real use – after all, he has Sena. His ‘huh?’ is used as the cliffhanger here, but when it’s followed in the next chapter by ‘I knew what she was trying to say’ we know that he’s started to stop lying to himself, at least.

The Friends Club is, to a degree, inhabited by people who are socially inept and have difficulty communicating in ways that society considers ‘normal’. This manifests itself on Kodaka’s end both by his desire to have the club stay together no matter what, but also his denial that he has any friends, the purpose of the club. Staying in a comfortable place where you can quietly hate yourself and hang out with friends without risking anything. If you admit you’re friends, then why have a club? If you admit you’re falling for Sena, then won’t everything fall apart? And is this club more important to someone like Yozora than it is anyone else?

This culminates in the maid cafe scene, where the girls all do their best to show why a maid cafe is a disastrous idea. For Rika this involves acting like a stereotypical ‘tsundere’ maid, but in reality it’s a way to work off some stress about Kodaka’s dumb act. Earlier in the volume, we heard her say out loud that no one can be that oblivious, and his response was, naturally, “What’s that?’. Readers of this series should know that’s almost a catchphrase by now, and it’s not because he’s hard of hearing. So when Rika ‘serves’ Kodaka as a maid, her service turns into 15 minutes of abuse and torture, which the others observe is a way to get her frustration out of her system. Kodaka admits to himself he knows what she was trying to do. But he still doesn’t say anything.

Can a harem comedy, especially these days, go on forever without making a choice? If Kodaka admits his feelings for Sena, will the readers abandon ship the way Yozora might? It’s a high-wire act that’s really hard to achieve, but a little meta makes it enjoyable.

Haganai: I Don’t Have Many Friends, Vol. 7

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.