Haganai is a series that generally delivered on the Hippocratic Oath of anime comedy – first, be funny – and it’s a show I certainly liked. But not as much as I hoped to.
Part of me worries for what the expected second season might be like, because in some ways it feels as if this series ran out of propulsion after the visit to Sena’s father and sputtered along on fumes the rest of the way. My sense, though, is that it’s not so much of a problem of a lack of good material to adapt as it is a fear of starting any new threads that couldn’t be addressed this season. Hell, they didn’t finish up a lot of the ones they did start – Yukimura’s gender, the main romance triangle – and barely closes the loop of Yozora and Kodaka’s forgotten childhood friendship. As a result the second half of the season had a lot of jokes and situations that felt recycled. Whether that would be a problem for a second season I can’t say, not having read the novels.
In many ways Kodaka was the most “normal” person in the cast, yet he was living proof of just how shallow the social hierarchy in high school is. Shunned for his slightly foreign appearance and gruff manner, Kodaka never made friends despite being a perfectly reasonable kid who was the picture of patient protectiveness with his sister. As such he made quite a good lead, though by nature he came off a little bland when compared to the truly bizarre cast of characters surrounding him. I enjoyed the supporting cast, especially Rika, but none of them ever really became more than plot devices. Yukimura, Rika, Kobato, Maria – they all had lively introductions and the impression was given that they were a crucial part of the story, but in the end they were all effectively props. Very entertaining props at times, but I never felt as if the anime staff knew just what to do with them. Again, this may be a function of the fact that the first season seems so transparently a setup for a second.
While Haganai isn’t going to win any awards for the quality of its animation – it’s generally about serviceable – I do enjoy Buriki’s character designs (I know not everyone agrees). I also rather enjoyed the BGM, and the cast is pretty much strong across the board. It’s a good show, capable of more complexity than the average comedy, with a couple of signature characters that are fully capable of carrying the series. But in looking back, it feels as if something was missing, as if we never (or rarely) saw Haganai giving its all. There was too many instances when the show took the easy path, choosing to recycle jokes and use characters as props rather than dig deeper and do something really inventive. That potential is there in the material, and we saw glimpses of it this season, so hopefully with the introductions out of the way a second season – if we do indeed get one – will be more of the character-driven dark comedy that offers real insight into the high school experience, and less of the easy but unsatisfying gag-driven comedy we saw too much of in the second half of the season.