It didn’t take long for Haganai to remind me of everything I like about it, and everything I don’t.
OP: "Be My Friend" by Marina Inoue, Kanae Ito, Nozomi Yamamoto, Misato Fukuen, Kana Hanazawa and Yuka Iguchi
This is an odd, odd show. There are very few comedies about which I would apply the term “twisted”, but Haganai is definitely one of them. There are moments that are incredibly funny because of that, but the sheer perversity of the show is almost unsettling sometimes. I’m never quite sure I have a handle on just what the series is trying to be, and this premiere certainly leaves me no closer than I was before.
The first part of the episode was an instant reminder of why I was worn out by the end of the first season. The endless cycle of Yozora torturing Sena (this time with Rika’s assistance) had long-stopped being funny to me by then after seemingly endless repetition, and it didn’t exactly thrill me to see “NEXT” kick off with that same theme. This time it’s a very cruel gag about the “heap” hairstyle, which leads to Sena leaving for home with fried shrimp and dead bugs piled on top of sausage curls. I didn’t find it at all funny, though it certainly led to one of those “straight to doujin” moments this show is so good at delivering. The "torture Sena" gag just doesn’t work for me – I know it does for some viewers and that’s fine. Comedy is like that.
I also can’t say I’m thrilled with the direction Sena’s character seems to be taking based on this episode, though it’s too early to say for sure. To be plain, her character has been the best thing about the series for me so far – she manages to be genuinely sweet despite her quirks. Her ojou-sama preening is an obvious overcompensation for her ridiculous levels of insecurity, and she’s never stooped to Yozora’s level despite enough provocation to test the Dalai Lama’s patience. But her behavior in this episode was pretty over the top, implying a yandere obsession with Yozora that might be a running plotline this season. This thread climaxes with a scene that will surely please the masses, but which surprised the hell out of me – even coming from Haganai.
On the other hand, I’ve liked pretty much everything connected to Sena’s family, including her weird father Pegasus and his sly “gentlemen’s gentleman” Stella – and MC Kodaka’s visit to the Kashiwazaki estate this week was no exception. Apart from Sena’s somewhat startling “It puts the lotion in the basket” moments, these scenes were a riot – though even by his Pegasus was pretty over-the-top with the bath stuff. Stella giving Kodaka condoms was a classic Haganai moment – screwball comedy with a lot of sexual undertones and perfect timing. This series is certainly capable of producing those, and occasionally some genuinely heartfelt stuff too (it’s a series about a bunch of losers who turn to each other because they have no one else, after all) but it’s also capable of real mean-spiritdness. I like the edge that gives Haganai, but there are times – and were this week – where I feel it crosses the invisible line that takes it from black comedy to plain black. I’m also annoyed that Kodaka refuses to lift a finger to stop what’s being done to Sena despite his obvious disapproval, despite later telling Pegasus “I’ll protect her from bullying.” Why not protect her then, Jackass? It’s ironic that Kodaka made that comment to Pegasus, because as the first act was playing out I was already pissed at his inaction. Adding insincerity to the mix doesn’t exactly help his case.
As for the rest of the cast – elfin Index-lookalike Maria, there’s-still-no-way-I-believe-that’s-a-guy double-reverse trap Yukimura, and occult-obsessed little sister Kobato, we have only pictorial introductions and brief appearances this week. They each have appeal as comic characters, especially Kobato (whose “relationship” with Sena provided some of S1s biggest laughs, along with Rika’s ecchi obsession), though it’s clear that the real depth in this series belongs to the three characters at the center – despite occasional turns in the spotlight, the others are there as comic devices. For me as a fan, Haganai has to walk a tightrope because I find Yozora thoroughly unlikeable and there are as many facets of the series that irk me as ones I like – but the things I like, I like an awful lot. Buriki’s character designs are still among my favorites, Sena is a gem (at least so far), and the fact is that sometimes Haganai can be very, very funny – and ultimately that’s the main job of a comedy. For me it’s a frustrating show to watch, but impossible not to.