Haganai NEXT (2013)

Haganai NEXT (2013)

Episode 01 – 12

The club for people who don’t have many friends is back!

Based on the light novel series, from volume four up until the end of volume eight — written by Yomi Hirasaka and illustrated by Buriki — Haganai NEXT, or Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT in Japanese, is the follow-up season to Haganai: I Don’t Have Many Friends, a Japanese animation written by Tatsuhiko Urahata and directed by Hisashi Saitō — who had previously directed the fan-service-heavy romantic comedy, Heaven’s Lost Property (2009). Haganai NEXT, though not helmed by first season writer or director — but still produced by the studio AIC Build — is a direct, and immediate, continuation from the prior season, starting off precisely where the former concluded. NEXT director, Toru Kitahata, does an outstanding job in keeping the tone, mood and atmosphere in sync with that of the first season, while wordsmith Yomi Hirasaka, the man responsible for writing the light novel collection, seems to be the perfect replacement choice to pen the anime, understanding the chief players, their motives, frustrations, history and all their unique intricacies, as the characters — from design to persona — come across looking, feeling and sounding like those much loved personalities from the original season.

Black Dragon Stance!

Black Dragon Stance!

Haganai NEXT, once again, takes place at the prep-school, St. Chronica’s Academy, and follows the challenges and adventures of the Neighbors Club, an after-school group founded by high school misfits who had little to no friends, bad communication skills, negative thinking, poor life experiences and useless delusional habits, in the hope of learning how to make friends, while practicing how to behave/ act in social situations, through their new-found society. Returning in Haganai NEXT are the nutty, oddball, and often unpredictable, members of the Neighbors Club, but within this second outing, audiences are taken deeper into these character’s psyche, exploring their damaging/ burdensome pasts even further, unfolding truths, revelations and other such hidden facets from their lives, uncovering their concealed agendas, undisclosed desires and earnest emotions. With the standout strength of Haganai NEXT being in its character development and interactions, many surprising announcements and discoveries are brought to light as this follow-up season unfolds.

Kodaka Hasegawa, the viewpoint character of the anime and one of the club’s founding members, with his unusual spotty-blond hair color — inherited from his late English mother — begins the season slightly more awkward than he was in the preceding outing, after discovering that his female co-founder, the black-haired Yozora Mikazuki, who didn’t have much going for her other than her stellar looks, eluded revealing her true identity to him, being Kodaka’s one-and-only childhood friend from ten years earlier. Ten years prior to the start of the series, Kodaka, who went by the name Taka, befriended Yozora, but because she had short hair and wore casual-boyish cloths — sporting a red and white cap, with an ‘S’ written on it — he mistook her for a boy and called her Sora. The day before Taka moved away, Sora planned to wear a skirt to reveal that she was, in fact, a girl, but was too embarrassed to actually show up at their hangout spot. Upon their initial meeting ten years later, Yozora immediately recognized Kodaka as her long-lost friend, but avoided telling him the truth; that was until the finale of the first season, where Yozora walks into Kodaka’s classroom with short hair, having had to cut it due to an incident that transpired at the Summer Festival, where Yozora burns the lower part of her hair on several firework sparks.

Eroge Gaming with Style!

Eroge Gaming with Style!

Within NEXT, Yozora and Kodaka attempt to keep their past friendship a secret, hidden away, from the other club members, as Yozora states that the former part of their friendship is long over, with their present relationship not being as ‘good’ as it was in the past; though the two are still rather close. Similar to the prior season, Yozora, who has some obvious affections for Kodaka, does not reveal what she truly desires from him, constantly relying on Kodaka to fulfill her wishes on his own accord — waiting for him to approach her — and Kodaka remains clueless about her intentions, ultimately leaving Yozora frenzied and frequently infuriated over his naivety and obliviousness.

With Yozora desperately trying to cling onto Kodaka and their long-forgotten bond, her already touchy, and often unstable, relationship with Sena Kashiwazaki — the attractive, blonde-haired, academically successful, wealthy daughter of the school’s chairman — falls into more turmoil, though the girl’s dealings with one another have grown to be somewhat more friend-like, or at least it appears that way. Sena’s relationship and chemistry with Kodaka has matured quite considerably from the first season to NEXT. On the outset, Sena sees Kodaka as, ‘just another one of the boys;’ akin to the schoolmates who constantly tried to win her attention. As such, she would sometimes mock Kodaka and offer to ‘reward’ him by stepping on him, or something absurdly similar, as Sena treated classmates like her personal slaves, which they strangely seemed to enjoy. To Sena’s surprise, Kodaka did not want her silly ‘rewards,’ nor did he act like the other boys she knew; because of this, Sena’s insults to Kodaka tone down, as she begins to view him in a different light. With Sena trusting Kodaka more and more, as she believed that he would keep the promise to teach her how to swim and wouldn’t tell anyone that she secretly liked her nickname ‘Meat,’ and with Kodaka scolding her for being foolish and arrogant — Sena was shocked to know that she was actually criticized by a guy her own age — for initiating an altercation during their trip to the swimming pool, Sena gradually starts to harbor strong romantic feelings towards Kodaka. Now, within Haganai NEXT, a shocking revelation is exposed, complicating matters further, when it is leaked that Sena’s father, Pegasus Kashiwazaki, had arranged a marriage between Sena and Kodaka — who happened to be his best friend’s son — fourteen years earlier, deeper convoluting Sena and Kodaka’s intricate and knotty relationship with one another and the testy Yozora.

Gamer Girls: Watch out, they play dirty!

Gamer Girls: Watch out, they play dirty!

The character who undergoes the biggest transformation from Haganai to Haganai NEXT is the sexually forward, first-year genius-scientist student, and club member, Rika Shiguma, who has a nasty habit of converting innocent remarks into something perverted, and is comically aroused by intercourse between mecha. As NEXT opens, Rika immediately stops wearing her trademark glasses, which she claims were fake — since her vision is evidently perfect — and starts to let her hair flow down, literally, though still often being held by a scrunchie. Rika frequently begins changing hairstyles and hair color, episode to episode, from blonde to black, quickly going back to her natural hair color, and then changing her hair back to black again. Despite Rika’s perversive, sporadic persona, she is perhaps the most dedicated member of the Neighbors Club in terms of achieving their intended goal to make friends, putting in hard work behind the scenes to make the club more enjoyable for everyone, and this is made even more evident within NEXT. Rika is quite caring towards her clubmates and very sensitive to everyone’s well being, and is almost always in high-spirits. During this season, it becomes blatantly obvious that Rika is quite pestered by the fact that her clubmates usually feign ignorance about their already-established friendship, claiming that they are all still ‘friendless,’ viewing each other only as clubmates, not friends. Throughout NEXT, Rika passionately endeavors to make her companions aware of their true connection and affinity, in the hope of allowing them to see one another as the real friends they, clearly, already are.

The truth behind effeminate and gullible schoolmate, Yukimura Kusunoki’s, sexual identity is unveiled in Haganai NEXT, with Yukimura’s low self-esteem maturing into something more confident by the conclusion of the series, achieved through the sound relationships built with clubmates while partaking in club activities; Yukimura possesses sincere friendliness and a gentle demeanor, making dealings with other Neighbors Club members pleasant and unforced. As Haganai NEXT advances, more is made public about Kobato Hasegawa, Kodaka’s younger sister, who daily cosplays as Reisys VI Felicity Sumeragi, an ancient vampire from her favorite anime, Fullmetal Necromancer, joining the Neighbors Club to spend more time with her brother, and developing a rivalry with Maria — who is closest to her in age — due to the fact that she also exhibits brotherly affection toward Kodaka. When the Neighbors Club trope visit Kobato’s School Festival to watch a class film she stars in, they discover that Kobato is, to their dismay, quite popular, but has refused to make friends with her classmates, despite their efforts to befriend her.

Sister Act: Out of Habit

Sister Act: Out of Habit

The 10-year-old nun in training, Maria Takayama, who happens to be the club’s staff advisor, develops a more stable relationship with her season one adversary, Kobato, in Haganai NEXT, as the two girls spend more time with one another, albeit while staying at Kodaka’s home. When Maria purchases a key necklace, similar to the one that hangs around her neck, as a birthday present for Kobato, it becomes apparent that, although the girls are constantly quarrelling, they do have genuine care and fondness for one another, even though it’s often displayed in unusual ways.

Haganai NEXT, while further delving into the lives of the season one players, introduces audiences to a number of fresh faces. We meet Kate Takayama, the 16-year-old sister of Maria, who is a nun at St. Chronica’s Academy. With an impressive physical appearance — she can be described as looking like a ‘matured Maria,’ with lavender-silver hair, blue eyes, pale skin, plus a well-endowed body — Kate shares similar traits to that of her younger sister, particularly her vulgarity, as Kate isn’t shy of scratching her butt, burping, or telling dirty jokes in public. However, Kate is quite composed and often worries about her kid sister, being extremely thankful to Kodaka for the way he cares and looks after Maria; it is hinted that Kate might harbor a small crush on Kodaka, but it’s unclear how deep these feelings run.

Audiences are eventually introduced to several Student Council Members, who cause some unneeded heartache to the members of Kodaka’s Neighbors Club. Originally mistaking Kodaka to be Sena’s boyfriend, 17-year-old female student and Student Council Treasurer, Aoi Yusa — who harbors resentment toward Sena over her beauty, scholastic ability and glamorous life, with Aoi characterized by her small body, being quite short, and her red spiky boyish-style hair — gradually end ups on good terms with Kodaka, as the Neighbors Club begins to crack open, with Kodaka reluctant to face his inner feelings, as visiting the clubroom, will no doubt, cause him to tackle his commitment fears. In this uneasy period, Kodaka starts spending more time helping Aoi with several Student Council tasks. Whilst aiding Aoi, Kodaka meets 18-year-old, Student Council President, the gorgeous, funny and elegant, Hinata Hidaka — with her braided, bundled up-hair sitting on the back of her head, while the rest of her hair is left flowing in her front, coupled with a white bow tie-like hairclip. Friendly and fearless Hinata, unlike other students at St. Chronica’s Academy, declares that she doesn’t care less about Kodaka’s tarnished reputation, floating around the school — or what other students have to say about him — as she believed to already formed a clear insight of the type of person Kodaka was, through the short time they had spent in each other’s company. Hinata eventually offers Kodaka a place at the Student Council, as the General Affairs Manager, and it becomes fairly noticeable that she possesses a liking towards him, perhaps romantically; but the two seem to get alone well none-the-less.

'Does this include the OVA?'

‘Does this include the OVA?’

Haganai NEXT, although keeping the whimsical, light-hearted, incongruous humor element that made its predecessor so entertaining, is far more emotionally heavy, and drama based, particularly as the show draws nearer to its bitter-sweet conclusion. While its romantic comedy entanglements are clearly evident throughout, similar to the anime’s original outing, the harem undertones begin to fade away, as NEXT gets rather serious and profound in its closing episodes, more-or-less wrapping up conflicts, while reinforcing what viewers have known since the end of season one: that everyone in the Neighbors Club is about as close as friends can be, even if they are not immediately aware of their special relationship. The season’s dominant story arc revolves around the Neighbors Club making a movie about intergalactic samurai robot wars, which the clubmates attempt to put together for the School Festival, with other NEXT highlights including; an episode based around the club members viewing a homo-erotic anime film named, ‘Homo Game Club,’ by request of Rika of course; an installment where a runaway Maria stays at the Hasegawa sibling’s abode, and the Neighbors Club tackle an after-party and the nonsensical King Game; and an episode that follows the Neighbors Club on their adventurous trip to Yokoshima Wonderland — a famous amusement theme-park — which ends with the unraveling of Yukimura’s true gender.

As far as animation goes, Haganai NEXT is cleaner, and slightly more refined, than its forerunner, though the rich, colorful and playful character designs, and detailed backdrops, remain very much unchanged. The characters though, have slightly different alterations to their school uniforms, possibly due to seasonal logic, making them easier to visually distinguish from the first part of the anime; two noticeable examples, Yozora’s iconic black thigh-high socks are now no where to be seen, and both Sena and Yozora are constantly wearing cardigans/ sweaters — Yozora in light-black and Sena in light-gray. The animation is so meticulous and involved, even Yozora’s hair appears to ‘grow back,’ as the series progresses, though difficult to spot if watching the episodes chronologically.

Having gone on a 25-episode-long journey with the members of the Neighbors Club, I must admit, I was legitimately saddened to see this harem-style rom-com come to a close. With few loose ends, NEXT wraps the series up rather neatly, however, one or two more episodes wouldn’t have gone astray, simply to cement some of the final statements, really driving home the anime’s fundamental message. Whereas the animation and character development is slightly superior this second time around, the reduced humor makes this follow-up entry of Haganai a tad weaker than the former, though equally as immerse. Despite the fact that its brand of humor may not be suited for all parties, individuals with an open mind will have no trouble enjoying the second season.

... that's when good neighbors, become good friends.

… that’s when good neighbors, become good friends.

Yozora’s powerful comment, ‘It doesn’t matter if you can’t make a hundred friends. Instead, make real friends who are a hundred times as important,’ summarizes the premise of the anime quite nicely, as Haganai NEXT, and Haganai for that matter, make a hard-hitting, and honest claim about the bond of friendship, a notion that is universal, as friends often define our lives and personality, encourage or uplift us, and enrich our being; everyone at some point will eventually make the decision as to who their real friends are going to be. With more conflict established amongst the characters, Haganai NEXT succeeds in representing the obstacle-filled road this band of outcasts have collectively travelled together; and made it out the other end as friends. So, if you honestly don’t have many friends, Haganai NEXT will surely make you feel as though you have the greatest friends in the whole entire world.

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by S-Littner

Haganai NEXT is released through Madman Entertainment Australia