Seven Seas Entertainment
Yomi Hirasaka / Itachi
Although the numbers don't add up when it comes to bringing Japanese light novel series to the west with a few well-known exceptions, one thing we are increasingly seeing reach our shores are manga adaptations of those light novels, more particularly in instances where a series has also enjoyed a popular anime adaptation.
This is certainly true of Haganai (aka Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, or I Don't Have Many Friends to give it a proper English title), a series that rose to prominence thanks to a popular anime adaptation - so popular in fact that it'll be getting a second season next year.
Our protagonist for the story of the series, and thus this manga, is Kodaka Hasegawa, a pupil at a Catholic high school who has a rather rough time when it comes to making friends - not because of his attitude or behaviour so much as the fact that his genes have decided to bestow upon him some vicious-looking eyes and strikingly coloured hair. With an appearance that leaves everyone assuming that Kodaka is a delinquent, he's left very much to his own devices before discovering that he isn't alone at being a loner thanks to a chance encounter with a girl named Yozora.
Unlike Kodaka, Yozora does have a friend - an entirely imaginary one. With both parties lamenting their friend-free lives, Yozora decides that they need to do something about it, and thus the "Neighbour's Club" is formed; an after-school club on the look-out for other friendless individuals in the hope of finding friendship and learning how to socialise together. While Kodaka is press-ganged into joining the club, this first volume sees them quickly pick up some other members to expand their group, from the beautiful (outwardly, at least) but ostracised Sena through to the less-than-manly Yukimura. Adventures aplenty beckon, and we don't even have a full complement of club members yet...
With exactly the kind of concept and setup that you'd expect to see from a light novel adaptation, Haganai promises to be a rather fun affair, and initially it is - after introducing the series in a slightly odd and confusing way Kodaka is a pretty likeable protagonist, and Yozora is just the right blend of bossy, deluded and lonely to work out as a foil to him. The problems begin once Sena is introduced into the mix - from that moment forth, both Yozora and Sena become massive bitches towards one another, whether it's face to face, playing a video game, or sleeping (probably, I'm just guessing based upon their behaviour the rest of the time). This constant state of conflict between the characters became a blight upon the animated adaptation of the story in the long run, but it's even more of an immediately apparent issue here, making two of the three major characters in this first volume loathsome to an almost astounding degree, and leading me to think that a better title for the series might be "It's Probably For The Best That You Have No Friends". Perhaps things will balance out as more characters are introduced, but the latter half of this volume left me with a frown on my face and a bad taste in my mouth.
Even if some of its characters are detestable, they certainly look nice enough - the art style of the volume is reasonably proficient throughout, and at times proves to be surprisingly fluid for in terms of depicting movement for a non-action manga series. Like a number of other recent titles, there are occasions where panels drop back to super-simplified, childlike scrawls of the characters in the name of comedy, which always strikes me as lazy rather than funny. Seven Seas' translation pretty much gets the balance right in its translation between adapting everything into English and leaving sufficient flavour of the Japanese text, particularly given the obvious otaku crowd draw of the series, and the overall presentation of the volume is without complaint.
Given its premise, Haganai was always got to be made or broken by its characters, and it's a real shame that it seems to suffer from the latter judging by this first volume - watching girls bully and being bullied mercilessly soon moves from being comedy to being dull and even a little uncomfortable to read. There's still potential for the series to settle down and mine a vein of entertainment that is clearly there to be tapped, but until it can shift away from the bitching of its two leading females its probably best to wait and see what it can offer in the longer term.