Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Episode 1 – Friendship Isn’t What it Used to Be

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Episode 1 – Friendship Isn’t What it Used to Be

High school is an odd time of life for many people, who are desperate to find affirmation and affection from people like them, but are still uncertain about who they even are in the first place. Everyone wants a sense of belonging and camaraderie, but when tastes and interests are constantly changing, and one’s deepest beliefs and values also undergoing continual revision and upheaval, it’s difficult to keep track of what—or who—is really important.

That’s really disruptive to the formation of genuine friendships, so instead much of a high school student’s “friends” are really “friendly acquaintances,” regardless of whether he would admit it. They aren’t relationships based in real trust or commitment, but that doesn’t make it any less painful when they fall apart, or are denied in the first place. Finding real friends, who care for you, understand you, and do not betray you—that’s the hardest thing of all.

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai (literally, “I don’t have many friends”) is openly interested in that dynamic. Well, that’s not quite right. It would be more accurate to say that the show is openly interested in classic harem hijinks with a cast of eccentrics that could only be found in anime, and is using the dynamic of high school friendship as a way to spice up what is otherwise a stale formula. At least if the first episode is any indication, if the show succeeds, it will be in spite of itself.

Kodaka learns early in the show about the importance of making a good first impression. Of course, he learns it by making a bad one, and reaping the rewards

The show centers around Kodaka Hasegawa, who was involuntarily transferred to a new city and school when his father takes a position overseas. (Why he moved to a new place is unclear.) After a particularly disastrous first impression, and thanks to his naturally blond hair he inherited from his late (British) mother, the school rumor mill paints him out as a dangerous delinquent and no one will have anything to do with him.

A month in Kodaka accidentally spies classmate Yozora Mikazuki, normally a quiet and morose girl, cheerfully chatting with an imaginary friend. Yozora is embarrassed, but she doesn’t try to hide what she did, or the reason why: She doesn’t have anyone real to talk to. And being a second year in high school, all the cliques in the classes and clubs have already solidified, and she’s been shut out of them.

After learning about Yozora’s lack of friends, Kodaka starts watching her only to realize that her isolation was obvious. Like any self-absorbed high school student, constantly worrying about his own problems, Kodaka didn’t notice anyone else’s, even when someone was having them right in front of him

As Kodaka realizes how much the two of them have in common, Yozora gets an idea and dashes out of the classroom. The next day she announces that she’s formed a new “Friendship Club” and forcibly recruited Kodaka as a member. With a new club they don’t have to worry about old cliques, and they can pull in people exactly like them.

Why the two couldn’t just agree to become friends themselves isn’t quite explained. Nor does the advertising campaign for the new club make any sense either. Yet it works, pulling in another student who feels remarkably isolated and alone: the school idol and daughter of the principal, Sena Kashiwazaki.

Sena must be desperate for real friends if she keeps trying to join the club even after Yozora twice slams the door in her face

This obviously isn’t what Yozora expected at all, and she does her best to keep Sena from joining. Yozora, like most of the girls on campus, is already jealous of Sena’s coterie of male admirers; Yozora’s own feelings of isolation make her all the more eager to keep “popular” people out. Yet Sena’s popularity is the very thing that makes her lonely. The boys that follow her around are all doormats and sycophants, and all the girls hate her for having them.

The hollow nature of Sena’s popularity is just one of the ways the show calls into question whether the “friendships” of high school should qualify for the term. Kodaka supposedly had friends at his old school, but none of them kept in touch like they promised; the fact he comes in to his new school practicing his explanation about why his hair is blond shows he’s had a rough reception before. Yozora herself has turned to an imaginary friend because of a previous betrayal, which isn’t stated outright but is fairly obvious from a few stray comments. All of them, in some fashion, have been excluded from normal relationships, for reasons that aren’t their fault.

Well, given the way that Sena and Yozora immediately start tearing into each other, perhaps their are some personality flaws at work in keeping them friendless, too

It’s not exactly subtle or innovative, but it’s still a far sight better than I what I would usually expect out of such a work. Perhaps some of this comes from the studio: AIC Build, a subdivision of AIC, has only taken on one project before this one, and that was Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai. On any list of shows that managed to combine quality of production and solid characterization amid standard otaku bait, Oreimo would be near the top.

In saying that, however, I also have to admit that there is a lot of otaku bait in this show, from the improbably beautiful female leads (including the very busty Sena) to the faux Catholic setting (the adviser to the new club is a ten year old nun and classroom teacher) to very clear signals, from the opening sequence, on that this will be a flat-out harem show, with a half dozen girls fawning over the protagonist in short order. While Sena and Yozora at least make sense in a high-school context, a quick read of the cast page on wikipedia or other sources will reveal that everyone else falls on the “what was the author smoking?” side of realism versus fantasy.

“Sister” Maria only gets a small cameo in this episode. I’m still amazed that both the “child nun” and the “child teacher” tropes have never been combined before

In other words, whatever serious themes this show has will, at best, be constantly fighting to remain relevant as the girls flirt with, adore, and beat up (out of jealousy and affection, naturally) Kodaka. It’s a show with decent ideas and some skill in execution, but neither will likely save the show from the fate of all slightly racy harem shows.

That’s a pity. A show which was really about the unpopular kids (which anime almost never is about, despite having unpopular kids as their main audience demographic), or even about the loneliness that the outwardly popular kids feel, would have been genuinely interesting. The animators seem to understand that, and add little subtle touches to the first episode by having continual cuts to other students, all acting in the way one would expect friends to act. The contrast between their happy lives and those of the protagonists, excluded from those cliques, is likely original to the anime version.

At least, I’m guessing scenes like this were not in the original light novels, if for no other reason than they’d be much harder to fit into a written format

Touches like that won’t save the show, at least if it turns in the direction I suspect it will. One thing I’ve learned as a longtime anime watcher is to always bet on pandering over substance. Even if the producers of this anime really want to focus on the latter, the story itself will drive them toward the former. This show will always be at risk from being overwhelmed by fanservice, with the need to make the girls pliant and dependent on the protagonist blocking any potential for real character growth, or for them to keep any form of dignity. The effort it will take to avoid that fate is not, I think, effort that the team here will be willing (or able) to give.

Edit: The show wound up being better than I had expected (although still filled with fanservice), and Funimation has licensed both the first and second seasons. You can watch the series here.

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  1. Junkun
    October 9, 2011 at 7:17 am

    Anime’s just entertainment…looking for substance is always going to be a hard gig. Similarly comedies will never win Oscars however if I want to be entertained and relax I wouldn’t go see the Academy award winning films.

    As Yozora said – (boob size)it’s all relative. Just because some character in a show ‘developed’ from zero to hero, doesn’t mean the show gets full marks in development when the base is so low. As long as characters has some depth and have actions explained, or new facets shown every now and then, that’s good enough.

    This show is a comedy first and foremost. Looking for seriousness won’t get anyone anywhere.

    • threeheadedmonkeys
      October 9, 2011 at 11:37 am

      Well, I don’t expect much in the way of substance from Haganai; I just wish I could. The dramatic themes are interesting enough that they could carry the show if the writing and cast would let it, but we both know that won’t happen. And I’d rather see a romantic comedy with drama than a “romantic” “comedy” run via a harem setup.

      And that’s the thing: this show isn’t “a comedy first and foremost.” It’s a harem show, first and foremost. The first episode of Wagnaria!! (either season) and even the first episode of Bakuman was funnier than this premiere, and I don’t expect that to change. That distinction will only grow larger as the show moves on, and we wind up with an ever expanding cast of female beauties engaging in increasingly debased behavior for the titillation of the audience. I crossed the point where I found that sort of thing funny, or even titillating, some ways back.

      Maybe I’ll be wrong. I’m still going to try the second and perhaps even the third episode, or however long it takes for the rot to set in. There’s enough love in the show’s production, talent in the voicework, and intriguing concepts in the show’s themes to make me give it that much. As much as I think it will eventually end in a trainwreck, I’m curious to see what it can do until then. But if the descriptions of the rest of the cast are any indication, I think Haganai’s best days are behind it already.

  1. November 8, 2011 at 10:02 pm

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