Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I don't have many teeth...

Don't worry.  I haven't had a dental disaster.  Yesterday, I bought another digital volume of the Seven Seas Entertainment's translation of the manga series Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, which translates to "I don't have many friends."  It's also called Haganai, which led to my wife asking me what I meant by saying I don't have teeth.

"That's another name for that manga about the friendship club," I said.  "Remember that one?"

Of course, she did.  "But it means, 'I don't have teeth,'" she told me.

Thinking I mustbe mistaken about the name, I did a quick Google search.  Haganai.  "It's also called 'Haganai' for some reason," I said, showing her the results.


"I don't know.  Maybe it's teenaged slang."

Fortunately, someone does know.

Haganai, or Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, is the entertaing story of Kodaka, an average guy who can't make friends because everyone thinks his blond hair means he's a thug.  Kodaka meets Yozora, a forceful, somewhat mean girl (okay, she's an unrepentant bully) who is such a pariah she's been reduced to hanging out with an imaginary friend.  After an introductory conversation, Yozora gets the idea of forming a school club based on making friends, which she names the Neighbors' Club.  Yozora ropes Kodaka into joining, and despite Yozora's hideous attempt at making a poster (which she explains in the most brilliant display of anti-social logic ever captured in any media), the club soon attracts a small group of outcasts.  Most prominent among these is Sena, the most beautiful, perfect girl in school... who, like Yozora, has some severe personality problems.  Yozora and Sena instantly develop a hate-hate relationship that causes the club a lot of hardship, yet both are too strong-willed for their "friends" ever to intervene successfully or stick up for themselves.

The most effective moments of humor come when the story contrasts the genteel appearance of the club and its aims with the near-sociopathy of its two main members.  Yozora and Sena are so lacking in empathy and all the common feelings of group harmony, each attempt at bonding turns into a life-or-death struggle ending in disaster for all involved, even the ever-unwilling Kodaka. 

When they play an online role-playing game to practice cooperation (or something like that), Yozora and Sena both can't refrain from killing each other, which is funny enough, but the most hilarious moment comes when the two girls team up to play a dating simulation game.  Their battle of wills results in the poor game protagonist being stuck with an atrocious name, "Kashiwazaki Semoponume," which dismays Sena (it was supposed to be her name at first) and Yozora declares as distinctive and the work of god.  Within moments, they both turn against their own creation and mock his unwieldy moniker as both bully bait and the result of the character's parents having "despised" their son.  After that inauspicious beginning, the girls jointly lead poor Semoponume to the worst possible game ending, the life of a miserable recluse.  All because they can't fathom the simplest human interactions and tend to project the worst ulterior motives on even the most innocent of friendly overtures (this, ironically, reveals a lot more about their own personality flaws than they realize).  That they're so completely assured in their wrong-headedness makes it doubly amusing.

Kodaka's  not the most interesting of characters, but his occasional wry commentary prevents him from becoming too much of a zero, and the supporting cast consist mostly of one-joke types.  Both Yozora and Sena provide the fireworks here, hilarious in their lack of self-awareness and largely oblivious to the destruction they cause even as they share in its aftermath.  They have enough energy to carry the initial episodes, although there's also a tendency towards formulaic structure.  Pretty funny going for now, even if I'm not sure how long this can be drawn out.  At some point Yozora and Sena are going to have to start learning from their mistakes and when they do, they'll join the ranks of ordinary humanity and become a lot less interesting.  Until then, Haganai makes for fun, light reading for older teens and adults-- I do not recommend it for younger readers.  There's far too much cheesecake and even an episode involving a pornographic video game.

Which is also pretty funny!

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