AIC Build is going down a familiar path with this series, having explored some of the same otaku parody territory with Oreimo. There are risks involved in becoming heavily dependent on self-reference, but so far it’s pretty much a grand slam – in terms of big laughs, Haganai is up there with any series this season. The secret is that the characters are all distinctive and cleverly created, each extreme enough to be funny in their own right but not so grotesque as to be unlikeable or even totally unrealistic. As stereotypes often grow out of a kernel of truth stretched to ridiculous proportions, so do successful satirical characters in anime.
Of course, there are multiple other reasons why this is working so well, at least for now. I appreciate that director Saito Hisashi knows his way around anime comedy, and the fact that the series acknowledges and even spotlights the self-reference is vital to its success. There are examples littered all over this week’s episode, but most prominent for me were Sena’s comment upon seeing Kobato that “there’s no way your little sister can be this cute” – hilarious – and even better, putting Maria in an Index uniform and even having Kodaka ask where he’d seen the outfit before. A loli nun is one thing – having her voiced by Iguchi another. But by actually dressing her up as Index this week, they upped the meta level, lapped parody, passed “Go” and collected $200. In its own way, it was pretty fearless.
As for the subject matter of the episode itself, the VR game brought into the group by Rika, this was mostly groan-worthy wordplay and otaku-mockery, but still quite funny. “Largehard Corporation”? There’s nothing wrong with a comedy that tries to be smart and dumb at the same time – Monty Python were the ultimate masters of the technique, much tougher than it looks – and the whole game sequence was a pretty good example of it. Yozora double-crossing Sena was utterly predictable, but Sena getting her own back by tickling Yozora to death was a nice surprise. It certainly contained more eel-fish joked than I’ve seen in an anime.
The character stuff was largely set aside this week, apart from the introduction of Kobato into the club environment. The obvious battle royale between she and Maria looks like it will live up to expectations – you could see it coming as soon as Maria called Kodaka “Onii-chan”. Some might say Kodaka has a thing for little sisters, but it seems more to me that he’s just too nice for his own good. Still, the closest thing to a serious element in the ep was Kobato’s very real insecurity about losing sole custody of her brother’s attention (whether you’re ready to officially call that brocon yet is up to you). Sticking her in the middle of a club full of girls with covert and overt designs on her brother (and I’m beginning to have very serious doubts about whether Yukimura just may be the simple trap “he” appears to be) seems fraught with potential angst.