Amnesia may have snapped their creative winning streak, but Brains Base is still one of very few studios for whom I’ll watch the first episode of any series, no matter what I think of the premise. Theoretically did the world need another light novel adaptation with an endless (and endlessly pompous) title, set in a school club? Like it needed another reality show. And while I’ll judge this one on its own merits, I don’t see how one could possible miss the too-obvious similarities to Haganai – a club full of misfits who have no friends, on top of everything else?
Make no mistake, this series plays 100% like the light novel adaptation that it is, and that relentlessly self-aware and self-satisfied avalanche of mannered dialogue can be a bit much to take. Still – this one (at least based on the premiere) has qualities to recommend it. It doesn’t seem to be going for the outlandish comedy route of Haganai, but rather semi-seriously exploring the problems of the socially maladapted teenager with a bit of heart. And it’s not wildly off-base with its observational qualities either – there’s a bit of insight to be found here, buried underneath all the LN cliches.
In premise, we have 2nd-year high school loser Hikigaya Hachiman (Eguchi Takaya, whose voice has really grown up) forced by teacher Hiratsuka-sensei (Yuzuki Ryouka) to join the “Volunteers Club” as punishment for the snarky essay he hands in where he effectively dismisses the entire experience of adolescence and states that all the phonies in his class should kill themselves. Hikigaya is your basic misanthrope – burned by a rejected confession that led to public humiliation in 9th-grade, he’s shut himself off from all friendship (and even speaking to girls) just to make sure he’s not burned again. The Volunteers Club consists of one Yukinoshita Yukino (Hayami Saori), purportedly as her way of “helping” social misfits like Hikigaya, but really because her arrogance and intolerance has made her just as much an outcast as he is.
There are some similarities to Haganai even in the characters types – especially Yukinoshita – but the vibe is solidly on the dark side of the spectrum that Haganai rarely visits (and is usually at its best when doing so). The truth is that both Hikigaya and Yukino are masters of self-delusion, and the series is rather sly in pointing this out. In the premiere they “help” a girl named Yuigahama Yui (Touyama Nao) – all the girls have their given name in their family name in one of those needless ways LNs have of calling attention to how hilariously clever they are – who speaks in Osaka-ben and makes dangerously bad cookies. The story is nothing special and if we’re looking at an episodic scenario where the V.C. helps someone with a similar problem every week, I have my doubt whether the series’ appeal can hold for a full cour. But as usual, Brains Base brings some rather creative and energetic touches to the visual narrative, and I do sense a core of honest emotion underneath all the nonsense the medium demands. There are a few legitimate laughs as well. On balance, it’s a pretty good premiere and I can see why Brains Base felt they could do something with this material – I’ll give them a few more episodes to prove that they can actually pull it off.