Sena, Haganai’s Poor Pretty Rich Girl

I guess there will be some Haganai spoilers lower down. It’s not really the type of show that has big twists or anything but I do reference events from season two. Please keep that in mind before reading on.

I quite liked the first season of Haganai. As far as classic mildly Ecchi harems go, I think it’s one of the best. There’s a lot of qualifiers there…in any case, I thought it was a fun watch and that’s in no small part due to the characters. Of course, Rika is my favourite because: Rika

haganai rita

heck yeah!

But Sena was in second place which is saying something when you consider that the cast includes adorable Kobato. Sena is spoiled, embarrassingly rich, beautiful and actually very smart. A real princess type. And she feels like she needs to join a club for people with no friends where she’s the only one who’s not welcomed.

Of course, the fact is that on paper Sena should be the most popular girl in school (and the show does tell us that she is quite popular with her classmates), yet she still feels like an outcast and is a huge dork at heart. This is actually the joke if you will. It’s a standard subversion of expectations played for laughs. But when you stop to really think about it, the show is rather harsh to its resident princess.

For one Sena*is* isolated. Having lost her mother very young she lives with a doting but often absent father and spends her days with servants in a huge, mostly empty house. She doesn’t have any practice at being part of a loving group and it shows. So she fakes it by playing the role of the girl people expect her to be. It’s draining.

mazui_boku_ha_tomodachi_ga_sukunai_next sena

among other things

And her club room, the one place she can get away from society’s expectations or her father’s “hopes”, is marked with constant strife and personal altercations. Even when she does feel comfortable enough to be herself she is either met with open animosity or gentle rejection. And you could say Yozora is in the same boat but it is Yozora’s club so she holds the power, putting her in a better position. And more importantly, Yozora doesn’t get rejected. That makes a pretty big difference.

Sena is actually something of a trope. One of those cross genres, cross-medium tropes. She’s the patsy. Sena herself is by no means a bad person. She’s a bit petty and occasionally childish but she’s also often kind and generous. Nothing she does throughout the entire series would mark her as any worse than any of the other characters. In fact, she’s one of the more emotional and empathetic people in the club. Yet the show seems to think we should dislike her just a little bit.

What I mean by that is the character is framed and introduced as if it was an antagonist even though there’s no story to support it. For one she’s privileged. And by that I don’t mean she’s merely rich. Sena is *everything*. Whatever the audience may be a little jealous of and therefore likely to dislike a character for on principle, she’s it. Yes, the money, and a loving father willing to use it to get her anything she likes. And she doesn’t have a “wealth is a burden” side story to balance it out. She’s beautiful, and not just anime pretty like every anime girl is pretty but an acknowledged in-universe beauty. And she KNOWS it, occasionally even uses it. And it works! No one likes that type of pretty. She’s very smart, gets great grades with little study but is also good in social situations. She’s athletic, discovers video games and instantly masters them. Sena is a young lady blessed with prodigious gifts and seemingly no drawbacks.

Haganai-Sena

maybe some drawback

It’s extremely hard to relate to a character like that which is why every teen movie has them as the bad guy (or girl). If she was just a bit meaner or more selfish, she would be boilerplate villain material. And just in case the viewer also happened to be perfect and managed to somehow find Sena relatable, there’s the Yozora issue. The first few episodes of Haganai clearly set up Yozora as the leading lady. Self-assured despite being socially awkward with a will to change. She gets a much better personification and much more development than anyone else. It seems clear that the narrative is on her side. By making Sena an instant antagonist and rival to Yozora, the plot was setting her up to fail. On some level, the writers of Haganai thought their audience would accept and not be put off by Sena’s repeated loses. After all, she has so much already.

Pooh to that. Sena shouldn’t be “punished” just because she got genetically lucky. It’s not her fault. You have to admit, she’s doing her best under the circumstances. I know I’m not supposed to be but I’m team Sena all the way! Actually no wait. I’m team Rika. Does Rika even have a team, I feel like she may be too awesome for such things! I guess even I’m not team Sena.

See what I mean. Poor pretty rich girl.

sad sena

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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13 Responses

  1. Merlin says:

    There is a reason Sena is my personal favorite of this harem. 🙂

  2. Dawnstorm says:

    Very interesting post. I agree mostly, but I think I saw things a little differntly? Maybe? I’m not sure, maybe I misunderstand. You say Sena’s introduced as an antagonist, and in many ways I agree. A lot of what you say makes sense. But when I first read that line I did a double take. What? Why? Who? I’ve seen a lot of harems, and enjoyed many of them. Basically, Sena breaks open the monogamy line, but doesn’t attach strongly enough to transform the show into a love triangle, also because Sena’s and Yozora’s relationship is interesting in its own right, even if you disregard the harem set-up. My instinct is that Sena’s plot function is more foil than antagonist. Sena and Yozora are alike in many ways, but they’re also very, very different in important ways. And that difference is one of the core motors of the ‘”making friends” theme the show has going.

    So where does my take start to differ? That’s not actually easy to figure out:

    ***********The first few episodes of Haganai clearly set up Yozora as the leading lady. Self-assured despite being socially awkward with a will to change. She gets a much better personification and much more development than anyone else. It seems clear that the narrative is on her side.*********

    Yes. I have no reservations at all.

    **********By making Sena an instant antagonist and rival to Yozora, the plot was setting her up to fail.************

    I mostly agree, but here reservations creep in. Part of it is that I’ve never figured out – in two seasons – how the friendship vs. romance angle is framed by the show. It’s convoluted. Yozora does want to make friends (practicing with air friends is testament to that), but my impression was that she specifically made the club to be with Kodaka (i.e. out of latent romant interest). Sena’s presence basically calls her out: the club will actually fulfill its nominal function. So, when Sena joins she not only upsets Yozora’s plans, but she also forces Yozora to face her shortcomings more openly.

    So, setting up Sena to fail? At what? At gaining Kodaka as a romantic partner? At making friends? In my opinion, it’s Sena who sets Yozora’s character development in motion. As I said, I always saw her more as a foil than an antagonist, and this is why. Plot-wise, Sena is definitely secondary when compared to Yozora, but with friendship and romance having an odd relationship in the show, it’s not so easy to figure out what success means. If the show empahsises the friendship angle in Yozora’s home stretch, it’s entirely possible for Sena to win the romance angle (unlikely, but things have come out of left-field in harems before).

    ************On some level, the writers of Haganai thought their audience would accept and not be put off by Sena’s repeated loses. After all, she has so much already.***********

    This is where I’m unsure I can even agree. Sena brings out the worst in Yozora. You annoy Yozora, she’s going to deliberately hurt you. That’s not a pleasant trait, and I never felt like we were supposed to be on her side here. However, Yozora continually being mean to Sena isn’t entirely random. Nearly always Sena sets herself up and Yozora abuses the set-up with sadistic unkindness.

    To be sure, we’re supposed to laugh when Sena runs away in tears again (I didn’t; this sort of humour very rarely works for me). But the base-line her is that Yozora and Sena actually connect: they’d usually avoid each other, but here they poke each others sore spots over and over again. If this is friendship, it’s a sado-maso relationship (and Sena I think has once said to Kodaka something that I interpreted such that she sort of sees it like this – I think with regards to her mean nickname making her happy).

    On the other hand, maybe none of that addresses what you actually said in this quote. It’s been too long since I saw the show, and when I watched it I didn’t watch it in terms of winning/losing – so maybe I don’t quite understand you here?

    I completely and utterly agree, though, that Rika is the best!

    • “But the base-line her is that Yozora and Sena actually connect: they’d usually avoid each other, but here they poke each others sore spots over and over again. ”

      Remember the scene of Sena in her room, inhaling the aroma of the wig that Yozora used?

      There’s a lot going on between the two of them! But I think your insight that they’re really friends — whatever that means in their context. The ambiguity and authentic otherness that I really like about this series.

    • Irina says:

      Wel poor Sena doesn’t really have much in way of either friendship or romance. From what I remeber she largely tried to be loved by using her priviledge or was generally ignored.
      She seemed like much more of a plot device character than the rest to me.

  3. Haganai is special to me (long story — maybe I’ll write it some day). It’s because of the ensemble cast. They’re wonderful people. I’m really happy to see that you’ve written such a thoughtful post about Sena!

    “So she fakes it by playing the role of the girl people expect her to be. It’s draining.”

    That is Sena in two sentences. Well, one descriptive sentence and one observation about the description. Remember when she confronted the jerks at the pool? She couldn’t let it go; she had to make one more comment, even though her knees were shaking.

    She’s not an idiot; she had to know it was dangerous. But she was playing the role of princess, and a princess would not have backed down.

    Despite that, she constantly tried to gain Yozora’s affection. Remember when Yozora cut her hair and Rika (bless her heart!) thought Kodaka had a new male friend? Everyone was going crazy trying to guess who the new hot guy was. Then Sena took off her headphones, took one look at Yozora, and said she looked nice with a new haircut.

    This is the same Yozora who didn’t let an opportunity go by to call Sena “meat.”

    Even during direct confrontations with Yozora, when Sena’s imperial affectations should have kept her in the fight, she’d break down in tears and run from the room. She wanted affection; she didn’t want dismissal and conflict.

    But there was one thing that would get her to drop role playing and switch to Sena in attack mode.

    Remember when Aoi Yusa kept threatening to get the club shut down? That was the one and only time Sena put forth her full power. She made a single phone call, threw her figurative weight around, and put an end to the threat.

    Took all of 30 seconds.

    I don’t recall her ever doing that before of after. Only a threat to her friends evoked that response.

    And I just realized I’m talking about her using phraseology that I usually reserve for Tolkien. I think you just convinced me Sena’s a late incarnation of the Eldar!

    You don’t supposed she’s Luthien’s sister? Well, half sister. Eldarion may have had children, and I suppose his sisters also had families. Sena could have descended from that line!

    Imagine that. Sena. Heir of Isildur. Royalty of Gondor.

    Anyway.

    I don’t think this show gets the recognition it deserves for its characters. And I think Sena’s character gets the short end of the stick way more often than she deserves. Sure, she’s no Rika — who is? — but she’s a strong, intelligent, and vulnerable young woman who’s trying to build friendships.

    Kodoka should have married her.

    Thanks for honoring her with this post!

    • Irina says:

      I am surprised and thrilled to see such support for Sena. Fanservice charas usually get dismissed offhand

  4. Kapodaco says:

    This was surprisingly deep! I probably would’ve went with a different title, maybe “Sena’s Confusing Character Role in Haganai (And Why It’s Dumb),” though I understand the general naming comes with the territory. I hadn’t taken any of this into any consideration—she was just a running gag in the series for me.

    But hey, she got Kodaka (on principle), right? That’s good…?

    • Irina says:

      Did she though….Yeah, Sena is sort of a runnin gag but I think it’s too bad. There’s some solid character foundation there

    • Merlin says:

      Well, the anime doesn’t actually finish the story, so, it’s not a done deal, alas.

      • Kapodaco says:

        It’s been a long time since I’ve watched the second season. Isn’t it implied that they’re saving a relationship for after their high school days? I also read a large portion of the light novels, so that might be further off than the anime covers. I may have just typed up a huge spoiler! Sorry!

        • Merlin says:

          Eh, no worries! The anime ends with Yozora leaving, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to go any further than that. Honestly, I have no problem with learning what happens down the road. 🙂

  1. July 7, 2019

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