Let’s begin right off the bat. Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu is one of the most disappointing series in the last decade, perhaps of all time. I can see various reasons why Mike decided on the anime (alongside ToLOVEru) for our first episode of the season. Let’s run by the various reasons this series became a review candidate — a cute and popular high school girl who just happens to be an anime fan AND is played by Mamiko Noto: check, a male character that is not completely spineless: check, a premise that involves protecting said girl from embarrassment and ridicule for being an anime fan: check. These are the components of what could’ve been the surprise romantic comedy hit of the summer of 2008. Unfortunately, the folks of Studio Barcelona thinks it is best to take this interesting twist to the boy-meets-girl theme and not do anything at all.
Our story revolves around Ayase Yuuto (Hatano Wataru), our typical high school male lead and of course Nogizaka Haruka (Noto Mamiko), the titular and quirky high school girl. Haruka, like all original rom-com female leads, is Hakujou Academy’s top idol and the girl of men’s creepy fantasies. One day, Yuuto’s crazy otaku friend Nobunaga (Reiko Takagi) asked him to return an anime magazine called Innocent Smile to the school library. As he returns the magazine, he literally bumped into Haruka, with a copy of Innocent Smile flew out from her bag, exposing her most embarrassing secret — she’s an akiba-kei.
(You may have noticed that term akiba-kei for Haruka, and otaku for Nobunaga. The difference between the two terms is that an otaku is a full-fledge fanatic, while an akiba-kei is a person that has some interest in anything that’s related to Akihabara. Well at least that’s what the Wikipedia otaku would want you to know.)
We’ve seen stranger situations before in the boy-meets-girl theme — from a girl turning into some dude’s right hand to a girl reverting back to a mind of a 7 year old — but we have yet to see something a relatively realistic. Let’s be real, a cute girl who happens to be an otaku is just another plot device. I’m surprised that it took this long for this plot device to be animated, especially a few years after the wildly popular Densha Otoko franchise was released to the wild. Despite my cynicism, I had some expectations thinking that this might actually work, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
The staff at Studio Barcelona didn’t exploit Haruka’s secret. Instead, we’re exposed to the same cliches and frustrating story arcs found in practically every rom-com anime since Love Hina. The series is peppered with episodes that are unrelated to the main character that drags the already short 12-episode series. Episodes such as Yuuto dating Haruka’s younger sister Mika (Goto Mai) and, Yuuto and the gang wasting an entire episode trying to learn about the secret love life of Haruka’s quiet maid Hazuki (Shimizu Kaori). Plus, the series’ screenwriters couldn’t figure out how to correctly intertwine a possible love triangle candidate, Amamiya Shiina (Satō Rina) into the existing story! I mean, sure there’s the typical episode of misunderstanding a scene, but unsurprisingly it was resolved quickly. And to add insult to injury, on the last episode, I was expecting Haruka to come out of her closet and admit that she’s an akiba-kei. Instead, we have a “class war” type of episode where Yuuto has to prove that you don’t need fame or money to prove a person’s worth… or some shit like that.
In any case, it just goes back to how Studio Barcelona mishandled a clear-cut premise into something completely unrelated. At the end of the day, Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu is just forgettable and not worth your time. Even though it tries to have some feel good moments, the only thing you’ll feel from watching the entire series is regret.