Note: The following post was originally published on 17 November, 2011 on the now-defunct Remember XVI. It is presented here edited to fit the visual formatting of Altair & Vega, but otherwise unaltered in content. As such, the statistics and such in this post are a bit outdated by this point. It’s probably worth reading omo’s response as well.
Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai is quite the contentious show among fans this season. I’m not talking about the show itself; no, it’s something at a much simpler level than that: it’s about just what to call it.
The official abbreviation for the show is “Haganai.” That much is clear from everything from the URL of the official anime website to even the marketing Twitter account (complete with #haganai hashtag).
But for English-speaking fans, the abbreviation seems a bit hard to swallow. Does it just lack teeth?
Well, it’s not that English speakers aren’t using Haganai; in fact, a cursory Google search shows that it is the most popular abbreviation, even amongst English-only pages; the second-most popular nickname, “BokuTomo,” only gives around half the results.
And of course, it’s not like the Japanese don’t use BokuTomo (or the least popular variant, “BokuSuku”) either; but whereas Haganai seems to be the overwhelming victor in Japanese circles, the English community is more evenly divided. But why?
First off, let’s talk about the 4-moraic abbreviation. In Japanese net culture, the 4-moraic abbreviation is applied to… well, a whole lot of things. This season alone brings with it shows abbreviated by fans as “MajiKoi,” “Mashifoni,” “FaiBure,” and “Pindora” (well, the last one is a continuation, but…), to give some examples. And of course, there are countless more, even as we extend our reach beyond anime to manga, light novel, visual novel, and video game franchises.
The very fact that I can talk about Japanese fan abbreviations (and be understood, no less) is a sign that the English fanbase has changed. It wasn’t long ago that the Anglo-anisphere preferred Western-style abbreviations taken from initial letters of words, giving us TMoHS, TTGL, FMA, and the like. Of course, the practice is far from dead (recall HoTD), but on the other side of the spectrum, we have as official American marketing titles “Oreimo“ and the aforementioned “Majikoi.”
So we have Japanese abbreviations for shows being used by English fans, which I posit is a result of an increase in fans who both have a greater casual knowledge of the Japanese language (to the point where I feel fairly comfortable using native Japanese syllabaries in this post) and a greater general knowledge of the Japanese anime “scene.” We not only have important announcements made in Japanese translated for us within hours on sites like Anime News Network, but are actively influenced by the Japanese fandom, through message boards like 2channel and the English sites that translate threads from them. (There are even instances of English fandom influencing Japanese thought through sites like 4chan, although I dare say that it’s not as pronounced.)
Which brings us back to BokuTomo. Or was it Haganai? Well, first let’s talk about why exactly BokuTomo has such a hold on the English fanbase. In Zeroblade’s case for BokuTomo, he makes the point that title abbreviations follow a certain pattern, where you take “foci” (nouns and verbs) that can “provide a meaningful description” of the franchise; for a less subjective definition, I think using jiritsugo, or “free-standing words” serves us here just as well: in Japanese grammar, this includes verbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, adverbs, and conjunctions. So we take two of the free-standing words in a title and take 4 morae from them; following that rule makes BokuTomo fall in line with the rest.
But is this really the only way to abbreviate titles? Well, obviously not, as Haganai shows us. From Keyorina to Kanishino to HaniHani and even Totomono, there is a similar history of using only the kana in the title to form an abbreviation. Of course, the problem lies in the fact that it’s not a terribly common phenomenon, even for Japanese media; I would have trouble finding several more significant examples other than these. The problem is compounded by the fact that most of these are eroge, which, being more niche than anime or manga, have less exposure in Western circles. So the fact that Western fans are abbreviating titles like Haganai‘s to something more in line with what they are familiar is almost akin to regularization.
And of course, there’s one more thing that I think fundamentally prevents English speakers from accepting Haganai as an abbreviation. That would be the case of は.
Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai (written in Revised Hepburn romanization) is written out in Japanese as 僕は友達が少ない. Take the kana, and it becomes Haganai. Eh? Ha? In modern Japanese, は is pronounced as /w͍a/ (Japanese IPA) when it is used as a grammatical particle and as /ha/ in all other cases; this stems back to the Heian period, when medial/terminal /h/ sounds became /w͍/; see 母, which, although pronounced as /haha/ in modern times, was pronounced as /haw͍a/ until the 16th century (Wiktionary).
But of course, we’re uncomfortable with seeing ha and having it pronounced as wa; just take the commenters on Mazui asking why they titled the series “Boku Ha Tomodachi Ga Sukunai” even though it’s supposed to be “wa.” Modern romanization of Japanese, based on English and Italian (Hepburn), has become such an essential part of the non-Japanese anime fandom that anything else feels weird. Despite the fact that English spelling is notoriously inconsistent with pronunciation (ghoti, anyone?), there is a strange feeling in seeing a title rendered differently from the Hepburn standard; the Anglo-anisphere’s biases toward English-style spellings and other orthographic conventions are at times very subtle: Sora wo Miageru Syōjo no Hitomi ni Uturu Sekai? How about Sorawo miageru syōjono hitomini uturu sekai? To complicate things futher, Haganai is actually pronounced with an /h/ sound (as は is never pronounced with a /w͍/ when in the initial position of a word!), but the idea of discomfort due to some form of cognitive dissonance is still there.
So where does this leave us? Do I think it’s wrong to use BokuTomo over Haganai? Not at all. But I do think it’s wrong to dismiss Haganai because it “doesn’t make sense.” As for me? I’ll be sticking with Haganai. After all, I think we’re going to need to get used to seeing it. Just a hunch…
Links of Interest:
It’s in Japanese, but more information on how the pronunciation of the “h-” sounds have changed throughout Japanese history.
For kicks, a romanization table used in the Nippo Jisho, notable for both reflecting possible curiosities in Japanese pronunciation back in the 17th century and being based on Portuguese orthography.