Nagi Sanzenin: In Praise of the Ota-Queen

My favorite character in Hayate the Combat Butler is without a doubt, Nagi Sanzenin. Not that I don’t love Maria with all my heart. Maria is exactly my type of character: strong, smart, independent, and willing to speak her mind while still being supportive and kind. But for a wide variety of reasons I actually like Nagi more. I am more romantically attracted to Maria but Nagi speaks to me as both a changing character and someone to root for. But despite being an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable character there is a good deal of hate out there for Nagi and I just can’t understand why.

Nagi Sanzenin is a 13-year-old orphaned heiress to a multi-billion dollar estate. This has made her the target of frequent kidnapping plots and assassination attempts. Because she is so often the target of ne’er-do-wells she has grownup strangely and has become reclusive to the point of being a hikikomori also making her a major cynic. She has also grown into quite the otaku. In fact, she has several rooms in her mansion filled with nothing but doujinshi and several others devoted to every video game system. She is scholar and aficionado of anime and manga of all stripes and she even draws/writes her own bizarre “ultra high level” manga called End of the Century Legend: Magical Destroy. Nagi can be stubborn, spoiled, lazy, and quite naive about how the actual world works outside her own bubble. However, she is also strikingly sharp, fiercely loyal, and adamantly determined.

I will admit that one of the main reasons I like Nagi is I feel a very strong kinship to her. I see many of my strengths in Nagi as well as many of my weaknesses. We are both hardcore otaku. We are both types who want to be friendly outgoing people but find our inherent mistrust of others always keeping us back. We can both be very sullen and withdrawn;  sarcastic and cynical; and selfish and self-absorbed. And we both can be very lazy when it comes to things we are not a fans of, skipping chores and drudgery but throwing ourselves completely into the things we loves. Is that not the hallmark of the otaku? On the positive side we are both quite intelligent people. Both of us go above and beyond for the people we love. I see much of myself in Nagi and it makes me sympathize with her.

On the other hand, there are many traits that Nagi has that I respect because I don’t have them. Nagi might get discouraged or frustrated or angry but she never gives up. There is no such things as impossible in Nagi’s dictionary; there are only things she does not want to do and things she cannot currently do but no goal or task is too great. Nagi also always speaks her mind no matter what others might think. She is never unnecessarily unkind but she never lets anyone push her around. Most of all Nagi is a character who always tries to change and tries to grow. She doesn’t always succeed but she never stops putting one foot in front of the other. She even gets a job just to earn money to buy Hayate a proper present, not because she couldn’t afford one but because she realizes the importance of a gift that was earned and not just purchased. For someone who can be selfish and self-absorbed she is very generous and selfless to those she cares for.

I want to point out that Nagi is not tsundere. A tsundere acts untrue to their feelings. A tsundere will pretend to hate the person they truly love. Nagi will shout from the mountain tops that she loves Hayate. She is never untrue about her feelings for Hayate. Though she is not able to fully expresses her feelings in front of Hayate, she doesn’t pretend to not like him. She is just inexperienced with love. Because she lacks emotional experience she often has a hard time expressing what she feels but when it really matters she has shown that she can say what needs to be said.

It is often said that we hate in others that which we hate most in ourselves. I think a majority of the hate towards Nagi comes from people to whom Nagi’s flaws strike too close to home. She has the obsessive nature of the otaku. She has the antisocial nature of the otaku. She has the selfish nature of the otaku. Perhaps they reject her because she exposes the things about them otaku that they themselves they hate the most. Being a true otaku is ironically hated by true otaku the most. I find Nagi to be fascinating because she has these flaws I think they are the same flaws that turn many people away. I feel what Nagi haters want is characters with the cute flaws or the interview question flaws. Cute flaws are minor quirks that while flaws make the character more endearing. In real life being clumsy is really annoying but in anime it is a cute quirk that makes a character lovable. You know what interview question flaws are. They are the type of flaws you list when someone asks you what your greatest flaw is on a job interview. They are merits that have a slightly dark side to them but they are still merits. I think these people want characters that are better then themselves. Characters that do not have the reader’s flaws. Characters that can live out our dreams. They are accessible to the reader but can do more than the reader. Their stories are both exciting and cathartic. But they also usually have little room for growth.

I myself enjoy characters like that but I also like characters that have room to grow and let themselves grow. Not everyone has to be Golgo 13 and Kenshiro. Narutaki wrote a whole article about that. I like how Nagi starts off as a extremely flawed but lovable character. I enjoy her precisely because we see her grow and change as the series progresses. Don’t get me wrong this is Hayate the Combat Butler we are talking about. This is hardly a complex character study or deep heartfelt drama. It is a silly otaku comedy were characters have over the top personalities to maximum comedic effect. That being said that does not mean characters are not free to change and grow. I feel that the Nagi we meet when Hayate begins is different than the Nagi that we see in the current comic. I think she will be a slightly different Nagi and the end of the series as long as the series gets to have a proper ending. It is the room for growth and this realized growth that makes me root for her the most. You don’t have to be part of the Nagi fan club but I hope I have convinced some people to stop being haters. If you let Nagi grow you will most probably see your affection for her grow as well.

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11 thoughts on “Nagi Sanzenin: In Praise of the Ota-Queen

  1. phatbhuda says:

    I dislike the titular combat butler the most. Although I think my reasons are placed there purposefully by the writers. It’s the clueless but powerful cliche that bothers me in this context.

  2. Shay Guy says:

    I want to point out that Nagi is not tsundere. A tsundere acts untrue to their feelings. A tsundere will pretend to hate the person they truly love.

    You’re gonna have to cite a definition there.

    As for my opinions on Nagi…I don’t think “like her” OR “dislike her” are applicable or even relevant. Her character is consistent and serves the comedy well. That’s what’s important in this show: the funny.

  3. reversethieves says:

    @ Viga
    Well I hope to see Nagi in your next Otaku anime panel. She is a delightful otaku character in an already pretty otaku comedy. She is the undefeated of the East, West, North, South, and Center. Hey when are we going to see you next podcast?

    @phatbhuda
    I like Hayate for one reason or another. I think I enjoy his generally pleasant outlook on life despite his horrible luck. Maybe I also empathize with his generally clueless nature myself.

    @Shay Guy
    My definition of tsundere is someone who either hates someone or pretends to hate someone but slowly learns to be more affectionate for them. Nagi never pretends to hate or be cold to Hayate (other than that one time on the ship as a gag on tsunderes) therefore in my opinion she is not tsundere. But I will admit I have a stricter (odder?) definition of tsundere than most. Most people see Nagi’s awkwardness around Hayate as tsundere behavior.

    My general feeling as long as your not a Nagi hater than I am OK. Not everyone has to love Nagi as much as I do. I just don’t want them to be constantly trash talking her.

    – Hisui

  4. Sarai says:

    Yep – Nagi is a classical otaku, and identifiying with her is something that few people who are not otaku do – purely because she is so completely comfortable with who she is. I like the fact that she does not compromise.

    • reversethieves says:

      Exactly. I many ways Nagi is a terrible human being but I think a good deal of fandom could learn to be a bit prouder of who they are. That is not an excuse to indulge in the bad habits of geekdom but a little more pride in the positive aspects would do everyone some good. I think it is partially a defense mechanism.

      BTW man that girl loves her Montser Hunter.

      – Hisui

    • reversethieves says:

      I am super excited for the ending of the manga. Nagi has currently really been thrown into the fire. She has not been doing well but I think that she will come out on top in the end. The Nagi at the beginning of the manga would not have been capable of that but Hayate, Chiharu, and Ruka (and the rest) have really helped her grow to the point where she can get though this.

      – Alain

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