Maid Sama! Collection 1 (Episodes 1-14) (Cert 12)
3 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 359 minutes approx.
The concept of the maid café should be familiar to any anime fan worth their salt or at least has a strong interest in Japanese culture. Rarely though has an anime been set in or around one so let joy be unconfined for the arrival of Kaichou wa Maid-sama!
Based on the manga by Hiro Fujiwara which originally surfaced in 2005, the full title and English translation give away the whole plot which is a shame as that literally is the entire plot!
After many years as an all male school, Seika High School recently welcomed girls into its fold, with the feisty and forthright Misaki Ayuzawa becoming first female student council president. This earns her the respect and admiration of all the girls but engenders much enmity and fear from the lazy boys. One male student who irritates Misaki is Takumi Usui, the resident heartthrob who rejects any romantic interest from the girls, in a move she views as complete arrogance.
Despite her often bolshie manner Misaki is in fact a very industrious girl, taking a part time job to help her overworked mother clear the huge debts her father left them when he walked out on them. This job? In a maid café called Maid Latte situated across town so nobody local will know about it. Unfortunately for Misaki, someone does accidentally discover this secret one night – you guessed it, Takumi!
And that is it for the plot of Maid Sama! – the full self-explanatory title being Class President Is A Maid! – which somehow has been stretched across twenty-six episodes and an OVA. Suffice to say if you are looking for a show with depth and well-written characters, then this is the wrong place to find it. For silly, vapid clichéd shoujo comedy and flimsy storylines step right up, find a table and someone will be along to serve you shortly.
In some ways we should commend Hiro Fujiwara for being to get so much mileage out of this one not joke although it misses more than it hits, at least for this writer. There is unquestionably an audience out there for this title who will be able to overlook such shortcomings and lap this up like a parched man at a waterhole. This can’t be faulted but does highlight a problem with anime today when intelligent and bold shows fail to capture fans’ imagination while lightweight frippery like this sells by the truckload.
Without an overarching plotline, the closest being the pseudo “will they won’t they?” tease between Misaki and Takumi (highly unlikely thus far), and a cast of stock characters there is little to invest in here. Misaki is a near superhuman – good at sports, a martial arts expert, studious and as fierce as they come – thus she rarely falls into any perilous predicament that can’t be overcome.
Instead she is the resident problem solver for her supporting cast, which includes meek classmates Sakura Hanazono and Shizuko Kaga, the Idiot Trio – consisting of Naoya Shirakawa, Ikuto Sarashina and Ryuunosuke Kurosaki – and the effete Vice President Shouichirou Yukimura, whose slender, androgynous appearance means he regularly gets forced into cross dressing.
Oh yes, the cosplay isn’t limited to just Misaki and her co-workers at Maid Latte, along with cross dressing Idol Aoi, there are laughs to be had at the expense of the males too. Just as well as this show really sends out some confusing messages about a woman’s worth. Misaki is seen as a fearful terror by the boys at school, including the Idiot Trio, yet once they too accidentally discover her secret during a visit to the café, they become her biggest fans!
Takumi, a bit of a shady character himself, also finds Misaki a source of interest after seeing her in her pleasant side as a maid with her uniform also being a key attraction. So what is Fujiwara trying to tell us? A strong woman who can take control over a male dominated environment is to be feared and avoided but once she is in a servile position and in fetish garb she’s suddenly worthy of attention?
This might be an over complicated interpretation of the central theme but Japan and anime doesn’t have the best track record with its portrayal of women, and more than one episode is built around the café holding a different costume theme for Misaki to endure – kimonos, little sisters, men, etc. Then again this could be a way to exploit the shallow attitudes of men being so easily influenced by appearance over personality. Unfortunately nothing about the show seems to hint of such subtle intelligence.
Remarkably there is no fan service in this show despite the premise practically inviting it which is one relief in terms of the exploitation factor. But with the focus largely on the manic comedy, complete with chibi-faces, grotesque distortions and other affectations which see the main characters barely staying on model, fan service would just be a superfluous distraction.
JC Staff handle the production and the visuals are very rudimentary and dated for a 2010 show, resembling something from a decade earlier. Relying heavily on minimal movement, still frames and the aforementioned shortcuts it looks rushed yet feels suited for this particular outing. The pace of the gags is frantic for the first few episodes but gradually runs out of steam as things progress.
Because Maid Sama! is short on structure it is a show one can dip in and out of on a whim and not miss a beat. The fact it doesn’t take itself too seriously and is admittedly quite amusing in places will endear it to many fans but is unlikely to appeal to anyone who likes a bit of substance in their anime.
Quite how this lasts for a further twelve plus one episodes seems like a bridge too far for this concept but continue it does and maybe we shall see how it fares in volume two.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Disc 1 Only:
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black