Sunday, November 13, 2011

Maid Sama!, Collection 1 (anime TV series)

Sentai Filmworks currently sells this 26-episode series in two separate collections. This is the first collection, containing episodes 1-13. There is no English dub. Extras are bare bones (see the "Extras" section after my review).

Synopsis:

Seika High School is a former boys' school that has recently become co-ed. Even so, the study body is still mostly male, and the boys haven't quite gotten used to having girls around. Misaki, the first female Student Council president, is determined to change things and make Seika High School a pleasant place for girls.

Misaki has a big secret, however: after school, she works as a maid at a maid cafe. Her family is poor, and the job pays pretty well, but Misaki is sure that she'd lose all the respect she worked so hard to gain at Seika if everyone found out about her job. When Usui, the boy all the Seika girls would most like to date, discovers Misaki's secret, she's sure she's doomed...except Usui doesn't tell anyone, and just keeps coming to the maid cafe.

These 13 episodes show Misaki trying to do her best both as president at Seika High School and as a maid at her job. Misaki and Usui are the main characters, but there are lots of minor characters who pop up regularly: the three former delinquents who become Misaki's biggest fans and are the only students aside from Usui who know she works at a maid cafe, Misaki's friends, Misaki's mother and younger sister, and more.

Review:

When I first started hearing about this series, I assumed it was a romantic series intended for a male audience. My assumption was based on the maid cafe aspect. Although I later learned that the series was really intended for a female audience, I continued to put off looking into it, primarily because of the maid cafe aspect. It wasn't until I saw some appealing clips from the show in a few anime AMVs that I finally broke down and bought it.

For those who aren't completists like me, I'm not sure Collection 1 will inspire a need to buy and watch Collection 2. There is very little about Collection 1 that sets it apart from other shoujo school romances, and there are quite a few areas where this show could have been improved.

I've read that maid cafes have become more popular with women, and Maid Latte, the maid cafe Misaki works at, occasionally has themed days aimed at women and families. For the most part, though, Maid Latte caters mostly to men.

The series sometimes touches on the potential negative aspects of working at a maid cafe, but these aspects tend to be overshadowed by the positives (or what the series would like viewers to see as positives). Misaki is afraid of the students at her school finding out that she works as a maid at a maid cafe, because she is convinced she'll lose their respect. This indicates that she sees her job as something to be ashamed of, even if only a little bit. And yet, anyone who finds out about her job tends to react fairly well. Usui's respect for her only increases after he sees her working hard at both school and Maid Latte, and he reminds her that her job at Maid Latte isn't breaking any school rules. One of Misaki's coworkers actively dislikes her for feeling any shame about her work. At worst, it seems like the most Misaki has to fear is that those who find out about her job will treat her differently. The three delinquents, for instance, stop butting heads with her at school and become Misaki worshipers.

There are a couple instances where Misaki's job leads to her being the target of sexual harassment. In one episode, she is attacked while closing up the maid cafe for the night. In another episode, the president of another school's student council tricks her into dressing in a maid outfit and indicates that he plans to make her part of his little harem. Both of these instances could have been very traumatic, and both are resolved in fairly light and fluffy ways, with Misaki saving herself and/or Usui swooping in to save the day. The fact that things could have gone much worse is glossed over.

I think viewers are intended to view the maid cafe aspects as primarily cute and a little zany. The maids are supposed to be considered more soothing than sexy – or so the script says, although characters' actions at times indicate otherwise. One of the themed days at Maid Latte struck me as particularly awful: Little Sister Day. Misaki, being the hard worker that she is, wants to do a good job with her first themed day at the cafe, so she decides to do some research. Completely unaware that “little sister” refers to idealized “little sister” types, her research involves talking to others about their real little sisters. This, to me, made the “little sister” fetish even more icky than it already is. At least Usui was smart enough to recognize the sexual aspects of Little Sister Day, and I liked that he seemed to dislike Misaki's assumption of the little sister role. Still, this was another example of the show glossing over and sugar-coating its own less savory aspects.

If it hadn't been for the fact that I'm a completist and bought both Maid Sama! collections at the same time, I'm not sure that I would have wanted to shell out the money for the second collection after viewing this first one. That would have been a shame, because Collection 2 is much better than Collection 1, at least from the perspective of someone more interested in the romance than the maid cafe stuff. Even so, there are lots of other shows I'd recommend over this one.

Extras:

The extras in this collection are so skimpy that I debated not even including an "extras" section in this post. All you'll find is clean opening and closing animation. Sentai Filmworks also counts trailers for their other shows as extras, which is just lame.

Again, there is no English dub, only English subtitles.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - If you'd like another shoujo school romance in which the main female character has a big secret she's keeping from everyone, you might want to try this. Yukino appears to be an elegant girl and a model student. In reality, all of that is just a persona she has created in order to bask in others' praise. She is horrified when Arima, who seems to be the real deal, a truly perfect student, begins to outshine her at school and *gasp* accidentally discovers her secret.
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - This series has a host club in it, rather than a maid cafe, and I think this works better in a shoujo school romance series. The main character, Haruhi, is poor and must join the Ouran High School host club and pretend to be a guy in order to repay the club for a vase she broke. Luckily, just like Misaki doesn't care about dressing like a guy, neither does Haruhi. Be warned, though, that in the anime, at least (I haven't read much of the manga), the romance never really goes anywhere. I've written about the first half of the anime and volume 1 of the manga.
  • S.A (manga) by Maki Minami; S.A (anime TV series) - Another shoujo school romance in which the female main character sees the male main character as something of a rival, although the rivalry is much more pronounced in this series than in Maid Sama! Like Misaki, Hikari doesn't seem to realize that Kei, her rival, is actually in love with her. Again, this is another series in which the female main character is from a fairly poor family compared to the male main character. I've written about the anime.
  • Skip Beat! (manga) by Yoshiki Nakamura; Skip Beat! (anime TV series) - Those who liked Misaki's fiery, kick-butt personality might like this series. Although it's technically a shoujo romance, it has some of the feel of a shounen series, because the focus is more on the female main character's attempts to improve her skills and become the best than on the romantic aspects. I've written about the anime and many volumes of the manga.

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