Maid-Sama!

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, November 17, 2013

Maid-Sama! is yet another anime that I went in with the expectation that it would be a fluff show to hold me over in between other series. After all, the show is about a tough, boy hating girl who is the student council president at an all-boys high school that has recently become co-ed but secretly works at a maid café part time in order to support her family. Her secret is quickly discovered by one of the most popular boys in school and he develops an interest, and the dynamic between the two is what drives the story forward. With this basic outline in place, I was anticipating another routine romantic comedy anime that touched upon all the usual elements of the genre without doing much more. What I got was a series that had a bit more depth than I was anticipating and I quickly became attached to the characters, despite some of the more superficial elements that pop up.

To expand on the synopsis a bit, Maid-Sama! tells the story of Misaki Ayuzawa, a sixteen year old student council president at Seika High School. She’s what one might consider the ideal student, skilled in both academics and athletics but hates men due to the fact that her father amassed a significant amount of debt and then disappeared on the family. Despite this general attitude and the fact that she strikes fear in many of the male students by carrying out the student council president role with an iron fist, she secretly works part time after school as a waitress at a maid café. One of the most popular boys in school, Takumi Usui, discovers this fact and becomes a regular patron at the café. Misaki assumes his constant interest early on is simply because he knows this secret fact about her, but over time it becomes evident that Takumi has developed romantic feelings. Takumi is the embodiment of what could be seen as the “perfect man” in a romance series like this, as he’s cool and collected but has a mysterious past that is never really touched upon. The majority of the episodes revolve around the dynamic between Misaki and Takumi, as the former often comes off as a tsundere whenever romantic implications come around due to Misaki’s inability to understand her own feelings.

This all probably sounds familiar, and during the first episode I found myself thinking that with a few key differences it didn’t seem that far off from Special A or other romantic comedies of this type. But where some of the others relied too much on the humor element, Maid-Sama! won me over with the evolving dynamic of the two main characters and the surprisingly likeable supporting cast that got several episodes of their own where they shared the spotlight. Yes, sometimes both Misaki and Takumi seemed just a little too perfect and the way that they were portrayed did bother me at times, as did the fact that for as tough as Misaki was supposed to be she ended up in a few too many damsel in distress scenarios where Takumi comes to save the day. But I was able to overlook this to an extent, as despite the superficial aspects both of them seemed to generally try to be good people in the context of their environment and the romance and drama elements of their relationships did grow over time rather than stagnating. Despite having an open ending like most manga adaptations, there is some payoff at the end for viewers who will want to see some semblance of romance.

Back to the supporting cast, they’re what made the series come into its own and not just be the standard romantic comedy with a tsundere type lead. Some of them play fairly small roles and add comedic reliefs, like the three tough guy students from Seika that discover Misaki’s job and end up becoming her fanboys. There’s also Misaki’s friend Sakura who is head over heels for the singer of a band, and a male student with gynophobia who attempts to hypnotize her in an attempt to make the school boys only again. I also can’t neglect to mention Aoi, the cross-dressing nephew of the maid café owner who’s a net idol and opens up a whole bunch of questions concerning gender roles in this show. All of these characters seemed fairly minor at the beginning, but each of them got almost an entire episode where they were explored in further depth. There seemed to be an attempt for the episodes about the secondary characters to explore a lesson of some sort that ultimately resulted in a change for that person, and it made the series become a bit more heartwarming. One secondary cast member that I wasn’t as crazy about was Hinata Shintani, an old friend of Misaki’s who returns to the town about three quarters through the series and immediately becomes a rival love interest. While I didn’t dislike his personality, the way that the story introduced him made it feel a bit cliché, as if he only came into the picture when things were starting to go too well between Misaki and Takumi and there needed to be more conflict. On a final note (I don’t want to go too further into specific story details to avoid spoiling anything), there is an episode where Maid-Sama! goes into a fantasy dream sequence and parodies the traditional Japanese folk tale Momotarō using its characters and their personalities. Usually I’m not crazy about clear filler content like this as it feels like a way to just pad out the material and isn’t that interesting, but it worked really well here and was actually quite humorous.

Maid-Sama! goes for a very lighthearted animation style, mixing realistic character styles with plenty of chibi deformations added in to further contribute to the funny situations that the story creates on a regular basis. This balance between the two styles gives the series a very eye catching look overall, and although this type of super deformed/realistic combination is fairly common for anime it feels like it is used to enhance each scene in Maid-Sama! rather than as a means for the animation staff to cut corners. Whatever emotions a particular character is feeling are always immediately obvious through the way they are portrayed through the animation, and overall I found myself continually drawn into the series thanks to its eye popping designs. JC Staff was the studio that produced this show, and the majority of the anime I have seen from them have not only perfectly adapted the art style of the source material but offered fluid and clean animation. This is once again the case here, and they continue to be one of my favorite studios when it comes to slice of life and romantic comedy series.

While I don’t remember much about the background music, both the opening and ending themes of Maid-Sama! were extremely catchy and have remained in my memory even a week or so since I finished watching. The show sticks with “My Secret” by Saaya Mizuno for the entire 26 episode run, while the ending switches between two songs by Japanese rock band Heidi. All three of these tracks fit the lighthearted nature of the series but didn’t go for the overwhelmingly cute and sickeningly sweet themes that have become all too common in anime recently. The voice acting is another area where the show really grabbed me, as the chemistry between the actors for Misaki and Takumi is perfect and really makes the drama and romantic elements that much more convincing. The supporting cast also does a great job, making their characters convincing and fleshing out their roles when they are given the spotlight for a particular episode. Overall I really felt like this series was well cast, as even the smallest roles seemed to be taken seriously and made the characters more convincing and lifelike.

Despite going in with the expectation that this would be another average series, Maid-Sama! ended up becoming one of my new favorites thanks to its balance of romance and comedy and endearing characters. Although it was a bit too unrealistic in how perfect its two leads were portrayed, I couldn’t help but find myself rooting for them throughout the course of the show. JC Staff was also able to end the anime in such a way that there is room for a second season if they’re ever given the greenlight to adapt the rest of the manga but enough of a conclusion to satisfy viewers if that doesn’t happen. If you’re a fan of this particular genre of anime, Maid-Sama! is a must watch.

http://www.sentai-filmworks.com/index.php?option=com_catalog&view=item&Itemid=54&id=615

Maid-Sama! is streaming on Hulu and available on DVD from Sentai Filmworks

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