By Kenjiro Hata. Released in Japan as “Hayate no Gotoku!” by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz.
This volume, and the two that follow it, are for me the high point of the entire run of Hayate the Combat Butler. Hata has a tendency to get sidetracked and lost in comedy asides, to the point where he’s started to parody his tendency to do so. Also, it’s becoming quite clear that someone is telling him that he has to keep the series going and can’t wrap things up. But that’s in Japan. Here, we’re finally getting to the good stuff. All the slow character development, glacial plot points, and G*ndam references lead to this confrontation in Greece.
For all that Hayate is a wacky harem comedy, it has some dark tones at its core. Mostly it’s been about the horrible parents of Hayate, Wataru and Hina, and the absent/dead parents of Nagi and Athena. But there’s also been a sense of aiming for your dream and failing that’s come up several times with Hina’s alcoholic sister Yukiji. She’s in Italy because the teacher (and old high-school friend) who has a crush on her is trying to make grand gestures so that he doesn’t have to actually confess. After a chapter of misunderstandings and beatings, the now drunken teacher wonders out loud how the cool, guitar-playing Yukiji turned into the lazy, shiftless, aimless young woman we all know. And the answer is that life happens. It’s why people make wishes, and dream of fairy stories. And create magical luck stones, for that matter.
Speaking of which, we finally get the confrontation we’ve waited 10 years for… well OK, four volumes. Hayate sees Athena, and calls out to her. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know who he is. Or at least pretends she doesn’t know – as a very cute aftershot tells us, she is quite aware of Hayate but has some longer game, which involves that stone. The last volume gave us a few minor villains trying to get their hands on the stone, but now we move on to the more dangerous players. 16-year-old Athena looks like a dark queen, what with her black dress and princess curls (and healthy bust – clearly larger than any of the other girls in Hayate’s wannabe harem). We can only hope that she sides with her feelings over her need for that stone.
And so, having started the volume with Yukiji noting that sometimes things don’t work out, and dreams don’t come true, we end with the dinner date between Hayate and Hinagiku, who is determined to confess. Of course, Hina is mistakenly thinking that Hayate hates her because of her tsundere antics. And Hayate has worked out that Athena was lying, and is wondering what to do now and why meeting Athena is affecting him so much. So the dinner date is a masterpiece of distraction. Tragically, the two characters have revelations exactly at the WRONG time. Hina finally mans up her courage and starts to confess. And Hayate finally puts two and two together and realizes why he’s so devastated by Athena’s disfavor, and why he wants desperately to apologize: he loves her.
It’s an epic cliffhanger, to be sure. Hata certainly thought so, as Vols. 23 and 24 came out in Japan the same day. Sadly, that won’t happen here, where Hayate simply doesn’t have the sales. So we’ll have to check back in another six months to see how Hayate’s admission affects Hina, and whether it spurs him to return to Athena. The tension only gets higher from here.