Hayate the Combat Butler, Vol. 32

By Kenjiro Hata. Released in Japan as “Hayate no Gotoku!” by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by John Werry.

Despite Athena (in her adult body) getting a cheesecake cover shot, she doesn’t appear in this volume. In fact, chibi-Athena only gets one chapter, and has to share it with the girl who’s still reminding everyone she’s the heroine, Nagi. Nagi is still recovering from her loss from the last volume, and while her usual indolent torpor is certainly an option she tries exploring, if this damn manga is going to move forward at all, something else needs to happen. Something like the introduction of a new character. Kayura manages to out-nerd everybody else in this already pretty nerdy cast, and after seeing everyone telling Nagi she needs to make her manga more understandable and mainstream, it’s refreshing to see Kayura telling Nagi the exact opposite. I’m not sure this will translate into the sales Nagi wants to achieve, but it may actually lead her to get out of her creative slump.

Every Hayate volume usually has one chapter that stands out among the others, even when it’s in “gag” mode rather than “plot” mode, and in this case it’s the chapter where Isumi decides that she needs a maid. She decides this mostly as she notes that Nagi and Sakuya have maids, not because she has any use for one. Honestly, I think any maid Isumi had would have trouble merely getting her anywhere in a timely fashion. But her mother and Hayate ponder the idea, and come up with the absolute WORST possible maid for any girl whatsoever: Fumi, who is always there to be hilariously terrible. Her short-lived maid attempt has a terrific punchline, and were it to end there, the chapter would be fine. But afterwards, Hayate wonders out loud to Nagi why Isumi doesn’t have a maid, and the answer is quite touching and also very sad. Even Hayate can’t say anything when he hears it.

If you’re looking for forward plot development that doesn’t involve Nagi’s manga, you are mostly out of luck here. Wataru’s store is just about ready to go, though it’s his relationship with Saki that’s more of a concern. Ruka is also still lingering around the edges of the narrative, and reminding Ayumu that Hayate tends to attract gorgeous rich and famous girls. The former “main rivals” to Nagi, Maria and Hinagiku, have almost completely become comedy relief characters, with Maria’s attempts at a garden being an excuse for a flurry of punchlines (and some errant birds), and Hinagiku not even able to ask Hayate for a shoulder massage without it becoming a big to do. Hayate may be clueless at romance, but for the most part that’s because, with the exception of Ayumu and Athena, the women in his life are simply not clear enough about their own feelings.

Ruka may change that, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the next minor plotline involves her again. Till then, fans of Hayate can read about Nagi getting her groove back, and laugh while feeling vaguely frustrated at the lack of forward momentum in this series.

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