Hayate the Combat Butler, Vol. 35

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.

The revelation that Viz Media has licensed the newest manga by Kenjiro Hata, Tonikaku Kawaii (aka Fly Me to the Moon) for release this fall came as a big surprise to the huge number of Hayate the Combat Butler fans… OK, really, there’s just two of us now, but we were surprised! After all, Hata’s Hayate the Combat Butler still has about fifteen volumes left to release, but continues to come out at the “we won’t cancel it, but we hate you” two-volumes-per-year schedule. Fly Me to the Moon may begin and end while Hayate still coming out. Still, for those who do enjoy a new Hayate volume every spring and fall, this should give you something to sink your teeth into. It has a minimal amount of Nagi, which, let’s face it, is always a plus, and one we’ll get less and less of as Hayate barrels towards its conclusion. (I don’t hate Nagi, but she suffers from being less appealing than half the cast). Instead, Ruka is still ascendant.

I don’t think this is deliberate on Hata’s part, but as Hayate the Combat Butler rolled along, it ended up showing off a new “favorite girl” who everyone loved and was much better than Nagi… and then gradually forgetting about them till they became irrelevant. Hinagiku is the most obvious example – she may be on the cover here, but her days as lead girl are long gone, and Athena came along, stomped all over everyone else… and then became Alice, who is also barely in the plot. And now there’s Ruka, who was not as warmly welcomed by fans (who have long memories and probably guessed what would happen), but she gets the back half of this book as pure, almost serious romantic tension with Hayate, and does a very good job of it. Hinagiku does get a chapter or two here, but it’s in support of her sister Yukiji, who used to not only be cool, but play the guitar! Hinagiku is upset Yukiji abandoned her dream, Yukiji is there to remind readers dreams are not abandoned, just deferred. She promises to shape up. It likely won’t last, but is sweet to see.

Part of the problem of taking this seriously, of course, is that Hayate the Combat Butler is always first and foremost a fourth-wall breaking gag manga. Before it’s a romantic harem comedy. Before it’s a serious examination of childhood abuse and abandonment. Before it’s a supernatural action series. And the cast know it. One chapter in this volume has Risa being annoyed by the fact that she’s not “spoiled” by Hayate, and this leads into a discussion of Izumi, and the fact that her character type is inherently more popular (with both Hayate and, it’s inferred, readers). Despite what they say, it’s not just the panty flashes – it’s that Izumi blushing and helpless is funny Izumi. Also, frankly, Risa is a boke, and thus, like many of Hayate’s love interests, she’s been eclipsed by a new and better boke – Fumi, who gets her own completely ridiculous chapter. (Miki works best around Hinagiku, but since her sapphic side was revealed, has been around her less – not sure how deliberate that is).

In the end, Hata is happy to point out all the flaws in Hayate the Combat Butler directly in the text. This can be funny… and also intensely frustrating. Welcome to the experience of being a Hayate fan.

Hayate the Combat Butler, Vol. 34

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.

The history of Hayate the Combat Butler is an interesting one. Very much a funny gag sort of story for the first 16 or so volumes, it attracted that sort of audience, and the first couple of anime were of that nature as well. Then came the Athena arc, which was really good, and set up a far more serious backstory for the manga, which attracted fans who really wanted to know about that story. And so the last ten to fifteen volumes have made an attempt to still be light-hearted gag comedy while throwing out the occasional plot bone to keep readers here for the plot satisfied. It… hasn’t really worked. This will reach its apex about two volumes from now, in the series’ most infamous chapter, but for the moment readers who want more about castles and coffins will be delighted to find there’s an extended section here where Hayate discovers a hidden room in the boarding house, with something very familiar inside.

It is notable that everyone involved in the discovery of the hidden room is not one of the “normal” cast members, if such a word can be used to describe people like Hinagiku or Nagi. It’s Hayate, Tama the tiger, the ghost priest, Alice, who still doesn’t remember her past but is there because of who she is, and Isumi, who reminds us that this is still a comedy even in the dramatic plot sections by making an absolutely ridiculous entrance through the wall of the building, knowing full well how awesome she will look. Sadly, she looks less awesome when up against the series’ new minor villain, whose name I’m not sure of yet but she does enjoy wearing her Gurren Lagann cosplay shades. This doesn’t answer many questions… well, OK, any questions, except who shade-wearing woman is working for… but it does remind you that this plot exists, and it weighs on Hayate’s mind.

Elsewhere,the boardinghouse continues to fill up, first by adding Ruka, who has “run away from home” because they’re trying to make her stop being a doujinshi artist and stick to pop idoling, as well as Ayumu, who literally has a mom and dad to live with but scrapes up the money to live in the boarding house for a month because she senses how big a threat Ruka is in the Hayate sweepstakes. (This leads to the best gag in the volume, where Hinagiku is stunned to find that she isn’t a threat – after all, if she can’t confess, what good is she?) We also get more of Ruka’s backstory, which matches Hayate and Hinagiku’s on the “bad parents” front (the bad parents are always in silhouette). And Nagi’s manga continues to be the series’ achilles’ heel, as her attempts to get better at it are bad and she still remains pretty annoying.

Still, overall this was a very good volume for the 5-6 people still buying this series, and if anything else we got to see Isumi performing feats even an olympic gymnast might have trouble with.

Hayate the Combat Butler, Vol. 33

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.

The manga had taken a six-week break in Shonen Sunday towards the beginning of this book, and so Hata amusingly tries to do a “let me remind you of the plot and cast” for those who have not been reading this for 32 previous volumes. Mostly what it does is remind us of Hayate’s near-inhuman stamina, which vies with his legitimately inhuman bad luck for dominance. Hata knows the value of setting up an obvious joke and letting it play out as far as he possibly can. We start with all the residents of the getting colds, except Hayate, who has to take care of all of them (despite such minor setbacks as being hit by a truck). Then, of course, he gets a cold right as he has to take a “fail this and you’re expelled” test at school, and runs into infinite obstacles on the way, not least of which is Fumi at her most annoying… well, OK, that’s Fumi all the time. The punchline, which involves Yukiji’s PSP, is the perfectly timed icing on the cake.

Last time I mentioned the debut of new character Kayura, but like most of the cast she made her big debut and then faded into the ‘brought out as needed’ category. On the bright side, she does not appear to be in love with Hayate, which puts her into a relatively rare category. (Though to be fair to the author, it’s not as rare as other harem manga. There are a good 6-7 girls we see in this title who are not in love with anyone, and of course there’s Miki, who loves Hinagiku.) Those who do love Hayate get a few spotlights here. Izumi’s birthday leads to a lovely cake and a desperate attempt by her to eat it alone with Hayate. Ruka also shows up again, needing bike lessons from Hayate, which gets very amusing when he asks her if she wants a gentle or strict teacher and she says “strict”. Hayate’s sadistic aspects don’t come out very often, but when they do they’re hilarious, especially combined with the low-simmering romance we see here.

And then there’s Ayumu, whose love for Hayate is the most explicit but also likely the most doomed. She’s getting the old high school career survey, and “Hayate’s bride” isn’t going to cut it, especially as she has these visions of what life will be like as said bride, involving a series of “Hayate’s bad luck means we lose everything” disasters. She talks with Nagi about becoming a musician, but lacks the drive and the talent for it. Actually, given how we’ve seen her handling Nagi and Hinagiku throughout the series, a counseling job might not be a bad idea, though she needs to restrain her more head in the clouds moments. Hopefully she’ll fare better than Hinagiku, who was once the ensemble darkhorse of the series that everyone loved, even getting an ED theme in the anime devoted to her, but now is entirely used for fanservice. Poor Hina.

This is the 33rd volume of Hayate the Combat Butler, and I applaud all of you still buying it every time it comes out. Its humor is consistently funny to me, which helps to get through plot-absent volumes such as this one. It is currently projected to end in North America in the fall of 2028. Thought I’d put that out there.