Hayate the Combat Butler, Vol. 31

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.

To the displeasure of a majority of Western fans, Nagi Sanzenin is the lead heroine in the Hayate the Combat Butler manga. And given that its hero is basically perfection in a butler costume, it makes sense that a large part of the plot development would involve forging Nagi to grow up and develop as a character. But Kenjiro Hata, the creator, knows two things: first of all, that he has to drag this out as long as possible so that the series can still run, and secondly, that people who have Nagi’s basic flaws and issues don’t change easily at all, and constantly fall back on the easy, the lazy, and the quickest way out. And, at the climax of the manga competition, that’s exactly what we see. Nagi is intelligent and can get things done, and her idea for SELLING is excellent, even though it objectifies Maria. But the point was CREATING, and there, Nagi fails. Again.

It’s telling that Nagi’s rival is Ruka, who is similar to her in many ways. They both have a thing that they are naturally excellent at, but all too easily fall into fannish habits: playing games, watching anime, and (in Nagi’s case) sleeping. But Ruka is seen here to buckle down and take Hina’s good advice, and her doujinshi (which Hata reproduces at the end of the volume) is short and cute. More importantly, it makes sense and attracts the reader’s eye, which nothing Nagi has ever created has done. Nagi does make a profit, but only after she gives in and allows Maria’s sexy candid photobook to be sold separately without her manga, which people are throwing in the garbage. (Maria has been reduced to a comedic character who gets humiliated for a while now, but this volume may take the cake.) The arc ends with Nagi saying next time we’ll do better, but… we’ve heard her say that before.

It’s very frustrating, and very true to life. That said, I suspect readers of Hayate the Combat Butler don’t really want true to life. Perhaps the new girl who is introduced near the end might help, but we know nothing about her. As for the other heroines in the book, mostly they stand to the side. Hina does a good jjob helping Ruka (and offers Izumi the same “hardcore” help later on, but Izumi’s drive to succeed is even lazier than Nagi’s). The other real subplot here is Wataru finally manning up and telling Isumi that he… loved her, as he seemingly is able to let go of his one-sided crush and move on. I’m not sure how I feel about Wataru and Saki as a couple, but you get the sense that the only thing preventing it from happening is the 20 volumes we have to go before the end.)

Hayate the Combat Butler is still funny, and enjoyable provided you don’t take the harem too seriously. I do not know of a single Hayate fan who does not take the harem too seriously, though, and that’s the rub. Still recommended for Hayate fans, though. You read the scans, now support the official release.

Hayate the Combat Butler, Vol. 30

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.

This is the first volume of Hayate the Combat Butler to be released in North America after the manga has already ended in Japan, and it will be interesting to see how it does going forward. (ominous thunder rumbles in distance) We are, of course, nowhere near finished here in North America, where Hayate is not quite Kaze Hikaru, but pretty close. Last time we were discussing how long Hata would drag things out before Hayate’s true gender was finally revealed to Ruka, and we get an answer here. It’s actually a good question when you’re dealing with Hata, who is a master – for good and ill – at dragging things out long past when you’d expect the punchline or point to be. Sometimes this works well for comedic effect, sometimes it feels like his editors are forcing him to extend things forever, and sometimes you sense he’s a bit of a troll.

The missing suitcase of money is dealt with fairly quickly at the start (and does a good job of inserting Fumi and Sharna, everyone’s favorite characters (it’s a shame sarcasm is hard to show in text), into the narrative. The majority of the volume, though, continues the interlocking narrative of Nagi and Ruka’s doujinshi competition. Ruka gets the benefit of a stern critic in Hina, who not only gives her honest opinion about what’s wrong, but goes on to do research into popular kinds of manga so that she can give better advice. Hina is a good, honest girl who I sometimes feel deserves better than this comedy harem manga. Speaking of girls who deserve better than this, Nagi has Ayumu giving advice, and while it’s not nearly as good, it does seem to inspire her. Whether this will actually lead to good manga remains to be seen.

And yes, Ruka does eventually find out that Hayate is a guy. The reaction is more low-key than I was expecting, but then Ruka in general tends to be more low-key than I’d expect. As a late arrival harem girl, you can’t avoid the sense that she’s being added to the narrative because the series is too popular to wrap up this quickly – Hayate may be a twice-a-year series here, but it did really well in Japan, and there are references in the volume to the movie Heaven Is a Place on Earth, which was due out in 2011 when this volume came out. (Yes, we are now six years behind.) I like Ruka, but there’s not really much she adds as a romantic lead that Hayate could not also get from Hina, or Ayumu, or Maria, or Athena. Or Nagi, I will reluctantly add, but we’ll get to that 20 volumes down the road.

And so Hayate the Combat Butler’s strengths remain its humor, and its romance can be a strength or a weakness depending on Hata’s writing. We get a bit of both in this volume, making it a fairly average volume in the series. See you in the winter for Vol. 31.

Also, the back cover says that Ruka is ‘plumb worn out’, and I feel sad that they didn’t go whole hog and say ‘plumb tuckered out’.

Hayate the Combat Butler, Vol. 29

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. Translated by John Werry.

Hayate Ayasaki is a very good butler. That’s pretty much the premise of the entire manga. As a butler, he’s smooth, always knows what to do, and provides the girls he waits on with whatever they desire. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that’s why they fell for him, as in fact each of them has different, non-butler reasons for that. But it’s striking if only because in Hayate’s other role as a harem protagonist in a romantic comedy manga, he’s absolutely terrible. He’s very good in terms of what Hata needs to convey in the writing. But much of Hayate’s so-called “bad luck” can also be put down to wishy-washiness, cowardice, and the complete inability to understand the trembling of a pure maiden’s heart. It’s why we’re 29 volumes in and disasters keep piling up for him.

The disaster doesn’t happen in this particular volume, but we know that at some point in the near future, Ruka is going to discover that Hayate is a guy, and there will be hell to pay. Of course, this is played for max comedy – every time he thinks he can confess, she says the one thing that stops him from doing so – but it’s still a case where you want to put your face in your hands. She also, by the way, is trying to earn a large pile of cash to get herself out of debt because her parents are suckers – a similarity Hayate is quick to catch on to. It’s not the first time Hata has done this – Hina, too, has lost her birth parents due to “we abandoned you because of our debt” – but that at least had the excuse that it was part of his original outline for the series. Ruka’s past seems more like overegging the pudding.

The rest of the volume is for the most part a series of one-shots focusing on the cast, which I think Hata enjoys best. Alice talks with Hayate, and there’s some discussion of who she is, but not much – she says she’s lost her memories of Athena, but clearly knows she *is* Athena in some way. Also, don’t let dogs eat chocolate. Wataru and Saki also have money troubles, and even Sayaka literally loaning them a giant pile of money doesn’t help, particularly when Hayate gets involved. Speaking of Sayaka, she’s rather annoyed to find that the position of “Nagi’s (relatively) sane best friend) has been stolen by Chiharu, particularly since Chiharu is HER OWN MAID. As for Maria, well, she gets nothing to do except pose naked for the camera as pre fanservice, something Hata lampshades almost immediately. These are all pretty good chapters, not hilarious but quite amusing.

In the end, though, the plot will have to advance soon. Ruka will find out Hayate’s gender. Athena will eventually stop being a girl. And, one assumes, the manga will end. It’s coming to a close in Japan, but Viz still has a long way to go. See you in the fall for another volume.