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.

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.