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.

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.