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.

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’.